A Bird That Drinks Tears - Cover

The Bird That Drinks Tears – Chapter 0 : The Rescue Party

When the wrath of a dragon that seared the sky is forgotten

When the tombstones of princes are buried under earth

And, when no one cares about such things

At an era in which survival is a crude joke

A man was walking the desert.

The rescue party

Three goes against one. – An old maxim.

It was early morning, in which the travelers of Punten desert go to sleep, when a man approached the place called ‘the Last Inn’ for a lack of a better name.

The inn-owner was gazing at the man from the point he was an hour away from the inn.

Normally, the inn-owner finds travelers much earlier, as there are not many objects that obstruct vision in the spacious Punten desert. There are dunes, but even they are no obstacles for the inn-owner, as the inn is placed thirty meters atop a boulder. About forty meters in diameter, the top of the boulder was completely taken over by the inn. Because the inn was at such a unique place, the inn-owner was able to spot travelers walking towards the inn a couple of hours before they actually reached it. Those travelers came from the east, the west, or the north, stayed at the Last Inn, and went back toward the direction they came from.

But this man was coming from the south. It was a direction that the inn-owner didn’t care much about, so the inn-owner did not see the traveler until he was about an hour away.

The inn-owner assumed that the man was considerably lost, and barely found the light of the inn before he passed it. Determining this about the man, the inn-owner looked at the man slowly but steadily closing the distance between him and the inn. Every now and then, the inn-owner turned his bored stare at other directions, but did not see any other travelers.

The desert sky that resembled a dark solid matter was slowly saturated with colors of water. The silhouette of the man was considerably bigger. Determining that the man will arrive in about ten minutes, the inn owner got up from his seat to prepare a water kettle and cups.

Something strange entered the inn-owner’s eyes as he rose. The inn-owner squinted at the man again, and realized what caught his attention.

There was a black line following the man. Under the now brighter sky, the inn-owner could see that the line was connected all the way from the horizon. The inn owner tilted his head, puzzled. Is the man dragging something heavy? There was not much wind and so if the man was dragging something heavy, the object would be making a shadow, since the light was getting brighter. Did the man’s camel die and so he is carrying his valuables? The inn-owner tried to look behind the man’s back but he couldn’t, as the man was wearing a loose windbreaker.

Soon, however, as it got brighter, the inn owner realized that his imagination was way too conservative. The inn owner got up in surprise.

The black line behind the man’s feet was a stain of some liquid. And no traveler would let water leak. The liquid, that even the dry sands of the desert could not completely soak up and left a dark-red stain, was blood.

“Sir, are you all right?”

The man, walking with his mouth and face covered with a huge piece of cloth, raised his head at the sudden sound of human voice. He looked at the inn-owner standing on top of a small dune and moved his hand towards his shoulder.

“Who are you?”

“I came from the inn over there. Were you not coming to the inn?”

Even after the inn-owner explained himself, the man kept his hand behind his neck.

“Do not come any closer. Are you unarmed?”

“I am not a bandit. What bandit goes around without a camel or windbreaker? I am an inn-owner and I am here to help you.”

“What are you helping me with? You can’t be telling me where the inn is.”

The inn-owner felt something was weird. He looked again at the trail behind the man. Closer up, however, it became more clear that the stain on the sand was blood. The man followed the inn-owner’s stare, and shook his head.  

“That? Don’t worry about it.”

“You’re bleeding that much and you’re telling me to don’t worry about it?”

“It isn’t my blood.”

The inn owner went behind the man’s back with curiosity. The man let the inn-owner take a look.

The man was dragging a big sack behind his back. The sack was saturated dark-red and that was causing the trail of blood. The inn owner flinched and looked to the man’s neck, found a great hilt sticking out of the windbreaker, and shuddered. A man carrying a giant sword and dragging a bloody sack.

“What’s inside the sack?”

“As I told you, it’s nothing you should worry about.”

“That’s blood!”

“It’s not human blood.”

The man replied bluntly and started walking again, leaving the inn-owner. As the man started moving, the inn-owner realized how heavy the sack actually was. The sack, which looked like it could carry at least two people, left huge marks on the sand as it was dragged. Staring briefly at the man with an angry stare, the inn-owner promptly walked past him.

“I will ready the inn before you arrive.”

The man did not answer. The inn-owner ran towards the inn.

Of course, he did not intend to do as he told. Until he reached the inn, the inn-owner tried to figure out where he had last put his sword. However, the location of the longsword, that he didn’t even know when he last used, could not be remembered. The inn-owner, who didn’t even think about confronting the man with just a sword, woke up his family with a scream as he got up the stairs.

