Chapter 1 – Story 30: Fortress

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Even though quite a bit of time has already passed since the sun vanished behind the horizon, the fortress that had been built in the Solbiant Plains was engulfed in a luminance similar to broad daylight due to a grand bonfire
The soldiers are busily running around and angry voices are flitting about everywhere.
The Company Commander Aide Marchronis, who had been entrusted with the fortress and who was among them, frantically dealt with his subordinates that were constantly rushing over to ask for his orders or to give reports.

“Sir Company Commander Aide! There aren’t enough places to let the injured soldiers rest!”

“I don’t mind if you lay them down in the passages! It would be bad to expose them to the chilling night wind with them having lost their resilience already. Check the conditions of their injuries and carry the heavily wounded into the buildings as priority!” (Marchronis)

“Sir Company Commander Aide! The ointments are insufficient! It’s the same for bandages as well!”

“Fetch the wine barrels from the food storehouses! At least disinfect them with alcohol! There’s probably spare clothes in the storehouse, too. Tear those up and use them as a replacement for bandages!” (Marchronis)

This uproar was due to the injured soldiers that had arrived at the fortress while the sun was going down.
It’s been more than half a month since a battalion had departed to mop up the zoan called the Fang Clan that are lurking on the Hoghnareah Hill to the north. Everyone considered the cleaning up of the zoan to be a simple task. The zoan had already lost their momentum from ancient times.
However, it happened three days after the battalion went towards the hill. A large-scaled wildfire occurred around the area of the zoan village and could even be seen from the fortress. Marchronis felt a bad premonition due to the huge wildfire, considering that it burned down the zoan’ village.
He knew that his premonition had come true three days after that.
The soldiers of the battalion that set out to mop up the zoan came scurrying back in a visibly tragic state. The soldiers were pitch black from head to toe due to soot and mud. At first it was to the degree that they could have been mistaken for being a group of vagrants from some unknown place. Also, having reached the fortress, the majority collapsed on the spot due to intense exhaustion, not even able to move a step further.
‘Once I asked the soldiers just what kind of natural disaster they ran into, I was told that the battalion suffered a crushing defeat that might as well be called “annihilation” after shockingly getting attacked with fire by the zoan.
They told me that starting with Battalion Leader Lugniaz who led the battalion, all personnel beyond the rank of company commander ended up missing in action during the chaos. The soldiers had no other option but to run away without a moment’s delay. They were being driven onwards by the fire, and had walked for almost the entire three days since without eating or drinking until they at last returned to the fortress.
As expected, this was something Marchronis couldn’t believe right from the start either.
However, when injured soldiers marched into the fortress one after the other after that day, he had no choice but to accept reality.
Currently the returned, injured soldiers are made to rest inside the overflowing fortress. Being forced to listen to their endless groans is a hellish experience.
Finishing the first-aid treatment for the newly arrived injured soldiers, the fortress finally regained its calmness. It was at the time when the moon was close to its zenith while the sun was already sinking down towards the western sky.

“Sir Marchronis, do you have a moment?”

A soldier that had the tuft of a platoon leader attached to his helmet arrived at Marchronis’ location.

“What is it, Setius?” (Marchronis)

“There’s something I’d like you to hear about, Sir.” (Setius)

“What’s wrong? Go ahead and tell me.” (Marchronis)

“This place here is, a bit…” (Setius)

He hesitates to speak while pointing with his line of sight at the soldiers that had been put to rest in the surroundings and the soldiers who are nursing them.

“Understood. Follow me.” (Marchronis)

Marchronis turned his feet towards a building.
Even on the stairs and in the passages of the buildings, many wounded soldiers have been laid down. Marchronis was careful to not disturb them as they headed towards the official room of the fortress command.
A large map had been hung on the inner wall. Marchronis sat down on the chair at the desk for official duties set in front of that wall as if he were collapsing into it.

“You seem to be quite exhausted, Sir Company Commander Aide.” (Setius)

“You are definitely right about that.” (Marchronis)

Beginning with his superior officer, the company commander, having died in agony after making a move on the zoan divine child, it’s been too many events happening in succession for the hands of the company commander aide who was close to retiring from military service.

“I didn’t expect for wounded soldiers being sent day after day like this either. To say nothing of it being more than forty people that used a wagon in one go today.” (Marchronis)

“This is almost as if the zoan are attacking us, isn’t it?” (Setius)

He had the same opinion as Setius.
The injured soldiers belong to Holmea State just like him. It’s impossible for him to abandon them, but having been flooded with many more soldiers compared to the amount currently stationed in the fortress, the fortress’ soldiers’ fatigue is already reaching its limit due to the medical treatment and nursing of the wounded.

