Feeling the presence of someone, Souma woke up.
The sun had already risen above the horizon and the surroundings are filled with the sounds of people bustling around.
Suddenly his nose was tickled by a delicious aroma. Once he follows the scent, he discovers dried meat that had just been heated up by a fire as well as dumplings, placed on a big leaf that served as a plate right next to his pillow.
Probably someone brought breakfast for me, Souma gets up and while rubbing his half-asleep eyes, he ate the dry food.
Once he finishes eating, Souma brings his hands together and says “Thanks for the meal.” Even though it’s his usual daily routine, the breakfast tasted somewhat bland due to Shyemul, who was always together with him until now, not being present.
When he was fixing his clothes that got dishevelled during his sleep, he heard some noise from within the encampment. Did something happen? Souma hurriedly looks for Garam. Thereupon he found Garam at the southern fence where one can see the punitive force in the distance, along with the other main leaders such as Zurgu, Dvalin and Jahangil.
Garam glances at Souma and gave his greetings.
“Did you finally wake up?”
Last night Souma had difficulty falling asleep due to his emotions being too highly strung, but that won’t serve as an excuse for anything.
“You’ve got quite the balls, considering we are about to be fighting for our lives.”
“Eh, it would be pretty bad if our general didn’t have some balls.”
Jahangil took the line of Zurgu, which he said in a jesting manner, seriously, holded his arms and nodded with a “Yeah, yeah.” That fanned Souma’s shame even further instead.
“H-How is the situation over at the punitive force?”
He hurries to confirm the current situation while also using it as a means to change the topic.
“Until just a little while ago the smoke of cooking fires was rising, but now it has vanished and the humans have started to assemble in front of their camp site.”
Ahead of where Garam points the punitive force had started to roughly split itself into three groups.
First a large unit forms in the centre with one squad setting out in each direction from there. And then another unit appears on the right side, slightly apart from the central unit.
Among them, what stands out the most is the biggest unit situated in the centre. The majority of the punitive force has very likely gathered into that unit.
“All soldiers in the group over there are holding long spears and big shields. There’s no doubt that they are the heavy spear infantry mentioned by the human called Marchronis.”
If it’s as Garam says, that one should head out in a dense formation.
If it’s done that way, the units located on the left, right and behind the heavy spear infantry will protect the weakness of the formation. The unit in front probably has the role of being the first to open hostilities before the formation.
“What’s that unit over there?”
The unit Dvalin pointed at with the halberd in his hands is the only one that has been placed in location away from the others.
“They are probably watching out for our surprise attack, or they might attack this place separately from the main force.”
Souma replied, but he mostly suspected it to be a unit that will attack the encampment by going around and cutting in from the west side.
The deployment of the unit seems to be too inclined towards the west for being on guard against a surprise attack. They might have concluded that the surprise attack will come from the plains, but going by the steady command style of the enemy’s general up until now, I don’t think that’s the case.
Rather than that, it makes more sense that it’s a unit for the sake of assisting the heavy spear infantry that will attack from the south by attacking the encampment incessantly from the west. The terrain with its undulations and rocks would make it difficult for the formation of the heavy spear infantry to move.
At that moment Souma notices Garam clicking his tongue slightly.
Garam, who didn’t expect that his tongue clicking would be heard, puts on a slightly awkward expression.
“It’s nothing major. It’s because I saw the flag of the black beast…”
Souma had heard that the 「Black Beast」 mentioned by the zoan refers to the flag hoisted by General Darius.
Once he squints his eyes, he can somehow see a blackish flag fluttering in the wind above the unit that was deployed behind the heavy spear infantry. That should be the headquarters where the general called Darius is located at.
“It means the enemy general is over there…”
Souma glared at the unit where the the enemy general, whose face he hasn’t even seen yet, is most likely situated at.
At the same time, Darius also intently glared at the enemy camp with Souma within.
