Chapter 21

"Zikr Osman"

...Zikr Osman, Second Class General of the Vollachia Empire, is known for his womanizing.

He is known as a seducer, lecherous, and lustful man. For an Imperial soldier who had shown his ability and won the respect of his men, this was a rather disgraceful list of names. However, Zikr Osman himself liked the name Womanizer. ...No, it is no exaggeration to say that he was even proud of it.

Why? It was because he hated the nickname that had been given to Zikr before he was called the Womanizer. As a soldier, it was an unbearable humiliation to be called by such a nickname. That's why he proudly holds up the title of Womanizer, which made his men forget that nickname.

In the first place, Zikr's womanizing is different from the vices of men, such as being a lady killer or looking down on women.

The Osmans have been producing Imperial soldiers for generations, but in Zikr's generation, the lineage was unbalanced, and for some reason, the family was all female. Born and raised with four older sisters and six younger sisters, Zikr spent his childhood without a single male sibling. Growing up with sisters from top to bottom, Zikr, like most people, was instilled with various preconceived notions about women. However, what made him different from most people was that while most people lose their idealistic fantasy of women due to the existence of female family members, Zikr instead sought these ideals and fantasies about women from the outside.

And so when he embarked on the path to become an Imperial soldier at a tender age, leaving behind his sisters, who were sad to lose their cute younger brother and gentle older brother, it opened a door of opportunities for him to meet and interact with women outside of the family for the very first time.

Since then, for Zikr Osman, women have been like a fleeting dream that existed between idealism and reality, a forbidden fruit of love and hate.

Growing up in a family of many women, Zikr had a strong desire to be kind to women, and at the same time, he had a strong desire to be treated kindly by women. Therefore, he believed that serving women and being served by women was a supreme joy, and put it into practice. Unlike many of the dominant men in the empire, this attitude, combined with jealousy and contempt for his ability to use the right troops and win many battles without difficulty, led to the name Womanizer to be born.

However, as said at the start, Zikr Osman was quite pleased with the title.

Womanizer, that was good enough for him. And since there are many more men who like women than the ones that dislike them, it gave him the opportunity to meet and talk with many officers and fellow generals

Zikr was clear about his intentions and never wavered from them, and so his subordinates, who knew the preferences of their superior, naturally respected him and his passion for women.

...It's all very well to be the Womanizer, isn't it?

Zikr Osman was the man who rose to the rank of Second Class General of the Empire, despite being called such. When the Emperor was thrown out from his throne, his political opponents chose the best move they could within the limits of their authority to choke him out, and that was none other than him.

That was Zikr Osman, the threatening general known as the Womanizer.

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From the beginning, Zikr had a hunch that there was something fishy about this expedition.

It is an annual event for the Imperial Army to hold exercises in and around the Buddheim Forrest in the eastern part of the Empire, but this year, the timing of the exercise was moved up, and only a few generals, including Zikr, were notified about the purpose of the expedition, negotiations with the People of Shudrak.

Zikr: "The People of Shudrak hiding in Buddheim…”

They were an indigenous tribe living in the Buddheim Forrest, a tribe well known for its old and long history. They were also famous for not coming out of the jungle very often, and Zikr had never encountered one directly. However, he had heard that they were a female tribe, and he wanted to see them at least once. Their attitude of living in the jungle, capturing outside men, and using them as tools to make children was also interesting. They were probably all strong and resilient women.

Women are good. Whether they are strong or weak, kind or harsh, they all have their own distinctive qualities. They are not something that can be lumped together and put in simple terms in the first place. Even among his sisters, be it the older or younger ones, there were times when they were gentle, other times when they were strict; times when they were sweet, and other times when they were harsh. How can anyone think of multiple women in the same sentence when one woman can be so wonderfully different. So...

Zikr: “Swearing servitude or to face destruction… what is the Imperial Capital thinking?”

That was the secret order given to Zikr before he set out on his expedition. He was assured by the Imperial Capital of Lupghana that the real purpose of this expedition was to either soften the hearts of the People of Shudrak or destroy them. He asked for confirmation that there was no mistake, but the reply from the Imperial Capital remained the same, and Zikr had no choice but to accept it.

However, he had heard that there was some kind of problem going on in the Imperial Capital, and he could imagine that it was related to the purpose of this expedition. This was evident in the fact that the purpose of the expedition was concealed, and the generals were ordered to carry it out secretly. ...Zikr had no idea what His Excellency, the Emperor, had in mind.

Zikr: “But no one can read the depths of that man's heart.”

...Vincent Vollachia, the seventy-seventh emperor of the Sacred Vollachia Empire.

