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The shed went up in a blaze almost instantly thanks to the sudden fire jar attack launched by the harpyian girls. But, that was no wonder at all. This shed was used as storage for kindling, firewood, and large amounts of oil, supposed to be used for burning down the bridge when the revolting slaves would attack. With all these inflammable materials catching fire, the fire quickly spiraled out of control.
“W-What a disaster…!”
The officer in charge of the military station stared in shock at the crimson flames as they devoured the storage in front of him in a bright conflagration. Moreover, it didn’t seem like the harpyians had hit that particular shed by coincidence either. After all, the harpyians solely focused their attacks on that storage shed, ignoring all other buildings. On top of that, they fluttered around above the burning shed, limiting further actions to hindering people from erasing the fire.
It was very obvious that this attack had been based on the conviction that this shed would store all the material needed to burn down the bridge.
The officer wondered just when the enemy had found out about the purpose of this shed, just to suddenly recall a certain event.
“I-I see! Back then!”
The military maneuvers from the other day, which we considered to have been carried out in order to draw our attention away from the attack on Marven, had not only served as diversion, but also counted as something like a reconnaissance to check how we’d deal with an actual attack on the bridge point. Without even realizing that, we’ve deposited and retrieved firewood and oil from the shed in front of the enemy’s watchful eyes.
However, the officer didn’t have the spare time to regret having completely gone along with the enemy’s ulterior motive since he could suddenly hear intense drumming sounds thundering across the river.
Accompanying that, he noticed the grassland sprawling on the western bank of the Conte moving. No, it wasn’t the grassland that moved here. Those were zoan who had all started to move at once after having lurked within the grasses. They numbered a little more than 300. The officer guessed them to be an assault unit that had gone ahead of the main force.
“Oh shit! The bridge! Burn the bridge!”
But right after shouting so on reflex, the officer was taken aback. No matter how much they had soaked the bridge’s wood with oil, it wasn’t a structure you could simply set on fire by holding a torch against it. Usually it was planned for them to stack firewood on the bridge, scatter oil around it, and set it on fire. However, the crucial firewood and oil for that very reason were currently ablaze together with the shed to store them. This made it impossible to burn down the bridge.
At this point, they had only two choices left: defend this place or retreat.
However, this station was presently manned by a little more than a hundred soldiers. Even if their station might be protected by two layers of fortifications, it was pretty clear that the officer’s men, who were panicking without even trying to get ready to intercept, would be easily overrun by the zoan.
Thus, their commanding officer made his decision: “Retreat! We’re falling back!”
Even if they were to hold out, resisting the assault, they’d just die in vain. Promptly informing Fort Garaf in the back of the zoan attack would be the smartest choice, the officer had judged.
“Hurry! Once the fortifications fall, we won’t be able to get away anymore!”
Even as he hurled that warning, the zoan had already reached the first fence, grabbed its crosspieces to tear them off, and used their machetes to hack down the ropes holding the wooden boards together, about to break through. Once the zoan were to tear down both fences, nothing would stand between them and the Holmean soldiers. And as soon as that happened, the soldiers, who could only escape on foot, would be – in the worst case – annihilated when chased down by the zoan who ran on all four as fast as horses.
The officer’s men were well aware of this fact, and immediately deserted their stations, starting to run away in all directions as soon as they heard their company commander’s order.
Soon after the Holmean soldiers retreated, the zoan poured into the military station after easily taking down the fences as they encountered no resistance.
“Pursuit is unnecessary!” Garam roared at the part of his warriors which was about to chase after the fleeing soldiers as blood had risen to their heads.
“Rather than that, search the place for any hidden, enemy soldiers!”
Hearing Garam’s instruction, the zoan formed groups of several warriors and spread out across the station. Then again, it was a small station to begin with and thus it didn’t take them much time to search the whole area, just to find out that no enemy soldiers were left.
“Yo, 《Ferocious Fang》! Those Holmean cowards have all scooted. Not a single soul has stayed behind.”
Garam nodded at Zurgu’s report, and then turned around. Behind him waited Kraga Bunuka Shishul, Zurgu’s niece and Garam’s adjutant.
“Send the signal to Dvalin.”
“Yes! As you command, Your Excellency!”
Watching Shishul beat her drum in a complicated rhythm, Zurgu spoke up to Garam, “By the way, Garam.”
Seeing how he’s calling me by name and not alias, he’s very likely seeking a private talk, Garam assessed, relaxed the tension in his shoulders, and casually replied, “What’s up, Zurgu?”
Zurgu croaked with a very sullen face, “Why does the great marshal himself come out at the start of hostilities – and moreover, to the very front line?”
Garam averted his face, apparently feeling awkward.
“Currently we’re still just moving according to the plans set up by Soma. Although I might be called a marshal and all that, I’ve got nothing to do. In such a case, isn’t it essential for me to check everyone’s actions like this?” Garam fielded a plausible explanation, but as he couldn’t even look straight at Zurgu, it lacked persuasiveness.
And sure enough, Zurgu latched on to that, “It was the goddamn same shit with you when you became Great Clan Chief! While you acted all cool by saying that you’d leave stuff to me at first, you didn’t stick to your own words at all, ultimately heading out to the front with the rest of us, didn’t you!?”
“…Oh, did something like that happen?”
Becoming even more embarrassed, Garam turned so far away from Zurgu that you could actually call it him showing Zurgu his back.
Zurgu violently grabbed Garam’s shoulder, hissing, “Hey, Your Excellency the Great Lord Marshal, it sure looks like I gotta shake you up once so you get your shit in order.”
