The eastern sun slowly began to peek out from across the horizon.
Looking up to the sky that’s dyed ultramarine, the faintly visible stars are twinkling as if unwilling to part yet.
The Solbiant Plains are about to greet the morning any time soon now.
Several hundred zoan stood atop the zoan’s sacred land Rollo located right in the middle of those plains.
In front of them, who firmly kept their breaths down, was the huge pillar of ancestral spirits which rose into the sky at the eastern end of Rollo. A rectangle altar, similar to the stage of a theater, had been built at its base, replacing the ritual tent to be found there until yesterday.
The statue of the Beast God, which had been transferred from the tent to atop the altar, was buried in offerings such as flowers and fruits. In front of it, the Head Priestess of the Eye Clan grovels on the ground while spreading the hems of her dress which was decorated with red embroidery. And, the ones who are likewise prostrating themselves several steps behind her are the three clan chiefs ― Garam, Zurgu and Bararak.
At last the sun rose beyond the horizon, as if overlapping with the pillar of ancestral spirits.
After making sure of that, the Head Priestess spreads her arms while shaking her sleeves, greatly bends her neck back, and raises her voice into something similar to howling. At the same time as the Head Priestess’s howling, which seemed to have reverberated across the entire Solbiant Plains, came to an end, the Eye Clan’s warriors began to hit large drums will all their might, steadily causing thundering sounds that make one’s body tremble.
The Head Priestess filled her lung to the limit with air, and shouted,
Behind the Head Priestess, Garam, Zurgu and Bararak follow,
Moreover, continuing after them, the several hundred zoan atop Rollo all at once yelled,
And then they erupt into a thunderous, excited cheering while the musical instruments such as the drums are played fervently. With a slight delay, the cheers of the several thousand zoan at the base of Rollo could be heard.
Finally, after having stopped for close to thirty years, the zoan’s Great Festival Borollo has begun.
Inside a tent next to the altar, which was serving as substitute for a waiting room, the priestesses of the Eye Clan bustled about in a hurry while holding ceremonial tools and costumes.
The one who can’t calm down in the deepest part of that tent is Souma.
“You don’t think I look weird, Shyemul?”
He asked with an uneasy expression. Souma had been dressed in a festival costume of the zoan and make-up with colored earth was applied on his face by the priestesses.
“It’s fine. It suits you, Soma. ―That’s why, calm down a bit.”
Wearing the same colored earth make-up and an ivy torso armor decorated with colored cloths and bird feathers, Shion smiles wryly. However, even after being remonstrated by Shyemul, Souma’s mood didn’t cheer up.
“Is it really okay?”
After Garam’s Great Clan Chief inauguration ceremony, Garam will recommend Souma as Clan King, resulting in his inauguration, but now that it was imminent, he was nervous.
“You will just receive the Head Priestess’s blessing. Don’t fret so much. It will be fine as long as you do as the Head Priestess and I tell you.”
It was Souma’s luck that the zoan ceremonies, which are close to primitive religious services, didn’t have any detailed etiquette and protocols like the religious rituals in the modern era.
Souma, who felt relieved to the extent of being able to pay a little attention to his surroundings after hearing that, suddenly asked about something that bothered him.
“Which reminds me, I don’t see Manbaha anywhere. Is something wrong with him?”
They returned together from the Maha Genobandela to Rollo, but he hadn’t seen Manbaha ever since.
“If it’s 《Savage Mane》, it looks like left during the night.”
The Head Priestess’s younger sister, Wai Zanuka Shunpa, who arrived just then, informed Souma in Shyemul’s stead.
“Lady Head Priestess told me that 《Savage Mane》 probably won’t attend your Clan King inauguration ceremony, seeing as he had opposed it so much, Lord Soma.”
Despite having received such an explanation, even Shunpa could vaguely tell that something had happened to Manbaha. However, deciding that there was no need to deliberately inform Souma without having any positive proof, Shunpa didn’t add anything else to her words.
“Come now, Lord Soma. The ceremony for you to become Clan King will begin any time soon. Please come this way.”
