LTBE - Chapter 453.2: Please Don’t Leave Me (2)
How should I face Lord Brother?
That was the question on Alicia’s mind ever since she had returned from the battlefield.
In order to be with Roel, she went all out to convince Carter to grant her the right to lead the Ascarts’ personal army and heretics against the Sezes.
Her decision hadn’t been based on sheer recklessness or willfulness. She was confident of winning the fight. She had known from the start that there was a powerful wounded demonic beast residing in the jungle from the intelligence reports that went through her hands.
She had never tamed any demonic beasts as powerful as the Emperor of Calamity before, but she was confident in pulling it off with her bloodline ability. She had done enough experiments during Roel’s absence to say that with certainty.
Things proceeded smoother than she had expected.
The Emperor of Calamity was a far stronger demonic beast than Alicia had imagined. Perhaps due to its severe injuries, its attitude mellowed down upon sensing Alicia’s powers, just like the other demonic beasts she had tested her powers on. It didn’t take her much effort to convince the Emperor of Calamity to aid her in the battle against the Sezes.
Now that I think about it, I have gotten too complacent with my initial successes. That might have been the reason for my eventual failure, Alicia thought as she bit her lips.
Alicia and the soldiers under her command were in high spirits when they first charged into the plains at dawn, but she quickly realized that she had underestimated the fighting prowess of the Sezes’ elite troops and Duke Brookley’s commanding skills.
The enemy had seen through her strategy from the very start and made the call to go all out. They were determined to not allow the battle to drag out.
If it was only that much, the Ascart soldiers should have still been able to hold their ground. As long as they kept moving around, the Sezes’ elite troops would have found it hard to encircle and overrun them, which would have allowed them to significantly prolong the fight.
Yet, Duke Brookley changed the terrain with his ability, making it impossible for the Ascart soldiers to continue kiting the Sezes’ elite troops. This single move changed the situation for the worse. At that very instant, Alicia felt unprecedented fear, not because she feared for her own life but because her defeat would cost the Ascarts their precious personal army.
To her, that outcome was worse than death.
Even though Roel single-handedly forced back the enemies afterward, her misjudgment still left her feeling deeply ashamed of herself. Anyone else in her position would have been severely punished for making such major lapses in their decisions, but the moment she met Roel’s eyes she could already tell that she would be let off the hook.
All she could see in his eyes was relief from having confirmed the safety of a loved one.
But that was precisely why she found it even harder to forgive herself.
“Alicia, are you alright?”
After careful thought, Roel decided not to beat around the bush and gently asked how she was. However, his soft words of concern only made her feel even more ashamed of herself. She wanted to answer his question, but she found herself unable to speak as if something was jammed up her throat.
“Alicia, you shouldn’t bottle things up in your heart. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Alicia made several attempts to speak, but nothing was coming out from her mouth, much to Roel’s astonishment. His eyes slowly widened as he recalled stories of people losing their ability of speech due to PTSD.
Surely it can’t be…
The thought of that caused Roel’s mind to blank out. He leaned in closer and gently touched Alicia’s cheek as he anxiously probed on.
“Could it be that you’re unable to speak? W-why? Is it due to the injury you suffered earlier on? Or did you witness something scary on the battlefield? This won’t do. Let’s leave this place right now!”
It was a rare bout of anxiety from Roel.
Before he could do anything, Alicia quickly grabbed his hand before slowly raising her head to look at him. This was the first time she had looked him in the eye since returning to this base camp, but there was an indescribable expression on her face. Her usually spirited crimson eyes reflected the lurching guilt she felt.
“… Sorry, Lord Brother. I’m sorry.”
“I lost. I brought shame to the family. I led our soldiers to their deaths. I’m sorry…”
Her voice was hoarse from the overwhelming guilt choking her up. She had held it in for so long that she couldn’t suppress the flood of self-reproach anymore. She leaned into Roel’s chest and began bawling out loud.
Roel felt an ache in his chest seeing Alicia in such a state, but at the same time, he felt a tinge of relief too. He opened his arms wide and tightly embraced her.
It’s good that she’s venting her emotions instead of bottling them up, especially after what she went through.
