If one peeked southeast from Jeboa’s harbor, they’d be able to see the silhouette of a small island beyond the horizon – the marman island.
In the past only very few marman clans lived in the sea around Jeboa. However, around a hundred years ago marman arrived from the eastern seas, absorbed the local clans, and permanently settled down on an island off the coast of Jeboa.
At first the relationship between Jeboa and the immigrants couldn’t be called good by any means. It’s said the first conflicts occurred when the Jeboan fishermen tried to catch their haul near the new home of the marman. In order to reclaim their fishing grounds which were essential for them to make a living, the fishermen advanced on the island with a huge force of fisher boats.
However, their opponents were called rulers of the sea. Not one of the boats managed to reach the island with all of them becoming prey of the ocean. Moreover, this wasn’t the end either. The marman then shifted to attacking Jeboa’s trade ships in revenge for the attack against them. No matter how big the trade ship, they all were like helpless chicks when raided by the marman. Many ships sank, having their bilge penetrated or their rudders and oars broken.
For Jeboa, whose riches came from sea trade, this was a devastating blow. According to the records, four of the Committee of Ten members even went bankrupt thanks to the onslaught by the marman, making it pretty obvious just how bad the damages were.
With the situation having deteriorated so far, the committee members were convinced that any further strife with the marman wouldn’t be in their own interest, and began to grope for a path towards peace. But, that path was a thorny one. There were many occasions where both sides’ standpoints and interests clashed, and sometimes even the smallest misunderstandings developed into full-blown conflicts. Still, having already discovered the benefits in trading with the people on land, the marman were willing to compromise, and at long last, Jeboa and marman reached a point where they concluded an official treaty of friendship.
It stated that Jeboa would recognize the island as the marmans’ territory, and in exchange, the marman promised to protect Jeboa’s trade ship in their waters. Because of this, Jeboa’s merchant guild could achieve even further heights in sea trade, resulting in today’s prosperity.
Nevertheless, because of this turbulent history between the two, it was undeniably true that the relationship between Jeboa and the marman remained very fragile until this very day. Fearing that the past conflicts would revive from small misunderstandings and disagreements, both sides had agreed on dispatching ambassadors to resolve issues through discussion. And the one who had invited Souma for dinner was the marman ambassador who possessed an official residence in the city in accordance with the treaty between Jeboa and the marman.
Souma was surprised when he heard of this history and that the ambassador, who had invited him over, was a young woman called Olga. Even in modern Japan with its long history of clamoring over gender equality, a female diplomat was a rather rare sight, but when it came to this world, where male chauvinism was prevalent everywhere, a woman serving as a diplomat could be called a unicorn.
When Souma brought this up, Yoash explained to him, “Women have a very high social standing among marman.”
According to Yoash, the marman had established a matriarchal society. Their highest authority was the queen, and almost all important offices within their country were occupied by women. Following that logic, men had a low social standing, and the queen’s husband was referred to as prince consort, not king, possessing no political authority at all.
By the way, the dwarven society was a matriarchy as well. A major reason for those two races to regard women as superior might be founded in both of them devotedly worshiping their respective goddess that had created their race.
While being fascinated by Yoash’s explanations, Souma thought that the ambassador’s invitation would be a golden opportunity. If he could form a friendly relationship with the marman who possessed this much clout in Jeboa, it’d definitely turn into a restraint against Jeboa. It might truly become the water to extinguish the smoldering fire called Jeboa.
When Souma visited the marman’s official residence with his friends while harboring that hope, it was the female marman they met at the merchant guild the other day who had expressly come out to welcome them at the entrance door.
“Excuse me for my impolite behavior the other day, Sir Divine Son of Destruction Soma Kisaki. Please allow me to formally introduce myself. I’m the acting ambassador of the marman, Olga.”
Just like the other day, Olga only wore a leather belt hiding her breasts and a thin cloth around her waist while sitting in a bucket-shaped palanquin carried by two human slaves. This frugal attire originated from the marman lacking a custom of wearing clothes since they were resilient against coldness to begin with, and also, as it’d become a hindrance when swimming in the water. Hiding her chest and hips was a recent change triggered by a significant increase of occasions where the ambassador would come in contact with the land-dwelling races.
What the marman lacked in clothes, they made up by customary decorating their bodies with many accessories. Not only did Olga wear earrings and a big forehead accessory gleaming in a golden sheen, but she had a red coral choker hanging at her neck, and thin golden and silver chains loosely coiling all over her body. Decking out her whole body with this many accessories, as if a fraction of them wouldn’t do, came from all of these being equal to a full dress for marman.