“Be that as it may, I can’t tell the zoan to not send them over. On the contrary, many soldiers have been saved because they received their treatment. I’m certainly thankful to them and there’s no way for me to blame them either, right?” (Marchronis)

Because our side sent a battalion with the intention of eradicating the zoan, we couldn’t complain even if the soldiers would have been massacred. And yet the zoan applied emergency treatment to the wounded soldiers and even expressly built wagons for the sake of those who couldn’t walk.
In the army they are teaching that the zoan are savage beasts, but as it stands, I don’t know which side are actually the savage beasts.

“So, what is the matter that you want to report to me?” (Marchronis)

“Actually, the returned soldiers mentioned something worrisome.” (Setius)

“What is it?” (Marchronis)

“The captured soldiers are talking about having seen a human child among the zoan. Moreover, the same report has been delivered by several soldiers.” (Setius)

“A human child, you say? Did they abduct one from some pioneering village?” (Marchronis)

“No, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s a story that’s impossible to believe, but they are saying that they saw the zoan acting in accordance to what that child said.” (Setius)

That’s impossible, Marchronis thought.
Resentment towards the human has likely sunk deep into the minds of the zoan, who were chased out of the plains where they used to live by the humans. It’s absolutely unthinkable for the zoan to follow the words said by a human that aggravates this resentment.
However, something was stuck in the mind of Marchronis who tried to laugh it off.

“Did you forget, Sir Company Commander Aide? About the divine child that vanished from this fortress alongside the zoan that broke out of prison.” (Setius)

Marchronis suddenly remembered in surprise.
Slightly before this there was the incident of the escape of the divine child that had cruelly killed the company commander. At that time, the unidentified divine child that Setius had brought along from the heretical ritual place disappeared alongside her.
He pondered on whether it was possible for the zoan to have taken him out, but unable to believe that the human-hating zoan took along a boy to the extent of even braving danger, it was deemed that the boy took advantage of the zoan’s jailbreak to slip out on his own.
Because Priest Mildas, who had that unidentified divine child put into the dungeon together with the zoan divine child, caused a fuss, they searched for the boy and even depended on the cooperation of the battalion, but in the end they weren’t able to find him. As it’s unthinkable for a child to survive all by itself in these vast plains, Marchronis simply thought that he certainly died a dog’s death somewhere.

“No way! It’s that child!? No, wait, wait! You said that the zoan were obeying that child!? You don’t say that the recent fire assault…!” (Marchronis)

Marchronis obtained a clue to unravel the questions of the last few days.
For him not being able to believe at first that the battalion was attacked with fire right when he received the report was because that was something far too removed from the known way of zoan fighting.
However, if the zoan followed the human child as it was seen by the soldiers, I can’t imagine anything else but this method of fighting that doesn’t appear zoan-like being an idea of that human child.

“What is that child…?” (Marchronis)

Even if he wanted to question Mildas who apparently knew the true identity of that divine child, he had already departed from the fortress. On the day the search by the battalion had been aborted, he thoroughly raised hell and at last, after getting angry, returned to the city.

“Does it seem possible to forbid the soldier of speaking about this matter?” (Marchronis)

If the soldiers learned of being betrayed by a human just like them and that human being with the zoan, it would likely cause a commotion among them.

“There are many soldiers who witnessed it. The rumour is also spreading among the soldiers who are in contact with them due to the nursing. I think it’s already too late for that.” (Setius)

“Fuck! It would have been better if I had that shitty toad spit it out by constricting him.” (Marchronis)

It’s no use crying over spilt milk.

“Anyways, the zoan, who currently have the momentum on their side, might come attack this place. Everyone’s probably tired, but increase the lookouts. Shorten the shift change intervals.” (Marchronis)

That’s out of concern that the worn-out soldiers won’t be able to keep concentrating for a long time.

“As you command!” (Setius)

Once Setius left the room after saluting, only Marchronis was left in the room. He tiredly entrusted his body to the chair’s back.

“A human whom the zoan obey, is it? Just what the hell is going on here!?” (Marchronis)

The one who could answer Marchronis’ question wasn’t present.

◆◇◆◇◆

A soldier wrapped in a blanket stood guard on top of the wall, where the cold wind was blowing fiercely. He discovered something stirring in the plains where the eastern sky had started to brighten a bit.
Once he strains his eyes, he sees two large wagons and soldiers pushing them.

“Those are… injured soldiers again…?”

Even though forty wounded arrived just yesterday evening, the numbers this time are beyond that.
He’d like to be pardoned from it once again becoming a great uproar like yesterday, but there’s no way for them to abandon their comrades who had escaped barely alive. The guarding soldier bends himself over the wall’s edge and shouts towards the ground,

“Wounded soldiers have come again! This time it’s quite the number!”

