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It’s almost Christmas for me! Merry Christmas everybody! I forgot to do something special for my anniversary, so I made sure to do a little something for Christmas! Look forward to a bit of Reika later!
His foothold was unstable.
The sand continued to billow.
By his side, the ruba that had drawn the cart had collapsed from the weight.
Sohv desperately spurred on the ruba he rode as he reached out for the bit of other. His fingers grazed them. But that was as far as they went.
Following an eerie sound, the ground beneath their feet began to collapse. Together with the luggage cart, Sohv was being swallowed into the sand.
The sand free-fell.
Before he knew it, Sohv had been tossed from his ruba.
It felt like countless hands gripped his legs, and were dragging him to the depths of hell. Did something await him down there? Just imagining it sent a tremble down his spine.
The cloud of sand blocked his vision. To protect himself from swallowing it, Sohv frantically moved his arms to pull the cloth around his neck up as far as his nose.
After who knew how many prayers to the God of the Earth, Karan, the sand finally stopped its movements.
Although he was buried to the chest in sand, he just barely succeeded in freeing his right arm. But just that much wouldn’t free him from the earth. Struggling to get out had simply sent him further down.
Now that the sand cloud had settled, the cart was immediately visible. It had been half swallowed in the tumult earlier, but the luggage portion covered by the canopy was unharmed. As for the front of the cart, the ruba attached there was giving its all to crawl out of the sand. As for his other ruba, it was pacing about restlessly beside him.
A relieved sigh left his mouth.
Looking around to survey the situation, he found a wall of sand all around him. But when he looked upwards, he found a blue sky. Sohv was at the bottom of a mortar made from the earth.
Just how would he climb out from here? Or would it be better to wait until somebody noticed and rescued him?
While he was running these ideas through his head, the cart ruba placed a forefoot atop the sand.
Sohv responded by immediately gripping a wheel just as the ruba crawled out of the sand. The ruba pulled on the cart, and Sohv’s body began to leave the earth as well. He somehow managed to get out as far as his knees. But that was when the cart stopped moving.
What’s going on?
Looking up, he found that the ruba was on its knees, blood running from its neck.
A weak cry reached his ears.
Just what on earth had happened?
Sohv simply watched in a daze as the ruba’s life extinguished.
It was only the other day that a new king was crowned in Yohk’Zai.
With the backing of Prime Minister Teo Keh, the nation which had been on the brink of civil war was seized in the blink of an eye by the new king. Even despite the huge numbers of those dissatisfied by his sudden appearance, and those who questioned his origins.
No sooner had King Huuron ascended to the throne did he begin to reform the military.
He gave focus to those with real ability. Those who refused to obey were forcefully replaced. In this manner, he spread his influence into every corner of the military, and with this army as his support, he placed a lid on the dissent towards him.
So striking was his rise to power that there were even jokes about him being the second coming of Founding King Tenuhg.
In about the span of the year, he tidied away problems of the other successor candidates. And at the end of that year, just as Yohk’Zai had gained a strong king again, and finally seemed to see a future again, a messenger from the neighbouring Ii’Jibro arrived.
That nation Ii’Jibro had once had strong trade and exchange with Yohk’Zai, but as Yohk’Zai met its decline, so had their exchanges.
The messenger brought with him a letter from the Queen.
She congratulated the new king on his ascendancy, and stated her desires to begin trading again. In order to work out the details, she wished to meet him in person. Although it would be impolite to ask him to come, as a woman a long journey would be rough on her body, and so she wished strongly that he would come to Ii’Jibro. So said the letter.
Her nation produced so many moon stones that its luminance rivalled the night sky, and was a large country that ruled the half of the Central Plains. There was no reason to put off diplomacy with them.
However, as a newly reborn country, it would not do for Yohk’Zai’s king to be absent. Thus, Prime Minister Teo Keh insisted that he would be going himself. He was stopped by King Huuron however, and in the end Huuron was the one who headed to Ii’Jibro.