That is the name of the supreme ruler of the Empire, the wisest man of the present age who would never let anyone read his deepest thoughts. In the crystal palace of the Imperial Capital of Lupghana, the Emperor is said to be able to see through the entirety of this vast empire and, although he holds the position of Second Class General, Zikr, who is entrusted with a post far from the Imperial Capital, would ever have few opportunities to see his face. However, his wisdom and fame reached Zikr's ears across such a great distance.

Imperialism, in which the strong feeds on the weak, sees greed as a necessity to rise. In a world where tribal uprisings and civil wars were commonplace, Vincent had crushed every problem before it became a conflagration. In the eight years since his reign began, the Vollachia Empire has been in a remarkable state of peace.

Blood had been spilled, fires had been set, and lives had been lost. Still, this was the most peaceful time since the beginning of the Vollachia Empire.

That was why the thoroughness of His Excellency’s stance toward the People of Shudrak made Zikr’s brow crease. While he was the child of war, the Emperor’s way of conducting business was to avoid any and all war from happening. Zikr imagined that this was not because the Emperor did not like war, but because he regarded war as a trivial matter. He wondered if the Emperor felt this way because he felt betrayed by it.

???: “No, that's not true, Second Class General Zikr. I understand where you're coming from. Although I'm just a soldier myself, I have a lot of things on my mind.”

It was one of the regular soldiers who listened to him with a friendly smile. They were having a moment in the tavern of the walled city of Guaral, stationed as the base for this expedition.

On nights when he wasn’t spending time with women, Zikr preferred to drink with his men. And that meant drinking with more lower-ranking soldiers than the first-class soldiers and those of the three general ranks.

Of course, many soldiers wouldn't want to go to the trouble of drinking with their superiors.

Nevertheless, Zikr liked to perform these formalities every time he went on an expedition, as he wanted to keep track of the thoughts and preferences of the men accompanying him. However, he may have talked a little too much this night.

The soldier he had been drinking with that night was a very talkative man. If asked what they were thinking, they would joke that they were making assumptions about what would happen if the bar suddenly became a battlefield. They had an ever-present battlefield mindset and an attitude of not being afraid of their superiors. The combination of such imperialism and his personal fondness for their humanity led him to talk about things he shouldn't have.

He didn't explicitly say anything about his secret mission involving the People of Shudrak, but he felt as if they'd heard about it in a way that made it obvious. If it had been someone from another country, Zikr would have been sentenced to death for his blunder.

Soldier: “No need to worry, I'll be on the front lines tomorrow by order of His Excellency… I'm sure the higher-ups have their own agendas, but it's none of my business.”

The soldier said to Zikr's relief as his drunkenness faded and he came back to himself. And just as he said that, he set out for the encampment adjacent to the Buddheim Forrest, the frontline position in the expedition.

Confirming this, Zikr once again faced the lump in his chest as he remained in the city. In spite of the thoroughness of his stance toward the People of Shudrak and the Imperial Capital’s order to force them into servitude or death, Zikr was determined to remain friendly and persuade the People of Sudrak whenever possible. This is what Zikr believed, and he thought that it was close to the beliefs of His Excellency. But...

Zikr: “...You're saying that the camp was burned to the ground after the Shudrak attack?”

After receiving such an unexpected report, Zikr was shocked at the City Hall he had seized.

Until last night, he had been trying to be as accommodating as possible to the People of Shudrak, trying to win over their tribe in a way that didn't involve fighting.

Several positions that surrounded the western side of the Buddheim jungle were attacked by the People of Shudrak, and the Imperial soldiers were unable to counterattack and broke away. They were shot in the back as they fled, and the damage spread even further, resulting in over a hundred casualties.

Zikr: “Foolishness…”

Zikr didn't know what he was muttering about: his own judgment, the actions of the Shudrak people, or reality. All he knew for sure was that the calm plan he had constructed in his head had collapsed, and the People of Shudrak had become the enemies of the Imperial Guard... or rather, of the Emperor.

Zikr: “It's a pity, but we will wait for reinforcements from the Imperial City and defeat the rebels in the Buddheim Forrest.”

After the soldiers who had narrowly escaped the attack of the People of Shudrak were received into the city and the expeditionary force was ready, Zikr made his decision. There was the option of attacking the forest with his current forces and fighting the People of Shudrak. However, the forest was their domain, and the advantage of raw numbers could be erased. If he was to achieve a certain victory, he needed an overwhelming advantage, not a half-baked one.

In addition, what they need is not the soft stance of asking for negotiations, but the soldiers who have been hardened for fighting.

