Many soldiers had gathered in the outskirts of Bolnis. They had been called together alongside Souma’s disclosure of his secret agreement with Romania. They numbered more than 1,000. The majority consisted of humans and zoan, but one could also catch sight of dwarves, elves, harpyians, and dinosaurians among them.
In short, it was a joint army consisting of various races. For Seldeas, where dispute between the races never waned, this might have been an unprecedented event.
Standing in front of that army, Souma said with a voice bouncing from excitement, “Wonderful. It looks like we gathered more than expected.”
In response, Shyemul repeatedly nodded with her face glowing in pride as she answered, “This is yet another proof of your virtue, my 『Navel Master』.”
“A reasonable number of them have heeded your call. That’s all.”
The one pouring cold water on the two admirers was the former Holmean soldier Marchronis, who had worked as company commander adjutant at the fortress of the plains in the past. Marchronis, who was accompanied by the vice-clan chief of the Fang Clan, Fagul Jagata Gulkaka, and the Warrior Leaders of the Mane and Claw Clans, explained to Souma while pointing at the soldiers, “We made some of the prisoners, who we had engage in the reclamation of the plains, commanding officers after they swore their allegiance to us, and let them lead the volunteer soldiers. However, most of the volunteers are new recruits with no experience on the battlefield. I think it’ll be necessary to drill them.”
As far as Souma could see, they seemed to form proper files divided by unit, following command.
When he mentioned this, Marchronis smiled bitterly, “That’s because lining up is all they have to do right now. I think it’d be better for you to expect them to fail at marching, once we get the army moving.”
“Really? ――Let’s train the new recruits while going ahead with our march as scheduled then. I leave the rest to you.”
At the same time as he entrusted Marchronis with the training of the new recruits, Souma emphasized to Gulkaka and the other zoan that they are to obey Marchronis’ instructions.
No one within Souma’s camp could rival Marchronis when it came to experience and knowledge about army-sized combat. But, because of the past strife that drove them out of the plains, many among the zoan warriors showed strong reservations towards following the orders of a human. For this reason, they had arranged for the Warrior Leaders of each clan to fall under Marchronis’ command during this march.
Marchronis bowed his head at Gulkaka and the others. “I know that you might be reluctant to obey a human like me, but I’d be delighted if you could put up with this as it’s all for the sake of our victory.”
Gulkaka answered him as representative for the Warrior Leaders, “We are all very aware of human strength when it comes to group battle. If it’s for the sake of teaching us, you won’t hear any objections from us. I swear on my ancestors and this blade to follow your orders.”
Gulkaka and the other zoan drew their machetes halfway out of their scabbards, and made an oath. After bowing at them once more, Marchronis faced Souma.
“As we’ve only entered the slack season for farmers now, I think volunteer soldiers will keep trickling in from the plains. I’d like to entrust dealing with them to Setius, but would that be alright with you?”
As his subordinate was recently walking around with a scowl on his face, probably because he was still unhappy about having been placed under Souma’s command, Marchronis had recommended for Setius to stay in Bolnis. Souma, who knew about Setius’ personality of diligently fulfilling his official duties despite his brusque attitude, had approved of that assignment.
Next Souma shifted his eyes to the son of the Mane Clan’s chief, Manuyn Bararak Banuka.
“Banuka, please stay back as well to organize the zoan warriors who are going to arrive from now on. Use the basic arrangement of assigning the warriors who participated in the previous battle as commanders for units of five to ten new warriors.”
This instruction of Souma was grounded on a suggestion by Marchronis. Zoan warriors, who only knew the traditional way of combat that depended on individual prowess, were prone to take arbitrary action when push came to shove. Accordingly, it was a measure to avoid new warriors to act on their own accord by installing those, who trusted Souma’s command as they had personally experienced the battle against General Darius, as squad leaders.
“As you command! Please leave it to me – Manuyn Bararak Banuka!”
Banuka, as he hit his chest while declaring so, seemed to be a lot more reliable than five years ago. But, if possible, Souma wished that he’d say this while looking at him, and not at Shyemul who was standing next to him.
In addition, Souma called out to Yoash who had expressly come outside the city to see them off.
“Mr. Yoash, how are things with that man?”
Yoash sighed deeply in response to Souma’s question.
“I’d like you to consider my position a bit.”
Although Yoash had left Jeboa’s merchant guild and opened up a small business in Bolnis for form’s sake, he still maintained close ties to the Shapiro Company. He grumbled about the Shapiro Company being thrust into the line of criticism if their action were to be too disadvantageous towards the guild. When Souma soothed him by promising a proper compensation, Yoash shrugged his shoulders while voicing out his exasperation.
“Well, it’s not like it’s a secret, and since you’ll be immediately able to find out if you investigate it, let me tell you. ――That man seems to have headed to Holmea after moving up his usual annual schedule. He wants to save on the shipping freight by using the time after the harvest to employ workers cheaply, but it’s also because the transport of wares will become impossible, if a genuine war breaks out.”
Souma nodded in satisfaction after receiving that reply.
“Alright! ――Let’s head out then!”
Souma announced so towards the unit of dinosaurians. Jahangil, who led them, grasped the rein of a black horse, and waited for Souma to mount it with his nasal breathing becoming rough.
“Jahangil, please take care of me.”
Jahangil loudly snorted once in response.
At this time, a little bit more than seventy dinosaurians were under Souma’s command. No matter how unmatched the strength of dinosaurians on the battlefield might be, Souma couldn’t hope for the dinosaurians to contribute as major combat asset with those numbers. Thus it was decided to have them serve as Souma’s bodyguards, as final line of defense and to add some prestige to Souma with his unreliable outward appearance.