At this moment, his troop was in the middle of their journey.
Rare for the time of year, they met no sandstorms and made great time. It was likely that they would arrive at the borders a full day earlier. Given that it would Sohv’s first time in another nation, he was bracing himself for anything.
When they had first passed Ii’Jibro’s borders, they found that it was desert just like Yohk’Zai. As they continued in, just as they were musing about the rocky areas they were beginning to see, these areas became larger and larger, and by midday the gargantuan boulders were large enough that they had to crane their necks to look.
On the other hand, it was still more desert beneath their feet, and Sohv wondered in mystery as to why these boulders didn’t sink over time.
It was just as they were passing by a few of these megaliths that something abnormal occurred.
Even though there was no wind, the sand began to move.
The sound of the breeze passing through the boulders sounded like the cries of the damned, somebody said.
Unease spread through the soldiers, and order was beginning to collapse.
One of the carts at the end of the line was moving particularly slowly, and by the time Sohv realised, he had begun to run.
And then, Sohv was swallowed by the sand…
Blood flowed endlessly from the ruba’s neck, and dyed the sand red.
Even forgetting to pull out his legs from the sand, Sohv who had been focused on the ruba suddenly noticed writhing in the sand nearby, and drew his sword in preparation.
An unpleasant grating sound rang out, followed by a dent in the sand.
From the hole appeared a huge insect. From its head forked two large horns, and on their inner side projected a number of sharp spikes.
Getting caught between them equated to death.
With his sword still brandished, Sohv tried to remove his feet from the sand, just before the insect turned its focus from the cart to him.
He felt a cold sweat run down his back.
A pleasant noise sounded from behind him, and warm steam flowed through the air.
With his sword still pointed at the insect, Sohv turned his head back, and his eyes widened.
Was this a waking dream caused by his fear?
Or was this some phantom of a mirage?
At either rate, it was impossible for it to be reality. Because the scene in front of him was even more unbelievable than the enormous insect; it was the sudden appearance of some naked woman.
“What the heck is that…?”
And finally the illusion was complete with auditory hallucinations.
“Hell if I know.”
Although he knew that it was all a phantasm, he found himself answering due to how real the woman’s voice sounded.
“It’s kinda… insect-y, hey?”
“Yeah, but the size is ridiculous.”
“Are you being attacked?”
“It seems like I’m being attacked.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if you ran?”
“I can’t. I’m protecting the cart. It’s the presents that we painstakingly gathered for Ii’Jibro. We cannot lose it.”
“Think you can win?”
“Hell if I know!” he replied roughly to the somewhat carefree woman’s question.
Right now wasn’t the time to be answering the idiotic questions of a hallucination.
The insect moved its six multi-jointed legs to approach.
The woman behind him muttered “…whoa, that’s grotesque”.
Little by little, little by little, the insect continued to bridge the gap, before stopping. Or so he thought, when it suddenly closed the remaining distance in one leap and attacked him.
Sohv screamed, and the illusion’s overlapped his.
As he screamed, he swung his sword from low to high. However. It was a moment too early.
The sword only severed a single one of its legs, and it landed right before him.
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” once more screamed the phantasm from the rear.
Something flew past his ear.
It was a ball made from a vividly coloured cloth. The cloth ball had struck the insect dead-on, and from inside some kind of powder had flown out.
And although he didn’t know why, when the powder scattered, the insect let out an anguished cry from its whole body, as though it was about to die.
“N-, Now! Come on, now! Finish it!”
Coming back to his senses, Sohv thrust his sword into its back.
After passing through a tough shell, he could feel soft meat from the tip of his sword.
The insect started to retreat. Sohv tried to withdraw his sword, but he was too slow, and the grip parted from his hands.
“Ahhhh… What the heck are you doing!” scolded the illusion.
Feeling an odd sort of unfairness about this situation, he took a step forward to try and retrieve his sword.
