Chapter 1 – Story 21: Illusions

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“Grandmother, you are saying that Soma suffers from 『Warrior’s Cold』?” (Shyemul)

“I fear that’s probably the case.”

The Elder replied so to Shyemul, who had inquired about the condition of Souma who had been put to sleep after making him drink medicinal water to calm his mind.
It was a condition that affected young zoan warriors very infrequently.
In cases where they were about to be killed and retaliated with lethal force to defend themselves for the very first time in battle, their reactions could become dull as if they had been paralyzed from that shock. Conversely, they might become very aggressive or complain about insomnia.
However, because the zoans live in an environment where they constantly kill animals in hunts and are taught to fight starting from their childhood, these symptoms lasted as short as a few hours and would abate in several weeks at their longest.
Hence it was called a 『Warrior’s Cold』, with the meaning that it’s a temporary disease which afflicts inexperienced warriors.
If you name it with a modern term, it would be called ASD (Acute Stress Disorder).
A personal experience such as something concerned to life and death becomes a trauma and symptoms of a nervous disorder appear due to that, but it’s a transient disorder that will heal naturally within a couple of hours up to several weeks.

“I see. Then it’s fine.” (Shyemul)

The intensity of it caused Shyemul to not think of it as the 『Warrior’s Cold』that she knows of, but even still she felt relieved that it was something only temporary.
However, the Elder shook her head.

“The problem is that it’s not limited to only that. — You probably don’t remember since you were small, but at the time when we moved residence from the plains to this place, there were many people with an ill mind among our brethren.”

The Elder smiles bitterly as she recalls the period when they just moved inside this mountain while being chased by the humans.
Unable to familiarize themselves with the completely different environment compared to the wide plains they had lived in so far, there were many who became irritable for no reason or suffered from a mental depression at that time.
The Elder knew and experienced firsthand just how large of a burden a mere change in environment and living space placed on one’s mind.

“I heard the stories from that kid several times as well, but the world where that kid lived was wealthy and peaceful to an astonishing degree. To an extent that it’s similar to the 『Field of Pleasure』 said to house the gods.”

Just as the Elder says, compared to this world, the world that Souma mentioned to have lived in before is quite the gentle world. Shyemul thought this as well.

“With this much, that child might have carried a heavy burden in his heart without us realizing that. And at that point a 『Warrior’s Cold』 was added on top of it. I definitely can’t see it as something minor.”

Once she said so, Shyemul reconsidered.
When she reflects on Souma’s most recent state, she’s able to assess that his actions weren’t like his usual self. She ate and slept together with Souma for a few days after returning to this refuge, but the character of Souma, which Shyemul perceived during those days, was that of a human that isn’t assertive, for better or worse.
Considering he was suddenly dropped into a different world and tossed into an environment that is completely different from his previous one, Souma was obedient to a frightening extent. After the change in environment there were likely many different burdens pressuring him, and yet he followed what Shymeul said without making any complaints or expressing any dissatisfaction to a degree where one might call him meek. And not only that, he never mentioned wanting to do something or wishing for something.
However, after the night where that battle was decided, that changed completely.
He had become very active, as if he’s a completely different person.
Even though he didn’t even try to approach the zoans outside of Shyemul out of cautiousness before, he had apparently made various requests and addressed Garam and Shahata on his own initiative.
Also, despite not knowing when the human soldiers would come attacking, he happily prepared the ambush without showing a single unease. Despite the end result being the killing of humans just like himself, he acted as if he hadn’t noticed this at all.
Now that she thinks back upon it, she can judge him being energetic to an abnormal level.
This conjecture of Syhemul was correct.
In order to escape from the stress brought about by the sudden change in environment and his anxiety towards the present and future, he fell into something not unlike a light manic state. Because of that, he felt as if there were no uncertainties within himself, and on the contrary was enveloped in a sensation of exaltation as if anything he did would work out in his favor.
However, at the precise moment when the thread of tension that had filled him with the vigor to drive away the enemy snapped, Souma was for the first time confronted with the reality of the battlefield that he had caused and this caused him to break down.

“Grandmother, can’t you do anything?” (Shyemul)

Shyemul presses her for an answer, but the Elder shakes her head slightly.

“This is the only thing I can do nothing about. If it’s a wound of the body, I will know where it was wounded and how deep it is. But, I have no recourse if it comes to a mental trauma.”

Even the Elder wants to help Souma, who was able to avert the clan’s crisis.
However, the problem is that she has no hand to play if it’s within Souma’s mind. The most she can do is to at least ease his mind a bit by making him drink medical water.

