“Is something wrong, 《Ferocious Fang》?”
Garam, the one leading the suppression of Marven’s residential area, had suddenly started to frown. The one who noticed that was Kraga Bunuka Shishul, the girl with the mandarin orange fur who served as Garam’s adjutant while at the same time being Zurgu’s niece.
The women and children were imprisoned as hostages in this residential area in order to force the dwarven men to toll away in the mine. It was Garam’s duty to save them. And the rescue operation was proceeding smoothly thanks to the information provided by the dwarf Knurl, who had escaped from this mine, and the map drawn based on his information. There was no reason for Garam to be dissatisfied, and yet――
“…I’m simply pissed off a bit.”
This stemmed from him having abruptly remembered the broadly grinning face of a certain red-furred giant. However, as might be expected, Garam found it difficult to explain this to Zurgu’s niece. In response, Shishul came to terms with her very own interpretation.
“I see. ――I can fully understand that the cowardly behavior of the Holmean soldiers must be quite irritating for a hero like yourself, 《Ferocious Fang》.”
Garam directed a wry smile at Shishul who further added in a huff, “I also feel quite vexed when I consider that we had been driven out of the plains by such weaklings.”
“Don’t underestimate the humans too much. All that happened here was Soma’s prediction coming true, and us simply moving according to his plan.”
Souma had estimated that Copper Mine Marven town would very likely be the easiest target for a takeover in Holmea. Ever since he had been entreated by Knurl to liberate his clanmates, Souma had gathered all kinds of information about the mine and its town, and analyzed it in order to take Marven.
Going by its structure, Souma had argued that the town had no wall and that they didn’t assume an attack by an enemy nation because they were located deep in Holmea’s territory. For this reason, the soldiers, which amounted to 500 at most, definitely didn’t have high skills or morale. Moreover, several thousand dwarves lived there who would become their allies. Putting all of this together, Souma concluded that it’d be simple to take the town as long as they used a surprise attack.
The sole concern was the question how quickly they’d be able to save the women and children who would be used as hostages.
As of yet, the Holmean soldiers don’t know whether dwarven hostages will be of much use against us zoan, and thus they haven’t used any of them as shields. However, we must put the utmost priority on safely rescuing the hostages for the sake of winning over the freed dwarves as allies. If we were to let a hostage die after they were used as a shield in the worst case, there would be hard feelings left between us and the dwarves later down the line. Currently we’re in a situation where I want to avoid at least this much.
“The outcome here will influence the result of Soma’s future plans. Failure is not an option.”
Sometimes a slight inattentiveness led to grave blunders. Shishul looked somewhat startled at Garam who had firmly warned everyone with such words to avoid this from happening. Immediately following, her face lit up with an even more prominent radiance of respect than moments ago, and she quickly closed the distance between Garam and her.
“Nothing less of 《Ferocious Fang》! I understand. I shall do my utmost to carry out my duty without a sliver of carelessness!”
“…Yeah, be my guest.”
Overpowered by Shishul’s sparkling eyes, this answer was the most Garam could muster.
Five years had passed since Shishul had been placed close to Garam under the pretext of being the Grand Clan Chief’s adjutant. However, until this very day, Garam felt conflicted to be the target of her pure, open display of reverence. Only at times like these he sensed a strong sympathy with Souma who alway looked troubled whenever his little sister trifled with him.
At that moment, a warrior arrived to file a report.
“Hey, 《Ferocious Fang》! We discovered the location of the dwarven queen.”
The dwarven queen had been labeled as having the highest priority among all rescue targets. The dwarves were, just like the marmen, a matriarchal society. The women inherited the family assets and titles, and naturally the clans were led by a queen instead of a king. The dwarves of Marven were no exception to this rule. And they had investigated in advance that Holmea had isolated the queen in the building which served as command post of the stationed troops, located in the residential area.
We must rescue the queen for the sake of gaining the cooperation of Marven’s dwarves. Failure won’t be tolerated.
“We immediately spotted the building, but the humans have barricaded themselves in there, making it difficult to take the building under our control.”
The warrior added that they could force the suppression by relying on the power of their numbers, but they were hesitating to choose that option as it’d likely result in many victims on their side.
Garam got the warrior to lead him to the building in question to take a look at the current situation. Once they arrived, he could immediately tell that it’d certainly be difficult for the warriors to easily gain control of the building. The building itself had one story and wasn’t big by any standard, but unlike the dwellings of thin planks, where the humans had crammed the dwarves into, this here was a proper building made out of sturdy stones.
They must have built it under the assumption that the dwarves would revolt once again. It stands isolated right in the middle of a cleared plot of land with quite a bit of distance to the other buildings. Because of that, there was nothing to hid even if you try to sneak up on them, and as soon as you get closer, you’ll be immediately spotted.
Right now half a soldier’s face was peeking out through a somewhat largish window of the building, trying to get a read on the situation outside. And, if you gazed at the entrance, which had a size allowing only one person at a time to pass through, from outside with the sun blazing down, you couldn’t look inside as darkness was hovering in the back. It’d be difficult to break through that place if several soldiers had been stationed there.