His wife, who ran out without a clue, panicked at her husband’s question about where the sword was. Fortunately, his son, who came out a little later,  knew where the sword was, and as he realized that he will soon be using the sword, ran out with excitement. The inn-owner pushed his answer-demanding wife into the kitchen, and brought out the cups and water kettle on the table.

That moment, the man, who climbed up the boulder, entered the inn.

The man looked around and walked towards the table with the kettle. Behind the man was that horrifying sack, staining the floor with blood. The inn-owner frowned at that. The man reached the table, took off the windbreaker and put it on his chair, then took off his backpack. The man then brought his hand behind his neck.

The inn-owner, completely forgot about the bloody sack for a moment.

He had never seen a sword like that before. Above the grip that was about 30 centimeters long was a crossguard that was also about 30 centimeters long. It was obvious why the crossguard had to be that long, because two gigantic blades, each about 120 centimeters long, were attached parallel to each other. The sword looked like twin brothers that had a combined set of legs.

The strange twin-bladed sword was worn strangely, too. The man was wearing a complex accessory made of leather leash and steel rings on the top of his chest. A circular shoulderguard was on his left shoulder, and on his back, a little below his neck, there was a piece of metal that resembled a hook.

The space between the two blades of the sword was to be hung on the hook.

The sword didn’t even have a sheath.

The man put down the twin-bladed sword on the table, satt on the chair, and started to unravel the cloth wrapped around his mouth and head.

Then, the inn-owner’s son came back with the sword. Fortunately, the smart boy walked in, hiding the sword behind his back. The inn-owner glanced at his son to back off, and approached the man.

“Could you explain what’s inside that sack?”

The man finished unraveling the cloth, and left it on the table. Dark hair bunched up with dirt and sweat draped on his shoulders, and his beard, unkempt for days, covered in coal-black around his mouth. The man turned his unappealing face towards the inn-owner and asked a very random question.

“Is this the Last Inn?”

“So they say, since there are no inns to the south of this one.”

“That was so.”

The inn-owner, who almost let those words slide, soon realized what that man was implying, and opened his eyes wide.

“What kind of absurd joke… You came from the south?”

“I came from there.”

It would be more believable if the man told that he came from the sky.

“Hah, there is nothing in the south.”

“There is Keeboren.”

“Ha, Keeboren? Of course that’s there. Countless trees and a damnable number of beasts. And on top of that, Nagas, too. So, it’s just like there is nothing.”

The man, who stared at the snickering inn-owner, again asked a random question.

“Give me the letter.”

“Huh?”

“If this is the Last Inn, there should be a letter for Kaygan Draaka.”

The inn-owner again opened his eyes wide. There was, in fact, a letter. About a few dozen days ago, a monk of the Great Temple came from the north, looking like he would die any time, and gave the inn-owner a letter, telling him to give it to Kaygan Draaka. The monk, named Orenol, had rejuvenate himself for a few days to return north.

The inn-owner, almost nodding his head, suddenly realized something.

“First answer my question. What’s in that sack? And what do you mean you came from the south?”

The man, named Kaygan Draaka, raised the kettle. The inn owner quickly interrupted.

“Two coins per cup. Expensive, I know. The water makes it possible for this inn to exist here.”

Kaygan, not even responding, poured water in his cup. Only after he was done pouring the water, he answered the question of the inn-owner.

“I came from the south to spend less time crossing the Punten desert. The place of my departure was Karabora. I went south from there and entered Keeboren. Then I went west and turned north to get to this inn.”

The inn owner snorted out loud. Kaygan wasn’t wrong.

Karabora, the east end of Punten desert, was more than 200 kilometers away from the inn. So, to avoid a 200-kilometer-long journey through the desert, one should go around south, like the man said. From the south end of the Punten desert to the inn is only about 50 kilometers.

However, in other words, this means that one must walk through the Keeboren jungle for about 200 kilometers. A 200 kilometer journey crossing the Keeboren jungle, infested with Nagas; it is probably safer to walk on the ocean of the same distance. When the inn owner tried to make that point, Kaygan pointed at the sack.

“What’s inside the sack is something I got from my journey. Look inside. You’ll believe that I came from the south.”

The inn owner looked at the sack with suspicion and looked back at Kaygan Draaka, but Kaygan only quenched his thirst with water that cost 2 bronze coins per cup. The inn owner cautiously opened the sack.

Soon after, the inn-owner’s wife in the kitchen collapsed at a skull-shivering scream.

.

Even the skyfish that flies the highest skies cannot see the ground here; not at Keeboren, reaching all horizons from north to south to east to west.