Even Souma wasn’t fully satisfied with that vague answer, but once called to the ceremony by Shunpa, the majority of his attention shifted towards the upcoming event, and he didn’t pursue the matter any further.
Upon Shunpa’s guidance, Souma and Shyemul are lead to a wing of the altar where the ceremony will be performed.
As they arrived, it was just the moment when Garam was about to receive the Head Priestess’s blessing.
However, even while turning his focus on that ceremony, Souma is overwhelmed by the intangible pressure of the joyful expectations washing over him from the several hundred zoan that were crowding Rollo’s plateau. Shunpa whispered into Souma’s ear,
“The ones present here right now are the influential people and the representatives of the bloodlines in power of all clans. By receiving the Head Priestess’s blessing in front of them, he will be officially recognized as Great Clan Chief.”
Those several hundred zoan are witnesses of the ceremony and at the same time spectators. Learning that, Souma couldn’t help shuddering as soon as he realized that he would become the Clan King in front of them next.
Even during that time, the ceremony continues solemnly.
After being recommended by Zurgu and Bararak, Garam steps up in front of the Head Priestess. And, after sitting down cross-legged, he lowered his head while pressing both his fists against his forehead as if rubbing them.
Seeing Garam in that pose, the Head Priestess speaks up loudly towards the spectators.
“If there’s anyone objecting to Garam, son of Galguss and member of the Clan Fang, one of the ten zoan clans, becoming Great Clan Chief, they shall speak up now! Otherwise, remain silent!”
Of course, no one raises an objection. As if understanding even the distant spectators, the Head Priestess nods her head in a big motion alongside an exaggerated gesturing.
“Oh Garam, son of Galguss and member of the Clan Fang! In the name of the Beast God, I approve of thee as Great Clan Chief!”
The Head Priestess makes Garam raise his head, paints his brows and cheeks with scarlet soil, and sprinkles water over his body which she scooped up out of a shallow plate like it’s done during the O-Bon Festival.
And then she quietly said so that only Garam could hear,
“Do it properly, Great Clan Chief.”
At that Garam lowered his head deeply in silence once more.
With the blessing over, Garam stands up and turns around. Then he raises his right arm into the air towards the spectators attentively watching the ceremony. At that moment a cheering like an explosion erupts from the spectators.
“”Great Clan Chief! Creat Clan Chief!!””
It was the birth of a new Great Clan Chief during the Great Festival Borollo, which was held for the first time in thirty years, a position that hadn’t been filled for even longer than that. The excitement of the zoan present in the place swelled all the more.
After responding to the spectators’ praise by waving his arm, Garam sits down again in front of the Head Priestess and bows his head deeply.
“I request of thee, oh great Beast God and the one leading the priestesses! I, son of Galguss and member of the Clan Fang, nominate Kisaki Soma as Clan King in my name as Great Clan Chief!”
Due to his name finally being mentioned, Souma felt his heart throbbing as if it were to jump out of his breast at any moment.
First Shyemul, in her role as herald, climbs on the altar.
Because the exchange between the clans had come to almost a complete stop after the plains were stolen by Holmea, it’s the first time for many of the zoan hailing from other clans to directly see Shyemul, even though they knew about her having become the Beast God’s divine child. The zoan that saw Shyemul, who’s not only known as the Divine Daughter but also as one of the leading actors that enabled the Borollo by recapturing the plains, break down in tears out of bliss and cheer her on to the extent of running their voices hoarse.
But, once Souma appears on the altar, that cheering transforms into bewilderment.
Even they understood the recapture of the plains, their dearest wish for many years, had been accomplished thanks to Souma. But, in the end the zoan can’t erase their antagonisms towards humans in a brief space of time. Nevertheless, they are likewise hesitating to hurl blame at him.
After all Souma had displayed his power by beating Manbaha’s group, the driving force behind that discontent, with only few troops, and he proved his courage on the Maha Genobandela. For that reason they can’t go as far as denying his inauguration as Clan King, but at the same time they can’t approve of it wholeheartedly either. The zoan didn’t do much more than looking up to the altar with mixed feelings.
