Late at night, inside the forest located far upstream of the river that flows through Bolnis, figures of zoan can be found moving about.
The zoan, who quietly travel through the forest, reach a number exceeding eight hundred.
Their breakdown was as follows: 150 people of the Fang Clan, 400 people of the Claw Clan, 50 people of the Eyes Clan and 300 people of the Mane Clan.
This mass of zoan that by all means should be called the Four Clan Alliance is led by Ferocious Fang Fagul Garguss Garam, who is highly praised as a hero among the zoan of the Solbiant Plains.
The approximately nine hundred zoan that were led by this black-furred zoan lined up and began to cross the river one after the other after a shallow area was discovered in the river.
When barely around four hundred of them had crossed over, an unforeseen accident occurred.
A stone that was being used as a foothold by a young warrior as he was crossing the shoal suddenly crumbled. That warrior lost his balance and fell into the river.
Surprised by the pronounced sound of splashing water, the zoan drew their machetes all at once.
Due to the air of tension, all of the zoan were shaken. It was as if their fur were tingling from some static electricity.
“What is it? What’s going on? Is it the enemy!? Where? Where is the enemy!?”
The one that appeared while releasing a yell full of joy, as if he were breaking that tense air apart, is a red-furred giant — Zurgu. Zurgu jumped from the riverbank and landed close to the fallen, young warrior while raising a sheet of spray.
The zoan were uniformly dumbfounded by his sudden action.
Zurgu, who surveyed the surroundings while creating an eyeshade with a hand as all eyes are filed upon him, released a grand sigh after realizing that there’s no enemy.
“What! There’s no enemy? How boring!”
And then he abruptly lowered his eyes at the young warrior who looks up at him in a daze with his buttocks still in the river.
“What are you doing?”
“Eh? No, that is…”
Zurgu gestured towards the young warrior that became flustered as if having noticed something.
“I see. Even an idiot like you is in front of a great battle that the zoan have never experienced before. That means your body is burning fiercely? Well, mine too.”
Saying that, Zurgu threw his large body into the river. He causes a great spray of water that cannot be compared to the one of the young warrior before. The water falls upon the zoan around him like rain.
“Aah! This feels good!”
Zurgu, who got his entire body dripping wet, returned to his post in the rear with a hearty laugh.
Snickers spontaneously spill out between the zoan due to his appearance.
Even the mouth of the young warrior who was still sitting in the river formed a slight smile.
Thereupon, alongside the phrase 「Hold on」 a hand is held out to him. The young warrior realises that the hand belongs to Garam after he gets pulled up.
The surprised young warrior straightens his back and stands ramrod straight, as if someone inserted a pole into his spine.
Garam shows a slightly strained smile and lightly taps the shoulder of the young warrior.
“Don’t let your body get cold. Dry yourself properly later.”
Garam, who came ashore while listening to the shrill and nervous reply of the young warrior, says to Gulkaka who had waited for him there,
“Good grief, I’m not capable of doing something like that.”
What Garam is talking about in equal parts of admiration and shock is Zurgu’s action. Gulkaka, walking shoulder to shoulder with Garam, responds,
“If you acted like that, we would be troubled, clan chief. That’s kind of like a beast that’s moving by instincts.”
However, Garam flatly returns,
“Don’t take that guy lightly. Look, because of what he did just now, everyone’s mood has changed.”
An attack on the stone city located outside the plains is an unprecedented battle for the zoan. Not only that young warrior, all the warriors were more or less nervous.
It’s fine if the tension were at moderate levels, but right when Garam began to think they were straining themselves too much, Zurgu had acted.
It was the usual conduct of that crazy Zurgu, but it’s a fact that the warriors have loosened up a bit because of that. They were a bit too nervous. Even Gulkaka can’t help but to admit that fact.
“I can’t believe that to be 《Mad Claw》. We’ve all looked down on him as if he were a beast, even now. Honestly speaking, I doubted that guy’s sanity when he suggested to work under you, clan chief.”
Garam responded with a 「Me too」 to Gulkaka’s look, clearly showing that he still can’t believe it.
That was something which occurred a few days ago at the conference venue for the city’s attack.
“I won’t allow for us to commit the same mistake as the all-clan alliance that suffered that crushing defeat on the plains against the humans in the past. The zoan should discard their ill feelings that exist between the clans and unify into one.”
Right after the conference had started, Zurgu broached such topic.
It was only natural for everyone who was present at that place to think 「You’re the one saying that!?」.
Zurgu had been the one to thwart each all-clan alliance talk up until that point.
