The Serpent and the ShoemakerbyPerentie©
'Words' = Thoughts and telepathy
"Words" = Spoken words and quotes
"Words" = Special emphasis
Mamono = "Monster" or, more accurately, "apparition"
Church = The followers of the chief god in this world, this god is fiercely opposed to the monster girls and has spread much misinformation about them through his followers. He sees conflict as the natural order between humans and monsters.
Note that to get a further idea of the setting you should imagine a fantasy medieval world, the kind you typically find in action role player games. However, widespread utilization of magic, especially in larger cities, means that in some ways they have become much more technologically advanced. Of course, most of that only applies to those who are rich enough to afford magical items or to hire the services of people skilled in the use of magic or technology. Magic has also influenced the development, and lack of development, of various technologies.
In particular small-scale weapons that use gunpowder are virtually nonexistent, the primitive forms available being simply too slow and cumbersome to use compared to magic-enhanced melee weapons, enchanted shields, special arrows that seek out their targets and defensive magical traps such as binding circles. Albeit larger scale explosives like those used in cannons or dynamite are more common, existing as backup for magical defenses. Steam and even primitive gasoline-powered vehicles do exist but are rarely seen outside of large cities due to lack of suitable roads. There is also little incentive to improve this technology, it is regarded mainly as helpful for farming and as a novelty, not as all that useful for transportation.
Many of the countries in this world, and many of the towns and cities within them, are fairly isolated from each other by large areas of mostly unexplored wilderness, some inhabited by nomadic peoples or other mysterious natives, but most not home to any human population (if you don't count the male consorts of many mamono found there). With only a few, and sometimes no, trade routes connecting most countries to each other, flow of information and goods is usually limited and slow. There is little incentive to change this because with access to magic-provided resources most governments are fairly self-sufficient. Traders and adventurers are the only people who regularly travel outside their home country's borders, most of the population being sedentary. Wars between countries are also rare, in part due to fears of the demon lord taking advantage of any nation that reduces its defenses by sending troops to fight in other lands.
This story takes place in a time of great change. It all began when for the first time in known history a succubus took the throne of the demon realm and sought to create a new natural order to things, a world that could unite the human and monster races in mutual pleasure and end the conflicts between them. To accomplish this she has since initiated numerous expansions of her realm and its influence, in particular using her influence to alter the monsters that have long been fighting with the human race for survival. This is an abrupt change from the ways of the previous demon lord, who acted on behalf of the gods to maintain the status quo between humans and monsters.
These changes have spread whole new waves of fear, hate and confusion across the globe, yet some believe it may offer the best chance for humans and monsters to coexist. While the justifications for her crusade have been endlessly debated, one truth that remains clear is that there is nothing that mankind fears more than that which it does not understand and is different from itself. It is within a remote village gripped in this fear that our story begins.
THE SERPENT AND THE SHOEMAKER
Van Levine was not having a good day. First he had had barely any customers in his shop for the third day in a row, then his only remaining assistant had quit on him without notice. To top it off he had been called before the town's council of elders to discuss complaints his fellow citizens had levied against him. It had been far from an encouraging meeting.
Van was a shoemaker by trade, and had taken the opportunity to move to the small, fairly young village of Brook, in a land so distant from his birthplace in hopes of finding less competition for his work. He simply couldn't compete with the larger companies and better technology available to many in the larger cities of his home country, nor did he want to disappoint his parents by getting a job with such a company, where all he had been taught about making shoes would be ignored in favor of him becoming an underpaid laborer on an assembly line. Yet where such things could not be afforded his skills might be valued.
So when reports came of frontier towns needing all the skilled workers they could get, he used the fairly small inheritance his late parents had left him to move and set up shop. He hadn't expected it to be easy, many people in many countries, especially those of small towns, were known for being untrusting of foreigners and strangers, even if they needed their help. Still, he had assumed it was something he could work through, he just had to let his good looks and friendly, easy-going personality win them over. Or at least that was what he had convinced himself of at the time. So far the results had been mixed, and lately plain bad. As he finally arrived at his small home, he continued to think about his evening conversation with the esteemed town elder and the man's words upon meeting with him:
"The quality of your work is more than satisfactory..." Elder Brook huffed, levying his gaze at several reports in his hand that Van assumed were about him. Brook was a stern-voiced man in his late sixties and well respected in the community for his strong leadership and unwavering devotion to the good of the village. He wasn't the head elder and namesake of the town for nothing. At the same time he was well-known for not being a particularly kind or open-minded man, as Van was finding out firsthand.
"However," he continued, "that is not the issue. Your services are far from a necessity, we have a number of people who could take over, even if the work they do is below average. My point is we don't need a professional shoemaker who would threaten our people's sense of peace and unity!"
The elder struck his fist against the desk of the council chair Van sat before in emphasis and Van couldn't help but flinch under his stern stare. "I-I am not sure I under-understand head elder," he stammered in defense. "How is it that I am a threat to the town's unity or peace? I am not sure what I am even being accused of."