Of course that reaction was well within assumption.
Once Shyemul knelt down in front of Souma, and exposed her neck to him, she said to him,
“Place your hand on my nape, Soma.”
Souma does as told. In response scream-like yells rose up between the zoan who saw that.
Shyemul cutting off her nape fur and entrusting it to Souma during her Navel Master pledge bore the meaning of leaving her neck in his care. And, placing one’s hand on someone’s nape likewise bears the meaning of allowing the other to do with one’s neck as they please. It’s an act showing the unbreakable relationship of a master and their servant.
Being shown how Shyemul, whose honor is protected by the blessing she received as the Beast God’s divine child, accepts Souma as her master, clearly demonstrated that there’s absolutely no problem with Souma towering above the zoan as Clan King.
However, no matter how much he might be a great benefactor that regained the plains for them, the zoan felt shaken from seeing their worshiped Beast God’s divine child displaying her absolute submission instead. At first they only became noisy, but gradually voices of dissatisfaction began to crop up among them. And then, being instigated by the voices around them, voices openly criticizing Souma at last started to be raised from all over.
Shyemul had expected as much, but still, she couldn’t act as if she hadn’t heard the word “Genobanda” from within that tumult.
With her beloved and respected Navel Master being compared to Genobanda, Shyemul went into a fit of anger. Even forgetting that she’s in the middle of a ceremony, she stands up.
“Who was it!? Who’s the one who insulted my 『Navel Master』 just now!?”
Shyemul shouted in rage with an expression full of indignation.
“You refer to my 『Navel Master』 as Genobanda!? Are you shameless low-lifes that ignore your debt of gratitude for having the plains taken back for you!? And yet you call yourself proud zoan!?”
Due to this fierce reprimand, even the noisy spectators fell silent.
“If you say that you’re discontent with my 『Navel Master』, does that mean that you bastards are capable of the same!? Can you face all the different races by yourselves and win their trust!? Could you have taken the stone fortress, which we couldn’t assault over a few decades, with only a few warriors!? Are you saying you could have conquered the human city, something we wouldn’t have even dreamed of!? Can you defeat an enemy that has several times more troops than you do?! Come on! Step forward and name yourself now and here if you can achieve even one of these accomplishments!!”
All of them couldn’t help but to shut their mouths upon Shyemul’s harsh blaming.
At that Shyemul snorts slightly, as if to say “See, I told you, didn’t I!?”, and throws out her chest in pride.
“Calm down, you idiot.”
Garam said after silently watching the course of events until then. Due to Shyemul flaring up with “Idiot? Who’s an idiot!?” at him, Garam replies by baring his fangs as threat.
“Your behavior at this ceremonial venue is a disgrace for Soma as your 『Navel Master』.”
As expected of Shyemul, once Souma’s name comes into play, even she doesn’t know what to say in excuse. Ignoring Shyemul, who’s groaning in frustration, Garam faces the spectators and says in a loud voice,
“The reason why I recommended Kisaki Soma over here for Clan King is not just because he recovered the plains for us! Soma regained something beyond that!”
The spectators are bewildered, wondering what it might be. Garam declared his next words, addressing that bafflement.
“It’s a future! A future allowing the young ones to freely chase after cows. A future to talk to those you love. A future to entrust your dreams to your children. A future to think back upon the past once you grow old. He took back all those various futures for us zoan!”
Garam bares his fangs and speaks sharply,
“If there’s someone objecting to Soma becoming Clan King despite all this, very well! We will decide it by you having to take on me, this 《Ferocious Fang》 Fagul Galguss Garam, as your opponent!”
Even if he might be the strongest of the plains, fighting against several dozen people all by himself is impossible. However, the zoan present on Rollo were mentally overpowered by Garam to the extent that they couldn’t even think of something so obvious.
A loud laughter thunders across the Rollo which has become still as death.
“To take on everybody all at once; what messed up stuff are you talking about, 《Ferocious Fang》?”
Zurgu stepped up while laughing and said theatrically.
“Isn’t it far too stingy to have fun all by yourself!? Let me join in on it as well!”