“What should we do, 《Ferocious Fang》? We were able to free most of the dwarves who were locked away as hostages. I hear the mine and the places where they worked the copper were cleaned up by 《Mad Claw》 and the revolting dwarves. I think they’ll give up sooner or later if we keep securing the vicinity.”
Garam folded his arms, and pondered for a while.
“No, I’ll take care of it. ――All of you, follow after me as soon as I’ve entered.”
The warrior’s suggestion is very sound, but right now time is of essence. Besides, at this rate someone is going to get on my nerves by smugly smiling, and blathering, “Sir Grand Clan Chief sure takes his time. Someone as great as me would have cleaned up that place long ago.”
First Garam picked up a hand-sized stone at his feet. After rolling the stone around on his palm to ascertain its weight, he firmly clamped down on it. Then he took a small breath, and took a wide step forward with his left foot. Sharply rotating his waist at the same time, he transferred the power to his upper body, and from his upper body to his right arm, just to swing down his right arm from having raised it over his head in a smooth but quick motion, throwing the stone at full force.
The stone ripped through the air, and directly hit the forehead of the soldiers, who had been peeking out half of his face through the window, without missing its aim. Accompanying the sound of the stone shattering, Garam could hear a loud squish as if a boiled egg had been squashed. The soldier, whose forehead caved because of the stone, was thrown backwards.
A shadow loomed above another soldier, who had knelt down to help up his comrade after he had collapsed face-up. Once that soldier looked up, he spotted a black zoan who had jumped into the building through the window by shrugging his shoulders. It was Garam who had leaped head-first into the building after going down on all fours as soon as he finished the throw and dashing up to the building.
The soldier tried to alarm the others about the intrusion by a zoan, but his forehead was horizontally sliced open by a flash of a machete in midair, instantly turning him into a corpse.
Skilfully twisting his body midflight, Garam landed on his feet, and instantly scanned the building’s interior with his eyes.
Five soldiers, who had surprise written on their face due to his sudden entry, had formed a circle in the middle of the room. Moreover, Garam could catch a glimpse of a small figure in the center of that circle. And he found another soldier with a blue tassel standing along the wall, in a place somewhat separated from the circle.
After having grasped all that, Garam thrust himself into the circle of soldiers with a movement reminiscent of a wild beast stealing up on its prey within the jungle, and then turned his back on the figure in the circle’s middle.
“<Fang Clan> Garam, Son of Garguss! ――Here I come!”
In the next instant, a black tornado devastated the room’s interior. The soldiers touched by it had their arms lopped off, their faces crushed, and their throats torn apart, falling one after the other. It didn’t take even ten breaths for all five soldiers to lay in their own blood.
“Surrender. Then I shall spare your life.”
While listening to the battle noise between the warriors, who had charged into the building from outside, and the other soldiers, Garam demanded the last man standing, apparently the captain of this place as his helmet had a blue tassel, to surrender.
However, that man’s face was dyed deep crimson out of rage and humiliation.
“D-Don’t screw with me, you filthy beast!”
While raising a cryptic scream, the man drew his sword, and assaulted Garam.
However, such a desperate- attack wouldn’t work on Garam. With a single side sweep of his machete, he severed the man’s hands at their wrist, sending them flying together with the sword, and smashed the top of his head alongside the helmet covering it with a return slash.
After scanning the room while vigilantly holding his machetes at the ready to check that it was safe, he looked back, faintly wrinkling up his nose.
“…Are you the dwarf queen?”
He received a small nod in response.
Zurgu was just rushing over when Garam left the command post after he and his men had put it under their full control. As soon as he saw Garam, Zurgu pointed a finger with a frown, “Hey, what’s that on your shoulder?”
Zurgu’s question stemmed from the girl clinging to Garam’s neck while sitting on his shoulder like a small animal. Zurgu couldn’t quite tell dwarf appearances apart, but just when he thought that she might be a lovely girl with her perfectly round eyes and her somewhat large nose, he heard an outcry from next to him.
“Ooohh! Your Majesty, what a delight to see you in sound health!”
It was Norðri, the Warrior Leader of Marven’s dwarves who had arrived right after Zurgu. The girl referred to as queen cried out, “Father!”, jumped off Garam’s shoulder, and quickly pitter-pattered over to Norðri. After a sidelong glance at the two who were fervently hugging each other, Zurgu directed a questioning look at Garam.
“It looks like that girl is the local queen.” Garam explained to Zurgu, but even he donned an expression betraying his disbelief of the sudden revelation.
Zoan like Garam had difficulties to surmise the age of dwarves and humans from their outward appearance. But even so, the girl looked like she couldn’t even have reached ten years yet.
While hugging his daughter, Norðri lifted his face, and explained, “The previous queen was killed by Holmea. A child queen must have been easier for them to handle.”
At the same time as Garam could understand the logic behind it, he apologized for having asked something rude. But Norðri told him that there was no need.