Zikr: “Foolishly, they shook off the hand of the peace from our side. Then we have no choice but to follow our allegiance to His Excellency, the Emperor, and bring down punishment on the rebels.”

If he were to restrain himself in this way, the warmth would disappear even from the Womanizer Zikr Osman. Even if the opponent is a female tribe, the People of Shudrak, he must destroy every bit of their bloodline, so that he will not have to worry about them in the future. To that end...

Zikr: “Do not neglect preparations to close the main gate. I've heard that the People of Shudrak are good with bows, but they can't get past the fortifications of this walled city. Do not leave any room for them to breakthrough.”

He learned from the returning soldiers how the front line positions were burned, and bearing in mind that it was a burnout by a small group of elites, he turns to a completely defensive strategy. Given the known lifestyle of the People of Shudrak, it was hard to imagine that the tribe as a whole was that large in number, and it was unlikely that everyone, including children and the elderly, would be able to fight. Assuming a force of around a hundred at most, the only way for them to compete with the Imperial Guard would be to take advantage of the darkness of the night and launch a surprise attack. However, this is also a means of preemptive attack that can only be used against an opponent whose vigilance is relaxed when there has been no attack.

Zikr: “Thoroughly plug the holes! Even the walls of this fortified city are not solid. With its long history, it is conceivable that there are ways to communicate with the outside without going through gates. Don't overlook any possible paths!”

???: “On that note, I have a report for you, sir. Some of the soldiers who have returned from the burned camp are already going around destroying possible paths in preparation for an attack from the outside.”

Zikr: “Is that so? It is reassuring to know that there are soldiers other than Generals who are capable of understanding what is to come. As soon as this matter is properly dealt with, we will take it up again. But for now…”

???: “...Yes. It's a thoroughly defensive stance until the reinforcements arrive.”

Hearing Zikr's instructions, his subordinate, a Third Class General, bent over deeply.

If this was the statement of an ordinary general, he would be laughed at for his reluctance. In fact, Zikr has been subjected to that kind of ridicule in the past. However, Zikr had already suffered a painful blow against the People of Shudrak… and if he returned to the Imperial Capital, he would be in a position to face some sort of punishment. There was no reason not to take the best course of action under such backwater. His subordinates also knew this, so they did not ridicule Zikr's stance. Thus…

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Zikr: "...What was that?"

Zikr raised his eyebrows at the report of his subordinate as he continued to check for holes in the fortified city of Guaral. In the midst of waiting for reinforcements to arrive from the Imperial Capital and the continuation of the ever-increasing tension, the report made Zikr feel terribly out of place. Because it was...

Subordinate: "Yes. Apparently, a troupe of traveling entertainers has been the talk of the city for the past few days."

Zikr: "Traveling entertainers..."

The report from his subordinate was idyllic, without any sense of tension. The report was inappropriate for the tense atmosphere of wartime, but there was no reason to reprimand the subordinate who gave it. In the first place, it was Zikr himself who disliked the idea of forcing the people to lead a life that was particularly conscious of the fact that it was wartime. Even so, dissatisfaction tends to accumulate in cities where the military is stationed. In some cases, the failure to control the people's emotions could even lead to destruction.

With this in mind, Zikr did not dare to tighten the grip on the local community. He kept a vigilant eye on the outskirts of the city and made sure that his soldiers searched the area thoroughly to prevent the invasion of the People of Shudrak, while allowing the residents to live their lives as they were used to. He knew it was a contradiction, but it was a compromise between Zikr's common sense and his military awareness.

Anyway, because of this approach, he had decided not to change the way the city handled traffic into and out of the city during the day, the checkpoint at the main gate and the peddlers. Therefore, there may be room for a troupe of traveling entertainers to enter the city...

Zikr: "... What are you going to do about it, report it? If you want me to crack down on them, I don't really want to do that. In this situation. I can understand why the citizens would welcome a troupe."

The situation is such that not a handful of military personnel, along with the guards, continue to patrol the city. Many of the soldiers who had escaped the attack and entered the city were becoming increasingly hostile and wary of the People of Shudrak, and even though they were instructed to be careful, they were constantly getting into fights with the citizens. In such a situation, it is not hard to imagine that the appearance of a troupe of traveling entertainers in the city would be a small relief to the citizens. Even more so, if he took it away from them...

Zikr: "The public outcry would be explosive.. Don't you understand?"

Subordinate: "Of course, you are right sir... I'm not saying to crack down on it. Just ..."

Zikr: "Just, what? You're being very evasive."