“In the worst case, that kid might never be able to get back on his feet again. We have to ready ourselves for that…”

◆◇◆◇◆

When Shyemul left the Elder’s tent, Garam was loitering around there in an agitated state.

“What’s wrong, 《Ferocious Fang》?” (Shyemul)

Called out by Shyemul, he said a forced 「Yea」 in a really awkward way after showing his surprise.

“That is, ummm, that human child, will he be all right?” (Garam)

“It’s about Soma, huh? If it’s Soma, he has drunken Grandmother’s medicine and is sleeping now.” (Shyemul)

“I-I see. I hear that he suddenly collapsed or such? I wondered whether something’s wrong, you know.” (Garam)

“According to what Grandmother says, it seems to be 『Warrior’s Cold』.” (Shyemul)

“『Warrior’s Cold』, you say!?” (Garam)

Feeling something like Garam looking down on Souma from his tone, Shyemul becomes huffy.

“I have told you, Soma is a 『Drop Child』. Even though he came to a world he isn’t familiar with as it is, he suddenly had to fight against humans just like him here. And in addition to that, it was for the sake of saving us.” (Shyemul)

“Yeah. I understand that.” (Garam)

Garam scratched his head uncomfortably while being glared at by Shyemul.

“So, well, I wanted to discuss with him what to do about the human soldiers, but that appears to be impossible, I guess?” (Garam)

She understood Garam’s distress as well.
They had never captured such a large amount of humans until now.
Currently they have lost their wills to fight due to the shock of the fire ambush, but the number of captured humans exceeds the number of zoan warriors by large. If they started to become riotous, it would turn into a disaster.

“If it’s that, I’ve already been told what to do by Soma.” (Shyemul)

As she recalled the state of Souma when he woke up some time ago, Shyemul bit her lips. Despite not even a few hours having passed since he collapsed, Souma’s face was similar to a patient who was stricken by a long-lasting illness.
She told him to rest and not worry about anything for now, but Souma insisted on not having such leeway and issued several instructions.
But, even with Shyemul’s eyes, his state appeared to be stirred up by a sense of responsibility, or rather a sense of urgency as if he’s being chased by something invisible.
After convincing him somehow, we made him drink the medicinal water and put him to sleep, but he will probably completely break apart before long if we don’t do anything.

“Have the dead soldiers buried and then, once you clean up, choose those who can return by themselves, and let them return to the fortress in small groups, he said.” (Shyemul)

“Send them back!?” (Garam)

“Correct. If you inform the other humans about that, they will probably stay obedient without acting up, he says.” (Shyemul)

“I see. Got it.” (Garam)

Now that she said it, Garam agreed with it as well.
If we try to kill them, the humans will likely become desperate and act violently. Once that happens, we will suffer damages as well. Having said that, it’s pointless to leave them captured as they are for eternity, too. In that case it’s rather less objectionable to release them.
The released humans might become their foes again and come attacking, but from what Garam has seen, the shock of the fire ambush was seemingly quite huge and it doesn’t look like they will be usable as soldiers for a while to come.
Shyemul furthermore informed him of something requested by Souma.

“Also, he said that he’d like you to call out to the other clans for cooperation.” (Shyemul)

“Cooperation? What kind of cooperation is he seeking now that we have driven away the humans?” (Garam)

Shyemul was slightly at a loss for words there.
That’s because Souma told her something that even she can’t believe.

“Cooperate if you want to take back the plains. It seems that’s what he’d like you to tell them.” (Shyemul)

“Taking back the plains, you say!?” (Garam)

Garam raises a disarrayed voice.
It was only natural for Garam to be surprised after suddenly being told about recovering the plains, what with his clan being on the brink of annihilation just a few days prior.

“That’s what Soma says, okay?” (Shyemul)

“I can’t believe it.” (Garam)

As expected, Garam was unable to simply believe in it as well.
However, once he tries thinking back, Souma had accomplished taking back the village and driving away the military forces which Garam and the others couldn’t believe.

“Got it. I will hurry and send messengers.” (Garam)

Shyemul sighed while watching the retreating figure of Garam who is returning to the village after saying that.
Since the night when Souma spoke so sharply in front of the clan till today, the situation that the zoans had been placed in ended up changing heavily and becoming very chaotic
Even among the zoans who are the concerned party, no one grasps the situation.
One might as well say that everything depends on Souma himself now.
It will be fine if he can recover, but I wonder what the zoans should do if he ended up breaking apart just like that?
Shyemul heavily sighed while being worried about being unable to envision how things will turn out.

