It was when she flicked the bathroom switch in preparation for a bath that she first noticed that the lightbulb was broken.
Izumi had already taken off her clothes.
Too lazy to go search for a new one in the nude, she got in the bath after deciding that the street lights and neighbours’ lights were plenty.
Suddenly, a small light in the corner of the room caught her eye.
A gentle light like the collected glow of a firefly.
It was attached to the silver helmet that had fallen from Azayu’s head.
When she looked at it, the memories of last night came flooding back, clear in their embarrassment, and forcing Izumi to stifle an incoherent scream.
Izumi had a friend that never remembered what happened while they were drunk.
They could rampage and grumble, strip or turn into a kissing fiend, and the next day they wouldn’t remember a thing. Apparently they didn’t even get hangovers, and they’d be cheerful as ever the day after.
Right now Izumi deeply envied that friend of hers.
The pain and discomfort of her hangover was one thing, but worse than that were the fresh memories of last night.
Rubar’s face filled with astoundment. Azayu’s troubled face when she started something with him. The Head Chef’s round face. What did they think when they saw her dead drunk and immodest? She was sure that they had thought her an incredibly slovenly woman.
‘But that’s wrong! It’s wrong!’, she wanted to scream.
Perhaps her only solace lay in the fact that she would never see any of these people again.
And although she wanted to see the child in the tower saved with her own two eyes, she also believed it was best not to get too involved. One-time meetings. That was best.
But still… to think that she actually had a exhibitionist streak.
Up until now she had decided that it couldn’t be helped because she was in a bath, but not even in her wildest dreams had she imagined that the day would come that she would strip of her own accord.
‘Bathroom or not, I’m never going to drink that much again.’ swore Izumi as she tried to wash away her shame with a shower.
Finishing her head, and then body, before she got into the bath she spotted the helmet and noticed that it was still shining.
Izumi picked it up.
And then her vision overflowed with light.
As though fireflies in a small box were suddenly released into the wide night sky, the room was suddenly filled with light.
But only for an instant. In the next moment, the light suddenly weakened, and returned to its weak glow.
Izumi stared dumbfounded at the thing in her hands.
“What the heck is this…”
There was nobody to answer her murmur.
She found the silver helmet felt very heavy. There was a palm-sized flat stone embedded in the area that corresponded to the forehead. Its surface felt rough, and it twinkled.
Although the light was unstable, it would probably serve plenty well in place of the lightbulb.
Leaving the helmet on the rim of the bathtub, Izumi soaked herself in the water.
While stretching her legs out in the bath, she decided to fold her arms above her head and stretch there too.
The warm water gently loosened her body.
It was just as Izumi sighed that it happened.
The low voice that was probably a man’s could be heard outside the window. Hearing this angry-sounding voice, Izumi drooped her head.
Wasn’t the plot advancing a little quickly?
When the shouting stopped, this time it was the sound of metal. Clanks a little deeper than the sound of a ladle striking a saucepan.
Izumi had wanted to relax in peace for today at least. Although she decided to wait things out without opening the window, the shouting and clanking grew closer and closer.
She took the helmet into her hands and placed it on her head. It was too big for her, but she wore it just in case.
Slowly, she opened the window. Something shone white. Or so she registered, immediately before a shock ran through her head.
With a deep clank, light surged forth.
Although she threw her head back, the light was just too dazzling.
Around the time that the light began to settle, Izumi spotted two men outside her window.
One was dressed from head to toe in black, with only his eyes showing through the cloth wrapped around his face.
The other was wearing a light blue uniform. A long-sleeved top in light blue, and loose long pants. Inside the sash around his waist seemed to be something like a sheath. He too had cloth around his head, but unlike the other, his face was visible. His dark brown skin matched somebody else she knew.
The black-clothed man closer to the window raised his arm to Izumi.
When she saw the curved shortsword in his hand, Izumi let out a scream.
And her scream made the man flinch for just an instant.
Izumi took off her helmet and pelted it at the man.
Just before it hit him, the man in black cloth struck it to the ground with the pommel of his sword.
And when he did, light overflowed the area.
Through squinted eyes, Izumi saw.
The man in light blue had taken the black man’s back. A thud rang out like the sound of a baseball bat on sandbag, after which the black man’s chin shot up and he collapsed and convulsed.
The man in light blue then looked at Izumi.
An indescribable sense of tension was born between the two of them.
“G-, Good evening.”
“Um, is that man in black clothing d-, dead?”
If he said “Yeah.” with a nod, Izumi was determined to immediately shut the window.
But the man shook his head with a no.
“He’s just unconscious. The guy is an important witness, so I’ll tie him up later.”
Saying that, he bent down to take the short sword that had fallen from the black man’s hand.
As Izumi watched him to see what he planned to do, the man rolled him over with a kick, before reaching into the chest of the now face-up man. From there, he had withdrawn a scabbard. After sheathing the shortsword, he placed it into the cloth around his waist before tuning back to Izumi.
Sky blue eyes seemed to scrutinise Izumi with a stare.
He had a squarish chin, and a very powerful build. To the man, pinning down somebody like Izumi would be like taking candy from a baby.
Feeling pressured, Izumi placed her hand on the window.
“Ummm~ Well then, I’ll be going.”
Just as she tried to close it, the man grabbed it first.
Izumi let out a pathetic shriek in her mind.
“You’ve forgotten this.”
With his hand still on the window, the man kicked up the helmet at his feet.
Sand and helmet flew through the air.
Grabbing the helmet with the other hand, the man presented it to Izumi.
“The moonstone was broken. It must have been expensive… Sorry.”
Izumi tilted her head.
The man furrowed his brows.
