“Alright, pull it up! ――Heave-hooo!!”
As the zoan pulled on the ropes with spirited yells, a bulging net was dragged out of the sea. Large amounts of fish filled that net. The fish, which had been caught this morning, had been cut into chunks, and tossed into it.
One beat later, as if chasing the net, something broke through the sea’s surface, jumping. It was a shark. It had an overall length of roughly six to seven mel. Moreover, it wasn’t alone. As Souma observed the vicinity of the ship, he could spot several shark fins between the waves.
“So these are the things called shark…!?” Even Garam, who was hailed as the plains’ strongest warrior, had all his hair stand on end out of nervousness.
After all, if you were to talk about carnivores inhabiting the Solbiant Plains, it’d be species of wolves or wildcats, who had a length of two mel at the most. However, even the smallest of the sharks surrounding the ship right now had a length of at least three mel, and the biggest specimen reached even something close to eight mel. It’d be no wonder for anyone to feel tense when confronted with a sight like this, not limited to Garam alone.
Souma raised his voice, hurling instructions at the zoan.
“Make sure that no holes have been bitten into the net! It’d be a shame to have the bait stolen after we went out of our way to gather it!”
The sharks were lured in by the blood and oil of the fish. When they cut up the fish to put them into the net, the zoan collected both, and then scattered it into the sea. The blood and oil were carried along by the ocean currents, baiting the sharks inhabiting this area of the ocean. It was Souma’s plan to head to the island while keeping the sharks around the ship by leading them with the bait suspended at the bow.
“Hey, Soma. Will this method really keep the marmen away from our ship?” Shyemul asked while anxiously looking at the sharks around the ship.
The marmen were the rulers of the sea. Thus it was hard to imagine that they’d be scared of the creatures living in that very sea.
Souma returned a smile at that, “But look, even though the zoan are described as supreme rulers of the plains, you’re still scared of wolves, aren’t you?”
“I’m not scared of them or anything!” Shyemul yelled on reflex, but immediately changed her tone, “Being unable to recognize dangers as such is something that’s done by fools pretending to be heroes. ――Oh, I see. It’s the same here. Okay, I see your point now.”
Of course it wasn’t as though Souma had gathered the sharks based on arbitrary guesses alone. Olga had brought up the possibility that shark attacks might be one of the reasons for the children’s disappearance. In short, Souma built his strategy around the confirmed fact that marmen regarded sharks as beasts of prey like humans regarded wolves and tigers.
The situation of the ship with the blood-frenzied sharks loitering around it was just like a car tour in a safari park. It’d be fine to see this whole scene as wild beasts like lions or tigers swarming around a car in the belief of being able to get some food. Even Souma would definitely decline if he were told to push his ways through those tigers and lions to puncture the tires of the car. It’d be great if they could get the marmen to stay away from the ship in the same way.
Souma was worried about Olga and her marmen. He had told Olga to not try the impossible, but Souma would have a guilty conscience if she got attacked by sharks after trying to drive a hole into the ship’s bilge out of stubbornness.
“It’d be the best if Ms. Olga didn’t try to force anything…”
Not being aware of Souma’s worries about her, Olga cursed angrily, “Those assholes! They gathered the sharks in this area!?”
After diving into the sea herself, she immediately grasped that they wouldn’t be able to get close to the ship due to the excessive amount of sharks loitering around it. Sharks were natural enemies for marmen. The marmen called themselves rulers of the sea, boasting that they wouldn’t lose against anyone underwater, but those were ultimately words aimed at the other races who lived on land. Things were different when it came to opponents living in the sea just like the marmen. After all, a rather big number of marmen would lose their lives to sharks every year.
Just as Souma had anticipated, the sharks were ferocious beasts of prey for the marmen. Furthermore, the sharks swarming the ship were terribly agitated due to the scent of fish blood. Some among them had even started to cannibalize on their own kin. It was next to impossible to hold back such sharks with their tail fins while puncturing the ship’s bottom. Any such attempt would go beyond dangerous, and immediately qualify as a suicidal act.
“What shall we do?”
A female warrior asked, filling her words with the spirit that they would bet their lives to put a hole into the ship’s bottom if only Olga ordered it.
In response, Olga shook her head, “Stop it. This is no more than a caprice of Her Majesty. I cannot afford to let such excellent warriors like you die for such a reason.”
If she really wanted to reject a visit to the island, she should have ordered it. It’s the queen’s usual game to force unreasonable demands without making things clear. Most certainly, even the queen wouldn’t tell me to sacrifice her valuable warriors for something like this.
“I’ll take full responsibility. Someone send them a signal to stop the ship for a moment since we’ll lead them in. It’ll become a problem for our people if their ship arrives at our island while surrounded by all those sharks.”
A little while later, one of Olga’s warriors followed her orders, waving a flag with the meaning of ceasefire and their will to guide in front of the ship. While looking at that, a smile formed on Olga’s small lips.