The front of the campsite of the punitive force, which was about to finally enter the decisive battle against the rebels, was overflowing with the yells of the commanding officers hurling orders and the sounds of the soldiers’ military boots as they were lining up, forming into a concert of many great noises.
However, as if he was in a different world, only Darius, who was right in the middle of that hustle and bustle, calmly allowed his thoughts free reign.
“… It’s really strange after all.”
Darius muttered to himself while resting his chin on a hand with his arm placed on the armrest of the chair provided in the command chariot.
What worried Darius is the number of enemies.
In accordance with the scout report from last night, it looks as if there are around 1,500 rebels in the enemy camp. However, with that, even if there were ambush troops as predicted by Darius, they probably couldn’t spare more than about a hundred troops. With those numbers, leaving aside the regiment of heavy spear infantry, they won’t be even able to break through the main force where I am.
“A surprise attack aiming for my head— no, do they plan to carry out a suicide attack…?”
I’m well aware that the zoan, who hunted in the plains, are strong at hiding themselves in the bushes. Even they won’t be able to hide themselves if a few hundred of them gather in one place, but if they narrow it down to a very small number, they might be able to draw quite close to the main force without being discovered. And I suspect it’s possible that those few will carry out a suicide attack that aims only at my head.
However, if they intend to fight by relying on a chance of winning with a rate of 1 in 10,000, not to mention that it’s a sink-or-swim strategy, I will have overestimated the rebel leader far too much, Darius reveals a smile and laughs at himself.
“Increase the number of soldiers guarding the vicinity. Have them be thorough to the extent that not even a single mouse can get through.”
He calls a nearby messenger and passes him such an order.
With this he also prepared a measure against a suicide attack with a small number of people.
Even though he has made countermeasures against all plans the rebels might come up with by now, Darius’ mood didn’t improve for some reason.
What the hell am I afraid of?
Darius asks himself, but an answer to that is to no avail.
“Your Excellency! The setting-up of the formation is complete! Now we are just waiting for your command, Your Excellency!”
Due to the voice of Marius, who brought his horse right next to the chariot, Darius returns his consciousness that was stuck in thought back to reality.
Once he did, all units had already finished lining up orderly and were eagerly awaiting Darius’ command.
However, Darius’ words were different from what Marius had expected.
“Have them standby like that for a short while,” and then, after looking up to the sky over his shoulder, “Wait for just one koku.”
“Your Excellency, why can’t we attack right away?”
No matter where Marius looked, the soldiers’ morale was high. However, if they are forced to wait too long, that morale will plummet. He wanted to know the reason why they won’t attack immediately from Darius, who should be well aware of something like this.
“Look at that.”
Darius pointed at the enemy camp.
“The enemy has gained the soil where they built their encampment as an ally and they have also won over the wind that carries the north wind. In that case—.”
Next he shifts the finger towards the sky.
“We won’t be punished as long as we have the sun on our side.”
Due to those words, Marius looks up to the sky after letting a quiet, surprised voice leak. Once he did, he saw that the sun would be probably right behind them as they attack the enemy camp if they wait for one more koku. If they attack with the sun in their back, the enemy will naturally be forced to fight them with the sun in their eyes.
“As expected of you, Your Excellency…”
He always makes absolutely sure to be at the peak of perfectness.
This is how Darius, who was hailed as Holmea’s strongest general, fights.
The punitive force still hasn’t moved?
Quite a bit of time has passed since the punitive force went into formation. However, there’s absolutely no indication of them coming to attack. Different from the surprise attacks so far, Souma sighed or repeatedly scratched his cheeks or nape since a while ago due to the tension of confronting an enemy that will head their way with fighting spirit for the first time.
“Don’t show any fear or impatience as the one commanding the warriors. Calm down a bit.”
After being warned by Garam, who was unable to let it pass unnoticed, Souma was taken aback.
A general mustn’t openly show what’s hidden in his heart. That’s because the soldiers are always watching the general that leads them. If the general is shaken, the soldiers will be as well. If the general surrounds himself with an air of composure, the soldiers will also feel relieved.
