The place Shyemul led him to was on top of a protruding rock that was located about halfway up the mountain.
After standing next to Shyemul on top of the rock, he had an unbroken view of the surrounding landscape.
A forest of deciduous trees undulates against the ridgeline of the mountains. Once one peeks into the far south, the plains spread from the feet of the mountains towards a distance far beyond.
Shyemul pointed at those plains.
“Look, Soma. Over there is the place the humans call Solbiant Plains. And it’s also the land where our ancestors used to live.” (Shyemul)
Now that he was told so, there was something Souma suddenly understood. The stories of the zoans that Shyemul told him every evening were almost always set on the plains.
“However, a few decades ago soldiers from a nearby human country arrived and started to drive us out of the plains. Of course our ancestors resisted. But, with their power being insufficient, they were gradually forced into the mountains and in the end it reached the point of us living secluded in this mountain.” (Shyemul)
“Why did the humans drive the zoans out of the plains?” (Souma)
“Obviously, it was for the sake of obtaining the land.” (Shyemul)
Shyemul talked next to the human Souma while subduing her own emotions, but her voice was filled with an unsuppressable grief.
“The humans clear away the plains’ grass by burning it, sow seeds there and grow tuber and other produce. But, if you use the same place for many years, the growth of the produce will apparently deteriorate. Once that happens, the humans move to the next place and repeat the same procedure. For that reason they need a vast plot of land no matter what. Accordingly, they targeted the plains where we zoans lived.” (Shyemul)
What Shyemul talks about is the old swidden agriculture.
Speaking of farmwork, what a modern Japanese remembers is tilling the field, adding fertilizer to it and raise the crops.
In contrast to that, swidden agriculture is about clearing that soil from wildly growing plants by burning them and changing the plot into short-term cultivated land. Swidden agriculture is not a farming method of merely burning the vegetation and using the ash as fertilizer as many people believe. Besides creating a soil suitable for the cultivated produce by neutralizing the foundation which is heavy on acid, it improves the soil by burning the earth and also has the effect of exterminating germs, parasites and other pests. It’s a extremely labour-saving and efficient farming method.
However, from the viewpoint of the zoans, the act of setting fire to the plains, their former habitat, was something absolutely unforgivable.
“We are resenting the humans this much because we were driven off our land.” (Shyemul)
“I can understand that land for procuring food is necessary to the humans. But, it’s only natural for the zoans to bear grudges against the humans for being forced out of own land
because of that.” (Souma)
That’s what Souma thought, but Shyemul shakes her head.
“It’s not just that, Soma.” (Shyemul)
Where she took Souma next was to the top of a cliff.
“Be careful. Try peeking below.” (Shyemul)
Shyemul brought her mouth close to his ear and spoke to him with a subdued voice. Souma swallowed his spit as he sensed her unusual tension and slowly looked down.
The place he looked down was a plateau with a shape similar to a stomach.
In the past more river streams were probably meandering through the plateau compared to now. The water of the meandering streams strongly whittled down the mountain’s surface over the course of many years, but what remains of the worn-down mountain surface, even after the water transformed into a bigger river stream and withdrew, was just that stomach shaped plateau.
If one assumes the plateau to be a stomach, the mountain trail leading from the mountain’s foot to the plateau will be probably equivalent to the bowels. Souma doesn’t have any memory of it, but it’s the path he was carried up by Shyemul’s group until midway. Looking further from there, the left side of the path approaches the mountain while the right side leads towards rapid currents which are interrupted by small forests.
Conversely, what’s close to the gullet located above the stomach is a narrow mountain road crossing through swift currents and steep cliffs. Reaching the end of that road, one faces the bare surface of the mountain, which had been deforested on a wide scale, and a slope appears. Wooden fences were repeatedly erected on that slope.
Surveying the plateau nervously, Souma quietly asked Shyemul a question.
“A human village?” (Souma)
For Souma to think of it like that is understandable.
The ones who populate the plateau are humans and not zoans. ‘I don’t have a grasp on their exact numbers since they are inside the buildings and not visible from this place, but I suppose there are close to a hundred people living there? Several of them are gambling with picture cards while sitting in a square, chatting while surrounding bonfires and making merry by drinking something like sake during daytime.
However, once he looks properly, they are soldiers with swords hanging at their waists. They are all wearing armours with metal scales and thick cloths.
Shyemul, standing next to him, shook her head slightly and pointed at the end of the square.
There, the zoan tents that Souma has become familiar with recently were piled up like wreckage.
Shyemul signals Souma, who turned his head to her in surprise, with a gesture to go back. Once they fell back to a safe location, Shyemul said,
“Over there is the place where our village stood until recently.” (Shyemul)
The place where the zoan, who lived in the vast plains, took refuge was that narrow plateau. It’s an unthinkably cramped livelihood after spending their lives in the wide plains. After having built tents after tents right next to each other, it was a common occurrence for troubles to spring forth between fellow families living in adjoining tents.