Zikr raised one eyebrow at his subordinate's stammering attitude and urged him to continue. Then, after a moment of silence, the subordinate bowed his head as if he had given up. With his fist in his palm, in a posture that showed respect for his superior and no hostility, the subordinate breathed a "ha" and said...

Subordinate: "Actually, that troupe ... of dancers is magnificent, sir. ...I thought you might like to see them."

Zikr: "Me? Dancers if you don't mind my saying so..."

Hearing the unexpected suggestion of his subordinate, Zikr raised his eyes in surprise. This was a subordinate that he had known for a long time and had stepped on a reasonable number of battlefields with. It was hard to imagine that he would come up with such a proposal without any thought. However, it was hard to gauge his true intentions for wanting to show Zikr the dancers.

Subordinate: "Sir, I can't say this too loudly, but there is a growing dissatisfaction among the troops."

Zikr: "Mm..."

A subordinate, who had straightened up his appearance, confided in Zikr. Zikr's gaze naturally sharpened at the unconventional approach. When he silently urged him to go on, his subordinate said in a slightly hushed voice

Subordinate: "The Imperial Capital's reluctance to send reinforcements was one thing, but the soldiers also seem to have some thoughts about your strategy, in hunkering down in the city and preparing for a defensive battle. There is also the matter of the earlier incident where the encampment was burned down."

Zikr: ".... I see. No, that's to be expected."

The frankness of his subordinate's point of view made Zikr hold something heavy in his heart. It is inevitable that the soldiers' dissatisfaction and distrust of Zikr would have piled up." It was Zikr's fault for allowing the People of Shudrak to attack first, causing the deaths of so many of his soldiers. After that, the soldiers who had joined them were not given a chance to recover, so it was no wonder that they turned their frustration to Zikr.

Subordinate: "Of all the things that aren't spoken, sir..."

Zikr: "...Don't say it."

Subordinate: "...Oh, excuse me, sir."

Interrupting his subordinate's attempt to continue, Zikr placed a hand on his forehead. He can only imagine what kind of abuse a subordinate would spit at a superior during such a negative state of affairs. Still, it was the obvious insults that seemed unbearable. Even if he had the rank of Second Class General, he just couldn't accept such insults. After thinking about it for a while, Zikr also realized the intention of his subordinate's suggestion.

Zikr: "I see. So you're saying that we should set up a place for the soldiers to relieve their frustration."

Subordinate: "Yes. I thought that the dancers could be used for that purpose.Many of the generals were so impressed with the singing and dancing that they went to..."

Zikr: "Hoho, I see? You describe it as if you've seen it all before?"

When Zikr's eyes narrowed in pursuit, his subordinate cleared his throat and avoided further clarification. But that attitude was the best proof that his suspicions were true. At any rate, he was in the difficult position of being caught between a general and a soldier. It would be narrow-minded of him to blame his subordinate for seeking a way to heal himself. In addition, his subordinate who actually saw the dancer suggested this.

Zikr: "The dancer seems to be very beautiful."

Subordinate: "That's it! Oh, no, I'm sure it will be worthy of attention sir. Besides the dancers, the musician's singing and performance are also magnificent..."

Zikr: "Hmm Hmm, that's quite promising."

Zikr thought it was a bit of an exaggeration, but he agreed anyway. Nevertheless, he was pleased that his subordinate had made such a proposal out of concern for his position and future, and there was no reason to stubbornly refuse it. Zikr himself had not had a woman in his bedchamber for some time now, due to his busy schedule, and he had a lot on his mind. There was no way he was going to put his soldiers through that kind of inconvenience.

Zikr: "All right, all right. I'll take you up on your offer. You can invite that troupe of traveling entertainers and set up a place to reward the soldiers."


Zikr: "...But don't forget to check that they didn’t bring weapons."

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Once Zikr's permission was granted, the men moved quickly ahead of him. How thirsty and hungry they must have been, they immediately set up a banquet hall on the first floor of the city hall, then prepared drinks and food, and subsequently gathered women to serve. Then they called out to the troupe of traveling entertainers in question and invited them to an upper-level floor of city hall.

???: "I am pleased to present to you a beautiful dancer from beyond the great waterfall. With her lustrous black hair that swallows up the sunlight, her beautiful white skin blessed by the spirits, and her supreme beauty as if she were a celestial being, she will be dancing grandly tonight."

After the musician's exaggerated preamble, the veil was slowly and deliberately removed. Of a troupe of itinerant entertainers made up solely of women, the musicians shrouded by unfurled veils, a dancer who had earned fame in the city this figure was unveiled, Zikr's eyes widened.

???: “...”