Souma remembered something along those lines having been written in a strategy book he read for fun when he was crazy about the Annals of the Three Kingdoms.
Souma, who reflects on those lines, breaks out into a cold sweat. Is everyone maybe shaken because of me? Wondering about that, Souma timidly surveyed his surroundings, but fortunately he can’t find any indications for that being the case. On the contrary, he senses even a lukewarm look towards himself telling him “I’ll let it slide this time.”
However, even so he notices that it’s because it was deliberately overlooked by Garam, Zurgu, Dvalin, Jahangil and the others around him, in a calm demeanour.
He blushed in shame realizing that he didn’t have the composure to at least notice something like that until now. Souma, who just realized that he has to get it together, takes a slow, deep breath to calm his heart and surveys the encampment once more.
Once he did, he had a hunch that he could see things he hadn’t seen so far.
As Souma pondered about such things, he doubted his eyes and exclaimed “Huh?”
Next to the lining up zoan warriors, he discovered someone who wasn’t supposed to be there.
It’s a single female warrior who stands there almost indistinguishable among the brawny zoan warriors. For the zoan, where women and men fight in a battle, a female warrior isn’t rare, but he recognised that female warrior with her bright chestnut-colored fur.
He strains his eyes trying to make sure that he doesn’t mistake her for someone else. However, no matter how he looks at it, he can’t imagine him making a mistake there.
The female warrior, who noticed his look, bluntly turned her face away.
Even now Souma wasn’t able to tell apart zoan faces, but as expected, after living together for several months, he can at least distinguish her from other zoan.
Souma walked up to her with rough footsteps and, without giving her time to escape, he asked her,
“Shyemul… why are you here?”
The closer he looks at the female warrior from nearby as he approaches, the more obvious it becomes that it can’t be anyone else but Shyemul.
“You have the wrong person. I’m not the divine child.”
Blatantly receiving a reply in a dubious falsetto, Souma ends up truly troubled as to how he should retort to that.
Using that opportunity, the female warrior turned on her heels and hurriedly ran away from there. In a panic Souma chases after the female warrior who tries to leave at a quick pace.
“Hey! You are Shyemul, aren’t you? It’s definitely you, Shyemul.”
“You have the wrong person. You have the wrong person.”
She continues to run away while repeating the same words like a broken voice recorder, when suddenly a black shadow stood right in front of her.
The female warrior turned her back on him trying to get away in a hurry, but the stretched out arm of Garam tightly grabbed the nape of her body armor. Garam lifts the female warrior, who is struggling to escape from his hand, with one arm.
“Soma. There’s no way that this guy is 《Noble Fang》, right? — Right?”
The last word looking for confirmation was pointed at the lifted female warrior. Even to someone like Souma, who had reached the point where he could somehow understand the zoan expressions, the smile Garam revealed at that moment, is pretty obviously one filled with an enormous amount of spite.
“I mean, it’s certainly impossible for that fellow, who received the nickname 《Noble Fang》 because of her high pride, to disregard the order of her own 『Navel Master』. To say nothing of her definitely not doing something as shameless as desperately begging her brethren to stay silent without questioning her about having secretly returned in the dead of the night.”
Souma shows a troubled expression as he can’t say anything in return.
It seems he’s reminded of Shyemul’s appearance acting suspiciously at that time.
“Much less doing something like placing the prepared breakfast secretely at one’s pillow so that she won’t get discovered.”
At that point Garam displays a dejected expression and spits out in a whisper,
“Good grief, some maiden in love you are. How sickening.”
Souma realized that the breakfast he ate this morning was likely prepared by Shyemul.
With her being held in the air by the nape of her neck as she receives such a verbal tongue lashing, even Shyemul became unable to stand it any longer and screams,
“Please. For the love of God. Please forgive me already, 《Ferocious Fang》!”
Due to that, Garam snorted slightly with a “Humph” and threw Shyemul on the ground. Souma leans over and asks Shyemul, who groans due to the pain of her butt having hit the ground,
“Umm… what about the ambush?”