“As expected of the 『Divine Son of Destruction』. I have to admit, not bad…”
The marmen island laid four quili (roughly 12 kilometers) to the southeast from Jeboa’s port. It was a big island with a size of approximately 1.5 square quili (13.5 square kilometers), taking the shape of an ellipse that stretched out somewhat further to the south and north than the east and west. If you were to compare its size to modern Japan, it’d almost be as big as Tokyo’s Chiyoda district. 1
More than five thousand marmen lived on that island. In addition, slaves of other races, who had been brought on the island to support the marmen with their travel on land, lived there as well, but their numbers were rather low. The reason was the land being too inconvenient for land-dwelling races to inhabit the island in great numbers.
This island was originally born from a submarine volcano erupting in ancient times. Almost all of its surface was bare basalt rock. The few patches of greenery visible on the island were mostly lichens, and almost no plants like grasses, let alone trees, could be spotted growing there. An abundance of seafood was available, but this island had to import all other food from Jeboa, naturally limiting the number of land-dwelling people that could be fed.
“This is the marmen’s island, huh…?” Standing next to Shyemul, Souma spoke up in admiration while gazing at the island from atop the ship that had been guided to the island by a female warrior.
The marmen island was a truly beautiful spot. From afar it looked like a rock with a few stripes cut into its cliffs, but those weren’t any geological formations. As they got closer, it became obvious that the island was densely packed with stone pillars which appeared to have been carved out by people’s hands. It was something described as a columnar joint. Back when the hot lava cooled down, it created systematic clefts – joints, looking as if they had been made by people, because of the volume reduction accompanying the solidification of the magma. Among such joints, those fissured into long, narrow shapes like pillars were called columnar joints.
Souma gazed at that natural work of art, completely forgetting everything around him, but suddenly he heard the sound of something clanging. Once he turned his eyes in the direction of the noise, he spotted a female marman, whose head protruded out of the sea, being in the process of trying to crack a big shell open by hitting a stone against it. At the moment she put the content of the shell into her mouth after finally breaking it open, she noticed the ship with Souma’s group aboard, and dived underwater in a hurry.
Shyemul called out to Souma who felt guilty about having startled the female marman, “Soma, look! There’s so many marmen!”
While leaning herself over the ship’s side, Shyemul pointed at a beach that cut into the cliff. Many marmen were staring their way from the reef beach exposing naked rocks.
“I wonder, what are those?” Souma pointed at an orderly array of structures behind the marmen, resembling a capsule hotel or the segregated rooms in internet cafes
Stones in the shapes of deep U’s had been piled up to a height of a human’s waist, and were covered on top by wood boards and seaweed. Many strings of seagrass hung down on the open sides of the U-shapes, facing the sea, almost like curtains.
“Those’re the marmen’s homes.” The captain taught him.
The captain’s curt tone at their departure had drastically softened down. Exactly because he was a man of the sea knowing well of the marmen’s dreadfulness, he now respected Souma for having delivered a heavy blow against those marmen.
“The marmen build their homes by forming walls through piled-up stones at the coast.”
Souma and Shyemul showed their comprehension by nodding and grunting.
For the marmen, who possessed a tail fin as a lower body, it’d be difficult to move deeper onto the island, and cut wood for the sake of building homes. Still, as they had to build houses, they had no choice but to pile up medium-sized stones at the coast. And, seeing how they couldn’t stand up, it was only natural for those homes to take the shape similar to booths in internet cafes. For such a reason, those were turned into marmen beds, and not eel’s beds. 2
“Hoh, you can also see humans over there.”
When Souma followed Garam’s line of sight in response to his surprised mutter, he spotted humans in armor, holding spears. Since they were armed, they were likely serving as guards to prevent an invasion of the island.
“Hey, there’s humans over there as well!”
With those words, Zurgu pointed at a somewhat small hill located in the island’s north. Several male humans, apparently slaves, were coming and going on the path connecting the hill with the beach while shouldering buckets.
“Dvalin-san, do you have a moment?”
Having a revelation thanks to that spectacle, Souma called Dvalin over to ask him something. Dvalin had been continuing to pray like a Buddhist monk in the middle of the deck, but there was no way that he’d be able to ignore Souma. He lifted his face very reluctantly, and after confirming the island’s state, gently stroked his beard.
“Hmm, it’s not that it’s impossible to make. Just, you need to build it sturdily or add some other trick to it.”
Souma was satisfied with Dvalin’s reply.
Their ship was guided to a cliff located on the island’s northern side. Just when they thought that they would be asked to make the ship come alongside that cliff, the marmen led them to the big opening of a cave at the base of the cliff. The cave, which was big enough to completely house the round ship, was a marine grotto which had been naturally formed by the waves eroding the rock over many, many years.
Once the ship entered the cave slowly, propelled by oars after the sail had been folded, they were greeted by a mythical view. The surface of the cave’s walls, which were blanketed by hexagonal columnar joints just like the cliffs outside, looked like the creation of skilled mason artisans. The faintly blue illuminations by the light reflected from the sea gave birth to a fantastical scenery as if they had entered an ancient temple.