It was at that moment when from the rim of the massive hole he was in, blue cloth billowed in the air, as somebody jumped right in.
Landing inside, and sliding down the sand to the very base, the newcomer ran as he drew his sword, and cut down the insect from behind.
Together with the scream, soldier after soldier descended into the hole. When about ten of them had entered, the commander at the rim stopped the rest of the soldiers.
As for the ones inside, they had already stabbed towards the near-dead insect, and it was finally finished off.
The blue man who had been first to jump in turned his gaze towards Sohv.
Sohv audibly gulped.
Before the man’s sharp gaze, Sohv couldn’t manage to remain calm.
The man removed the navy overcoat that adorned his back, and approached.
But he passed by Sohv, and continued further behind.
“It’s been a while. Very nice get-up as usual, but unfortunately it’s bad for soldiers fresh from a fight.”
“It’s been a while. …It’s not like I’m naked because I want to be, though.”
When Sohv turned around, he found that the man in blue―――King Huuron, had draped his overcoat around the illusion… or rather, the woman that he had mistaken for an illusion.
The woman gave a light bow.
“No, it’s I that should be thanking you. Seems that you’ve helped me again.”
“King, um, that woman… I mean, who might this personage be?”
The king smirked at Sohv’s question, before replying,
The moment those words left his mouth, the smile of the woman introduced as a goddess looked endlessly troubled.
“I know Teo Keh called you a mystic or something, but don’t you think you’re worthy of ‘goddess’?”
“Geez, just do as you like.”
“Hahaha,” laughed the Goddess in tired resignation, but suddenly her stiff smile turned to a look of surprise.
After the Goddess screamed, her arms shot out from beneath the king’s overcoat, and she grabbed two vivid cloths like the one she threw before. Placing the cloth in her mouth, she forcefully tore it apart with her canines before throwing it at Sohv.
Sohv inclined his neck to avoid it, and turned around with his sword ready.
As he thought, there was another insect there.
It was just about to tear through the cart canopy with its two long horns when the cloth ball struck it in its side. At which point some black powder scattered from inside.
The insect swung its whole body.
Following the first ball, the Goddess threw yet another.
Soldiers swung their swords towards the insect that was starting to burrow.
As its legs flew, and two swords pierced its belly, the insect stopped burrowing.
Twitching with its remaining legs, a green liquid flowed from the insect, and its movements stopped.
“Tsk, just how many fucking are there.”
The King clicked his tongue in irritation.
“Ummm~ There’s a little something I’d like to ask, but has the map from the Ii’Jibro messenger arrived yet?”
Turning back to the Goddess, the King’s eyebrows raised.
His attitude was a little rude to be taking towards somebody introduced as a goddess.
“Queen Akka from Ii’Jibro deliberately invited you guys here because of the dangerous insects. And so, a messenger from Ii’Jibro came, and in exchange for the rescue of their prince stuck in a tower, they handed over a map with safe passage to Teo Keh, apparently.”
The king let out a short chuckle.
“Are you omniscient, Goddess?”
“No, no, not at all. You see, I met one of the guys delivering the map the other day. His ruba got done in and so he couldn’t do his job, but he did say there were four others like him.”
“It doesn’t look like they arrived though, huh…” she muttered.
“The wind was calm, you see. That’s why we’re ahead of schedule.”
The Goddess placed her hand against her forehead, and hung her head. Seeming to be thinking about something, she didn’t even notice the overcoat slipping gently from her right shoulder. Her right hand seemed to be clutching her chest, and so nothing else would be exposed, but Sohv had gotten a cold sweat.
After a while, she finally lifted her head, and looked straight at the King.
“Do you have a map?”
“Well yeah, I do.”
The King nodded as though it was natural.
“Well, I’ve got this map here, you see…”
The Goddess leaned over, and stretched her hand into some invisible place beyond the frame.
From some mysterious clear cloth, she produced a small, folded paper, and flapped it teasingly.