“Banuka told me As long as I’m here, it will be alright. Please don’t worry. Even If I’m not there, it’s no problem!”
No, that probably doesn’t carry the meaning of “please leave the ambush to me,” but it’s rather an act of him appealing himself to Shyemul, Souma judged.
He decides that he didn’t hear the nearby warriors, who seemed to belong to the Mane Clan with their feather decorations imitating a mane attached to the collar of their body armors, muttering “What a pity, young master” while gently curbing the inner corners of their eyes.
“Besides, yesterday Soma didn’t clearly tell me to join the ambush. Therefore it’s not like I was ordered to go with them.”
You’re acting like a child. Besides, it’s not that I didn’t tell you clearly, I’m pretty sure you didn’t allow me to tell you, right? Souma was astonished.
“In other words, you planned to stay with us from the start…”
Garam sighs deeply due to Souma’s grumble.
“You only realized that now?”
While hitting the head of Shyemul, who sat down on the bare ground, with his fist, Garam seriously said,
“Listen, Soma. This fellow here is called noble and such by everyone, but if you allow me to put it in my words, she’s just a stubborn, willful idiot.”
Seemingly feeling inferior, Shyemul did as she was told by Garam while being hit, but as if to demonstrate the extent of the anger she’s holding back, all her fur stood crisply on end.
“At the time when the previous clan chief and the Elder decided for her nickname to be 《Noble Fang》, I seriously doubted their sanity. Did you think that such an idiot would go to a safe place by herself while letting her 『Navel Master』 be exposed to danger?”
Now that he mentions it, I have a feeling that she was indeed too obedient. Considering the usual Shyemul, it wouldn’t have been strange if she even made more of a fuss over the matter.
“That’s why I said you are a fool who appears to be clever the other day.”
Souma finally notices that the words of Garam at that time had such a meaning. Even so, it would have been nice if you had explained it earlier.
“《Ferocious Fang》! What’s this about Soma being a fool!? Calling him an idiot!?”
“You moron, get it in your head that your words and deeds also affect the dignity of Soma, your 『Navel Master』!”
As expected, with Souma being called an idiot, Shyemul, who couldn’t control herself, flares up, but in front of Garam’s just reasoning, the wind is completely taken out of her sails.
At that point Zurgu turned up.
“Hey, Great Clan Chief. Postpone the foolish sibling quarrel. The enemy has started to move!”
As if slapped by those words, Souma and Garam rush back to the fence.
Sensing a presence behind him along the way, Souma turned around and noticed Shyemul following him as usual while feigning ignorance.
When she perceives Souma’s look, Shyemul snorts slightly as if to say “Do you have some kind of problem with that?” and floats a sullen expression.
Souma sighed due to that. Even though he had entrusted the future of the plains to Shyemul, he doesn’t know why he even bothered and fretted over the matter so much. It turned into a nicely wasted effort. For that reason it was kind of inevitable that Souma’s tone became slightly rebuking.
“I only wanted you to be in a safe place, just in case, Shyemul…”
Shyemul’s reply to that was very simple.
“Then we just have to win. If we do, the just in case will disappear.”
Souma feels dumbfounded due to Shyemul saying that without any kind of hesitation.
If it was as simple as saying it, Souma wouldn’t have been troubled over it.
Souma thought I guess I have to give her at least once a scolding, but the words, which were on the tip of his tongue, vanished all of a sudden.
“If it’s you, you will definitely win, Soma! I believe in that!”
She says this without blinking an eye and stands next to him just like usual.
With just that, his mood changed somehow.
“… I guess you’re right. Let’s win.”
“That’s the way! Just what I expect of my 『Navel Master』!”
Both exchanged a smile with each other.
“Your Excellency, I think it’s about time.”
When Marius proposed so after looking up to the sky and checking the location of the sun, Darius nodded slightly and ordered the army’s advance.
