Fran and I discussed our course of action as we got back on Urushi’s back and sped away from Greengoat.
Neither the army nor the adventurers were able to act, at least not right away. But we couldn’t just sit around and watch until we finally had allies at our backs. Schwartzekatze’s inhabitants had the tendency to be fairly proficient in the art of escape, but there was no way they could outrun a literal army of monsters. The villagers were sure to be devoured by the still marching horde if left alone.
Something had to be done.
We might be able to get the younger ones out if we stick ’em on a carriage and get it moving asap. But all that really means is sentencing the rest of Schwartzekatze to death, and that’s a choice Fran isn’t willing to make. I knew the young black catkin well enough to understand that Schwartzekatze was effectively the embodiment of one of her many aspirations, a literal dream come true. There was absolutely no chance of her abandoning it. It doesn’t really matter if the village itself burns down. Everything can be rebuilt and restored so long as the villagers are saved.
“Things are looking a bit tough this time… I’m not actually sure we’ll be able to do too much.” I muttered to myself telepathically as I brooded over my thoughts. I don’t really want to let Fran down. But let’s be real here…
“Master? Something wrong?” The catgirl perked her ears up as she caught wind of my voice.
“Listen closely, Fran. The only way Schwartzekatze’s citizens are going to make it out in one piece is if we fight. All by ourselves. There aren’t any reinforcements standing by behind us. It’s all you, me, and Urushi.”
“You do understand how much danger we’ll have to put ourselves in, right?”
“Nn. I know.” Fran nodded. Her expression was a serious one and her resolve was clear as day.
“I know what you’re going to say, but I’m just going to go ahead and tell you this anyway. I don’t think you should fight. You need to get the hell out of here, fast. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that we should leave the Beastkin’s Country.”
“Sorry, Master. Will fight. Won’t change my mind.” Fran’s reply was instant. She didn’t even stop to consider my advice. It was clear that she’d set her sights on a goal, and she wasn’t going to stop until she achieved it, even if that meant fighting to her last breath.
“No matter what?”
Yeah, I figured as much. She’s not the type to abandon her tribesmen. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to try, but god damn. She’s so committed to this that I’m starting to worry that I’ll lose her.
“Alright then. Sorry ’bout trying to stop you. Don’t worry about it, just me being silly old me.” I mean, who am I to question the extent of Fran’s resolve…?
“Not problem. Master not silly. Amazing sword.”
“Thanks.” Right. Right… How could I’ve forgotten? I’m Fran’s sword. My job is to cleave through her enemies and support her in all her goals, not make her decisions for her. “My bad there, had a brain fart. I’m all good now.”
“Thanks, Master. I know. Thinking about my safety. But won’t focus on safety. Will save other black catkin. And will need your power.”
“Got it. You have my blade.”
“But that said… I highly doubt that we’ll be able to take out all of those monsters by ourselves.”
“Nn. I know.”
We might’ve been able to handle it if it was just a massive ass horde of goblins, but life, being the bitch it was, threw us for a loop. I knew for a fact that there were much larger monsters mingled into the army. It’s probably better to plan for the worst and assume the army’s got a couple A and B ranks mixed into it.
“Alright, first things first, we mess with the vanguard and throw it into a state of disarray. It doesn’t matter how many troops they have. They can’t keep moving forward if they’re stuck in traffic.” I said, conclusively. Er wait, that’s not true. They could just step over or trample their peers and keep walking. We’ll have to find a way to actually slow down the army. Oh, I know! Maybe we could build a wall…
Figuring out a way to stop the army was important, but thinking about the steps we’d take after were even more so. The entire army’ll probably turn on us and attack us the moment it realizes that we’re getting in its way.
We’ll need to figure out what we need to do to keep the army occupied for as long as possible. Ideally, we’d want to confuse the shit out of the person in control and have them make the monsters retreat, but I don’t really see that happening. And once we lose the ability to hold the whole army back, we’ll have to switch to killing off everything that heads in the direction the black catkin are going to be headed. A part of me doubted that we’d be able to fight off all the foes that came our way while also protecting the tribe.
Fran and I were pretty good at going on the offensive, but neither she nor I knew much about playing the part of a bodyguard. Not even we knew how well we’d be able to fill the role.
“Doesn’t matter. Need to do it, so will do it.”
“Point taken.” I agreed. Again, it was my role to give her desires form, and I wasn’t about to let her down.
“Oh, nice. It looks like they’ve already started to evacuate.” The black cat tribe was moving as one huge lump. It looked like the entire village had moved in tandem. We got down from the sky and landed right in front of them.
“Welcome back, Princess! I’m very glad to see you.” The chief, one of the members leading the group, greeted her the moment Urushi’s feet touched the ground.
“Nn. Everyone here?”
Seeing her had brought a look of relief to his face. It seemed that her absence had caused him undue stress, likely in part because he was anxious as to whether or not she was safe. Wow, they’re fast. I didn’t think they’d have gotten this far already. Hell, a part of me even thought they might still be back at the village.
It turned out that the entire village had actually finished packing up not too long after we informed them of the situation. They’d grabbed all the stuff they could carry and set out before the crack of dawn with a few days worth of food in tow. The group travelled with the children encased between groups of adults such that they could stay safe in the case of an attack. Wow uh. They really are used to this.
That said, their overall pace was still painfully slow. They had no choice given that there were children and old timers amongst their ranks. At the very least, it’d take them a few days to make it all the way to Greengoat.
“Can’t escort you. Will still be okay?”
“We’ll be just fine, Princess. We’ve armed ourselves with the weapons you so graciously granted us. We’re ready for anything,” said the chief.
“All this gear is great,” added another black catkin. “We’re not the greatest of fighters, but you know what they say, fine feathers make fine birds. With these in hand, even we can handle the monsters that pop up around these parts!”
“Everything here’ll be okay, so you do you, Princess!” said a third.
Every last grown man was armed. They were still quite weak, of course, but they were motivated and at least capable of holding their own against the area’s wildlife.
“Will go now.”
“Please, be safe,” said the chief.
The chief didn’t ask Fran where she was headed. Nor did any of the villagers. They already knew. They knew that they wouldn’t be able to escape unless Fran engaged the monsters in combat. They knew that she was going to fight with everything she had and put her life on the line. For them.
And that was why they remained silent as they watched her go. They didn’t even try to stop her from going. They held her resolve in far too high a regard to disgrace it.
We parted ways with the black cat tribe and headed north.
Schwartzekatze soon came into view. It was quiet and still as could be, like a candle with its flame extinguished. One night was all it took to turn the lively village into a veritable ghost town. It was impossible to tell that, just a few hours prior, it’d been a lively place filled with song and laughter. Now, the only sound I heard was that of the wind, whooshing by its empty houses.
“…Have to protect everyone.”
“That we do, Fran. That we do.”
“Just flat out charging in is way too reckless, so let’s take a bit to figure out a plan and get everything ready.”
Though I wanted to stop before initiating, I didn’t want to keep us for too long. It would be best for us to initiate an attack before the army managed to march its way past the plains. It’d be a whole lot easier to keep the whole army pinned down if we had a good sightline. The area beyond the plains was forested and the trees were sure to obstruct our vision.
Of course, there was no such thing as a free lunch. Fighting them on the plains also meant exposing ourselves. That said, we would still be susceptible to surprise attacks from stealthy monsters even if we did decide to make use of the forest, so there’s really more benefit than harm in fighting on the plains.
“Yeah, it pretty much looks like the monsters mostly headed straight south.”
“Need to hurry.”