“It doesn’t look… like you’ll give it for free, huh.”
“You said it’d be bad luck for you, right?”
The Goddess smiled at the King’s words.
“It’s easy. If by the time you’re done, Prince Hinoki is still trapped inside the tower, I want you to help him.”
“Just what about that is easy…?” muttered the King in astoundment.
Sohv was of the exact same opinion.
A large sigh escaped the King.
“But I suppose you can’t escape a crisis without some sacrifice. I’ll accept those conditions of yours. Since she thinks that I’ve been eaten by these insects, I doubt Queen Akka shall be expecting me.”
The Goddess beamed in response.
“Thanks for business as usual.”
She was a Goddess that felt far from divine.
After the King accepted the map from her, he opened it up before frowning.
“The name of this insect is the arrijighock. Rejoice, you lot. Apparently each nest only has three to four of them.”
Sohv and the other soldiers flusteredly formed a ring around him.
There would be one or two left. Perhaps it was lurking nearby.
“If we don’t finish the insect off, doesn’t look like we can grab the cargo, does it.”
Sohv glared at the sand to catch even the smallest movements.
The soldiers down here with him, as well as the soldiers up top at the rim, all held their breaths and darted their gazes about.
Because of the blowing wind, sand fell from the sides of the wall.
The one who broke the silence was the Goddess.
“Heyy, what’s inside that cart?”
“Wine and gunpowder.”
The King’s response sounded somehow disappointed.
As though asking, ‘So what about the cargo?’.
“That bug, the arrijighock I mean, do you know what kind of stuff it likes?”
The King frowned.
And Sohv took a sharp breath as he realised.
“The arrijighock is aiming for the cargo?”
Even though a bleeding ruba was there, the arrijighock had gone for the canopy.
Sohv rushed over the the cart and peer under it.
It was leaking something.
“King! It’s the wine! It looks like the arrijighock was attracted by the wine!”
The soldiers by the cart recoiled in shock.
And where they were looking, the sand suddenly formed a depression.
Sohv aimed into the ground at where he suspected it was hiding.
He felt a cut from the end of his sword. But it was too shallow.
“My sincere apologies. It escaped.”
Dropping his sword arm, Sohv rejoined the ring, and felt the King’s hand on his shoulder.
The cloth around his hand and fingers were dirty with sand. And Sohv was proud at the reason why.
“Using wine to lure it, huh… But it’d be a huge shame to let our cargo take any more damage, huh.”
The wine was being carried in barrels. From the amount that had leaked, the damage didn’t seem too bad.
But in the time that they spent to move them, the arrijighock might appear from beneath the cart again.
“Then I’ll give you some. Wine, that is.”
Sohv heard a small mutter.
When he looked at Goddess from which it originated, with two smooth cylinders in her hand, she stretched out her arms from the rectangle.
“These are my last two, but take them.”
What a tragic expression she wore.
Even though it’s just wine…
Sohv himself was astounded by her attitude, but perhaps wine was simply that important to the gods.
The King began leaving the encirclement.
“What do you want in return?”
“Just the promise from before is plenty.”
After receiving the cylinders from the Goddess, he turned around and shouted,
“Lower the planks!”
Following that, one by one, he looked at the faces of the soldiers down here with him.
“Build a ring with the planks. We’ll pour wine down the middle. Listen up, aim for the moment it leaves the sand.”
The soldiers above began lowering planks with rope.
The King turned once more to the Goddess.
“We’re going to exterminate the insect now. It might be better if you left first, Goddess.”
Placing his hand on the rectangular frame that housed the Goddess, the King pulled his arm from right to left.
Sohv’s eyes widened in shock.
Even though just a moment ago, the Goddess had been there in the overcoat, she had now disappeared.
It wasn’t simply the Goddess either. Even the frame that he had grabbed was now nowhere to be seen.
It was as though the Goddess had never been there to start with…