Chapter 1 – Story 20: Shock

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In later years various other nicknames were attached to Soma Kisaki.
The most famous among them is 『Divine Son of Destruction』.
Of course, this stemmed from the fact that he is the divine child of Aura, the goddess of death and destruction. Because this fact alone both disheartened opposing troops and inspired his own, he actively spread the knowledge that he is the divine child of Aura. It is assuredly the nickname that had propagated the widest. As for the other famous nicknames; things like 『Son of Genobanda』 and 『Scorched Earth Destroyer』 have been used, but even among these many nicknames, a large portion of them can be considered to be influenced by 『Fire』.
This is probably because it’s said that he liked to use fire-based attacks in many of his battles.
However, if one examines his battle records, there are unexpectedly very few instances of him using fire in his battles.
Despite that, what caused this mistaken perception stating that he preferred using fire can be attributed to the strong images left behind by his first battle 「Battle of Hoghnareah Hill」 where he used it intentionally, as well as the 「Massacre of Bolnitz」 that happened later on.
Especially the 「Massacre of Bolnitz」. That was an abhorrent deed even in those days, where a single city in the domain of his own country was reduced to ashes in its entirety alongside its tens of thousands of humans. The story of this battle was widely propagated, and left lasting impact on the neighboring countries.
Events like these were most likely the reason for the mistaken perception of Souma preferring to use fire becoming an established fact.
But, as a matter of fact, it seems that far from preferring to attack with fire, Souma would rather avoid using it at all.
In those days there were many cases where a large amount of fire arrows were shot at fortresses and cities at the time of attack to make fire spread onto the buildings inside the defended location, and then charge after the defending side was plunged into chaos. Even so, Souma apparently didn’t like castle sieges to begin with. However, it has been left behind in several documents that even during the few castle sieges he participated in, he firmly tried to not accept it when a fire-based attack was proposed by his generals.
This allows one to guess that Souma himself didn’t prefer fire, contrary to his image in society.
The「Battle of Hoghnareah Hill」 is the first officially recorded battle of Souma. Also, because of the spectacular achievement of reducing 800 enemy soldier to ashes with a mere small quantity of zoans, there were many people pursuing the story of that time, but it’s also true that Souma became tight-lipped at the time when the story reached that point.
This is probably the truth since Count Bilgrit, who went to hold peace negotiations with Souma as special envoy of the country Hoghna, left behind a note in his journal stating 『At the time when the topic came to the 「Battle of Hoghnareah Hill」 during dinner with him, Soma Kisaki seemed to feel shaken though he feigned calmness. When I complimented him on that battle, he didn’t smile but looked as if considering it unpleasant for some reason』.
It was also the same for the part of the zoans calling themselves the Fang Clan that had followed him since that battle. Many of them try to not talk much about what happened then.
Although it’s a weird story, it seems that everyone who participated in the Battle of Hoghnareah Hill from the national armed forces of Hoghna, to Souma who devised the stratagem, and even the zoans who carried it out received a large shock. However, many historians have also pointed out that the zoans, mired in their old traditions, likely wouldn’t have followed the tactics that should be called the innovations of Souma if it weren’t for this massive shock.

◆◇◆◇◆

The next morning after the rain stopped, Garam stood on the mountain road accompanied by only Gulkaka.
Once he looked at the surroundings, all he saw was scorched earth.
The mountain, which overflowed with the various colours of weeds, fallen leaves, and trees is now a mere shadow of its former self. Black soot as well as the charcoal that remained after the fire, and white, burned-out ash. It had completely changed into a world that was entirely composed of only these two colours. The air smells burnt and even now there are trees that didn’t burn down yet, smouldering here and there.

“How terrible…”

Garam gulped due to the scenery he couldn’t describe in any other way.
Next to him Gulkaka agrees as well.

“Do you have any imagination how many humans died, clan chief? The humans that were late in escaping have been captured and split into several places as instructed by the youngster called Soma. We have given them medical treatment since we’ve been told to save as many of them as possible, but there were also many soldiers where the treatment was too late due to them being injured, with them having large scalds.” (Gulkaka)

“As things are now, just how many of the soldiers that escaped were able to safely arrive at the fortress…?” (Garam)