Either way, Garam quickly started a meeting then and there. A wooden box, which they found lying around, was set up for the queen as a substitute for a throne, and Garam as well as Zurgu sat down cross-legged in front of her. Because it was usually considered shameful for a queen to show her bare face to anyone but her family, they were told to avoid looking at her as much as possible.
Zurgu grumbled, “What a pain in the ass, despite us having rescued them,” but after Garam drove his elbow into Zurgu’s flank, Zurgu reluctantly bowed his head.
“We shall deeply thank you for having freed us, beast friends.” The girl expressed her gratitude while somewhat lisping.
In the meantime, dwarven women, who had been rescued at the same time, placed a cloth with multi-colored embroideries, which they had brought over from who knew where, on the girl’s shoulder. It was their wish to display the dignity of their queen as much as possible, even while under such circumstances.
Garam shook his head at the queen’s thanks, “You don’t need to thank us. We merely obeyed the order of Soma, the ruler of Bolnis and the zoan’s Clan King. And I have a message for you from Soma: 『This shall return the debt I owe for my life』.”
At that point, Garam exchanged a glance with Dvalin. In response, Dvalin presented the wooden tube that had hung at his waist to the queen.
Upon Norðri asking with his eyes what this could be, Garam solemnly stated, “A dwarf called Knurl had approached us to plead for the liberation of Marven. He saved Soma, who was about to lose his life after falling into a river, in exchange for his life.”
Hearing Garam’s words, Norðri and the queen widened their eyes.
“And this wooden tube contains Bolnis’ liquor Knurl had brewed some time ago, hoping that he could let his family drink it. We shall pass it on to you in place of the deceased Knurl.”
“Knurl has made this…!” Norðri uncorked the wooden tube with trembling hands.
Thereupon, an aroma he had never smelled before tickled his nose. And then he took a sip to test it for poison before passing it to the queen.
However, the wine inside the tube was anything but normal. It was the liquor that had only recently started to circulate in Bolnis. Of course, Norðri violently coughed due to the strong alcohol he had never drunk so far.
“T-This is quite the strong drink. Man, it’s hard to bear. It even stings the eyes.”
Tears started to slowly surface in the eyes of Norðri who was still coughing. Watching him, the queen extended her small hand, received the tube, and started to choke in the same way after taking a sip.
“It truly stings your eyes.” The queen wiped the corners of her eyes with a hand.
None of those present was as insensitive to ask whether their tears truly originated from their eyes being stung by the alcohol.
For a while, a carpet of sorrow lingered over the meeting place, but then Garam said so as to cut through it, “I’m well aware that it’s rude, but please let me say it anyway. Right now we don’t have any time to immerse ourselves in sentimentality.”
It was a harsh way to phrase things, but nevertheless the truth. Garam guessed that the news of Marven’s fall would soon reach the ears of Holmea’s king. Holmea should send troops to retake Marven in three days at the earliest and five at the latest. There was a mountain of things they had to do before that, so they had no time to lose right now.
“There’s something we’d like you to decide on at once.”
Giving such a preface, Garam told them about a certain circumstance. Listening to his words the faces of Norðri and the queen visibly darkened, and even the dwarves of Marven, who had listened to the meeting, stirred slightly.
“What are you going to do if we tell you that we won’t accept it?” Norðri asked with a challenging tone.
Garam firmly answered, “We’ll forsake you. ――We must steal a march on Holmea. Sorry, but we have no obligation to pay for your stubbornness with our lives.”
“While you keep saying that you’ll rescue us, you also say that you’ll abandon us if we don’t obey, huh?” Norðri snorted, baring his dissatisfaction.
The other dwarves didn’t voice it out, but it was obvious that they thought the same.
I can understand their feelings, but we still must get them to agree one way or another.
Garam searched for the right words that would allow him to persuade the dwarves, but he was forestalled by the queen.
“Norðri, we shall follow the lead of the person called Soma.”
“But, Your Majesty…!”
Norðri tried to change her mind, but the queen clearly told him, “Let’s believe in Soma for whom bro ― no, Knurl laid down his life.”
This caused Norðri to be lost for words. He still hesitated for a while, but eventually all power left his shoulders.
“Okay, we shall obey your decree, Your Majesty.”
After having watched the exchange between Norðri and the queen, Garam quickly stood up.
“It might sound repetitive, but we’re running out of time. I’d like you people to get everything ready as quickly as possible.” And then he looked backwards, “Zurgu, Dvalin, please hurry with the construction of a fortress in the vicinity of the town. At this rate, we’ll end up allowing the enemy to charge in with ease.”
Both curtly confirmed Garam’s request, and started to act upon it while taking their men along.
Next Garam said to Shishul, who was standing at his side, “Have a harpyian deliver a message to Soma, and beat the drums to signal the success of the plan.”
“As you command, 《Ferocious Fang》!”
A little while later, a single harpyian flew off from the Marven Copper Mine, and the sounds of a drum could be heard as if to follow her.