Hearing his words, it becomes hectic around the gate.

“Open the gate~!”

Opening the gate together with several people, they usher in the injured soldiers.
The wounded who entered through the gate were in the worst state so far.
All of them are wrapped up in bandages from head to toe. They are like a group of mummies who received a memorial service according to the burial laws handed down in the distant southern deserts, going by the rumours about it.
Even the soldiers that welcomed them were convinced that they had gotten used to wounded soldiers in these last few days, but due to the excessively terrible scene, they wore pained expressions.

“It’s fine now. Have peace of mind.”

The soldier who rushed over while calling out to them like that, felt a strange sense of discomfort that he couldn’t express with words.
All of the soldiers that pushed the wagons hadn’t just covered their bodies with bandages, but went even so far as to wrap up their faces as well. Considering they suffered injuries from the large fire to such an extent, it seems as if their bodies are brimming with vitality.
A different soldier who ran over to one wagon and tried to lift up one of the injured soldiers lying over there in order to treat them became startled and opened his eyes widely.
The skin that’s peeking through a slight gap in the bandages is weird. Let alone that it doesn’t look like it was burned by fire, it’s awfully hairy. No, even if it was hairy, that would be too much. It is as if they are wearing a pelt below the bandages.
At that moment he heard a sound similar to the throaty growling of a beast.
Once he timidly turns around in the direction of the sound, he meets the eyes of a wounded soldier that was wrapped up in bandages up to his face. When he looks properly, he feels like the pupils of those eyes are odd. Those large, round pupils resemble those of cats in the the darkness.
Besides, the canines peeking out through the slightly opened mouth were abnormally long and sharp. Aren’t those just like fangs?
Cold sweat suddenly gushes out on the face of the soldier who noticed that.

“I-It’s a zoooaan!!”

The throat of the soldier that raised a shout is cleaved open by a brandished machete, making a ripping sound.
With that as the signal, the zoan who had pretended to be injured soldiers fling off the armours one after the other, tear off the bandages and reveal their true identity.

“I’m Garam, son of Garguss, one of the Fang Clan belonging to the 12 zoan clans! We won’t kill you if you don’t resist! If you point your blades at us, we will retaliate in kind!”

Adopting an imposing stance atop a wagon while holding machetes in both hands, Garam declared so in a loud voice. And then, once he fills his lungs to the brim with air, he roars a war cry that makes the atmosphere vibrate.
In reply to that, the furious sounds of drums and countless war cries were raised outside the fortress successively.

“It’s a zoan surprise attaaack!”

“The fortress has been surrounded!!”

The interior of the fortress had already plummeted into chaos.

“We are proud zoan warriors! We won’t show any mercy to those opposing us! However, we will never hurt those who surrendered!”

Announcing that, Garam broke into a run searching for enemies.
Furthermore, the warriors of the Fang Clan follow after him while saying in a chorus,

“”We won’t show any mercy to those opposing us! We won’t raise our hands against those who surrendered!””

The soldiers in the way of Garam’s group raised both hands one after the other, showing their will to surrender.
Souma had the warriors of the Fang Clan that were assigned to attack the fortress promise that they definitely won’t hurt those who surrendered.
That is because Souma still felt reluctance towards killing people. In the battle of Hoghnareah he had intended to show his determination, but notwithstanding, Souma, who lived in the peaceful Japan, has a strong antipathy towards murder. In truth, he wants to conclude things without killing people if at all possible.
However, this time there was furthermore the objective of breaking the fighting spirit of the fortress’ soldiers.
The number of soldiers present in the fortress at this time was around three hundred if one excludes the injured soldiers who can’t fight due to the seriousness of their wounds. If one simply goes by the numbers, they would likely be perfectly able to oppose the sixty three warriors of the Fang Clan that invaded the fortress.
But, if one breaks down those three hundred, it would be one hundred soldiers who were originally stationed in the fortress and two hundred who returned alive from Hoghnareah Hill.
Those two hundred didn’t bear wounds to the extent of making them unable to fight, but many of them have their fighting spirit already crushed because of the fire ambush.
Moreover, among those soldiers there are also many who were captured by the zoan once and then released later on. They who have experienced first hand that the zoan won’t abuse the humans they captured, were those who knew that the zoan would keep their promise to release them afterwards.
How likely is it for there to be any among them to brandish their fighting spirit despite being told by the zoan that they won’t be hurt if they give up?
If they were told that they would get slaughtered, the soldiers would likely gather the bit of fighting spirit they have and frantically resist against this.
However, hearing that they will go unhurt if they lay down their weapons, they readily chose the option of surrender.
Furthermore, their conduct even affected the soldiers who were stationed in the fortress to begin with.
Even though those soldiers drew their swords and roused their fighting spirits after learning about the zoan’s surprise attack, everyone quickly took surrender for granted once they surveyed their surroundings. With that happening in the surroundings, even the fighting spirit they expressly roused ends up withering away in the blink of an eye.
Even the soldiers that were expected to fight surrendered one after the other without using their weapons even once.
Like this, Garam’s warriors of the Fang Clan suppressed the fortress’ soldiers with nothing but words.