There are no detailed records left behind by the zoans about the losses on the human’s side at this time.
The only thing that could serve as a reference is the journal of Company Commander Adjutant Marchronis who stayed behind in the fortress.
According to this journal: After a fire was first spotted in the mountains, soldiers started to arrive starting three days after the first sighting, and continued to arrive for several days afterwards. The soldiers that returned from this fire amounted to two companies of soldiers that served as supply units for the combat infantry, and were stationed at the tail end of the army’s forces. However, those soldiers’ appearances were terrible. All of them were dirty with soot and ash and there was a great number of soldiers who were severely burned and heavily injured by having been hit by stones. Thus many of them have passed away with proper treatment being useless. It’s said that those numbers appeared to be a quarter of those soldiers that reached the fortress.
From the fact that the number of soldiers per company at that time was 100, it seems that the number of survivors amounts to around 150.
Moreover it states that the soldiers who had became prisoners of the zoans were afterwards released sequentially and returned to the fortress, which amounted to two companies in the end.
Except these, there were likely soldiers who escaped without returning to the fortress, but since they would have to walk for two more days from the fortress to reach even the closest village, the number of deserters could be considered to be not too high. Also, it’s easy to imagine that the majority of them would lose their lives due to starvation or injuries.
If one considers it like that, the surviving soldiers might amount to just short of 400 even if one were estimating it kindly.
Losing half of the 800 soldiers without them being able to put up a decent fight was truly an unprecedented event.
In many cases the soldiers at those times were scraped together from refugees that went broke as well as farmers that had nothing to do, and were only allowed to carry weapons. Their loyalty towards the country and their commanders was low. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a total annihilation if such a military force loses half its armed strength in one battle. For argument’s sake, even if they were reorganized into units, it would likely be impossible to use them normally for a while as the fear of defeat was burned into their hearts.

“How about our side’s losses?” (Garam)

Gulkaka replied to Garam’s question while lowering his eyes at his own palms that had their skin peeled off due to him having used the unfamiliar bow and arrows.

“There are some who got burned after making an error when setting fire, some that hurt their throats by breathing in the smoke and some that injured their hands due to the bows and arrows they are not familiar with. That’s the extent of it.” (Gulkaka)

Compared to the annihilated human forces, the zoan side’s damage didn’t amount to anything more than that.
Even so, that’s also a wonderful outcome. It shows that it was only the zoans that dealt out attacks one-sidedly.
As result of being informed of that, Garam muttered as if shocked,

“What would be the best thing to call this…?” (Garam)

“It probably isn’t a mistake to call it victory?” (Gulkaka)

“Don’t be stupid, Gulkaka.” (Garam)

Garam sighs deeply.

“Is this just a simple victory? At least call it an overwhelming victory.” (Garam)

What Garam says is reasonable. While having such difference in military potential, they annihilated the enemy without their side suffering any substantial damage. There is no way for this to be a mere victory.
The northern wind carries white ash like snow as it blows between the two.
Gulkaka hesitated badly whether he should say it, but after resolving himself, he opened his mouth,

“But, clan chief, honestly spoken, I’m scared.” (Gulkaka)

Garam didn’t answer anything, but he knew well what Gulkaka wanted to say.

“Can you call this a battle? At least it’s not the kind of battle us zoans know of.” (Gulkaka)

While shouting this, Gulkaka pointed at the surrounding scenery that was transformed into a total scorched earth.

“Is this the power of the Goddess of Death and Destruction? Is this that youngster’s power? I can’t bear being frightened. Tell me, won’t it be us someday who will have died in this scenery!?” (Gulkaka)

In Gulkaka’s eyes the corpses of the human soldiers, who are stretching out on on the mountain that was changed into ashes and dust, apparently overlapped with the future figures of the zoans.
Garam understood the anxiety Gulkaka harboured.
This is something far too different for the nature of the zoans. If they concerned themselves with something like this, there was the feeling of dread that the zoans wouldn’t be able to die as zoans.
However, as the clan chief that has been entrusted with the clan’s future, there was also another consideration.

“Gulkaka, we might have to change.” (Garam)

“Change…?” (Gulkaka)

“That’s correct. In the past we fought against fellow zoans. There’s honour and pride to gain in that, and it was a courtesy as well.” (Garam)

Garam reminisced about the zoan battles that once unfolded in the plains, proudfully recounted by the ancestors.
However, Garam, who is a great warrior, sensed that they won’t be able to win against the humans with that.
The humans, who are inferior in individual strength, learned how to defeat the zoans by forming ranks and assembling numbers. In opposition to that, the zoans didn’t learn anything and didn’t do anything but simply repeating their traditional way of fighting.
At the time when there were still many zoan warriors, just that was plenty enough. However, due to the long-lasting battles, the zoans ended up losing many youths. In contrast to that, the humans, who spread their sphere of influence by cutting through the forests and mountains, have radically increased their numbers and dispatch soldiers into the plains unceasingly.
The zoans, who are inferior in numbers even under normal circumstances, fell into the vicious cycle of spreading their forces against the humans the more the battles escalated.
As it is now, not only the Fang Clan but also the zoans themselves will likely end up perishing before long.