The one who bit into Zurgu’s proposal as the very first was Shyemul.
“《Mad Claw》! You bastard, are you saying Soma is incapable!?”
“That’s not what I meant! Don’t jump to wrong conclusions, 《Noble Fang》.”
Zurgu denied the accusation in a hurry.
“I don’t have any objection in obeying Sir Soma either. But! Someone who leads the warriors and responds to the constantly shifting state of a battle on an actual battlefield, is indispensable. There’s no way that we can simply rely on Sir Soma for this, is there?”
As expected, even Shyemul had no other choice but to accept the sound reasoning in Zurgu’s words.
Even now there are many among the zoan warriors who don’t approve of following Souma, who’s completely lacking in qualities as a warrior. The reason that the warriors are even going along somewhat with what Souma is saying because he has the support of the zoan heroes, Zurgu and Garam.
Putting aside the case of a calm discussion on obeying the two heroes, if one were to ask whether such warriors would meekly obey Souma’s orders in a state where blood has rushed to their heads on the battlefield, they would be compelled to just hold their tongue.
“So, who are you suggesting to lead in those cases then?”
He’s likely going to say that we should hand over the right of command to him, anyways, Shyemul thinks as she adds an implicit contempt to her words.
Due to that, Zurgu expressed a bitter smile without even getting angry and said,
“I believe 《Ferocious Fang》 Fagul Garguss Garam to be a good choice.”
That was truly a bombshell announcement.
The zoan that happened to be present at the venue were all equally unable to believe their ears. Looking at the reaction of those right next to them, they affirmed that they didn’t have a case of bad hearing and were surprised anew.
Probably upset by them getting surprised to such a degree, as can be expected, Zurgu became sulky and said in discontent,
“My reputation is the worst, just as you can see right now. Having said that, Banuka, who isn’t even a clan chief, and the warriors of the Eye Clan are inadequate for the post.”
Even the warrior leader of the Eye Clan and Banuka couldn’t help agreeing to this.
“In that case, there’s only 《Ferocious Fang》 left. If it’s the hero 《Ferocious Fang》 who’s obtained many feats and is referred to as the strongest warrior on the plains from his young days onwards, there won’t be any objections, right?”
Being praised by Zurgu who faced him with open hostility until just the other day, Garam frowns and has a bad feeling that doesn’t sit well with him at all. He says,
“But I’m the clan chief of the Fang Clan. The warriors of the other clans will likely oppose obeying me. Rather, isn’t the divine daughter of the Beast God, 《Noble Fang》, the better choice here?”
However, that’s immediately denied by Zurgu.
“That’s not correct, 《Ferocious Fang》. Certainly, it wouldn’t technically be wrong to go with 《Noble Fang》. But, what one can rely on most on a battlefield that puts one between life and death is their own ability. When push comes to shove, the warriors will follow a warrior that is superior to themselves and not a divine child.”
Of course Zurgu was well of what Garam was worrying about.
“If you are worrying whether us, the warriors of the Claw Clan, who were hostile to the Fang Clan until now, will obey the Fang Clan, it’s a needless anxiety. We definitely know that 《Ferocious Fang》 is a great warrior mainly because we opposed him. If it’s an excellent warrior, we won’t have any complaints in obeying them. If you say that you are still worried—”
Zurgu urged the small zoan with the mandarin orange colored hair, who has until then been intently watching the proceeding’s development while staying silent next to him, with his gaze.
That zoan introduced herself with a shrill and nervous voice.
“I-I’m called Kraga Bunuka Shishul. I’m the niece of clan chief Zurgu!”
“This is the girl I love just like a little sister. Place her at your side as an assistant. If you do, even my clan mates won’t complain.”
This suggestion of Zurgu was equal to saying that he will hand over his cherished family as a hostage.
“I were often told of your esteemed fame, Sir 《Ferocious Fang》 Fagul Garguss Garam! I believe it to be a very happy occasion to be allowed to fight under you!”
Shishul pressed both fists against each other and kowtows towards Garam, with her forehead hitting the sheeting.
Refusing after they had gone this far would instead crush the honor of Zurgu and Shishul. Receiving the support by everyone present, Garam agreed to becoming the grand clan chief who will command the all-clan alliance.
While remembering the happenings of that time, Garam said to Gulkaka,
“Maybe Zurgu’s wild behaviour so far was for the sake of irritating us.”
Even while sensing that there’s a danger to the existence of the zoan, the other clans, including the Fang Clan, continued to adhere to a fighting style that satisfied the pride of the conservative warriors.