Roel stroked Alicia’s back and quietly consoled her with his warm touch.
The two of them continued in a tight embrace for a long while, till Alicia’s tears slowly dried up and her emotions calmed down. Only then did Roel finally speak up.
“Are you feeling better now?”
“That’s good, that’s good. It has been a long time since you cried like that. I think the last time was when we were still children.”
“I’m sorry, Lord Brother. I wasn’t able to control my emotions…”
“You don’t have to control your emotions, Alicia. At least not in front of me. Still… there are some things I need to tell you.”
Roel stroked her beautiful silver hair one last time before straightening his posture. Alicia’s posture tensed up in response. He looked straight into her crimson eyes and spoke with a serious tone.
“You didn’t lose or bring shame to our family. I can assure you of that.”
“I’m grateful for your words, Lord Brother, but you don’t have to console me…”
“No. This isn’t a consolation but a fact. You can’t be thinking that there’s someone else out there who could have fared better than you did? Other than you, who else has the ability to tame the powerful Emperor of Calamity?”
As Roel said those words, he reached out and gently pinched Alicia’s cheeks.
Alicia believed that she had failed in her mission by being unable to defeat the Sezes’ elite troops and instead getting tied down by them. However, the truth was that she had performed far beyond expectations with the little army she was assigned with.
In the first place, the Ascart soldiers faced a terrible disadvantage in this battle, both in terms of top-tier battle power and overall military prowess. Yet, Alicia was able to take the lead in this battle against the famed general Duke Brookley and his prestigious War God Knight Order and sustain similar losses to them.
This was a miracle in itself.
Had it been anyone else, Duke Brookley would have immediately overran the Ascarts’ base camp with the overwhelming advantage they had. In fact, Carter had estimated that at least half of the Ascart soldiers would have died by the time Roel arrived with reinforcements, but the death toll was currently much smaller than that.
“You were just in a disadvantageous position when I arrived. If you had sacrificed a portion of the soldiers, most of the troops would have still been able to safely retreat into the jungle. There’s no way Duke Brookley would have dared to chase you in there. Given so, how could that be considered a loss?”
“But they managed to see through my strategy! The death toll is also…”
“There’s nothing wrong with your strategy to slowly wear the enemy down. It does have the highest chances of success given our circumstances. We simply lacked the intelligence that Duke Brookley had the power to alter the terrain to this extent. As for the death toll, our losses would have been much greater if you hadn’t weakened the enemy using the demonic beasts.”
Roel gently stroked Alicia’s hair as he spoke with a calm but resolute voice.
“You have done well despite having the odds stacked against you. You have accomplished the mission entrusted to you while preserving our forces to the best of your ability. How could this possibly bring shame to our family? If anything…”
Roel propped up Alicia’s chin and spoke earnestly to her.
“… you are our pride, Alicia.”
The moment she received Roel’s words of affirmation, Alicia’s eyes widened. The lump she felt at the back of her throat reappeared. Without any warning, she leaped into Roel’s arms.
Roel heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that Alicia’s dilemma had been resolved.
The issue here was that Alicia had unreasonably high expectations of herself, a problem that arose from her lack of experience on the battlefield. Unlike Roel, who had grown accustomed to war and death in the Witness State, Alicia had never been in such a harsh environment before.
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Just like any new commander, the deaths of her subordinates weighed heavily on her, making her overly critical of her own faults.
That was why it was often said that those with soft hearts weren’t suited to lead an army.
Alicia was simply too kind. Her experience being bullied as a child made her sensitive to the pain and suffering of those around her, and this translated to guilt whenever she witnessed the death of her subordinates.
As Roel thought about this, a subconscious frown formed on his forehead. He couldn’t help but lambast his father in his mind for sending Alicia onto the battlefield.
“Alicia, you have already accomplished your mission. You can leave the rest to me. I’ll have someone escort you…”
Roel gently voiced his intention to send Alicia away from the battlefield. To his shock, the latter vehemently objected to his decision. She raised her head and looked at him with pleading eyes.
“Lord Brother… please don’t leave me anymore.”