Chapter 1 – Story 6: Return

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The zoans, who continued to dash through the dark night for around one koku*, finally arrived at a large rock that seemed to stand out as solitary island within the ocean called the plain. After checking that there’s no one chasing them or anyone suspicious nearby by sniffing the scent of the vicinity with their noses, they stood up on two legs again at last. (T/N: koku is an old measurement for time, it would be around 30 minutes now)

“Tonight we will rest here. We will head to the village tomorrow morning.”

Several animals with long, hairy legs, resembling gnus, were tied at the base of the large rock, which is towering as if looking down at those who are approaching, while making sure that they are hidden well behind bushes.
Once the zoans built a simple hearth by piling up the stones in the surroundings, they ignited a fire in the blink of an eye by using the weeds and dry wood that they gathered.

“Are you exhausted, 《Noble Fang》?”

Shyemul, who was breathing heavily with her shoulders incessantly heaving up and down, wrinkles up her nose while looking ill humoured due to the mocking words of 《Ferocious Fang》. Resisting her desire to collapse on the ground with willpower, she throws out her chest.

“I’m deeply grateful to you, 《Ferocious Fang》, and my brethren. 《Noble Fang》 won’t forget this favour.” (Shyemul)

“Humph. Your gratitude is unnecessary. You are the divine child of the Great God of Beasts. We have to unify the zoan clans for the fight against the humans. Therefore, you must become the leading figure for that cause.”

Wry smiles appear on the faces of their brethren upon them hearing 《Ferocious Fang》’s manner of speech. Everyone knew that he was the one most worried about Shyemul’s well-being. 《Ferocious Fang》 threatens his brethren by baring his fangs out of embarrassment, but when Shyemul approached and tried to lower the human child he carried, he remembered its existence on his back.

“《Noble Fang》, what the hell is this guy?”

《Ferocious Fang》 threw out this question due to Shyemul gently lifting the human child down onto the ground as if handling something breakable. Even though their brethren around them won’t speak up; they harbour doubts and suspicions about bringing a human child, whom they should hate, along.

“I don’t know…” (Shyemul)

“You don’t know?”

“Right. Since I don’t know, I brought him with me.” (Shyemul)

Everyone exchanged looks upon Shyemul’s reply that wasn’t to the point.

“Leaving that aside, please give me water and food.” (Shyemul)

As soon as she was given dried meat and a water-skin by a comrade, she gulped down some water. For her parched body, the water was delicious and seemed to permeate all over. Enduring her desire to drink more water, she soaks a cloth strip with water and and uses that to make water trickle little by little through Souma’s cracked lips. Confirming that the water enters through the lips and that Souma’s throat moved at its base, Shyemul is relieved.
While making him drink water like that, Shyemul puts the dried meat into her mouth and chews it many times. Withstanding the urge of wanting to swallow it down on reflex as it’s been certainly quite a while since she tasted meat, she fed it to Souma by mouth-to-mouth after chewing it until it completely turned into a soup.
Ignoring her brethren behind her who kicked up a fuss the instant she fed him mouth-to-mouth, she next bites into the dried meat to still her own hunger.
Her brethren, including 《Ferocious Fang》, were surprised. To begin with, the differentiation between genders is little among the zoan. Usually women also chase prey as huntresses and where battles are concerned, they become warriors and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the men. And even among those, Shyemul was a girl that might be called especially mannish. For someone like her to gallantly take care of someone else to such an extent, won’t the Goddess of Earth toss and turn in her sleep out of surprise, causing earthquakes?
Her brethren looked at 《Ferocious Fang》 trying to get some help, but it was 《Ferocious Fang》 who desired help.
No matter how much he looks, he couldn’t believe the human child which Shyemul took along to have that much of value. His arms and legs are slender. And even looking at his grown body muscles, he can’t be described anything but frail. Though not that of a soldier, he wondered whether he’s the child of a pioneering farmer. However, with him also having soft palms, it didn’t seem likely for him to have even done farm-work while holding hoes and ploughs. Next he pondered whether he is the child of the group called nobles, but that won’t adequately explain why he had been put in jail together with Shyemul then.
I don’t understand at all.
But, coming to the clear decision that he has to prioritize safely reaching the village for now, 《Ferocious Fang》 set up an alternating nightwatch and decided to sleep, pulling a pelt over his head.