Garam and Zurgu exchange a broad grin.
“Sure! Then I guess we will do it with the two of us!”
Garam and Zurgu line up side-by-side, and puff out their chests triumphantly.
“If there’s someone objecting to Soma becoming Clan King, come forward at once!”
“We two will be your opponents!”
All zoan present were overwhelmed by their vigor.
Once they made sure that no one came forward, Garam and Zurgu sit down cross-legged in front of Souma, as if having arranged it in advance, and deeply lower their heads with both fists pressed against their foreheads.
“I, son of Galguss and member of the Clan Fang, one of the ten zoan clans, accept Kisaki Soma as Clan King and swear to become his strength on my father’s name and my honor!”
“I, son of Bigana and member of the Claw Fang, one of the ten zoan clans, also accept Sir Kisaki Soma as Clan King and swear to become his strength on my father’s name and my honor!”
The great warriors representing the zoan of the plains ― Garam and Zurgu announced their approval of Souma as Clan King then and there. Even Bararak couldn’t feign ignorance at this point and demonstrated his allegiance towards Souma, albeit in a really unwilling manner.
The Head Priestess told Souma, who feels all flustered as he doesn’t know how he should answer to this, to sit down in front of her in a whisper. Even though his body had become stiff due to his tension, Souma does as told, sitting down in seiza.
While smiling bitterly due to the unfamiliar sitting posture of Souma, the Head Priestess asked,
“Boy, are you truly resolved to take responsibility for the fate of the zoan of the plains? You won’t be able to go back after this any longer.”
Doubt dwelt in Souma’s eyes due to that question. However, the instant he felt Shyemul standing behind as if supporting him, it vanished.
“I can’t shoulder it all by myself――” Souma looks back for a short moment. “――But, as long as there are people who carry the burden together with me, I think I will be able to do it.”
For the zoan, who value individual bravery, it was an unthinkable answer. However, once the Head Priestess looks at Souma and Shyemul who supports him, she wonders, won’t it be fine if such a Clan King exists as well?
“In the name of the great Beast God, I shall approve of thee as Clan King.”
Just like with Garam, the Head Priestess rubbed scarlet soil on Souma’s brows and cheeks, and sprinkled water over his body which she scooped up out of the shallow plate.
“Come now, Clan King. Greet everyone.”
Being urged on by the Head Priestess, Souma stands up, and timidly raises his right hand towards the spectators.
But, as expected, there are no voices welcoming Souma’s inauguration as Clan King. Only a bewildered stirring could be heard from the spectators. Due that, blood rises to Shyemul’s head once more, and she’s about to yell in anger.
But, faster than words can leave her mouth, voices shouting Souma’s name from among the young zoan became audible.
“Extol Clan King Soma! Glory to Clan King Soma!”
They are the warriors who were in Bolnis together with Souma, heard Souma’s “Proclamation of Iron,” and fought against General Darius together with Souma. Being pressured by the enthusiasm of these young warriors throwing their fists in the air and repeatedly calling his name, those around them also shout Souma’s name. Gradually it spreads to all the zoan present on Rollo.
“”Soma! Soma! Soma!””
Facing the spectators as they call his name, Souma swung his right hand with all his power.
Once all ceremonies came to an end, the Borollo became a festival of celebrations.
Only at this time the inter-clan borders disappear, and all the zoan, who gathered on Rollo, drink alcohol together, share meat, sing together, and dance while holding each other’s hands.
In a place slightly away from the hustle and bustle of that festival, there were small stalls.
Elderly zoan, whose fur had begun to have white strands, sit cross-legged on the ground after having lined up various ornaments made out of animal bones in disorder on woolen sheets spread out in front of them. All of those ornaments were beautiful workmanship, but as the stalls were located at the edge of the festival, it was a lonely place with no visitors. But that was no issue as the elderly zoan themselves apparently had no interest to sell their wares either.
A single, red-furred warrior with a magnificent physique visited that place.
With that as a start, warriors from all over gathered one after the other. And before long several dozen men had assembled with the stalls in center.