The elder sighed and put a hand to his forehead in thought. "That is why I called you here. To confirm what a number of our citizens have reported to me. What concerns them should concern me should it not?"
"Of course, sir," Van replied, "if the concerns are valid."
"Precisely," Brook nodded, though his expression did not soften in the least. "And your testimony to me will help determine how valid their claims are. This is not a criminal case and no official charges are being levied. That is why for now I am keeping this matter as private as possible. Do you understand?"
Van nodded, he had wondered why the head elder was meeting him in the council hall alone. Normally there would be an audience and more than one elder addressing a person accused of something. At least this meant he faced no punishment for now, this meeting was to be more of a warning than anything else.
The elder cleared his throat and laid the documents down before him. "In short Mr. Levine, there is question as to your loyalties, not just to your town but to civilized humans in general. Many sorts of depravity may be tolerated where you come from, but here promoting them could lead to unrest and panic among the citizens."
Now Van was more confused as to the justification that he had done something wrong.. He had a good idea of what the elder was getting at, but he wanted to be sure and so pressed further. "Panic? Elder Brook, I don't see how that can be. Just what is it you have heard?"
He folded his hands and looked down on the young man before him. "A number of disturbing things about you have been reported to myself and the other elders, namely that you have on multiple occasion expressed sympathies for and even defended the savages who fill the demon realm, infest our land and populate the wilderness beyond our town's borders.
His suspicions confirmed, Van stood to his feet to defend himself. "I merely have explained how many of the demihumans are not the evil creatures people make them out to be, that some kinds are known that can be safely interacted with, and that there could be more like them. Please lord elder, if you had seen the things I saw as a child in my hometown you would understand that the truth is not so simple as the 'all monsters are evil' teachings."
Now the elder stood, his expression furious. "Seen you say? Understand you say?! Sit back down and I'll tell you what I have seen and understood Mr. Levine! I have seen proud men bewitched by these 'demihumans', their bodies and even their minds no longer their own as they endlessly give their seed to create more of the inhuman abominations. I have seen families torn apart by the abductions carried out by those savages. I have even seen our women transformed to be like them, all to birth even more of their kind. And because of this I understand that these- these things could never coexist with mankind for long without destroying it. To say or even think otherwise is dangerous in a town as small and unstable as this."
"Understand this Mr. Levine," Brook continued. "Unlike most in this region I am fairly well-traveled and educated, so I know that in the lands you are from there are towns who allow some monsters to live among them, even afford them human rights," he practically spat in disgust when saying this. "But it remains clear to me that such arrangements are doomed to failure. Can you prove otherwise?"
Van tried to calm his emotions, it was not as if the elder was being wholly unreasonable, some of his fears were justified. "I won't deny that there are dangerous ones, but most of them are only trying to survive the only way they know how to. To lump them all together as a threat to mankind and to encourage the people to fear and hate them, wouldn't that only increase everyone's hostility and lead to more violence on both sides?"
Brook remained firm, "Better that than to be caught by them unawares. Some of them are even known to blend in with human society, preying on our people without even being noticed. Those who sympathize are regarded with suspicion by the people, do you not realize that if you were a women you would likely have been put in the stocks already if not worse? Even so, if you keep this up they may yet accuse you of being one of them in disguise."
"But doesn't that also prove that some of them can adapt to human societies, even if they have to live in disguise to be accepted?" Van countered.
"They wear our forms the better to deceive the weak-minded and naïve. Call them demihumans, call them mamono, or even 'yokai' like those infidels in the land of Zipangu. Call them whatever you like, it does not change what they are. They are not human, and that alone is reason enough to never trust them. When dealing with a man you inherently know something of his ways, but with those creatures... well, their motivations and ways serve only their own bizarre ends. Anything we have in common is only a disguise for their true intentions to alter and enslave humanity. I have received reports that entire towns in other regions have become part of the demon realm in recent years, the land the monsters control grows this way day by day. There are even fears that the human race could one day become extinct if this continues. How can one coexist with such terrible power? Fighting it is the only way and that alone is hard enough."
The young man seemed unfazed. "Then tell me how spreading all this fear and hate of them helps protect anyone? If you want to protect people then you need to give them the right information. Plus I don't see how fighting can be the only answer, even if the gods have decreed that we should destroy all the monsters."
"To your first question I say better to give false information that inspires caution than no information at all! Rumors are often all we have, you expect us to fact-check them!? As for the teachings of the church... it is true that it is impossible for small towns like this to fully adhere to them, the monsters are too powerful to kill off on our own, any offensive into their territory would be suicidal. But to outright go against the decree handed down by the Supreme God? Even here that could amount to blasphemy, and if you were in a town where the church held greater sway you could very well be put to death for it!"