“Advance the soldiers until they are next to the hill!”
First Darius makes the punitive force move to a location that had enough distance from the enemy camp.
Making the entire army stop there temporarily, Darius got up from his chair, took an imposing stance on top of the chariot and hurled his orders towards all troops.
“Hit the drums! Raise your war cries!”
A soldier beats the large drum placed in the back of the chariot with all his might. Once the large drum’s sound reverberated while causing the atmosphere to tremble, next the horns were blown all at once and moreover gongs resounded noisily.
And then the soldiers scream while hitting the ground with the butt ends of their spears held in their hands.
“”Yeah! Yeah! Yeaaah!!””
It’s a war cry made out of thousands of people raising their voices.
In the past the famous imperial general Inkdias has stated following:
“Blowing the horns and having the soldiers raise war cries all at once is a ritual of starting the war that has continued since ancient times. By no means is it a meaningless act. Due to that, the enemy will feel fear and the morale of the allies will be raised.”
And Souma was overwhelmed by that.
If it were only loud voices, he would have likely been surprised by their volume. However, those voices are distinctly filled with hostility. Being overpowered by the very loud voices of several thousand humans transmitting their intention of wanting to kill them from now on, Souma stepped back, visibly staggering.
But then someone’s hand gently supports the back of Souma.
It was Shyemul.
After conveying that he is already alright to Shyemul with his eyes, Souma says to Garam,
“Garam, we will answer, too!”
“Yeah! We will raise our voices as well!”
Garam thrusts up his right hand which held an unsheathed machete.
Thereupon the zoan warriors shouted while stamping on the spot,
And following that, the dwarves and dinosaurians raised their voices while hitting their breastplates and weapons as well.
Having his back pushed by their zeal, Souma also shouted to the limit of his voice.
Due to the battle cries reaching him from the enemy camp, Darius nodded in satisfaction.
“A splendid spirit while facing an enemy army that has numbers several fold higher than your own! But, a battle can’t be won with just spirit! — Contact Cashias! Tell him to open hostilities!”
The messenger, who heard Darius order, headed to the place of Battalion Leader Cashias who had been entrusted with the archery unit. Hearing that message, Cashias hits his own chest once.
“Inform His Excellency! This Cashias will show him that he can scatter the rebels by himself.”
After boasting like that, Cashias had the archer battalion advance.
The battles in this era always began with a shoot-out of the armies’ archers.
Both forces bring their archer units to the forefront and fire their arrows all at once as soon as they enter a range where the arrows will be able to barely reach the enemy. Since the arrows were released diagonally upwards in order to increase the range and are also affected by things like the wind, their accuracy is bad and some momentum is lost as well. Because of that, they fire barrages of arrows and rely on the strength of numbers rather than accuracy to hit the enemy. It’s an act following the goal of restraining the enemy and throwing their formation in disarray.
However, this time’s opponents are zoan, dwarves and dinosaurian. All of them are known for being races that are prominent at hand-to-hand combat without relying on archery overly much.
Accordingly Cashias took the headwind into consideration and decided to fire the arrows from a place closer to the enemy camp than normal.
However, when they approached a place that was still quite distant, he could see something vigorously flying up into the sky from the enemy camp.
It makes Cashias remember the scenery of flies that gather at eaten corpses, and grasshoppers that devour the fields all at once taking off in swarms.
However, its true identity was far more fiendish.
“Y-You don’t say…!?”
When the something that was flying out of the enemy camp headed towards them after overcasting the sky, a sound, which a leader of an archer unit would never fail to mishear, reached Cashias’ ears.
“Lower ranks! Prepare the shields! It’s arrows! It’s the enemy’s attaaack!!”
Right after Cashias’ shout came to an end, countless arrows tore through the air and descended like rain while causing high-pitched sounds.
“No way!? Why are there archers with the enemy!?”
Moreover it’s an archery unit with an outrageously high proficiency. It’s reasonable for the distance to go up due to tailwind. But, even though it wouldn’t have been strange for the arrows to go astray due to the wind, it was a precise marksmanship as if they completely predicted the flow of the invisible wind.
