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The court academic laboratory may sound like a strange place where all the world's knowledge is gathered, but it was really a place that carried out any task the king or others from the royal court asked us to do.
We would have to do something about the exploding locust population that was putting the kingdom's crops in serious trouble, or do something about a mountain that seemed about to have a volcanic eruption. But there was one problem that was worrying the king more than anything else of late.
"Ugh, now this is something."
"Huh? What's the matter professor? Your cloak is all torn up."
I was the indoor type, so the mere fact that I was wearing a cloak should have been strange. I was so slender that it was often said I would look better in women's clothing than the girl who acted as my a.s.sistant. No matter how much training I went through, I could not seem to get even slightly muscular.
"Wild beasts. They're on the rise again."
"Eh? If you mean the h.e.l.lhounds, we dealt with those last month."
My a.s.sistant must have had nothing of importance to do because she was performing an experiment to see what sweet juices would most effectively cause rhinoceros beetles to gather. She was mixing things like honey and melon juice in a flask. She now focused on me with a dropper in one hand.
"That's old news. The ones filling the fields now are trolls. Once their numbers pa.s.s a certain level, caravans start getting attacked left and right. The amount of food they need increases with their numbers, after all. The more of them there are, the more likely it is that caravans will be attacked and their cargo will be stolen."
"Then can't we just keep the caravans from going through there? When the number of rabbits decreases, the number of lions automatically adjusts," said my a.s.sistant while pouting her lips in displeasure.
She was a genius, but she was an utter failure at anything outside of her area of expertise.
"If the caravans cannot get through, the fortress city will cease to function. The humans will start dying from lack of food before the trolls do. By the way, I'm thirsty, so can I drink that?"
When I pointed toward the mystery flask, my a.s.sistant held it protectively between her hands (and chest) like a child.
"No, you cannot. Anyway, why do humans always cause problems in otherwise good plans?"
"Well, it is us humans who are always throwing off the balance of the food chain. And even if we did stop the caravans from coming through, there are enough trolls that they might just come to knock down the city walls. Like with all animals, they show no mercy when hungry."
My a.s.sistant returned the flask to the table and asked me a question with a puzzled expression.
"Has the troll population really grown that much?"
"It has. That's why the king has come to us about it."
"So will we be doing what we always do?"
"Yes, yes. As always, we will begin by examining a corpse of the wild beast in question."
I brought a large burlap sack in from the hallway and spread the contents out on the table. It was larger than a human and its muscles were much greater than a human's. I was unsure if even a heavily armed knight would be able to defeat it in a straight fight.
"Did you kill it, professor?"
"If I had that kind of strength, I would not have a research job. Like with any beast that's numbers have grown this much, bodies of ones that have died naturally are plentiful. Whether you can get one before decay sets in is up to luck though. Now then…"
The world at large did not look on us kindly for cutting apart corpses, but it was our job. We had to take it apart to do a thorough investigation.
We were not trying to find the troll's weak points or vital points to inform the knights.
With a wild beast population increasing at that rate, finding a way to defeat them one by one was not all that useful.
It was the same reason that weeds and roaches did not go extinct.
However, something had to be done about the exploding troll population.
And it was our job to figure out what that was.
"Trolls are generally considered to be completely useless. Their meat stinks and tastes horrible, and their bones grow brittle when dried out, so they cannot be used as weapons or for defense. There really is nothing beneficial about them."
"What about their skin?"
"It grows mold easily, so it can't be used either."
"So they can't be eaten and they can't be used for any kind of offensive or defensive tools. This is quite a difficult problem."
"There might be some special use we can make of them, but that won't increase the amount of consumption. However, there is one thing that we know people will put in their mouths even if it is disgusting."
My a.s.sistant gave a level-headed response to that.
She gave a bold smile while looking at the grotesque corpse.
"That finding a piece of it that can function as a medicine will make an excellent shortcut, yes."
"Since this one died naturally and decay has set in, serious damage may have been done to the internal organs. Is there really anything worth looking into here?"
"We have to at least try."
With a groan of effort, we "opened" the troll's body using a psychedelic means that cannot be described in text. I am leaving out quite a bit of detail here, but you should really thank me for that. We then checked each individual piece inside.
"If we can't find anything to make medicine out of, we should probably just give up."
"If we find something that is bad for your health, that can be useful as well. In fact, substances in the natural world that cannot at all be used as either a poison or a medicine are quite rare."