The gods... they were another touchy subject for Van. "Is it blasphemy to ask why the gods keep telling us to do something that hasn't ever worked? Humans have been fighting the monster races for as long as anyone can remember, and all that's come of it has been pain and death for both sides. It seems to me that if the gods really knew what they were doing they would change their strategy to something better than ordering those hunting expeditions to kill any random monster the group manages to come across and sending 'heroes' time and time again to the demon realm to slay the demon lord only to have them not come back."
Van went on, "Plus things are different now than they were way back before that succubus ascended the throne in the demon realm, with the way the monsters have changed from her influence it's a lot easier to communicate with them. If more influential people would just try to talk with them, to listen to them, I think we could find a way to live peacefully. They need us, and if we weren't so hostile maybe they wouldn't be so forceful. Wouldn't it be worthwhile to at least try?"
The elder gave a tired sigh, put a hand to his wrinkled forehead and closed his eyes as if reminiscing something. Van waited in silence for whatever the elder was contemplating telling him.
Finally he spoke. "I'll have you know I once had a brother who thought like you did. He sought the monsters out, even befriended a member of a harpy colony that lived in the mountains near my home village. I warned him it was a mistake, that he would regret freely associating with the things, but he refused to listen to me. And how did the harpy repay his trust? One day she and her wretched kin simply came and snatched him up along with a number of other young men in the village who had fraternized with their kind. The harpies carried them to the mountains, and by the time a rescue party arrived at their colony the whole flock had left the region. I never saw my fool of a brother again. But as far as I'm concerned he deserved what he got, to be made a slave or eaten once he was of no more use to them, for being so stupid as to think he could befriend them. All they saw him as was sperm and meat."
He leaned forward in his chair and looked Van straight in the eye. "If you want to waste your life and future on some kind of futile mamono-support crusade then go ahead and do it, but don't involve this town. We have enough problems to deal with as it is. Now go, and put careful thought into how you might avoid meetings like this in the future. Next time there will be more than just a warning."
Van got up to leave, only to stop and speak with his back to the old man. "One last thing lord elder. You may not believe me, and even if you do it may not make you feel any differently, but from what I have heard harpies do not forcibly keep their men past the breeding season. If your brother and the other men were never released it was because they wanted to stay." He didn't bother to observe what, if any, reaction the elder gave, only continuing to the door of the town hall and striding out.
He also tried not to think of another possibility, one based on rumors he had heard during his journey to the town. Namely, that the leadership of the main country in this region had a standing order to secretly execute anyone known to have been caught by a mamono and returned. Why would they do this if not for fear of such people changing others' views on the monsters and to encourage the belief that those taken by monsters were killed by the monsters?
It was certainly an issue that part of Van wanted to look into and expose but, despite his earlier bravado, he was now deeply worried about his future in the town and the country in general. The elder was right, if people kept complaining about him to the elders then things were bound to get worse, the more unruly townspeople might even take the matter into their own hands. And as for the elder's sarcastic recommendation, he had in fact considered it for a short time. But he was no orator, nor did he have any confidence in being able to change the world, not to mention he lacked the power that would be needed.
No, as far as he was concerned if he enlightened even a few people then it was enough for him, leave changing the word on a massive scale to others, people called to the task. He would gladly help such people certainly, but he knew himself well enough to know he could never lead any such movement. He just wanted to live out his life in relative peace and comfort doing what he was good at, with maybe an occasional adventure or two thrown in for fun. Yet it seemed this village may not have been the place for that after all.
His small home was also the shop where he made, cleaned and repaired shoes, and he quickly checked to make sure everything was put away in its proper place before retiring for the night, his workshop serving as his bedroom too due to it being the most spacious room. He got into bed (a simple plank of wood on the stone floor that often left him sore in the morning, real beds were a luxury he couldn't afford) with a tired sigh, hoping with sleep he might find some peace of mind. On that note he hoped he would be visited again by the mysterious woman who had been such a soothing presence for him these past few weeks. Even if his only contact with her had been during his dreams.
He pondered how he would likely be in a much worse state without the consoling ear and... pleasant distractions she gave him. Van had longed for female companionship ever since he had left his home country, where his parents' untimely deaths and the struggle to find work had left little time for courting, not to mention little in the way of assets to offer a potential bride. He had expected to have no shortage of opportunities though once he came to the village.
For unwed men were quite valuable in any settlement located near places where wild mamono lived in fair numbers as the women of town sometimes faced competition with the various monster girls for prime bachelors. Young, handsome men were especially prized, and certainly he felt he fit that description. Sure he didn't sport a manly mustache or beard, and he wasn't really buff or anything but he had a kind, handsome, some would even say pretty, nicely-groomed face, fairly long light blond hair and a well-toned athletic body (though he was only somewhat adventurous he liked to stay in shape). Height was the only area he was lacking in, and not by much, though it and his youthful face caused some to think him younger than his 18 years.
And at first he had noticed a number of the town's women giving him appraising looks and pleased smiles. He had even received several letters requesting his company for the day or evening, a proposition that commonly lead to marriage if the couple hit it off. His only problem had been trying to figure out which invitation to accept.