Rain clouds laden with heat almost reach the apex of the forest. The trees of Keeboren, inexperienced with any kind of axeblade, is old, gigantic, and sly. The branches that grew without order for ages are tangled without a solution, and the branches that hold each other’s hands in the empty space is bent down, carrying an abundance of dead, dried leaves. So, when harsh wind blows in Keeboren, leaves rise into the sky from the  head of the forest.

Gigantic trees may fall to the ground when it dies, but smaller trees can’t even fall and becomes it’s own tombstone, tangled in the branches. Many trees that are among them lay diagonally on their dead brothers, and so under Keeboren, which reminds of a green ocean on its top, perpendicular, horizontal, and diagonal lines that extend out chaotically are mixed with each other, forming a maze that even birds would lose their way. And this maze, almost like a delusion of a schizophrenic, grow, bend, rot, pretend to live, and sometimes crumble with a crack to scatter bits and pieces of bark and leaf to all directions.

However, most of the times, Keeboren spends its days in silence, imprisoning darkness under its green veil.

This is where the city of heartlessness is.

A place where even the mighty Leckorn wouldn’t say its name without discomfort, where even the playful Dokkaebi wouldn’t say its name without losing his smile, and where the humans, adept in fabrication, stubbornly calls it their own-given name, ‘the city of silence.’ Despite all this, this place is the city of heartlessness, and it is one of the greatest out of the great achievements that do not require praises and curses of others to testify for itself.

Haatengraju.

In the midst of the infinite green jungle of Keeboren, Haatengraju looks like a lonely white island. However, that lonely white island is an immense city that relatively belittles the 200 meter-tall heart tower in its center. Along the left and right of the road that extends straight forward, grand buildings stand showing off their magnificence, and the agoras that are even more prevalent than the buildings are decorated with spoils of war. Other Naga cities that are south of the Limiting Border also has high heart towers and beautiful constructions, but they are essentially a reproduction of this great city Haatengraju.

Like any of its reproductions, this beautiful city is very different in two ways from cities of other races. In this city, one cannot hear sound, nor find light that expels darkness in the night. Through the white pillars and galleries and agoras, Nagas come and go without a sound like ghosts, and no voice or singing can be heard anywhere.

So when Ryoon Fei opened his mouth, Hwareet Makerow had to receive a big shock.

“What would it feel like to live with a heart.”

Despite having the auditory sense of a Naga, which does not even recognize an army of Dokkaebis marching right behind one, Hwareet could understand his friend’s words because of the abnormal tranquility of Haatengraju. Hwareet was nonplussed and could not even think of pointing out his friend’s rudeness.

[Living with a heart? It would be living every day with the fear of death.]

Ryoon Fei detected that Hwareet’s neerm was very disorganized. Ryoon did not want to puzzle his friend any further, so he closed his mouth and neered.

[It could also mean that one feels alive every day, wouldn’t it?]

Then Ryoon raised his right hand and put it on his chest. If Hwareet did the same, he too would feel the heart beating inside his chest, but he did not. It was too embarrassing.

[Ryoon, you don’t act like this in front of others, right?]

[What do you mean, ‘act like this?’]

[You don’t touch your chest in front of others, right? Don’t do it. It’s rude.] Hwareet thought that he neered too harshly and added: [You’ll stop doing that after ten days, anyway.]

Ryoon lowered his right hand, and turned his body to look towards the center of Haatengraju. There, the heart tower towered a few dozen times higher than the highest buildings of Haatengraju. In the pupils of Ryoon gazing at the heart tower, disgust and horror was jumbled together. His hand, grabbing the balcony ledge, even minutely shivered.

Standing on the balcony of the Fei mansion, Ryoon Fei and his friend Hwareet Makerow, are both 22 years-old, and according to the laws of the Nagas, could not yet be treated as adults. But, in about ten days, when the Shanaga hides behind the moon, they will be called to the heart tower.

There, they will open their chests and take out their hearts.

[I don’t like it, Hwareet.]

[There is nothing to be afraid of, Ryoon. No Naga dies during the extraction ritual. Accidents may happen, and one or two every year never come out of the heart tower, that’s just adults joking around to scare us.]

Hwareet neered nicely but Ryoon’s face was grim.

[I’m not afraid of an accident. I just don’t like the idea of extracting my heart.]

[Why is that, Ryoon? You don’t like immortality?]

[Not exactly immortality.]

[Okay, half-immortality, then. Now, you’re gonna tell me that’s nothing? I think it’s something, since we don’t have to fear the attacks of our enemies.]

[Our enemy? Where is our enemy? There is no enemy on the south of the Limit Border and we do not go north of it. Where is this enemy that is a threat to the Nagas?]

Ryoon’s neerm was agitated. Hwareet decided to explain calmly.