However, Shyemul was an infant with no ego of her own when the zoans were driven into that place. The place that was referred to as “too cramped”, as if it were their favourite phrase, by the adult zoans that were chased out of the plains. The place that served as her home, where she was born and raised.
“Suddenly human soldiers attacked us, reduced everyone’s tents to ashes and built their own encampment just like that. And now, they are acting as if they own the place.” (Shyemul)
Shyemul took a short breath and said,
“They are attempting to eradicate us zoans, you know?” (Shyemul)
For an instant Souma was unable to comprehend her words.
Souma, who lived in peaceful Japan, couldn’t understand the notion of exterminating a race that uses the same language, even if their appearance and figures are different.
“Eradicate, you don’t mean!? Why do such cruel thing!?” (Souma)
“For the humans, the other six races including the zoans are inferior races that should be weeded out.” (Shyemul)
“Should be weeded out, what’s that!? Calling them inferior races, the hell!?” (Souma)
Due to Souma getting completely enraged as if it concerns himself, Shyemul closed her eyes as if she had seen something dazzling.
Yeah, for Soma there’s no difference between humans and zoans after all.
It was just as she expected. No, because Souma’s reaction was just as she wished and hoped for, she hesitates to continue the talk. However, since she understands that it’s not something that can be hidden, she planned to simply tell him the truth while pushing aside her emotions as much as possible.
“It’s the result of the Holy Faith promoted by a human called Innocent in the distant past.” (Shyemul)
When Shyemul became a divine child, she was taught by her father Garguss and her grandmother about the Holy Faith and the humans in preparation for the time of her leading all zoan clans one day.
“The guy called Innocent apparently despised all races except the humans. He said that the humans were the chosen race, as the God of Humans is the legitimate successor of the God of Creation. And he called the other races filthy failures.” (Shyemul)
Although there was some friction between the races when Innocent was alive, it was an epoch where they respected each other as fellow races worshipping The Seven. Rather, Innocent’s opinion was treated as heresy and his side even got persecuted.
“However, Innocent was persistent. You might even call it obsessed, I guess.” (Shyemul)
After Innocent realized that his own view won’t be accepted by the people, he ascended a mountain that was said to house the gods. After doing penance there for two months, he finally met the God of Humans and succeeded in conversing with him over a span of three days..
The God of Humans, who heard Innocent’s opinion at that time, turned Innocent into a divine child. That was unprecedented in the history of the continent and spelled the birth of the human’s messiah Innocent, who had became a divine child after promoting himself to a god.
However, while it may be true that he became a divine child, that didn’t mean that all humans would suddenly support his view. On the contrary, Innocent, who repeatedly advocated extreme opinions and deeds, was finally arrested by a city’s viceroy and sentenced to crucifixion for the crime of rioting. Because someone who was a divine child was executed by someone of the same race, it was probably quite the unpardonable deed.
“And then the madman died and everyone lived happily ever after. — That’s not how it ended.” (Shyemul)
Innocent’s advocation never stopped as it was secretly passed on by his pupils. But in everybody else’s perception, Innocent’s teachings were consistently registered as something heretical.
“What greatly changed that perception is something that happened around 200 years ago. There was a small country located in the central region of the continent.” (Shyemul)
That small country had a king who had burning ambitions, but with his surroundings only consisting of countries that possessed more soldiers and bigger territories than his own country, there was no room to expand his own domain. Nevertheless, the means of survival of the small country was discovered by the king who refused to give up – inside the mountain ranges and the vast forests nearby. He was already aware about the abundant mineral and wood resources sleeping there. Once he could put those into practical use, he would be able augment his own country’s soldiers and even cover his war expenditures.
But, the reason he didn’t make a move on those resources while knowing about their existence was because elves and dwarves had settled there. At the time there was no way for him to obtain the consent of his people for starting a war without a reason, even if it was against another race.
“It was the Holy Faith that marked that country thereupon.” (Shyemul)
In those days the Holy Faith was persecuted as heresy and the small country was looking for a reason to go to war against the dwarves and elves. Both’s interests matched.
“The dwarves and elves are repulsive, inferior races and it’s god’s will to eradicate them completely. Announcing that, it seems that that country invaded them.” (Shyemul)
Even though there were some quarrels between the humans, who dwelt on a plateau, and the elves living in the forest as well as the dwarves living in the mountains, they got along peacefully by splitting their habitats accordingly. It’s said that due to the human troops invading after breaking that unspoken agreement, the dwarves and elves were destroyed before they could even prepare for battle.