“If things stay as they are, we zoans will be destroyed. In order for that to not happen, we have to change.” (Garam)

For that sake the power of that human child called Soma will become necessary, by all means, Garam strongly felt that though he didn’t voice it out.
However, at this time Garam didn’t know.
The matter of a big, unusual phenomenon visiting Souma at this time.

◆◇◆◇◆

At that time Souma is visiting the encampment while being taking along by Shyemul.
Even now the burned-down remains of the buildings are smouldering and white smoke is rising throughout the encampment, where the rain had just stopped falling. Countless zoans were tidying up among the ruins.
Even after arriving at the encampment, Souma’s mood was uplifted and he never erased his continuous smile. The enemy forces were driven away after splendidly getting caught in the plan he came up by himself. There’s no way for him to not be happy. Besides, that’s all the more the case because Shyemul, who’s next to him, talks delightfully about them having been able to win without any losses, thanks to Souma.
What Souma remembered at the time when he pondered how to go about driving away the human troops in the recent battle, was one act of the Battle of Bowang from the famous manga 「Sangokushi」. (T/N: Google it if you want, the manga exists under that name, it has 60 volumes and ended at 438 chapters)
In the manga, Liu Bei was being attacked at Xinye by Cao Cao’s 100,000 troops, led by Xiahou Dun. Zhuge Liang, who was just welcomed by Liu Bei, devised a plan and lured Xiahou Dun into what is called the Battle of Bowang.
The second in command Li Dian warned Xiahou Dun, who pursued the enemy as he made light of their small forces while knowing that they were bait, with 『You must be cautious and be prepared for traps of fire created by the enemy as you walk the difficult, narrow paths between mountains and rivers, where the vegetation grows thickly』. At the time when Xiahou Dun looked at his surroundings and realized that the topography was just as he was told about before, it was already too late. Cao Cao‘s army fell into pandemonium because of the trap of Liu Bei. They suffered a crushing defeat with their second-in-command Li Dian being killed.
Not only did Zhuge Liang defeat a large army with a plan for the first time, but he was recognised for his ability by Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, who were at first against this. It’s a highly popular scene describing the possibility of gaining trust.
Zhuge Liang is very popular in Japan as a tactician of farsighted and deeply-laid plans.
Also, if Souma was asked to name his favourite character in Sangokushi, he would likely pick Liang.
It’s only understandable that Souma, who repelled the large enemy army in the same way as Liang by attacking with fire, was at the peak of his pride at this time.
However, Souma took reality far too lightly.
At the end of the day, the battles he knows about are events in games, manga and novels. Thus he hadn’t pictured just how disastrous a battlefield is. Also, even if he did picture it, he would end up vomiting in front of the overwhelming reality that exceeds anything he imagined.
Thusly, it resulted in Souma learning it by experiencing it firsthand.
The view of a battlefield accompanied by its overwhelming impact can’t be caught by any kind of elaborate CGs or special effects. The offensive stench hanging over the area as far as one can see. The voices of the people groaning in anguish. The heat transmitted by the collapsed buildings that were still smouldering. The taste of soot unfolding inside one’s mouth by just breathing.
All of Souma’s five sense appeal to Souma that this is reality.
The feeling of exaltation until now ends up cooling down as if it was splashed by cold water.
The one who noticed Souma’s abnormality was Shyemul.

“What’s wrong, Soma? Do you feel bad?” (Shyemul)

However, without even noticing Shyemul’s voice, Souma doesn’t move while staring in front of him.
Following his gaze, there was the corpse of a soldier that seemed to have been burned to death as his lower body was flattened by a burned, collapsed building.
Shyemul slightly frowns due to the corpse that was completely scorched while donning a terrified expression looking as if he would scream in agony at any time.

“What’s up with that corpse?” (Shyemul)

Turning around while saying that, Shyemul opened her eyes widely while being startled.
All of the blood had been drained from Souma’s face. He had become ghastly pale. Opening his eyes to the limit, his breathing is going roughly as if he had just sprinted with all his might. At first he quivered little-by-little, but with it gradually becoming stronger, his body finally violently shakes, similar to having spasms.

“Aaaah… aaaaaaaaahhhh!” (Souma)

The seemingly squeezed-out cries of pain leaking out of his mouth are disconnected.

“Soma!? What’s wrong!?” (Shyemul)

As soon as Souma’s throat resounded, he vomited intensely.
Even after he spit out everything that was inside his stomach, he doesn’t stop. His body continued to vomit and convulse while mucus that was mixed with gastric juices and saliva trickled out of his mouth.

“Soma! Soma!? Someone, please call the Elder! Soma is in a terrible state!” (Shyemul)

While listening to Shyemul’s yelling, Souma collapsed while trusting his face into his own vomit and lost consciousness.

 


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