“Thank you very much for having invited us today. I am Kizaki Souma.”
After Olga nodded with dignity in reply to Souma’s greeting, she suddenly grabbed Souma’s hand.
“Let’s keep all the stiff, formal talk at that. ――Come, I’ll guide you to the banquet I had prepared for you.” With those words, Olga pulled Souma’s hand all the way to the room where the banquet waited for them.
And not just that. She even apologized to Souma who was baffled by this unexpectedly cordial welcome, “I’m sorry for hurting your feelings. I’m well aware that you have declared an abolishment of slavery. But, my lower body half is somewhat inconvenient for life on land.”
She apparently believed that Souma’s confusion stemmed from her employing slaves. However, Souma had no intention to criticize other countries, even if he handled things differently in Bolnis. Besides, he could fully comprehend that marman with their lower bodies being that of fish would have it very difficult to move around on land unless carried by someone. Moreover, even Souma had learned some things during the last few years. Although he believed at first that the slaves in this world were treated especially atrociously, there wasn’t actually that much of a difference when compared to Earth’s slavery. Of course cases of slave mistreatment existed as well, but it was rare for slaves to be murdered or indiscriminately abused as they were valuable assets. Moreover, in some regions, excessive mistreatment of slaves would be punished by law.
The image of slaves being cruelly abused, which Souma used to have in the past, was mostly fueled by a persecution against sub-humans through the church, and not a general persecution against slaves.
Souma’s group became astonished when Olga ushered them into the room where the banquet would be held. The dishes for the party had already been served, but the amount and diversity was baffling.
“Don’t be shy and enjoy yourself without holding back.”
Olga treated not only Souma, but also the zoan warriors accompanying him, to wine and food without making any distinction. As might be expected, even Souma felt somewhat suspicious of Olga’s attitude.
Going with the common sense of this world, Olga should regard the zoan accompanying her invitee as bodyguards or servants. It was normal practice to have such attendants wait in another room, and even the most tolerant hosts would limit the attendants’ entertainment to at most bringing wine to their waiting room.
However, Olga entertained all the zoan at the same banquet as Souma. Her going out of her way to personally greet them in front of the residence, and her earlier statement that sounded like a justification for her usage of slaves felt somewhat over-considerate. Because of this, even Souma couldn’t help but sense an ulterior motive, no matter how much of a goody-two-shoes he might be.
For this reason Souma became increasingly taciturn, despite Olga repeatedly chatting him up during the party. Instead of the close-lipped Souma, Shyemul was confronted with the brunt of Olga’s approaches.
“Oohh! So what happened then?”
“Hmm, of course I detained him. We told him to fall back and leave the rest to us. But, the courage of my 『Navel Master』 wasn’t anything that the likes of me could fathom.”
What Shemul was recounting with a straight face and a wine cup in one hand was the tale of the battle over Bolnis.
“It was a shock when he loudly shouted, 『There’s no need to fear the likes of Holmea. All men, follow me』. And once he nimbly jumped on the back of a dinosaurian, who had fallen to his knees after being exposed to Soma’s majesty, Soma plunged into an army of several thousand enemies, cutting through them as vanguard. Indeed, I trembled in deep homage over having having offered my life and soul to such a suitable 『Navel Master』.”
Souma wanted to retort, “Just who’s that Soma you’re talking about?” What Shyemul was saying didn’t sound like him at all. No matter how you put it, that’s way too much of an exaggeration. Souma’s face burned crimson in embarrassment. Zurgu whispering to Dvalin, “That’s completely different from what I’ve heard,” in a corner of the room only fanned Souma’s shame all the more.
But, he couldn’t stay ashamed all the time since he had to carefully listen to Olga’s words for the sake of exploring the reason as to why she was currying favor with them so actively. As he followed her comments, Souma noticed that Olga was awfully curious about the credibility of the slavery abolishment in Bolnis, and moreover, how people considered to be slaves would be treated if they entered the city.
“Ms. Olga, is there anything worrying you about the slave treatment in our city?”
As Souma was slowly reaching his limit of embarrassment caused by the heroic war stories of the perfect superman Soma as recounted by Shyemul, he broached this topic with Olga in order to interrupt Shyemul’s exaggerated flattery. In response, Olga obviously started to act very suspiciously. Without even realizing how she had spilled some of the wine from the cup in her hand, she let her eyes wander all over the place while clearly looking like she couldn’t find the right words to answer with. Her behavior went so far that Souma actually wondered whether he had asked something bad.
“Umm, Ms. Olga, please calm down.”