[Of course we don’t go north of the Limit Border to the cold lands. But those, the warm-blooded unbelievers can come down south of the Limit Border. They eat grains, so they are numerous. But we can’t be numerous like them. An immortal body is a weapon to defend the Nagas against these unbelievers.]

“They are coming?!”

Ryoon shouted again with his voice.

“How! Human’s horses can’t even take a step in our forest. The great Leckorns can’t even take care of themselves! And they all can’t see temperature. Unless maybe if they can prevent the night from coming, but how dare would those unbelievers enter our forest!”

Ryoon screamed like an angry skyfish. Looking at Ryoon treating him like a unbeliever, Hwareet felt a little uncomfortable. But Hwareet beared with him, neered nicely once again.

[What about the Dokkaebis?]

The name of the arch-nemesis of Nagas made Ryoon silent. Nagas do not fear grain-eating, horse-riding humans, nor stone-shattering, flying Leckorns. However, Dokkaebis are a different story. Hwareet calmly neered facts that all Nagas knew very well.

[Dokkaebis counter Nagas, they say? We cannot distinguish between them and their damned flares. They can’t see temperature, but we too can’t see them. And their fire can make our beautiful forest into ashes in a split second. Think about what happened in Peshiron island and Arkinthrow valley.]

[Those instances are too extraordinary. Dokkaebis never like war. Unless, they think of it as  some kind of a funny prank, that is.]

[But that’s still possible, right? I don’t think they have a limit in their pranks. If I were to hear that the world is going to end some day, I would think: ah, some Dokkaebi without self-control finally did it.]

At the joking neerm of his friend, Ryoon had to smile.

[I also know a few jokes about Dokkaebis, Hwareet. And those jokes are the only things I’ve ever heard about Dokkaebis, ever. But, I’ve never heard of a neerm that Dokkaebis are of threat. Yes, they are the only people that can daze our eyes, but at the same time, they are the only unbeliever that has no interest in war. If that is so, Dokkaebis can’t be the reason why we need to live as heartless creatures.]

[In this big world, there may be threats we know not of.]

[Ah, there is. Enemies exist.]

Then Ryoon shouted using his voice, infusing it with disgust.

“Right over there!”

Hwareet’s face was drawn with discomfort. Knowing his friend’s recklessness and rudeness, he had a very high standard of generosity, but even he thought his friend’s actions crossed the line. Ryoon Fei was pointing at the heart tower.

[Ryoon, do not voice. The heart tower cannot be a target of such blasphemy.]

Ryoon dropped his hand pointing at the heart tower, but did not answer Hwareet’s neerm with neither neerms nor words. Hwareet suddenly felt as if he was a trespasser. Hwareet changed his complexion and tried to change the topic a couple times, but he could not get any reaction back from Ryoon. So, Hwareet decided to confront what Ryoon was silently asserting.

[You won’t extract your heart?]

Ryoon still did not neer but his scales colliding with each other made an eerie sound. Hwareet’s face saddened.

[You don’t really want that, do you?]

[What if I do, what will they do?]

Hwareet neered full with despair: [That is impossible.]

[Please give me an answer. You should know about these things because you’re an acolyte. If a Naga states that he will live and die with his heart, what do the guardians do? Do they force the extraction?]

[No, the guardians do nothing. But, I do know of some cases that might help you, though. There has been a few Nagas that could not get their hearts extracted because of some unavoidable events.]

[What happened to them?]

[The women, of course, were protected safely by their respective clans and waited until next year to get their hearts extracted.]

[And the men?]

[They had to hide themselves desperately until the next year came. But no men survived. They all got murdered.]

[Murdered? By who?]

[Don’t act like you don’t know. You’re the one who neered that unbelievers can’t come south of the Limit Border.] Then Hwareet added an explanation: [They were all murdered by other Nagas.]

Ryoon’s scales collided with each other again and made a cacophony.

Hwareet sat down. On the table was a box that he brought. It was a gift for him and his friend to eat and enjoy, but the atmosphere was not at all for eating anything.

Hwareet neered as he looked inside the box slowly.

[Ryoon, after ten days, the Fei clan will no longer protect you, because you become a free man. But between a free man and a free prey lies a huge difference. If you extract your heart, the women will recognize you as a man, but if you don’t, you’re just a Vienaga. They will stalk you, and kill you.

And-]

Hwareet looked back at Ryoon, but his hand still hovered over the box. Suddenly his hand bolted into the box like lightning. When Hwareet’s hand came back out, it it grasped a big rat. The rat desperately squeaked, but Hwareet neered, still looking at Ryoon.

[You may be eaten.]