“It’s the stone embedded here. When you send vibrations through it, it gives out light.”
Even though this woman is the owner, why doesn’t she know this? That was what the man’s face seemed to say.
“Ahhhh, so that’s why it shone.”
Izumi glanced at his face.
A daunting man who gave a keen impression. But perhaps he mightn’t be a bad guy.
“If you want it, you can have it. It’s just a guess, but I think it was meant for you.”
Water ended up as an earring, an earring ended up as a fire stone, a fire stone ended up as frostsnow grass, frostsnow grass ended up as the Keropii Sword, the Keropii Sword ended up as dragon blood, dragon blood ended up as a bean bag, a bean bag ended up as a key, and a key ended up as a shining helmet.
After all these connections, Izumi more or less understood. Even if she didn’t want to understand, she would be forced to.
The items she obtained would be useful for the next person.
She didn’t know what kind of karma was at play, but she probably had the role of being the bridge that connected the people beyond the window.
‘Please give me a break.’
The helmet span on the man’s finger.
“I’ve heard a certain story from the King. In the desert, a goddess appears, he said.”
The people outside the window had called her all sorts of things. Was it goddess this time? That was quite a promotion from ‘witch’.
“We were having drinks when he said it so I was sure I was being teased, but… something like that is actually possible?”
“Uhm, even if you ask me… Or rather, what king? Is it Setsugen?”
The man frowned.
“No, it’s King Huuron, the descendant of Yohk’Zai’s Founding King, the great Tenuhg. While he was in the desert, apparently a beautiful goddess saved his life.”
The man tilted his head a little. Izumi did not fail to hear him mutter “Though you’re a little different from what I heard…”.
“Well sorry, for not being beautiful.”
Perhaps he noticed Izumi’s anger, because the man averted his eyes.
“No, that’s not what I meant. The king mentioned that the goddess was like Harvest Goddess Kohyoku, but…”
Glancing at her as though to confirm something, the man lowered his gaze again.
“And Harvest Goddess Kohyoku is married to the cheating Land God Karan. She literally ‘dominates(JP: sits on)‘ him so people depict her with full hips. Maybe that’s why, but the statues of her that I see in Yohk’Zai are all voluptuous and… No, I mean, I’m not saying that I’m biased against your kind of body development or anything. And Kohyoku is the goddess of being blessed with many children as well, you see. And with how slender you are… Well, maybe it’s nothing more than my personal opinion, but…”
The man’s voice grew quieter and quieter as he continued to dig his own hole.
“If you ‘explain yourself’ any further, I’m going to pour water over your head.”
The man bowed in apology.
“But well, I know who your king is now. He’s the person with the blue-stone earring, right?”
Looking carefully, she found that this man was wearing similar clothes to the earring man. His dark brown skin was a match as well, and to begin with, she only knew of one person lost in a desert.
It was the person that the Prime Minister Teo Keh had been frantically looking for. She knew that he was probably important to Yohk’Zai, but he was actually the king?
“That’s right. So you truly are the goddess that saved his life then.”
Izumi gave a vague smile. It was true that she had saved him, but she wasn’t a goddess. Only, explaining would just be a bother.
“Is the King well?”
“Yeah,” the man nodded, before casting his eyes down.
“Did something happen to the King?”
“The King received an invitation from Queen Akka, and left for Ii’Jibro two days ago.”
Izumi caught her breath. Ii’Jibro was the country that Prince Hinoki belonged to.
The man raised his head. His eyes were sharp, and seemed to be restraining his furious indignation.
“Last night, a secret messenger arrived. The invitation was a trap. The road that the Queen gave had a nest of terrifying insects. In exchange for the map with the nest location, the messenger appealed for us to save his nation’s prince.”
Izumi gripped the window frame.
“Hey! Has King Huuron received the map from the messenger? He left two days ago, right? It can’t be, it can’t be but, you’re not on the way to notifying him, are you?”
If he was, then it definitely wasn’t the time for a chat.
“Indeed I was. I was on the way to notifying the King.”
“Not ‘was’! You need to hurry and go!”
Izumi wanted to snatch the helmet out of his hands and smack him across the head with it.
“No need to worry. There are others on the way.”
“Of course we wouldn’t have dispatched just the one person. Five people skilled with riding rubas are each on their own way with a copy of the Ii’Jibro map.”
The man produced from his pocket a folded piece of paper.
When Izumi reflexively held out her hand, he plopped it onto her palm.
It felt thicker and coarser than the map in the tower. When she spread it open, she found various symbols that she didn’t understand. Between the symbols was a line like a wriggling snake. Was this line the safe route through the desert?
“Teo Keh-dono was worried that Queen Akka noticed the messenger and dispatched assassins, and it seems like he was right on the mark.”
The man kicked at the black-clothed one on the floor.
“Because of these guys’ poison arrow, my ruba is no use now. I’ll be waiting here with him until another squad arrives.”
“Eh? ‘These guys’?”
Izumi raised her eyes from the map.
She turned her gaze instead to the people behind the man.
There was no wind. The blue light of the moon illuminated the numerous sand mounds through the silent skies. And this wondrous scene seemed to be dotted with black spots here and there, like blotches of black ink.
The closest black dot seemed to be something like a long-necked horse, or maybe a camel with no humps.
And behind it, the black dots here and there were men wearing the same black garb as the one right below her.
With a trembling finger, Izumi pointed behind the man.
“Um, are the people laying there behind you, dead?”
Turning around, the man nodded.
The blue cloth hanging from his head swayed in the air.
“Well then, I’ll be going! The night seems cold, but do your best okay?”
Izumi closed the window with all her might.