After that, the small country gained total control over the elves and dwarves. Not only did they obtain vast funds from exploiting the land’s resources; they also obtained wealth by selling elven and dwarven prisoners as slaves. Once the king reinforced his own country’s soldiers, he started wars with the surrounding countries.
As it overthrew the surrounding countries one by one along with the domains of other races, it rapidly expanded its own domain. The formerly small country eventually named itself empire, and came to a point where it dominated the continent’s central area.
The Holy Faith’s growth was at the same time equivalent to the empire’s explosive growth..
Furthermore, in order to emulate the empire; small countries that wanted to cajole the empire, and human countries, which aimed for the land of other races in a similar manner, began to adopt the Holy Faith in succession.
And nowadays the Holy Faith has become the religion with the most believers on the entire continent.
“Even now the other races continue to be displaced by the humans on this continent. Land, property, life, honour, their relatives, lovers and children, just about everything. The ones being killed are still on the better side. If they are caught while alive, a collar is put on them as if they were cattle, and then they get branded and are dropped to the status of slaves who are put to work until they die from the whip. In the case of the women, it’s even more tragic. The woman of races which are regarded as beautiful by the humans, such as elves and marmen, are turned into playthings for human males and are forced to do acts that are too disgusting to even describe. I hear there are many people who end up having their spirit broken or take their own lives, unable to endure being violated by another race. However, in the case of us zoan females, who are quite different in outward appearance to humans, this doesn’t happen very often.” (Shyemul)
Shyemul wrinkles up her nose as if mocking herself.
“But then again, since there are also cases where we are used as a replacement for hunting prey, I wonder whether that’s a good or bad thing…” (Shyemul)
“Replacement for hunting prey, you say…?” (Souma)
“It means exactly what I said. It seems to be a trend in the empire to release zoan slaves that survived into the fields during hunts held by human nobles, and then kill them by using horses and bows. And I’m told that the audience halls of some countries have been decorated with elegant zoan pelts.” (Shyemul)
Her words, recited indifferently while concealing her emotions, touched Souma’s heart due to being tinged with excessive truth.
They have gone mad.
Souma was already unable to think anything besides that.
However, going by Earth’s history, such massacres aren’t something rare. The first and all following crusades to capture Jerusalem, the slaughter of the Prussian people by the Teutonic Knights, the ethnic cleansing of the Nazis, the Indian wars in America and so on; after just investigating a bit, humans are carrying out acts of brutality that make one feel nauseous.
Of course, Souma knew about those things as well. However, being aware of it as knowledge and being told about it directly from Shyemul’s mouth as a party directly related to it are two totally different things. Every single word of Shyemul hit Souma’s heart heavily, as if they were fists of lead.
“Far from recovering our ancestor’s land, even the village, where we lived, has been stolen and we are unable to take it back as well. This is the current state of the zoans who were once called the supreme rulers of the savannah.” (Shyemul)
Being a human as well (though it’s unknown whether he’s biologically the same as the humans of this world), Souma couldn’t find any words to return to Shyemul.
In the dominating silence that made one feel pain in one’s ears, Shyemul’s ears suddenly moved with a twitch.
“What’s wrong, Shyemul?” (Souma)
“Please stay quiet for a bit.” (Shyemul)
When he strained his ears, he could hear the sound of drums being hit from somewhere.
The colour of Shyemul’s face changed due to the sound of drums being repeatedly hit with a fixed rhythm.
“Aren’t those the drums of battle!?” (Shyemul)
It was the drum rhythm played by the <<Fang Clan>> to encourage its warriors at the time of starting a battle.
“Did the humans attack!?” (Shyemul)
What she first thought of is her brethren starting a counter-attack after suffering a human raid. However, once she looked at the human encampment by straining her eyes, it was the humans’ side that was flustered in surprise.
Tracing back the drum sounds echoing through the mountains, they originated from a mountain slope located in a place going up at the northern slope from the encampment. The figures of ten odd zoan became visible at a place which had turned into a bare mountain surface after all of the trees on a wide range had been felled, seemingly so the humans could build their encampment.
A single zoan stepped forward from among that group and loudly introduced himself.
“I’m Gajeeta, son of Unka, belonging to the <> which is one of the 12 zoan clans! Humans who infringe upon our lands! If you bastards, who are similar to monsters rummaging through the excreta in hell, have even a splinter of courage to battle left in yourselves, fight me!” (Gajeeta)
It was Gajeeta.
The zoans next to him simultaneously lifted the machetes in their hands overhead and raised war cries.
“What’s this about!?” (Shyemul)
Shyemul was surprised. Giving one’s name before battle is the usual way of zoan battles, but it’s something done by the most distinguished person on site as the representative. Originally that’s the role of the clan chief Garam or the warrior leader, but certainly it’s not something the youngster Gajeeta is allowed to do.
“No way, Gajeeta, that idiot!!” (Shyemul)