The men retrieve the ornaments they had produced by whittling the bones, which hung at their body armors and leather belts, and show them to each other.
Once they finished checking each other’s creations, the red-furred warrior that had arrived first got the ball rolling.
“Let’s confirm the response of each clan on the inauguration of the Great Clan Chief and the Clan King on this occasion. ―Any objections?”
After making sure that all of them had approved by silently nodding, the red-furred warrior speaks up.
“First the Fang Clan. No need to speak about the Great Clan Chief, however they mostly accepted the Clan King favorably as well. Not only had they been saved from a predicament by the Clan King in the past, there’s also the strong support by 《Ferocious Fang》, who became Great Clan Chief, and the divine child, 《Noble Fang》. I don’t know of their innermost thoughts, but publicly there’s no one raising any objections towards the Clan King.”
Once urged with a look by the red-furred warrior after he had finished speaking, the man next to him speaks up.
“As for the Claw Clan; it’s difficult to say that all of them are in favor, but even so, publicly there are no fellows likely to revolt against it. It might appear unexpected to those of other clans, but the support of 《Mad Claw》 among the clan is deep. After all that man wasn’t received with understanding as the things he did and tried to accomplish were too novel after he was made clan chief, but he has definite results to show. Also, he won’t silence those, who raise an objection on the current situation, with his authority as clan chief, but instead listens and repeatedly explains while taking his time to resolve matters. I think the clan’s falling-in-line is also an effect of that.”
The man standing next to him continues.
“I can’t say that the Mane Clan is overly positive about this. That’s because Clan Chief Bararak has been expressing his discontent to those around him even before the inauguration, although he doesn’t do it publicly. There are many voicing out their dissatisfaction with the elderly clan members, who try to insist on the old customs by getting on with Bararak’s argumentation, in the center. However, in reverse, there are many among the young warriors centered around Sir Banuka, who actually fought the human army under the Clan King, with a favorable opinion. In a not-far future this might give birth to a bad confrontation between Sir Bararak and Sir Banuka. Caution is needed.”
Choosing at his own discretion when the general statements had finished, the red-furred warrior asks everyone,
“You haven’t found the 《Tail Clan》?”
The men look at each other, but they only shook their heads and didn’t say anything.
Once the red-furred warrior asks whether there’s anything else that should be confirmed, an old zoan, who seems to be the oldest present, opened his mouth.
“Does it look like our dearest wish will come true?”
Unconcealable hope and worry were blended into his trembling voice. However, it’s not just that old zoan who harbors those emotions. All the zoan present observe the red-furred zoan with hope and worry in their eyes.
With everyone’s eyes gathered on himself, the red-furred warrior says with an expression full of bitterness,
“…I don’t know as of yet. ―I understand your feelings, but don’t be impatient.”
All of them raise voices full of despair upon that reply.
“However, it will be too late, if it’s not soon.”
“Indeed. Just this year alone, two families at my place applied for joining the clan they are with right now.”
“Over here it’s three families. At this rate we will vanish in the near future.”
The reports brought up one after the other were almost screamed out.
“I understand your impatience all too well.”
Even the red-furred warrior understood it beyond words. After all several families had already requested the same at his place.
“But, try to consider it. There’s less than five people who were chosen as divine child of the great Beast God in the long history of the zoan on these plains. To say nothing of there haven’t been a single other divine child that wished for a blessing like the current Divine Daughter. If we hurry for results here, all will end in failure. And then? Just when will be the next time for someone, who will kindly grant our dearest wish, to show up? After a thousand years? Two thousands? If that comes to pass, we will vanish for real.”
The red-furred warrior explained plainly to everyone.
“You might be impatient. You might also be greatly worried. But, rushing here will result in everything coming to nothing. Right now is the time for a last spurt.”
Upon his words, everyone sank into silence with sad expressions. In order to encourage his brethren, the red-furred warrior made an effort and said with a cheerful tone,
“Besides, we can say that the current situation plays into our hands.”