Ryoon Fei looked at Hwareet with a rigidly tense face, who then moved the mouse to his mouth.

With the sound of bones crushing, the squeaking stopped.

.

Baiso mountain, north-west of the Keezoon mountain range.

A traveler was walking along the ridge of the Baiso mountain. His thin cane and thick clothing was no different from any other traveler, but his head was cleanly shaved. Clearly, he was a monk, but in this region of the Keezoon mountain, the monk seemed a little out of place. Around here, there are no temples, let alone a village.

However, it didn’t look like the monk was lost. The monk was going down the Baiso valley, and next to the stream that flows on the bottom were clear shapes of buildings. Those buildings, which stood in the hollow place where there was not much wind, were huts that might have been built by gold-panners or hunters.

The monk diligently walked down towards those huts.

Suddenly, his surroundings became dark.  

Behind the monk, who wondered if the sun went behind the clouds, suddenly blew a gust.

At the strong gust, the monk tripped forward. Fortunately, the monk rolled into a thicket, and was spared from tumbling all the way down to the valley floor.

The monk, his heart almost jumping out of his mouth, looked up at the sky, breathing heavily. Then, he couldn’t close his agape mouth.

What popped out from behind the mountain the monk climbed down, was a gigantic skyfish.

Its ventral fin was too great to fit in a glimpse. The mouth looked like it could engulf a mountain, and the eyes scattered all over behind it glimmered fabulously in thousands of colors. Avoiding those eyes one couldn’t dare look directly at, the monk moved his line of sight backwards, and soon let out an exclamation. The thing that everyone talked about, was there.

Collapsed towers and walls, pillars, and a dome blazing with sunlight.

The monk realized that it was not as luxurious as people said.

People talked about jewelled pillars and gold-coated domes.

Of course, that is a result of interpreting the reflection of sunlight according to vulgar greed. What was on the back of the skyfish were merely ancient ruins that fell before the heavy weight of time. There, instead of shiny rocks or yellowish metal, thickly layered time burned gloriously. The monk teared up.

Looking at the great fish floating in the sky bearing ruins on its back, the monk did not hear the ruckus down at the valley until much later. The monk got up and sat down, and turned his line of sight towards the valley floor, suppressing his reluctance. He could not hide his surprise and worry for what was happening there.

On the valley floor, three horses stood in a group. Their formation was similar to that of a carriage, but a little different. First, a rider was on the center horse of the three. And, the horses were wearing a yoke, but what was connected to the other end of the yoke was no carriage. A long and tough-looking rope was attached to the yoke, and on the other end of the rope, people were tied to it. And those people tied onto their backs something the monk knew, but has never seen before.

It was a rectangular kite, only a few hundred times bigger than a regular one. The monk realized why the horses were needed and moaned.

Then, some signal that the monk couldn’t hear must have rang. The horses suddenly started running.

The people on the bottom of the valley had everything minutely prepared. The horses ran  to the direction where they could get the most out of the valley winds. The ropes pulled tightly, and suddenly the kites flew into the sky. There were five kites.

The monk understood that the kites were put in the air by the horses, but he questioned if the kite could sustain flight or be controlled. That moment, the monk found that there were ropes other than the ones connected to the horses with the power of the horses, but was doubtful that it could be controlled or kept in the air. Then, the monk realized that there was a separate rope connected to the kite, other than the one connected to the horse. The monk looked around to find out where that separate rope was connected to. The rope was connected to a gigantic pulley, fixed on the ground. The monk, once again, was astonished by their preparation. The horses only lifted the kite up. Once the kite was in air, it was controlled by the pulley, which served as a gigantic reel.

As the monk predicted, the people tied to the kite pulled out their dagger. Those people cut the rope connecting the kite and the horse, and the kites separated from the horses, flying up. But another rope was connected to the pulley, and muscular men firmly grasped the handles of the pulley.

These people were attempting to climb on the back of a skyfish using kites, an extremely daring plan. The monk didn’t believe in its possibility but was still impressed by their adventurousness, and encouraged them silently by clenching his hands.

Then the monk realized there was a problem with one of the kites.

There was one kite that shook unstably unlike the other four kites that flew properly. The monk examined the kite with his surprised eyes, and soon realized that the kite was still connected to the horses. What happened? The monk opened his eyes widely and observed. Soon the monk realized that the person on the kite cut the wrong rope.

That person cut the rope connected to the pulley instead of the rope connected to the horses. From under the valley, people screamed profanity, and the rider on the horse connected to that kite was full of anger to the top of his head, spitting out vilification. The kite ascended with an unstoppable force, and the horses were about to fly away with it. The rider unsheathed his sword, as if he made a harsh decision. The monk screamed in disagreement but the distance was too great for his voice to be heard.