From the eye of Zurgu, who tried to protect his clan to the point of even adopting the human’s fighting style, such as building a wall around the village, to the extent where he was slandered as not even being like a zoan, such an adherence to the old ways must have been very tantalizing.
“I see. That means it was our side that was foolish.”
Gulkaka answered calmly.
Once Garam lowered his voice so that it couldn’t be heard by the surroundings, he said quietly but charged with a strong will,
“Convey it to our clanmates. From now on all of our discord with the Claw Clan is to be forgotten. And also tell them, those, who seem to look down on 《Mad Claw》, definitely won’t be forgiven by this 《Ferocious Fang》, okay?”
Gulkaka nodded to that without even a moment’s hesitation.
Once everybody crossed the river uneventfully after that, the zoan advanced through the forest again while being vigilant of their surroundings. And then, a short time later, the group’s vanguard reached the borders of the forest.
“《Ferocious Fang》 , will we advance a bit further?”
Being asked by a warrior who was in the vanguard, Garam lines up next to that soldier.
“Can you see the city?”
Upon hearing Garam’s question, the warrior peeked slightly through the gaps between the trees and pointed at a lone fire burning atop the pitch black horizon.
“Yes, I think that’s the city.”
“It will be bad if we get too close. Around here will be fine.”
Saying that, Garam stares at the eastern sky.
“There’s still time until the sun rises, I guess. All of you, take a light meal so that it won’t slow down your bodies and rest up.”
Once that order is circulated, the zoan sit down on the spot and eat dried meat or drink water from leather bags.
A single zoan runs up to Garam who was taking Gulkaka along as he checks the state of the warriors.
“《Ferocious Fang》, isn’t there anything else I should do?”
The one who asked Garam with her eyes sparkling in anticipation was Shishul.
Garam, who was overpowered by her pure eyes, spontaneously asks for help from Gulkaka with a glance. But Gulkaka unnaturally said「Well then I guess I will go and check the situation of our friends over there?」, turned his back on Garam and left.
Gulkaka is trembling repeatedly due to not being able to hold back his laughter on the verge of leaving. Garam couldn’t consider it to be anything other than Gulkaka enjoying his chief’s baffled state.
“No… umm… brace yourself from now on and work properly at the critical moment.”
“Okay! I will show you that I can fight for a whole day as long as you order me to!”
Pressured by the spirit of Shishul who fervently appeals to him with her fists clenched, Garam backs off by one step.
Garam, who is highly honored as hero among the zoan of the Solbiant Plains, was used to having such admiration thrust at him by the young zoan.
However, if it’s among those of the same Fang Clan, there’s no one who admires him this strongly since it’s not a relationship where they don’t know each other. Also, the youngsters of the other clans had their own clanmates next to them. There was no one who was this straightforward with Garam in their admiration.
Hence, being hit head-on with such genuine yearning was a first for Garam. It made him rack his brains on how to deal with Shishul.
“F-Fight when it’s time to fight, rest when it’s time to rest. This is the duty of a warrior.”
“I see! Got it! This Shishul will rest with all her power!”
Shishul departed while overflowing with such fighting spirit that didn’t allow for one to think that she will try resting at all. Replacing her, Zurgu shows up.
“Yo, 《Ferocious Fang》. My niece hasn’t become a burden, has she?”
Garam wavered about on what the best way would be to reply to Zurgu’s question, but then decided to state the truth as is.
“She hasn’t become a burden, but honestly speaking, I’m troubled with how to treat her.”
Zurgu feels a strong sympathy towards Garam’s distress.
“It’s because Shishul is a girl, I think. — Well, she’s less objectionable than your younger sister, right?”
“That one is an exception! No matter how much you call zoan girls earnest, there are limits to it!”
Zurgu leaked a snicker due to Garam’s words that were filled with his personal experience to the brim. If he has to watch Shyemul’s devotion towards Soma, there will likely be various situations where he can’t stay calm as her older brother.
Garam groaned with a bitter expression, but suddenly his expression changed and, after making sure that there was no one around them, said to Zurgu,
“《Mad Claw》 Kraga Bigana Zurgu…”
“What’s up? Being so formal all of a sudden.”
Sensing something unusual in Garam’s tone, Zurgu suppresses his laughter and adopts a serious expression.
“You didn’t want to become the grand clan chief?”
Implicitly Garam was saying that Zurgu was more suited for the post of the grand clan chief than himself.
Upon Garam’s words, Zurgu opened his eyes widely in surprise. He looked deeply into Garam’s eyes for a short while, but he couldn’t find anything but a brilliance that showed there was no lie or jest within them.