“I’m not flustered or anything. I’m always calm, composed and collected.” After saying something that’d make almost anyone reflexively retort, “Like where?”, Olga cleared her throat and continued, “Pardon me, I should have known that someone like the famous 『Divine Son of Destruction』 would easily see through my facade. Very well. I shall lay everything on the table. ――Right now, us marman are very troubled by a certain problem.”
“Problem, you say?”
“Most recently, our youngest children keep disappearing one after the other.”
‘The disappearance of children is no story that would allow anyone to stay calm.
“Many sharks exist in the waters around here. Some of the missing children might have fallen prey to those sharks. But, no matter how you look at it, the number of missing children is just too big.”
“Just what do you mean by that?” Souma asks.
In reply, Olga tightly purses her lips for a moment, and then said, “I’m taking into account that they might have been kidnapped as slaves by the land dwellers.”
“By Jeboa’s merchants…?”
Olga kept it vague by calling them land dwellers, but Souma deliberately got down to the crux of the matter. Going by the fact that she had argued with the Committee of Ten the other day, Souma’s guess shouldn’t be that far off either. And just as he had expected, Olga nodded lightly.
“I think so. Of course I don’t believe that all of Jeboa’s merchants are in cahoots, but I expect that at least some of them are participating in this. However, that would be an unforgivable act,” said Olga.
In the past Jeboa and the marman fought each other, but nowadays they were coexisting while benefiting from each other. The protection fees Jeboa paid in return for the protection of their trade ships from shipwrecks and pirate attacks had become an important source of income for the marman who had no industry. On the other hand, having tied an alliance with the rulers of the sea guaranteed safe sea travel for Jeboa, something which was hard to replace by anything for a nation relying on sea trade.
If the children of such an important ally were to be kidnapped and sold as slaves, it’d be a major issue the other side couldn’t ignore.
When Souma asked whether she had some kind of evidence for her suspicions, Olga shook her head, “However, the rumors that us marman are sold for high sums of money as slaves in the eastern region called Empire are true. I’m convinced that someone is kidnapping our young and selling them as slaves to the center of the continent. I’d like to borrow your power as someone who has announced an abolishment of slavery, for the sake of rescuing our kidnapped children!”
Souma could roughly guess the current state of affairs. Olga suspected that the children kidnapped by Jeboa might have been taken to a distant harbor over land, and shipped to the Empire from there.
Certainly, it would be too dangerous for ships sailing in the waters within the sphere of the marman’s influence to transport their kidnapped children. If the marman should find out about a ship carrying their missing children, they’d definitely destroy that ship. If Jeboa did something like that, they would suffer unfathomable damages from all their valuable, high-quality merchandise being swallowed by the sea, not to mention the deterioration of their relationship with the marman. Rather than braving such a danger, it’s doubtlessly safer to transport the children over land, and ship them to the continent’s center from another harbor. And, if we assume that the kidnappers transport the children from Jeboa to somewhere else over land, they must pass through Bolnis.
“I’ve heard that you’re strictly inspecting any visiting caravan at your city, where slavery is forbidden, to see whether they have slaves with them. I wonder, did you discover no marman slaves so far?”
Olga’s question sounded almost like a desperate plea, but unfortunately Souma couldn’t recall having seen any reports about marman slaves. He asked Shyemul with his eyes, but she shook her head. If even her, who was always close to Souma, had no memories of it, such cases likely hadn’t been reported.
“I’m terribly sorry, but I haven’t heard about any findings of marman slaves.”
Olga slumped her shoulders after hearing Souma’s response. Because of her evident depression, Souma sensed that she was rather deeply sorrowful than indulging in a righteous indignation over her kin’s young children being kidnapped.
“Don’t tell me, you had such a case among your family or friends?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, my little sister disappeared around a week ago.”
‘No wonder that she feels so strongly about this, seeing how there’s been a victim in her family.
Souma wanted to somehow cheer up Olga who had completely turned gloomy.
“Understood. I will have the inspectors in Bolnis tighten their examination of wares coming from Jeboa. Also, I will talk it over with my acquaintances in this city. Maybe I can learn something about circumstances you wouldn’t be told as a marman.”
Considering the currently complicated relationship with Jeboa, a stricter inspection of Jeboan merchants couldn’t be described as a smart move. Moreover, assuming Souma would try to look into something that would likely become a problem for Jeboa, even Menahem and Yoash, who were supporting him here, wouldn’t be overly happy about this. However, Souma would never overlook the sale of young children into slavery just because of such profit-and-loss weighing. Moreover, seeing how Shyemul happily narrowed her eyes next to him, it confirmed for Souma that his decisions hadn’t been wrong in the least.