As might be expected, even Garam felt a chill travel down his spine when faced with Zurgu looking at him with an expression like a tiger or bear who was on the verge of eating a person whole.
But, luckily for him, Garam noticed something arriving from Conte’s upper stream at a corner of his eyes at this very moment.
“Hng! It looks like Dvalin and his man have arrived! 《Mad Claw》, it’d be bad if the enemy came back to scout, so take your warriors and patrol the area around the station!”
Leaving those words behind, Garam quickly departed with Shishul in tow.
Zurgu huffily spat out towards Garam’s distancing back, “That cursed Garam ran away, huh…?”
Fort Garaff was a small fortress located in the west of Holmea between the Conte’s bridge point and the city of Luoma. That fort flew into a flurry of busyness as soon as it received the reports from the escaped soldiers.
The initial plan forecast the soldiers burning down the bridge in order to prevent the revolting slaves to invade the kingdom in case they were to attack before the royal army could arrive. But far from burning down the bridge, it was actually stolen from the soldiers while completely intact, turning this into a huge problem.
“There’s no doubt about the attacking zoan having numbered around 300?”
The company commander, who had fallen back from the station at the Conte, confirmed the fort commander’s question. In response, the fort commander folded his arms with a grunt and brooded.
I think it’s safe to say that a raid party made up of harpyians and a part of the zoan attacked the bridge point, going by the numbers. In any case, the revolting slaves don’t only employ harpyians, who can fly through the sky, and zoan, who can run as fast as horses on all four. They also include many humans, and much slower races such as dinosaurians and dwarves. Furthermore, if we consider the transport of provisions for several thousand people, their march speed should be a lot slower. No matter how I look at it, I can’t believe that such a slow, big army could move so fast that the scouts we dispatched wouldn’t be able to come back ahead of its arrival. Very likely, they’ve planned to secure the Conte’s bridge point by launching a preemptive assault on it before the main force would arrive there in due time, the commander assumed.
In such a case, there’s still room for us to recover from this blow. We just need to burn down the bridge faster than the slave’s main force can reach the Conte.
At this rate, with the bridge in their hand, the rebellious slaves will be free to go and leave the kingdom’s territory as they please. Under such circumstances, it’s also quite likely for our country’s entire realm to be ravaged by looting raids through the quick-footed zoan. We must burn down the bridge to stall the enemy’s advance, no matter what it takes.
“Assemble the cavalry. And, prepare the fire jars. We’ll reduce the bridge to ashes tomorrow at dawn.”
The commander’s strategy was to use the might of a horse charge to break through the zoan defense, which would very likely await them at the bridge point, and throw the fire jars to set the bridge on fire. To begin with, the zoan were a race specialized in raids and surprise attacks that capitalized on their high mobility. Conversely, a standing defense not only discarded that racial advantage but also put the zoan at disadvantage because of their lightweight equipment. Without saying, the same went for the harpyians.
As such, the commander judged them to have plenty of chance to win this, and had his men prepare plenty of fire jars while assembling the cavalry inside the fort.
And then, after forming a raid unit consisting of lightly equipped infantrymen centered around cavalrymen who were straddling horses and kiryuu, the commander himself went with them as they left the fort while it was still dark outside, heading for the Conte.
Of course, they didn’t use any torches to raise the chance of this surprise attack succeeding, and because of that their march was slowed down as the faint moonlight served as their only guidance.
When they finally came close to the bridge point, the eastern sky had already started to brighten as dawn had broken.
In order to avoid the eyes of the zoan who would likely be on guard against any attacks, the raid unit first hid itself at the base of a small hill located close to the bridge point.
“Alright, ignite the fire jars!”
Following their commander’s order, the soldiers let the cloth, which had been stuffed into the jar’s mouth, catch fire with their torches, and then passed the jars to the cavalry. A long leather strap was affixed to the neck of the fire jars, allowing their holders to swing the jar around and throw it over a distance while using centrifugal force.
“Now, listen! Our goal isn’t to take down the enemy. We’re here to burn down the bridge! Don’t forget that!”
After every cavalryman had received a lit fire jar, the commander stressed once more, “Infantry, you are to shoot arrows at the zoan to prevent them from extinguishing the fire and provide cover for the retreat of our cavalry. But, it’s more important to restrain the zoan than to kill them!”
After sensing that his men had nodded within the dim light, the commander kicked the flanks of his horse, racing uphill while personally leading the charge.
“Let’s go! Follow meee!”
The cavalry and infantry followed him with war cries.
Once the commander scaled the hill, only plain flatland remained between him and the bridge. He could clearly see the bridge point from up there.
As I thought, they apparently haven’t expected our attack. It seems like the zoan have taken up formation in front of the bridge with the first weak sun rays pouring down on them from the eastern sky. But, there’s nothing to fear from the zoan as they don’t use bows or long-handled weapons to take down mounted humans. We just need to charge them, throw the jars on the bridge, and dash away at full speed.
For the sake of threatening the zoan who had already noticed their attack and started to move, the commander raised a war roar as if to cry his throat sore and tried to charge at the zoan warriors.
But, as he closed the distance to the bridge point, his voice lost force. Accompanying that, the horse, which he had spurred into full gallop, also eased its pace, before finally coming to a halt.
What had become louder in inverse proportion to the commander’s roar dying out were the noisy voices of his soldiers.
“W-What are those…?”
“You gotta be kidding me…!”
“C-Commander!? Just what the hell is this…!?”
The commander couldn’t answer his soldiers who were seeking his next orders from behind.
“….Is it a dream…or an illusion…that I’m seeing right now!?”
After all, the commander himself wasn’t sure what he should tell his men as he was completely unable to comprehend the sight stretching out in front of him right now.
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