Alongside a light bump, the ship landed alongside a wharf built inside the cave. While the sailors, assisted by slaves who had been waiting at the wharf, moored the ship, Souma’s group crossed the plank connecting ship and wharf, and descended into a narrow pathway, similar to a catwalk, that had been cut into the cave’s wall.
Olga, who had arrived at the wharf slightly before Souma and the others, greeted them while carried by a human male slave.
“Welcome to our island, 『Divine Son of Destruction』 Sir Soma Kisaki. ――I shall guide you to Her Majesty.”
Following Olga, they were led into a nearby hole in the rock wall. That hole was only high enough for a person to pass through by bending down, but it was wide, and seemed to gently slope upwards. Souma had heard from Yoash that the marmen’s royal palace was located inside a cave. Souma guessed that this ought to be a path leading from the wharf to the palace.
However, it was still a weird pathway. A round ditch had been dug into the floor, possessing a width that would allow a single person to fit in. Without a pause, small amounts of water were running down the ditch from above. It was almost completely like a pool’s water slider.
“It differs quite a lot when compared to the palaces on land, but you will find our royal palace a little further ahead.” Olga explained as her slave placed her down on the shell of something like a giant clam which had been placed next to the hole.
And then, once he hit a wooden board hanging on the wall with a wooden hammer, the rope, which passed through a hole in the shell, was smoothly pulled into the pathway, dragging the shell with Olga upwards.
Souma immediately grasped the idea behind it. This water slider-like passage has been built while keeping the marmen’s bodies in mind. When heading upwards, they have slaves pull them up after getting on shells, and when heading downwards, the marmen will slide down the ditch, using it just like a water slider, I guess.
Souma’s group climbed the slope to follow Olga. Their feet didn’t get wet since paths allowing races with legs to climb had been installed on both sides of the ditch.
“This is the 『Queen’s Space』 where Her Majesty resides. ――Please make absolutely sure to not conduct yourself rudely.”
After passing through two such sloping pathways, they immediately arrived in front of the queen’s space. Still, Souma got worried whether it’d be really fine for them to enter the place of the queen ruling over the marmen so easily. However, once he thought about how the marmen were unable to move on land normally, he reconsidered, believing that it might be a result of the marmen putting a higher priority on living convenience than preparing against the dangers of invaders who might never come.
“Your Majesty, I have brought 『Divine Son of Destruction』 Sir Soma Kisaki.”
Souma’s group followed Olga who entered the queen’s space by making her body slide forward, making sure to press both her hands on the ground.
What greeted Souma’s group first was the reflected light of a huge, bronze mirror hanging on the wall directly opposite of the entrance. The mirror had been set up so that it would reflect the light, pouring into the cave through lighting holes in the ceiling, into the queen’s space.
There existed theories that Yamataikoku’s Queen Himiko, said to have existed in ancient Japan, faked the powers of a sun god’s shrine maiden by using mirror reflections. Souma thought this here might have a similar aim.
While narrowing their eyes due to the brightness, Souma’s group stepped into the queen’s space, and once they opened their eyes after being released from the glaring light, they widened their eyes even further, this time in surprise. The walls were made out of columnar joint rock, just like the ones in the grotto with the wharf, and were wet as water occasionally trickled down from cracks close to the ceiling, increasing the impression that the walls were pulsating. Mountains of twinkling gold and silver treasures were piled up alongside the walls. The ones staring their way with their eyes gleaming in curiosity and their arms propping up their upper bodies were beautiful marman princesses. And the one holding a golden bishop’s staff and wearing a golden forehead accessory imitating a diadem while sitting on a coral throne overwhelming anyone who saw it as she greeted Souma’s group was none other but Queen Tethys.
“Welcome to my island. I’m the ruler of this island, Queen Tethys.”
When Souma introduced himself and thanked her for allowing to visit the island first, the queen waved him off after generously nodding at him. Then slaves spread out floor grate-like wooden boards on the floor. Although it was so shallow that only the ankles of one’s feet were submerged, ocean water accumulated in the queen’s space. If they were to sit down in such a place, they’d naturally get wet. Those boards had been provided so that the clothes of land-dwelling visitors wouldn’t get wet.
Invited by the queen, Souma sat down on his board while pondering how he should skilfully broach the topic of forming a friendly relationship. However, before he could even start talking about it, the queen spoke up first.
“Allow me to first praise you with no restraints. Your courage and wisdom that allowed you to visit the island on a ship after breaking through the defense of my warriors truly deserve you being hailed as a hero. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to greet such a brave man.”
Tethys clapped her hands twice in front of Souma who felt embarrassed by her commendation. Thereupon, human slaves reverently carrying trays and plates in their hands entered through another entrance, and lined them up in front of Souma’s group in succession.
“…! T-These are…!”
Souma and the others widened their eyes in astonishment due to the items placed on those trays and plates. And with eyes full of confusion, Souma exchanged looks with those next to him.
A smile formed on Tethys’ glossy lips due to their reaction, “Now then, heroes who visited our island, please accept this token of my hospitality without holding back.”
Of course her words implicitly told them that refusal was no option.