As soon as the rider disconnected the rope, the kite soared high into the sky.

The monk jerked up and looked at the kite. The kite, with both ropes disconnected, was shaking wildly as the wind blew, completely detached from the ground. The monk felt like he was going insane with sympathy for the one on the kite. The person on the kite could probably die from the fear itself.

At last, the kite slowly fell down. The kite came down towards the mountain ridge the monk was on like it was pushed. At the moment of the kite’s crash, the monk had to turn away.

There was a large crash sound. The monk ran to the kite, suppressing his shaking heart. Bracing for the horrific scene he was about to see, the monk mourned for the death of that unfortunate person.

The death was so mortifying that he could not even die, but had to stand up and speak vehemently?

The monk was dumbfounded by this unbelievable scene. The person on the kite was roughly removing the rope that held him on the kite and cursing out everything that came into his view. Even if the kite slowed down the descending speed, the speed at its impact was enough to crush one’s body.

What kind of a person was he?

Then the monk realized the person was almost 3 meters tall.

Because of the absurdly large kite, the monk could not realize until now how gigantic the person was. The monk soon realized what was happening. But his excitement did not calm down so easily, and the monk said in a shaking voice.

“A…are you all right?”

“What are you! Are you kidding me!”

The other person turned his fearful beak towards the monk. The monk cowered.

“I saw the crash while I was passing by. Are you injured anywhere?”

The other person, flurried with anger, softened his voice a little.

“I’m fine, dammit. I’m fine! Are you relieved?”

“That’s incredible. Falling from that height and being fine. You would have died if you weren’t a Leckorn.”

The Leckorn snapped his beak. It was a gesture equivalent to snorting for humans. The monk could not hide his astonishment, and quickly looked over the arms and legs of the Leckorn. Having scratches here and there, the feathers were wet with blood in various places, but miraculously no bones were broken. The monk had an urge to touch him. But the Leckorn, not caring if the monk was staring at him or not, only looked up at the other four kites in the sky.

The monk too looked up at the sky. The other four kites were approaching the skyfish. The Leckorn stomped his feet impatiently.

“A little further! Just a little! Goddess who is lower than all, please! Loosen more rope, you lowlives!”

But luck was far away from these daring adventurers. To add, about a 100 meters too far.

The rope ran out at a point about a 100 meters away from the skyfish. The kites shook everywhere, not knowing what to do, and the skyfish leisurely passed over their heads. The people at the valley floor had to make a decision before the kites were in danger. Seeing that they were pulling back the rope, the Leckorn screamed.

“No!”

The Leckorn sank to the ground, pulling his comb. The monk consolated the Leckorn.

“It was truly a daring plan. I almost thought it succeeded. If the skyfish flew a little lower, it would definitely have succeeded.”

The Leckorn was not listening to the monk at all. The was only staring at the dorsal fin of the skyfish that swam leisurely to the opposite side of the sky. The skyfish swam without changing its form at all. The fact that the skyfish could have contacted the beings of the earth after thousands of years since it started its flight, and that this contact failed by a mere few hundred meters, did not seem to affect the skyfish at all. The skyfish, completely indifferent, disappeared to the other side of the sky.

A lot of time passed when the skyfish disappeared to the other side of the mountain range. The monk immersed in emotion heard the Leckorn stand up and dust his feathers, and looked back at him. The Leckorn looked back at the broken kite and ranted, then screamed full of anger.

“Robbes, you bastard! I will kill you! 100 meters short!”

The monk did not know who Robbes was, but he could still presume that his life was in danger. The monk tried to stop the Leckorn but the next moment, the Leckorn was already running down the slope of the mountain. The Leckorn strided down the slope, his motion closer to that of flying than running, and the monk hastily chased the Leckorn.

Unable to catch his breath, the monk reached the bottom of the valley only to find out the situation was not as severe. The Leckorn was screaming at this furry human assumed to be Robbes, and surprisingly, Robbes did not cower one bit against the Leckorn. He even made the Leckorn fluster.

“You motherfucker, we would’ve had enough rope if you didn’t go batshit crazy to get on the kite! I let you on the kite and you cut the wrong rope and destroy the kite!”

The monk opened his eyes wide. A human can’t do that. Only fellow Leckorns can talk like that to a Leckorn. Observing Robbes in surprise, the monk could realize what Robbes was after a  moment.

“Dammit, I got excited. I got too excited to finally get on the back of a skyfish…Wait, even if I did cut the right rope, we would’ve failed regardless! All the other kites didn’t make it up there!”