Due to that Zurgu groans quietly with an “Uhh.”
However, he immediately forced a smile.
“Grand clan chief and the like; that’s only troublesome. There’s absolutely nothing interesting about it and it’s only full of worrying. That’s why I pushed it on a dumbass like you.”
Garam smiled wryly due to the overly obvious lie.
He has already been informed by Shishul about Zurgu incessantly convincing the warriors of the Claw Clan who felt dissatisfaction about working under him.
That’s not something a man who hates troublesome things would do.
That’s why Garam feigned ignorance and went along with Zurgu’s lie.
“It’s you after all. I had pretty much expected that it would be something like that.”
And then, unbeknownst on who started it, both looked at each other with broad smiles.
After that, when Garam stares at the eastern sky that begun to lighten up slightly,
“Dawn will break soon. At last, huh?”
“Indeed. — I will take the honor of being today’s vanguard. Esteemed grand clan chief, you can watch my arse from behind.”
“… Good grief, having become the grand clan chief is the blunder of my life.”
Garam said with a displeased expression from the bottom of his heart.
Due to Zurgu asking him “What’s this about?” with his eyes, Garam became sulky and told him,
“Watching your filthy arse is disgusting as well, but leaving that aside, being called grand clan chief by the likes of you just makes me cringe.”
Zurgu ended up unintentionally bursting into laughter after hearing that.
Garam, who made a sullen face, pushes out his clenched, right fist towards Zurgu who’s laughing so hard his shoulders are shaking.
“Just as always, call me 『Garam』.”
“That’s a big help. To tell you the truth, I also hate calling you the『grand clan chief』.”
Zurgu also clenched his right fist and lightly bumped it against Garam’s right fist.
“Have the warriors get ready. We will move with the sunrise. Zurgu, I will leave the vanguard to you.”
“Aye, leave it to me, Garam.”
The young warrior that stood in the lookout this early morning let out a single, big yawn.
He’s standing in the lookout that’s built atop the city wall because his eyes are slightly better than those of other people. However, even though he’s being tormented by the freezing northern wind, it’s not like he’s even getting a bonus for this. To be honest, there’s nothing good about a duty like this.
At the corner of his vision that was blurred by his teary eyes caused by the yawn, he catches a glimpse of something. The soldier took another look in that direction after wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
At that moment his look wanders north, upstream towards the river flowing through the centre of the city and then further west from there. He sees a light brown cloud. After straining his eyes further, it’s obvious that the cloud is gradually growing bigger and heading this way.
“…! That is!?”
Noticing that it was a cloud of dust that occurs when a great number of riders and people are running, the young warrior got panicked.
That’s a zoan attack, isn’t it?
However, if it was the zoan coming, it would be from the direction of northeast where the plains are. To approach from northwest while raising a cloud of dust, they would need to cross the river at least once. No matter how low their intelligence might be, I can’t believe that the zoan would expressly choose such a meaningless action.
Then he wondered whether it could be military forces of the ocean nation Jeboa, but that’s impossible as well. It’s a well-known truth that the king of Jeboa is a puppet of the merchant guild. He can’t think of a reason for the merchant guild that strives for steady trade rather than the franticness that comes from war to start one themselves. Besides, to begin with, Jeboa is located in the southwestern direction. It’s unlikely that they would deliberately detour to the north.
However, it doesn’t matter either way. There’s no mistake that an unidentified group is advancing on the city.
The young soldier quickly grabbed the horn set up at the lookout and blew into it after filling his lungs with air to the brim.
The sound of the horn which makes the atmosphere vibrate with a “Buooooh” echoes throughout the entire city.
Once he blew the horn two and then three times, he could gradually hear the commotion of the people and the sounds of wood plates being hit with thwak-thwak-thwak’s.
“Just what the hell’s going ooon~!?”
The grand commander, who leads the city’s guards, asked while raising his voice towards the young soldier from below the lookout.
“I have confirmed an unidentified group heading this way from northwest while raising a cloud of dust!”
Once the commander looked northwest, he found a group heading this way while kicking up a sand cloud just like the young soldier said.
According to the commander’s measurement by eye, the group is heading this way at a speed of a horse’s trot. At that speed they will likely get close to the city in around a half koku. (Because the time that split the daytime into six parts is treated as one koku, a half koku is roughly one hour, though it changes depending on the season).
It wasn’t a distance where he could recognise their figures by eyesight, but the battalion leader already guessed their true identity.
The unidentified group is travelling at a speed that’s not possible unless they are entirely composed of cavalry. However, I never heard of an organization that can allot valuable horses and kiryu to everyone with such a big number of people.