We took each individual piece of the troll's "contents", crushed them into a paste, boiled them, roasted them, and otherwise processed them. The processes used were the same as in cooking, but this was hardly a scene you could happily bring a child to see. However, we did find something interesting.
"I found a component in its liver that might work in a medicine meant to sober people up."
"Its stomach acid is quite powerful. If we could stabilize it, it could be useful."
"It doesn't seem powerful enough to destroy an enemy's equipment instantly, though."
"It can be used for other things. It could probably be used to easily get treasure by putting some in the keyhole of a treasure chest. The inner portion of the lock is delicate. It could also function as a trap killer."
"Could the stomach itself be used in some kind of medicine?"
"If some time pa.s.ses after the troll's death, the defensive membrane is destroyed, so that could be difficult. See, this one's is already beginning to be destroyed bit by bit."
Simply put, we were investigating to see if we could find any valid uses for a wild beast like the troll. It was the same as the ivory from elephants and the skins of tigers. As long as we found a use for them, they would no longer be considered mere wild beasts.
My a.s.sistant quickly wrote on a piece of parchment using a quill to calculate out the equivalent market value of each substance we discovered. If the sum of those values crossed a certain line, this would be a success.
"This looks like it will work out well. The total amount comes out to 10,000 platinum. The scale of risks and merits is clearly tilted in our direction."
"By the way, remind me what we came up with for the h.e.l.lhounds from last month."
"Their skins and fangs. They are quite useful militarily, so they are quite popular with weapon shops and the knights."
"I see. That's a relief. These uses won't be competing with them."
Coming up with a use for Wild Beast A was difficult enough, but if it conflicted with the use for Wild Beast B, the future value of Wild Beast B would drop. Then the number of people attacking Wild Beast B would drop and Wild Beast B's population would grow to dangerous levels again.
I may have given the answer in that explanation.
"…It's the same as tigers and elephants. The one is one of the strongest carnivorous beasts. The other is an herbivorous animal large enough to be used as a tank. However, people look at them in a different light when it comes to their skins or the ivory from their tusks. That is why they have been hunted to near extinction," said my a.s.sistant as she used the quill to brush dust off of her clothes. "There are a limited number of knights, so if they are charged with exterminating wild beasts, they cannot hold neighboring kingdoms in check as well. So basically we just need to create a reason for the seemingly infinite ma.s.ses to fight them."
"It is us humans who are always throwing off the balance of the food chain."
"But if they have the strength to do that, why don't they just exterminate them in the first place?"
"That's just how humans are. The way of the world is to pretend to be weak so you can enjoy receiving the services society provides. No one will ever think to risk their life when it doesn't benefit them any. The people who do think that way are the ones who end up being knights or mercenaries."
All that was left for us to do was to use the lives of the greedy ma.s.ses to drive the troll population to the brink of extermination.
Whether the trolls actually went extinct or began being treated as "protected monsters" would be up to the king and the n.o.bles. However, I doubted they would give them protected status. Mermaids and elves were one thing, but trolls were ugly.
"Human desire is a frightening thing."
"But it is that desire that has allowed us to advance this far," I said as I wrote our results in the form of an itemized list on a piece of parchment. "Plenty of other animals and monsters can speak and perform calculations. They can even be creative. I can think of only one reason why humans have risen so far above all those others."
"And what is that?"
"The overwhelming variety of our desires. Compared to those others, ours are just off the charts."
I did not think it would be a pure hero who would defeat the demon king army in the end. No matter how high your fixed parameters were, a human without desires would have no ambition. Simply put, they would level up much too slowly.
I found the ma.s.ses who surrounded the hero and were always complaining and going along with each new fad to be much more frightening.
I found them more frightening than the hero and maybe even more than the demon king.
One month later, the court academic laboratory received an interim report.
"Professor! The troll population is continuing to grow! Instead of poaching or excessively hunting the trolls, the stupid ma.s.ses are scattering food for them!!"
"They have found it to be more efficient to have the trolls vomit up stomach acid while alive than to kill them and take it from their corpse. Also, the trolls' livers regenerate quickly, so they can cut out a portion and then let them loose once more. The trolls will regenerate the missing portion in a surprisingly short time!! Wh-what do we do, professor!? The troll population is growing like crazy!! Don't they know what will happen to the fortress city if the population keeps growing!?"
"Human desire really is the scariest thing of all."