“So you shouldn’t have even tried to get on the kite in the first place! We dissuaded you! We didn’t have enough rope because of your stubbornness! We didn’t have enough rope because we had to lift your butt up there!”

The Leckorn breathed out like a storm but could not say anything back. The people that gathered only sneered like they knew this would happen, not worrying about the life span of Robbes. At that moment, Robbes recognized the monk.

“Hmm? A monk? What do you want?”

The monk did not rage at this impudent question. If his assumptions are correct, Robbes is currently not human. So the monk joined his hands politely and bowed.

“I am Orenol. I have some business for the Leckorn here.”

The Leckorn blinked in surprise.

“What do you mean? I thought you said you were just passing by?”

“I was coming here. I came to meet Tinahan, the conductor of the people here. It appears that you are him.”

“I am Tinahan, why have you come to meet me?”

“I came from the great temple Hainsha.”

Suddenly Tinahan’s comb stiffened. Robbes also said quickly, looking around.

“Ah, is that so. Would you like to come inside for a moment?”

“Did you change into a human?”

“Huh? Ah, no. I’m a Dokkaebi. Would you prefer a Kim?”

Orenol smiled, and nodded at the Legionae of souls.

“Since your outer form is a human, surely I would prefer you to be a human.”

Like Orenol predicted, Robbes was a Legionae. If he wasn’t a Legionae with multiple souls in him, what human would abuse a Leckorn like he did? Confronting Tinahan, Robbes probably put forth the soul of a Leckorn.

Robbes, putting forth the soul of a human like Orenol requested, brought Orenol to the shack nearby along with Tinahan. Others tried to follow, but Robbes shooed them away.

Inside the shack was dirty and dark. Tinahan lifted up a corner of a table topped with all kinds of tools and sundries to clean it and sat Orenol on a chair next to it. Robbes brought out a bottle of liquor and cups from a chest, but Orenol, a monk, refused the liquor. Robbes shrugged and put away the cups, taking a sip out of the bottle and handing it to Tinahan.

“I have nothing else. Would you like some water?”

“No, thank you. I came just at the right time. I got to see a magnificent sight.”

“You would have seen us succeed. Only if Tinahan wasn’t so stubborn.”

As he said this, Robbes glared at Tinahan. Tinahan snapped his beak, and Orenol smiled. When everyone stopped talking, the table was surrounded by a dreadful silence.

Tinahan shouted as if he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Okay! Orenol, was it? How long has it been?”

“Half a year.”

Tinahan looked back at Robbes with a face full of horror. Robbes spoke with a pale face.

“It’s been that… no, when did time pass like that? I apologize. I did not keep track of time, being at such a secluded place. I did not intend to scam you.”

“Yes. The Great Temple does not doubt the fidelity of you. We thought that there was an obvious misunderstanding, and I was sent to investigate.

Orenol, after saying this, smiled apologetically.

“I hoped to see you succeed.”

“We could have succeeded! You saw that too!”

Tinahan slammed the table, and naturally, the table became pieces. Orenol and Tinahan looked dumbfoundedly at the broken table, and Robbes groaned as he pulled out his hair.

“You make us broke, dammit.”

Tinahan’s face sunk. Robbes pushed away the broken table lightly and spoke quietly, as if he had calmed down a little.

“I will tell you the truth. Right now, we can’t even pay the interest, let alone the principal. We would even have to give you this table, but unfortunately, our respected conductor demolished it. However, we can succeed. Since you saw it yourself, there would be no need to explain further. Our plan is perfect.”

“Ah, yes. It was a magnificent sight. When I left the Great Temple, I was dubious. But, I think I can fully believe now. Of course, it looks extremely dangerous, but it also looks like it could succeed. So, how did you plan to get down if you did succeed?”

“We would climb back down on the rope. When the kite reaches the back of the skyfish, the rope would be cut from the pulley’s end. Then the climbers could come down by using the rope any time.”

Orenol became doubtful if the people in front of his eyes even had this thing called rationality. Climbing down a height of about two thousand meters; Orenol couldn’t even attempt it even if he died and came back alive. To avoid this image from showing up in his head, Orenol quickly changed the topic.

“I understand. However, you are yet to succeed, yes?”

“We can succeed! Please give us more time. What happened just now was like a last rehearsal. Yes, that’s it. The preparation and rehearsal is all done, so next time, we succeed no matter what!”

“Yes, I hope so.”

Robbes opened his eyes wide at Orenol’s response.

“Are you giving us more time?”

Tinahan also looked at Orenol with eyes full of expectation. Orenol fidgeted with the rosario on his wrist and spoke.

“Until when should we wait?”

Robbes’s face became full of discomfort. Robbes, after struggling to speak for a while, finally opened his mouth.