◆◇◆◇◆

Marchronis, who had taken a nap, woke up due to the sounds of the drums and the tumult occurring inside the fortress. Right when he puts on the armour he had taken off before his nap, a soldier plunges into the room.

“It’s a disaster, Sir! It’s a zoan surprise attack!”

“Report the current situation!” (Marchronis)

“It looks like the zoan have gained total control of the fortress after invading through the gate!”

“Invaded through the gate, you say!? Were the guards asleep!?” (Marchronis)

After the experience of a few zoan invading and leading the escape of the divine children, he had strengthened the guard in the fortress. Especially around the gate, he has made sure for there to always be ten soldiers on duty by not just increasing the number of guards but also by setting up a hut for sleeping. It was all for the sake of not allowing the gate to be opened easily even in the worst case of the enemy breaking in.

“That is… because the zoan pretended to be injured soldiers by wrapping themselves with bandages, the gate was opened from our side.”

“What idiocy! Did you open the gate without even checking!?” (Marchronis)

“S-Sorry. It was just…”

Marchronis desisted from shouting any further.
Due to injured soldiers arriving almost every day in the last few days here, the soldiers got used to it without even being aware of their growing complacency.
To say nothing of those arriving being comrades that suffered serious injuries. I guess it’s human nature to want to apply medical treatment by allowing them inside the fortress, even if it’s just a moment faster.
To condemn them for that is heartless.
After pondering that far, it suddenly hit him.

“Shit, we were done in! Everything was groundwork for this!?” (Marchronis)

It was in order for the people of the fortress to get used to the injured soldiers being sent over little by little and not all in one go, causing them to slowly grow negligent.
Sending over more than forty people yesterday was for the sake of spelling fatigue upon us and to make our judgement dull.
Even the polite returning of the injured soldiers for medical treatment was on behalf of creating a situation where it wouldn’t be unnatural even if they were wrapped up by bandages, so that a zoan’s identity wouldn’t be exposed from a distance.

“The guy who came up with this has a rotten character!” (Marchronis)

After spouting all the possible jeers he has inside his chest, Marchronis picked up his sword, rushed out of the room and left the building. There he encountered the zoan.
The black-haired zoan that stood at the head of the group thrust a machete out towards him.

“That helmet tuft! It looks like the one of this fortress’ commander!” (Garam)

Marchronis also guessed that this guy is the leader of the zoan due to the captivating stature of the black-haired zoan in front of him.
As if there’s no use in arguing about it, Marchronis releases a sharp thrust with the sword in his hands. While parrying the thrust with the left machete he held in a backhand grip, Garam stepped forward in one go as is and stabbed his right machete towards the flank of Marchronis. Due to that, Marchronis separated his left hand from the hilt of the sword at once and stopped the machete by hitting Garam’s right wrist with his left elbow.
However, at the moment Marchronis’ body became defenceless for that reason, Garam stepped in even further and delivered a powerful head-butt against Marchronis’s nose. Marchronis, who is retreating while staggering due to the unexpected attack, is slapped onto the ground with his back first after getting tripped up immediately after.

“Surrender! Otherwise I will gouge out your throat!” (Garam)

Marchronis, who had two machetes pressed against his throat while being straddled, gritted his teeth in vexation for a short while, but once his other subordinate soldiers were arrested by the zoan, he tossed away the sword he grasped in his right hand and released the strength in his body.

“It’s my loss. I will surrender…” (Marchronis)

“It’s regrettable, but I will accept it.” (Garam)

Due to Garam looking sullen just like his words hinted at, Marchronis asked quizzically,

“Regrettable, what do you mean with that?” (Marchronis)

“It’s because I have been told to not hurt those who surrendered.” (Garam)

Originally, Marchronis, who commanded the fortress, is an enemy that should be hated for having killed the many zoan that had attacked until now. It’s to the point that they want to kill him just like that, if they were to express their true feelings.

“I see. I feel slightly gratified.” (Marchronis)

The matter of Garam frowning healed Marchronis’s pride by a bit.

 


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