If they move at such a speed without using horses and kiryu, the answer is naturally decided.
Those are the supreme rulers of the plains, the zoan, who can run such higher speeds on their own feet.
“Hurry and call back the residents who have gone outside the city! It’s a zoan attack! Close the gate after a quarter koku (approximately 30 minutes)! Don’t open the gate no matter what happens after that!”
The residents, who went to pick up firewood that will be used as fuel in the nearby copses and such, tossed away the wood they had gathered at great pains and returned to the city with great haste. In order to avoid allowing for suspicious characters to slip in amongst them to assist in the city’s invasion, the sentries keep watchful eyes on the returning residents.
“Prepare messengers on horse! We have to inform the capital of the emergency! It’s a zoan raid!”
Receiving the order of the commander, the guards choose the best horses and riders from the four companies. For the sake of avoiding being hindered by the zoan along the way, each of them alters their route and time a little bit and heads towards the city of Luoma, which lies to the east.
Furthermore, the grand commander hurls orders in rapid succession at the gathered company commanders.
“You, promptly confirm the provisions and at the same time make the city’s merchants deliver further provisions!”
“At your will!”
“You will check the weapons and armors in the armory!”
“Sir Battalion Leader! I’m already making my subordinates check and carry out the weapons and armors!”
“Very well! In that case, recruit men from the city who can fight!”
The battalion leader, who saw off his subordinates that ran away after receiving his orders, once again stares at the zoan heading this way on the horizon.
I still don’t know their precise number, but no matter how much I overestimate the size of their group, the zoan are in a state that they won’t reach a thousand people.
There are more than ten thousand humans in the city of Bolnis. If you furthermore include illegal residents, that number will likely get even bigger. If I estimate the number of men who can fight to be at around a fifth of the whole, the number of our soldiers will surpass two thousand due to the compulsory recruitment.
If we have this many soldiers and this sturdy city wall, there’s nothing to fear from a group of around one thousand zoan attacking.
Besides, reinforcements will arrive at the latest in twenty days. Until then it’s the duty of the garrison to defend the city and not to launch an attack in search of distinguished war service.
The battalion leader was familiar with that.
“Each of you, carry a bow and arrows, and lie in wait atop the city wall!”
Once he orders that to the soldiers who were gathering atop the wall one after the other, the battalion leader slightly raises his right hand while staring at the approaching zoan.
At the moment when the zoan would enter the range of the arrows, the hidden archers all at once will release a rain of arrows in order to make the zoan lose their morale.
The battalion leader felt an invisible pressure upon his right hand, that will give the signal, through the looks of all humans present focussing on it.
However, he never swung down that right hand.
Without advancing up to the city wall, the zoan kept a distance the arrows can’t reach and lined up on the west side of the city. And then they started to hit their drums and raise war cries at that spot.
“Those guys, what the hell are they planning…?”
The grand commander tilted his head to the side due to the zoan’s behavior.
There’s no indication of them coming to attack. They don’t do anything but kick up a fuss at a distance our arrows won’t reach since they got here some time ago.
A company commander, who felt a similar doubt, comes to ask the battalion leader.
“Do these guys have any intention to attack?”
“I don’t know. They might intend to threaten us, but don’t get careless.”
Maybe it’s a threat so that the humans won’t attack the plains and thus they came to give us a warning? The battalion leader guessed.
‘In that case, I can even understand them just being noisy at a distance where our arrows won’t reach.
However, the battalion leader couldn’t shake off some unpleasant premonition.
I never heard talks about the zoan leaving the plains until now.
It’s possible to think that they are getting carried away after turning the tables on the subjugation unit, but in that case they might have attacked long ago already.
Something’s taking place that’s different from until now.
Such obscure anxiety swirled within the chest of the great commander.
At that moment a commotion occurs among the surrounding soldiers. That commotion violently assaulted the ears of the battalion leader, who was worried about the reason of the zoan’s behaviour until then, and he couldn’t ignore it.
“You bastards! The zoan might attack at any time! Don’t relax your attention!”
However, even with the battalion leader’s roar, the soldiers’ commotion doesn’t stop.
Not only that, they had turned their backs at the zoan outside the city, pointed at the townscape inside the city wall and were talking about something severally.
The battalion leader, who looked in the direction where the soldiers were pointing at while getting irritated as he wondered just what they are seeing to cause such a fuss, lost control of himself for a short while.
After taking a moment to deeply breathe in and out, he’s finally able to comprehend the scenery he was seeing. Forgetting even his own position, he shouts,