“You have my gratitude. In exchange, I’ll cooperate in any way if there’s something I can help with.”
Olga had also heard about Souma’s current, complicated standing. None of her thanks would be enough for Souma’s readiness to help her with the missing children cases despite being in such a perilous situation himself. Without hiding any lies in her words, Olga intended to cooperate in any way as long as she could handle it in her position. And for Souma this was a great proposal, too.
“In that case, I have a request as well.”
Souma explained their current situation to Olga without hiding anything, saying that he’d love to form a friendly relationship with the marman, if possible. For Olga this wasn’t a bad deal either. If they could deepen their friendship with Souma, it’d become a collateral for getting him to help searching for the kidnapped children in the future.
“That’s fine. I’ll try bringing this up with Her Majesty the Queen.” Olga readily consented.
After Souma left, Olga immediately returned to her island, and ascended to the palace. If one were to hear about the palace of marman, they’d most likely imagine something like an underwater palace. However, the marman of this world erected their palaces inside islands, and not at the bottom of oceans. What served as the foundation of this palace was a cave which had naturally formed through the erosion of the rock shaping the island over many, many years. The marman adjusted this cave, turning it into their palace.
“Warrior Leader Olga here to request an audience with Her Majesty Tethys.”
It was a dome-shaped space, huge enough to fully house a two-storied Japanese building, where Olga prostrated herself as if to abandon herself to the ocean water accumulated on the floor. This place was called Queen’s Hall. Not only did the queen hold her audiences with her retainers here, but it was also the queen’s private chamber and the inner palace where the royal family lived. As if to verify this, the light shining through skylight holes near the ceiling illuminated the gold and silver treasures piled into heaps alongside the wall, making all of it sparkle and twinkle dazzlingly.
The highlight even among all those riches was probably the throne. That throne, which had a size covering the height of a standing, adult human and the width of said human stretching both arms as far as possible, was cut out of a single, precious coral, gleaming in a beautiful scarlet thanks to its elaborate polish. The scarlet coral, which was decorated all over with gold and silver ornaments as well as jewels, looked just like the legendary treasure tree which bore riches as fruits. And on top of the shell of something similar to a giant clam placed in its middle laid a single marman woman sprawled slovenly.
“Warrior Leader Olga, was there some kind of emergency on shore?”
The marman queen Tethys raised her upper body while causing the excessive amount of decorations blanketing her body to jingle.
“Yes, Your Majesty. It would be the highest pleasure and deepest honor for this Olga to be kindly granted the opportunity to report the news to Your Majesty.”
“You may. Go on and speak.”
“I wish to report to you, Your Majesty, that this Olga had the opportunity to get in contact with the 『Divine Son of Destruction』 who had been subject to many rumors on land for quite some while now――”
Having received Tethys’ permission to speak, Olga fervently argued that a deepening of the relationship with Souma’s side would become a huge boon towards finding the missing girls.
“Your Majesty, while the Divine Son of Destruction might be yet another, normal human, he not only refers to another race, the zoan, as friends, but the zoan also offer him their deepest trust. I believe that he is a man worthy to be granted our trust. Please, if at all possible, consider a friendship with that man for the sake of saving the many girls that had been kidnapped.”
Having finished giving a general rundown, Olga waited for Queen Tethys’ words with her eyes gleaming in hope. However, Queen Tethys sighed lightly in a listless manner.
“…Inform the Divine Son of Destruction: We will welcome him grandly whenever he comes to the island.”
Those weren’t the words Olga had hoped for.
Tethys lifted her hand a bit, restraining Olga who got panicked and was about to try urging the queen to change her mind, “Olga, you should be aware of it as well. Us marman are forbidden to meddle with the troubles going on land.”
“But, Your Majesty! To get back the kidnapped girls――”
“I remember having told you to give up on that girl.” As Olga was about to say something as she couldn’t give up just like that, the queen got ahead of her, flatly saying, “《Silver Scale》 Olga, when did you become the queen of this country? The likes of a mere Warrior Leader is trying to steer the fate of our country? Know your own position!”
In response to Tethys reprimand, Olga’s face turned ghastly pale, and she quickly prostrated herself, exhibiting her allegiance. Because of that, Tethys’ expression softened somewhat.
“Thinking of the kidnapped girls is painful for me as well. However, us marman must never again do anything that would drag us into the troubles on land. You copy that, Olga?”
Olga had no choice but to nod at that.