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238 The Battle of Sotimi

 Groff Compton was the captain of a Silver Eagle Duchy's border patrol, in charge of a dozen border patrolmen who guarded the frontier at Sotimi.

He was a graduate of Valla Empire's knight academy. Although being the second son of a baron meant he was not inheriting his father's title, he was at least appointed a minor official of the White Quill Guards, slowly accumulating achievement in his rise as a noble.

However, soon after he graduated as a training knight, his family was the victim of reprisals for picking the wrong side in an imperial political struggle and after their supporters were taken out of the equation, leaving the whole family in deteriorating fortunes.

Groff was naturally targeted in revenge-not only was he denied his place amongst the White Quills, he was directly dismissed from the imperial army and thrown to the remote reaches of the North.

If Horan, the Crownless King of the North didn't offer a little help out of nostalgia for the old days and appoint Groff border patrol captain, he might still be wasting his youth amongst the dregs of the military.

It was out of the gratitude towards Duke Horan that Groff was one of the few border patrol captains at Sotimi who wasn't scared out of his wits at the sight of zombies and immediately ordered his men to retreat.

Even though the zombies had long since destroyed their stronghold, he was still leading his squad to repel the undead, doing all he could to keep the monsters here instead of allowing them to reach Tunaya.

***

The truth was that the zombie rampage at Sotimi didn't catch much attention from the start-after all, the Valley of the Tragic Dead that was famous across the whole continent for supposedly having the largest numbers of undead was sitting on another side of the North.

Though Sotimi was quite far from the Valley of the Tragic Dead, it was not impossible for zombies to go the distance to come here out from that place.

Since these inferior undead didn't need to feed and had no self-awareness at all, it was normal for them to flock together out of instincts and reach Sotimi by coincidence.

The other border patrol captains were completely unconcerned, however, and simply sent out some of their men, assuming that they would suffice for wiping them out.

As a result, those men never returned.

Realizing that something wasn't right, the captains immediately reported back to Tunaya while working hard to repel the growing number of zombies.

It was after fighting those monsters that the captains realized that these were not the weak undead creatures they had fought before. These zombies were incredibly strong and possessed durable bodies, and they would never stop moving unless their heads were cut off or their skulls split apart.

And if they killed or injured anyone-even their closest comrades, their victims would soon become another monster just like them and start attacking the patrolmen.

With hot weapons barely catching on and no accompanying mages, the warriors could only engage the enemy in close quarters. Besides, they were fighting with too much restraint since they were cautious not to get hurt, and unable to use the advantage they had as fighters.

Even the sacred corps of the Brilliant White Church couldn't turn the tides at the border.

As casualties mounted while the enemies grew in number, most of the other border patrol captains were left shaken and attempted to retreat.

It was therefore a pity that the zombies were only too adept at swarming and killing prey that had lost the will to fight, and the horde soon flooded and killed the border patrols attempting to escape, and much earlier than the other patrols standing their ground and continuing to fight...

At first, Groff imagined that he would ultimately be surrounded and devoured by the zombies just like his men and be reduced to pieces.

But he unexpectedly encountered a turn of the tide yesterday.

At the time, Groff was desperate-he was out of supplies and ammunition, even as zombies hungrier than wolves prowled everywhere around him.

Even so, when the zombies noticed his whereabouts and were about to kill him as well, a bunch of weird people suddenly appeared.

They were dressed flamboyantly, adorning equipment that looked impractical no matter how one looked at it, with some women were showing so much skin that their armor might well be as defenseless as bikinis. The weapons they were carrying came in all shapes and sizes as well, with some of them making Groff do a double take: why would anyone be carrying around a big salted fish? And why was it so sturdy that it could split a zombie's head?

Fine, they might look so weird to the point that Groff was suspecting that they were crazy, but he found them surprisingly reliable after a brief moment together.

They were effectively wiping out the zombies that were pouring towards them from every direction. They didn't lose heart even if they would run into enemies they couldn't match, and even looked happy about it.

After they saved Groff, he was led to their temporary base where he met many other border patrolmen who were rescued.

The weird people calling themselves Players had brought along many supplies, including potions that instantly heal wounds just like holy water, herbs that help restore spirit, and cures that remove zombie infections!

And it was so delicious!

Thanks to the Players, many amongst the border patrol survived.

But aside from fighting, the Players could be found muttering confusing things like 'Tch, why is a System set meal in the prize pool too?' or 'it must be the System tavern losing to the Iron Cauldron and had to clear stock', and then retrieving various food out of nowhere.

While they regarded those food with disdain, Groff and the other border patrol guards had a happy time eating away. Being able to have a full stomach in such a terrible battle was a luxury, and the food was both delicious and pleasing to look at, even comparable to dishes made by famous chefs.

Still, through it all, Groff was aware that they were holding the line all thanks to the Players.

Be that as it may, humans had a limit to their spirit. After a long, bitter fight without rest that lasted a day and a night, the Players were showing visible fatigue.

On the other hand, the undead didn't have any such concerns.

And this mustn't continue. Groff knew very well how dire things were at the moment, but he had no solutions at all.

That was when the delighted shouts of other border patrolmen echoed from the rear.

"Reinforcements! Reinforcements are coming! They look like Players too!"

Groff immediately felt joy inside his heart.

Just as he was about to share the relieving news with the Player who had been caring for him most, he found the Player frowning, his face full of panic and disbelief.

Before Groff could ask, he started yelling.

"Damn it, they got the dragon-and now they are coming to kill steal!"