The archers of Cashias’ archer battalion were all accompanied by a lower ranking soldier holding a shield in order to block the enemy’s range weapons, but, as might be expected, receiving the concentrated fire of dozens of arrows made it impossible to defend against each and every single of them with a shield. The archers were hit by arrows alongside the lower ranking soldiers, and were brought down in succession.
“If it goes on like this, we will be annihilated! Return fire!”
The archer unit was in disarray, but hearing the order of Battalion Leader Cashias, several archers fire back. However, such sporadically fired arrows won’t make the enemy falter. And not only that, the majority of the arrows slump down after being hit by the headwind, and only fruitlessly stabbed into the ground located far away from the enemy camp.
Because he led the archers, Cashias had confidence in his eyes. Trying to at least confirm the enemy archers, he strained his eyes and saw unexpected figures within the enemy camp.
“You’re kidding! Those are…!?”
The chaotic state of their allied archer battalion was also perceived at Darius’ place in the distant rear. Due to this unforeseen event, the commissioned officers and messengers around Darius busily moved about in order to grasp the current situation.
At that moment a single mounted messenger rushed over from the front line.
The messenger, who arrived at Darius’ place while kicking up the ground, reports to Darius from atop the horse.
“The enemy has an archer unit! Our archer unit has suffered tremendous losses! They are retreating!”
Just as the messenger stated, Cashias’ archer battalion, which was supposed to open hostilities by firing a rain of arrows down on the enemy camp, started to withdraw unable to fire almost any arrows.
“What the hell happened!? Are our Holmea archers weak soldiers that would be routed in such a simple manner by the likes of zoan archers!?”
The messenger trembles violently upon the voice of Darius, who raised his voice due to the weak-mindedness of the soldiers, but even so, trying to fulfill his duty, he says,
“I have been entrusted with a message to be told to His Excellency by Battalion Leader Cashias.”
At that point the messenger slightly hesitates to continue. It’s because he himself also believed it to be something totally outrageous.
“He says Elven archers are in the enemy camp…”
Darius was rendered speechless for a moment and then raised a voice full of surprise,
“Elves, you say!?”
Just as they are depicted in many fantasy works, the elves of this world are also natural archery masters. It was said that an excellent elven archer could even match ten human archers.
The great imperial general Inkdias has gone so far as labelling “An archery shoot-out with elven archers” as one of the mistakes one must not commit on the battlefield.
However, the reason for Darius to be surprised wasn’t just that.
It’s because he didn’t understand from just where the elves in the enemy camp sprung out.
It’s well-known that there are dwarves and zoan in the area of the Solbiant Plains and Holmea, but he never heard about elves being present as well. If it’s just a few, he could have considered them to have wandered in from somewhere. However, it should be impossible for a significant number to be present within the enemy camp.
Darius believed this rebellion to be a sudden occurence triggered by the zoan subjugation.
However, if he assumes that they invited elves, who live in a far distant land, the possibility of it having been a rebellion that is part of a far grander scheme has to be suspected.
Darius thought that almost all the rebels are staying in the enemy stronghold, but he started to suspect that there might possibly exist a power, unknown to him like the elven archers, which is hiding out as an ambush somewhere.
“Increase the number of soldiers patrolling the vicinity! There might be a large-scaled enemy attack!”
However, that was a mistake.
Darius Brutus is a just and upright general who knows shame.
Even if the subjugation and persecution against the other races was approved as national policy, he himself didn’t harbor such animosity toward other races at all. And not only that, he even frowned upon those who unnecessarily persecuted against other races while blindly following the national policy.
However, this kind of thinking made Darius subconsciously forget about the relevance of these persecuted people. He knew they existed, but he didn’t consider them as combat forces.
The people whom Darius excluded out of his thought process were the female elven slaves who had been transported to the city of Bolnis to be kept as sex slaves.