◆◇◆◇◆

The next morning, at the same time that the sun peeks out at the eastern horizon, the zoans straddled the gnu-like animals and started to travel north. The zoans boasted of a running speed that won’t even lose to horses if it’s over a short distance, but the way of using animals like these for long distances is more comfortable to them.
Souma also swayed on the back of such an animal while once again being held by Shyemul. Not once did his consciousness return since then. Once provided water and food, his body reflexively swallowed them down, but for some unknown reason only his consciousness doesn’t come back. And not only that, Shyemul’s intuition sensitively felt that his body is rapidly weakening.
And then, once they left the plains which took them the whole day, the scenery of the environment gradually turned into gentle slopes and the appearance of trees started to stand out. The leaves had already fallen off the trees’ branches. The sound caused by the cold northern wind blowing through the mountains and the branches, which had became bare, plain, frameworks and resembled hands, rumbled with a howling.
While proceeding on the mountain trail, which has a width allowing for 3 horses to walk next to each other, Shyemul watched the forests growing trees on the gently descending slope on her left side and the cliff-like steep slope cutting through the mountain on her right said, and said,

“Hasn’t the path improved quite a bit? Did you enlarge it while I wasn’t here?” (Shyemul)

“… It wasn’t us. Rather than that, don’t lower your guard.”

Upon 《Ferocious Fang》 saying that while looking sullen, Shyemul tilted her head in confusion.
Once we proceed for a bit longer, we will already reach our clan’s village. Even though she was away from it for just a little less than a month, she feels very nostalgic because of the sounds of the swift currents flowing on the other side of the forest on her left.

“Alright, stop. From here on we will enter the mountain.”

However, 《Ferocious Fang》 halted the party and pointed at a mountain with his right hand. If I remember correctly, we will have to climb a place that becomes a small gentle slope around here, if we plan to travel the right mountain. But, even without expressly proceeding to such a place, we could reach the village right away by following the mountain trail straight ahead like this.
Mentioning that, 《Ferocious Fang》 shortly said only 「You will understand if we get there」 to Shyemul, dismounted from the animal’s back and started to climb the slope while pulling the animal’s reins. Because her brethren began to ascend the slope in the same manner without making a single complaint, Shyemul also begins to climb the slope while paying attention to not drop Souma.
After confirming that their comrade at the end of the line erased their footprints by smoothing out the ground with a branch he picked up and scattered fallen leaves on top of it, the party advanced into the inner part of the mountain.
Shyemul felt a sense of discomfort.
Even though this area is already within the zoan’s sphere of influence, and even though expressly going through the mountain is weird in itself, her brethren are moreover exposing a cautiousness and tingling tension.
Just what the hell happened during my absence?

“Wait here a moment!”

That’s what 《Ferocious Fang》 said when they advanced through the mountain for a while.

“《Noble Fang》, only you follow me.”

Being told so, she began to walk towards the left side by just herself.
She felt awkward about leaving Souma behind, but she pursued 《Ferocious Fang》 after telling a comrade, who was nearby, 「Please take care of him」.

“Don’t be too loud.”

“What the heck does that mean?” (Shyemul)

“I shall teach you that. Stay silent and follow me.”

Saying that, he started to walk while bending over and drew the woodsman’s hatchet from his waist.
Going by Shyemul’s perception, they are currently at the area on top of the cliff located in the back of the village. That perception is correct. Before long it opens up in front of the two and they exit towards the cliff.

“Don’t peek out with your head too much. Look slowly below.”

As ordered by 《Ferocious Fang》, Shyemul took a look at the bottom of the cliff and was surprised.
Their village should have been at the base of the cliff, which has a height of around 20 meters. There should have been a great number of tents created with pelts and pillars, deifying their ancestral spirits, lined up. She expected to see hunters, who came back with the prey they captured, and children who held fish they caught in the nearby river.
However, what’s currently there are: Tents that were miserly scorched and piled up like trash. The knocked down pillars of the ancestral spirits. Besides that, just finished buildings which were built out of wooden boards. A large flag fluttering in the north wind. A sturdy fence which was erected to surround the village. And armed human soldiers.

“Shortly after you were imprisoned in the fortress, the humans came to attack the village. They mercilessly killed our women and children, and reduced our tents to ashes by using fire.”

《Ferocious Fang》 explained to Shyemul who looked down at the place that used to be her village in a daze.

“When we noticed smoke rising from the village we were still in the middle of returning from the battle at the fortress. Because we had many injured, the clan head rushed to the village while taking only those capable of fighting along, but the village was already a sea of flames. The clan head and us gathered the survivors while fighting against the humans on site and then escaped into the mountain.”

While listening to 《Ferocious Fang》’s talk, Shyemul’s eyes were rooted at the spot with the corpses of her brethren, which had been piled up while lying on top of another, in a lump with the tents’ remains. The corpses of the still young children and elderly were abandoned almost as if— no, completely as if they are trash.

“Gathering our brethren who had escaped outside, we ran away to the refuge we had prepared inside the mountain. However, that place isn’t safe either. The humans intend to exterminate us. Building a base like this at the place which used to be our village, they plan to flush us out without letting a single one live.”

“C-Clan Head-sama is? What about Clan Head Galguz?” (Shyemul)

“He died. For the sake of letting us escape, he fought to the bitter end.”

As 《Ferocious Fang》 turned his back on Shyemul and returned the way they came, he said as if spitting it out,

“Now I’m the clan head.”

 


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