◆◇◆◇◆

Souma sat down at the mountain slope close to the place of prayer and looked up into the sky vaguely.
Three days have already passed since the fire ambush.
However, even now Souma isn’t able to sleep at night without the Elder’s medicinal water. Even when he finally falls asleep, he frequently jumped to his feet after being plagued by nightmares during the night.
It was unbearably shameful for Souma, as he ends up causing Shyemul to worry each time this happens.
However, when he closes his eyes, the cruelly burnt corpse of that time keeps being projected behind his eyelids and Souma is tormented by dread and regret.
As it’s a situation he can do nothing about now even if he secluded himself inside the tent, he went close to the place of prayer. But far from clearing his mind, he only became even more depressed.

“Why did I get carried away like this…?” (Souma)

Souma ended up hanging his head in shame while he was at his wit’s end.
And then, when he had spent quite a bit of time wasting away, a small whisper reached the battered Souma’s ears.

“Murderer…”

Being startled by that voice, Souma opens his eyes widely and lifts his face.
However, there’s no one to be found.
There’s only a single tree growing there.
Even when he strains his ears, all that he can hear is just the sound of the blowing northern wind and fallen leaves being whirled up on the ground by it.
Souma wondered whether it was his own imagination, but the voice once again reaches his ears.

“Hot… hot… painful!”

His heart begins to beat intensely as if it’s about to break through his chest.
This time it was definitely no illusion, as he had heard someone’s voice.

“Help… heeelp…”

Something stirred in the corner of Souma’s field of vision as he is searching for the voice’s owner.
Once he looked closely, something was moving inside the shadow that extends from the tree’s roots.
It was something similar to a huge, black spider. It tries to crawl out from the shadow as its five feet move randomly. Behind that thing, something similar to a rod that’s likewise black follows.

“… Hii!” (Souma)

A subdued scream spills out of Souma’s throat after noticing their true identity.
That was a hideously burned, pitch black arm.
What he considered a spider is a hand and what he thought was a rod is the arm.
Bright red flesh peeks out from below the skin that had become carbonized and deep black. Each time the hand and arm moved, body fluids oozed out from there.

“Hot… Painful…”

The arm dug its fingers into the ground and dragged out its body by sliding from within the shadow.
Its body hair had been burned down without leaving a single strand behind. The carbonized skin goes beyond the arm. Both its eyes are clouded by fever. Its mouth that had been spread to the limits is dyed pitch black with soot up to the tip of its tongue.
It was nothing but the burnt corpse he saw at the encampment.

“I don’t want to die… don’t want to die…”

“Fire… I’m getting burned by fire…!”

“It’s hot… hot… hot.”

Once he realized this, the voices of the apparitions were audible in Souma’s vicinity as if they were crowding around him.
From the shadow of the boulder over there, from the shadow of the tree this way, the apparitions raised groans from within the shadows located everywhere as they creeped out.

“You killed…”

“You burned…”

“You are! You are…!!”

The dead unanimously blame Souma.
Souma tried to escape while screaming, but his feet don’t move. The hands of one of the apparitions that are stretching out from his own shadow firmly grasped Souma’s ankles.
Once he waves his hands around randomly while screaming something that’s complete gibberish, the apparition’s arms crumble to dust the second his hands hit them.
Due to that spectacle, Souma cried and shouted with feelings of guilt and fear rather than delight over being released.

“I don’t want, no!!”

Being surrounded by the dead, Souma covered his face with his hands, sat down on the spot and wasn’t able to do anything else but apologizing.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” (Souma)

A soldier that’s bleeding from having his head cracked open by a stone curses at Souma. A soldier that was pierced by arrows across his entire body sneers at him. A soldier that had turned into something like a sack after being crushed underfoot by his comrades in arms pours harsh words onto him.
Due to that, Souma had no choice but curl into a fetal position and trembled as he wept, in order to close his ears from the voices flooding in on him.
Suddenly one section of the circle of apparitions that denunciated Souma was split apart.
A single girl slowly comes walking towards him from there.
Each time the girl, who wore a sleeveless, loose, simple clothing consisting of a large piece of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head that had been tied with a string around her waist, took a step, the apparitions, which were in front of her, open a path while trembling in fear.
Once the girl arrived in front of the sitting Souma, she stared at the apparitions swarming the surroundings as if cherishing them.

“You are a truly cruel child, aren’t you? Burning this many of them. Killing this many of them.”

She then looked down upon Souma. Her lips appear bright red as if they had been soaked in blood, and her smile formed something similar to the shape of a crescent moon.

“Aah…! How very lovely. My beloved Souma. My dear child.”

 


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