Ever since he had been informed of that assignment, Jahangil’s mood seemed to be at an all-time high. Even at this very moment, he was, contrary to usual, furiously shaking his tail.
Shyemul accepted the reins from Jahangil and urged Souma to get on the horse.
“Please raise the standard, Morad!” Souma twisted his body on top of his horse, looking back to the former dinosaurian slave Morad.
In response, Morad nodded silently, unfastened the cord binding the rolled-up standard, and hoisted the standard pole into the air with a firm grip.
What unfurled was Souma’s general standard which had been prepared in preparation for the upcoming battle against Holmea. It was an important banner which would always be raised close to Souma, having the two important duties of showing Souma’s location to friend and foe and indicating Souma’s safety.
However, Dvalin and his dwarves, whom Souma had entrusted with the creation, had gone a bit too far with their enthusiasm. It was fine that they had tried to make a big standard which would be easily visible from afar, but the finished standard had become a monstrosity with a height of three melt and a width of six melt.
Moreover, it had been difficult to make it a sturdy construct so as to avoid it being torn by strong winds or arrows. As a result, the flag, which was made out of a thick fabric that had another two layers stitched onto it, boasted of a massive weight by itself. And on top of that, the flagpole had the thickness of a person’s arm and had been reinforced with metal so that it could withstand the heavy flag flapping in stormy weather without breaking.
The gross weight of the big standard reached a level where humans and dwarves could barely lift it and even dinosaurians had their fair share of difficulty with it. Only Morad alone could handle this huge standard as if he was waving a stick.
Morad, who had no combat experience, was at first assigned to miscellaneous chores such as carrying luggage as he had said himself that he didn’t like fighting overly much. But, since he was the only one capable of handling that standard with ease, he was granted the honor of serving as standard bearer for the general of the army.
The black flag, held up into the clear, azure sky by Morad, fluttered furiously in the wind.
“Okay, let’s go!” Souma shouted while widely swinging his arm after making sure of the standard.
Accompanied by a loud chorus of cheers, the drums were hit and the horns blown, signaling a march.
“Begin the march! Our destination is the eastern crossing point!”
With Souma, encircled by a wall of dinosaurians, in the lead, the thousand soldiers started to move all at once, their military boots loudly stomping across the ground.
Several people watched this spectacle from a distance. Currently they were atop a hill close to Bolnis. After observing the state of Souma’s army for a while, a man noted something down on a small piece of paper. Then he retrieved a single bird from the cage they had prepared in advance, tied the paper to its talon, and released it. The bird circled in the sky for a while, but before long headed straight eastwards. After ascertaining that, the men jumped on the horses they had hidden on the hill’s other side, and galloped eastwards, following the bird’s flight path.
“Hey, Soma!” Shyemul jerked her chin to the hill on her left.
Once Souma looked towards the direction she was pointing at, he spotted the small figures of riders heading away from them. He guessed that they had to be Holmea’s scouts.
“What are you going to do?”
Souma shook his head at Shyemul who implicitly asked him whether he’d have them captured by harpyians or zoan warriors.
“It’s okay to ignore them. It’d be bad if they didn’t succeed in reporting our army.”
The news that the Divine Son of Destruction had raised an army quickly reached Holmea’s royal palace through the messenger bird and the scouts on their fast horses.
“The boss of the revolting slaves, who calls himself Divine Son of Destruction, raised an army at Bolnis!” A scout, who had dirt clinging to his face thanks to the dried sweat, reported to King Warius who looked down at him from his throne as he genuflected in the audience hall filled with the chief vassals of Holmea. “The number of soldiers under his command amounts to more than 1,000. It’s not only zoan and subhumans, but we also caught sight of many humans. At the head of the army we spotted a man, who appeared to be the Divine Son of Destruction, and a black banner we have never seen before!”
The scout passed a drawing of the flag and its embroidery, which they had an artist draw for them, to a chamberlain who then presented it to the king.
“…What the hell is this?”
Drawn on the unfolded paper was a design King Warius saw for the first time in his life. Moreover, it was a very eerie design that would stir anyone’s anxiety. It looked as if it combined an 8 and a ∞, and yet it also seemed as if two big snakes were writhing while entangling their bodies.
“Does anyone remember having seen something like this before?”
Most of the vassals shook their heads as they couldn’t identify the drawing shown by the king. However, one of them stepped forward, as he remembered having seen this symbol before.
“With all due respect, Your Majesty, wouldn’t that be the seal which had recently become a rumor among the populace. A servant told me about it some time ago.”
King Warius had also heard about that rumor.
“You’re saying this is the seal in question…?” King Warius couldn’t help but feel something cold travel down his spine as he mumbled so under his breath.
“What’s wrong, Soma?”
Shyemul asked curiously after observing how Souma was frequently looking behind him for a while now.
“Hmm, as expected, this standard is a bit…”
Souma’s eyes were pinned on the big flag held up by Morad with both hands.
After glancing at the flag, which was still fluttering in the wind, Shyemul sighed, “We’ve talked about this over and over again, haven’t we…?”
Just as Shyemul said, they had thoroughly discussed the design to be used for the general’s standard. Several candidates were up for choice, but in the end they chose this design since anyone would immediately know that it signified Souma.
“Isn’t it great that anyone can tell from a distance that it’s your standard?”
“You’re not wrong about that, but still…” Souma’s wording showed that he wasn’t quite satisfied with the outcome, although he admitted Shyemul’s point. “But, you see, this is the seal of a truly good-for-nothing girl.”
What had been stitched with a silver thread onto the black flag was the seal of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction. The same seal was faintly glowing on Souma’s forehead right now.
In the future, this standard would become known as Soma’s Black Banner which was said “to stir fear among enemies and allies alike whenever they saw it flying on the battlefield.”