Her beauty, with her white skin exposed and her long black hair flowing loosely down her back, betrayed the previous words of the musician... Yes, that expression was too inadequate to describe this beauty. The beautiful black hair and the white skin wrapped in a thin costume certainly had the magical power to captivate many who saw them. However, these factors were only part of the true nature of her beauty. If charisma is a talent that charms not only dancers and musicians, but also many people, then the atmosphere and appearance of the dancer were truly frightening.

The thing that made Zikr feel most strongly was the dancer's eyes.

The long, slit eyelashes were not only the centerpiece of a well-rounded face, but also had the best of all golden ratios. Zikr's instincts made him thirsty and he craved for more.

Whether it was the dancer herself or the charisma she wore that drew him in, Zikr had no idea. However, it was hard to imagine how much of a shock it would be when the dancer, who had brought so much emotion to the audience even without dancing, actually started to dance in the midst of the song and music. Zikr was left awestruck by the unimaginable shock that followed.

???: "...Please, if you could give us the opportunity to perform the dance of our Dancing Princess."

In place of the mute dancer, no, the Dancing Princess, a musician with long black hair also hangs her head. The two musicians, one with dark hair and the other with blond hair, were beautiful, but Zikr, who was admiring the dancing princess, saw them only as accessories. Normally, Zikr would have reflected on his disregard for those women, but he was too feverish at the moment to even think about it.

Never before had he been so conscious of his reputation as the Womanizer. In fact, Zikr was must have been the Womanizer…. because it was impossible for him to keep a level head in front of such beauty.

And so, in a feverish state of mind, a banquet was held. Naturally, the commander, Zikr, was seated at the far end of the banquet, and the assembled generals, all ranks except for the common soldiers, gathered to enjoy drinks and food. But the best part of the evening was the spectacle of a troupe of traveling entertainers.

Originally, the purpose of the troupe was to treat the troops and let them vent their frustrations, but Zikr forgot his original goal and gasped at the appearance of the dancing princess. He took a sip of sake to quench his thirst, moistened his tongue, lips, and throat, and regained his breath. That's how much Zirkle's heart was stolen.

???: "Tonight, I present to you the Dance from beyond the Great Waterfall, home of our Dancing Princess. Please enjoy this dance from the ends of the world to your heart's content."

A musician's voice began to sing, and the sound of strings being plucked became gentle music. As the unfamiliar music began to play, even the generals who had been chatting noisily until then choked up with red faces, trying not to take their eyes off the upcoming dance. And then...

???: “...”

And then, the beautiful dance of the Dancing Princess slowly began.

???: “...”

Everyone was speechless as she danced, using her long arms and legs and swaying her black hair. They forgot to breathe as they watched… No, mesmerized was the word. It would be insane to be able to keep one's mind intact while witnessing such an amazing dance.

That was only possible to those with the sensibility of a beast that did not understand the value of dance. The Imperial Guard is like a pack of wolves, but they were not beasts without intelligence or speech. Therefore, the generals also gasped, forgot to breathe, and were mesmerized by the beautiful dance of the Dancing Princess.

All of them lost their voices and were mesmerized by the dance of the Dancing Princess. They are mesmerized by her nubile black hair, her smooth, white skin without a single blemish, and her beautifully crafted magical face that would make artists want to cut off their dominant hand. But it was neither of these factors that drew Zikr's gaze, consciousness, or heart.

...It was her eyes.

After all, he could not take his eyes off the dancer's eyes. The long, slit eyes glared at the dancing stage, staring at Zikr at the far end of the hall. It was those eyes that never left Zikr's brain, grabbing him directly and refusing to let go.

Eventually, the Dancing Princess slowly made her way across the hall and stepped in front of Zikr. Gently kneeling down, she held out her hands and asked for Zikr's sword.

Zikr understood that this was a natural gesture to ask for a sword. The dance of the Dancing Princess grows more heated, darker in color, taking control of the world as it moves to the next stage. In the process of transitioning to a sword dance, the Dancing Princess sought out a sword.

Zikr did not have the option of not giving it to her. No one could stop him. No one, not his subordinates, not the generals, could interfere with his actions. It was so natural that it was almost as if this was something that was predetermined.


???: "You've lost, Zikr Osman."

Even after listening to the ruthless declaration with the drawn sword at his throat, Zikr Osman could not understand that he had been defeated because he was the Womanizer.

Zikr: "..."

He could not take his eyes off the eyes of Dancing Princess as she said this, even at that moment. The cold, captivating charisma of the woman... it was as if he had seen it somewhere before, and the feeling of déjà vu kept burning in the brain of the defeated general, Zikr.