While everyone’s eyes focus on him as they wonder what he means, he continues,
“Her Holiness accepted a 『Navel Master』. Until now she had been noble, and didn’t allow anyone to get close to her. Until now I racked my brain how to get her to grant our wish, but from now on we can influence her through her 『Navel Master』. In other words, we can think of it as the places to attack having doubled.”
“That means we should take the initiative and help out the Clan King for the meantime?”
The red-furred warrior nodded powerfully in reply.
“That’s how it is. It will be for our sake, and also for the sake of all the zoan of the plains. That’s what I believe. It might be painful right now, but I’d like you to persuade everyone properly.”
He put even more strength into his words.
“Don’t forget our oath. Support the other clans from within in order to make up for the sins of our ancestors. That is what we swore.”
The gathered warriors nodded vigorously at that.
With the discussion finished at that point, the zoan disperse into groups of two or three, disappearing into the hustle and bustle of the festival.
The red-furred warrior started to walk, trying to blend into the Borollo just like his comrades, but he’s called out from behind.
“Oh! I searched for you.”
Once he turned around, he found Garam, who had just become the Great Clan Chief, approaching him.
“What is it, Great Clan Chief?”
Once the red-furred warrior said that with a tinge of tease, Garam frowned openly.
“Being directly called Great Clan Chief from face to face makes me feel ill at ease.”
“Even the previous clan chief said something similar when he became clan chief.”
The red-furred warrior closed his eyes partly as if fondly reminiscing of the past.
“Oh, that’s nice. ―By the way, do you have some time right now? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you in regards to the clan.”
“Sure. I don’t mind, chief. ―So, about the topic…”
The two slipped into the crowd of people on the flourishing festival while walking next to each other and talking.
Right at that time an old man fell prostrate on a table in a small, shabby bar located in the city of Bolnis. Many of the emptied wine jars fall over, allowing one to guess that the old man had become severely drunk.
“Heroes there are on this world. Heroes, who endeavor to conquer the world. And then there is me in this place. Me, who endeavors to conquer the jars.”
As he recites a poem as if sleep-talking, the old man tries to grope for a wine jar while lying face-down on the table. But, on the verge of his hand reaching the jar, it’s suddenly taken away by a hand that extended from the side.
For a while the old man groped around on the table, looking for a jar, but no matter how long he searches, he doesn’t find any. Befuddled he raises his face alongside a idiotic “Nah?”
Deep wrinkles were carved into his face that had become crimson due to the alcohol, making one actually sense the long years the old man had experienced. Unkempt, ruffled, white hair and a white beard drenched in booze. And, what stands out the most are the long, white eyebrows that hung down.
He had an appearance which would probably be assessed as Chinese Mountain Wizard or Western Magician by Souma.
“Grandpa Solon, how about stoppin’ around here?”
The one who looked down on the old man with the jars in his hands was the bar’s shopkeeper.
“That’s my mine booze.”
The old man called Solon looked up at the shopkeeper spitefully. In response the shopkeeper’s expression became dispirited.
“If yer going to say that, pay yer bills first, won’cha?”
“Ugh～. That one stings.”
Solon slaps his own forehead foolishly. The shopkeeper looked solemnly for a bit, but eventual sighed and dropped his shoulders upon Solon’s behavior that resembled that of an unregenerate child.
“Well, I owe ye one for the other day, grandpa.”
The shopkeeper places the jars back on the table. As if fearing that they will be confiscated again, Solon jumps at a wine jar. He gulps down its content without minding the dirt floating on the wine’s surface,
Solon emptied the jar without paying any attention that he has soaked his slightly dirty clothes which looked like rags. Afterwards he allows a a satisfied sigh to escape his lips.
“Heroes become elated by turbulent times. I get drunk by free drinks…” 1
This old drunkard is an extraordinary troublemaker who made 《Noble Fang》 Fagul Galguss Shyemul say, “I respect him as a scholar. I also thank him as a teacher. But, I will never be able to forget his fits of anger in my life,” and a very wise man who made the Divine Son of Destruction Kisaki Soma extol him with: “If he hadn’t been with me, I would have never build a country.”
That old man is “Great Sage” Solon, who would be referred to as second horn of the Divine Son of Destruction in later years.