“We need about six months.”

Orenol directly stared at Robbes and Robbes blushed at that glare. Orenol spoke quietly.

“You are telling me to wait another six months?”

“We can definitely succeed after half a year. We already researched so much about the migration of the skyfish. Give me a second. I’ll show you the journal we recorded.”

Then Robbes brought the thick journal that he stashed at the corner of the hut. The journal made out of parchment had ragged edges, showing how many times it has been referred back to. Robbes drove Orenol half insane with the numbers and symbols recorded in the journal. Orenol did not quite understand what Robbes was saying, but he could somewhat understand the conclusion. Robbes seemed to be confident that there will be seven skyfish flying over Baiso valley in the next six months, and two of them would fly through at the appropriate altitude.

“The other five are much bigger in size. No one knows why, but skyfish fly higher the bigger they are. Of course, the bigger they are, the greater the ruins on their back, but its difficult to fly to such a height. Even here at Baiso valley where we thought the wind would be most appropriate, we can’t fly that high. Only the small ones like the one flew over today-” Orenol moaned at this phrase. “flies at a height we can reach with our kites. We need to wait six months for another one of those tinies.”

“Thank you for your explanation. But hearing your explanation, I cannot help but worry.”

Robbes’s eyes glared sharply.

“Worry! Do you have any objections against our predictions?”

Seeing that Robbes’s speech tone changed in the middle of it, Leckorn’s soul probably came forth again. Orenol spoke cautiously.

“How could I. I saw a skyfish for the first time today. My worry is for you. You told me that you couldn’t even pay back the interest, then how did you plan to live here for the next six months?”

Robbes blinked a couple times and closed the journal, sighing. Tinahan spoke as he creased the skin between his eyes.

“Dammit, it’ll be hard. But we can do it. There are plenty of things to eat in Baiso mountain. So we’ll survive six months somehow. So don’t worry about that. You just need to extend the payback time.”

“There is a lot of you, including horses.”

“We can still manage. Since we have horses, we can reap and sow if we have to.”

“If all of you starve to death or run away, we can’t be paid back the money you owe us.”

“That won’t happen! I will get on the back of a skyfish!”

Orenol started to fidget with the rosario again. Tinahan was discomforted by the rosario, but had enough judgment to not say that out loud. And Robbes wanted to block his ears, afraid that the young monk would say that he will confiscate all the tools because their plan was unrealistic. Then Orenol spoke.

“I will make a proposal.”

“What? What proposal?”

“The Great Temple requires a Leckorn.”

“A Leckorn?”

“Yes. The Great Temple wants to ask you, Tinahan, a favor. If you take this favor, we will get rid of all the debt, and lend you money for the next six months.”

Tinahan and Robbes was dumbfounded at this amazing offer. Robbes first got a hold of himself, and spoke.

“What is this favor?”

“Are you human again? I’m sorry to tell you that this favor could only be told to the person that will take the favor. But I can tell you that it will take about four months, and it is very very dangerous.”

Robbes thought that Orenol’s last words were pointed at Tinahan. No Leckorn runs away from a dangerous task. Indeed, Tinahan spoke like it was nothing.

“Hmph, how dangerous?”

But Orenol meant his words. Orenol looked at Tinahan with worrying eyes.

“I’m not sure how this analogy might work, but it’s as dangerous as falling into water.”

Tinahan’s comb stiffened.

.

When the humans dragged a part of day into the night with lamps and candles, the part of night that was exiled by day wandered without a place. A Dokkaebi brought this piece of night into the day. By gaining the night, he also gained the five daughters of night, which are chaos, charm, imprisonment, concealment, and dream. The Dokkaebi constructed a gigantic castle with their assistance.

He had a gracefully Dokkaebi-like reason why. He thought that it would be funny.

Chaos determined the inner structure of the castle and Charm determined the outside. Imprisonment determined the countless labyrinths, mazes, and traps, and Concealment determined the trap-hallways, trapdoors, and passwords. But, it is unknown how the fifth daughter of night influenced the construction of the castle. The youngest daughter of night, Dream, is completely different from her four sisters. Dream is the most resembling to night, but also completely contradicts night. Night hides and conceals and covers, but dream reveals and discovers and opens, and these characteristics of Dream, unfortunately, are like day. However, the character of Dream, that can only be seen in darkness but not in the brightness of day, proves, like stars, that its essense is a part of night. The youngest daughter of night, with such  complicated characteristics, intervened the construction of the castle like her older sisters, but the property of her intervention is unknown.

Of course, letting aside the intervention of dream, the Millemundos is a mysterious construction on itself.

The only person that knows the exact number of floors in Millemundos, and the number of rooms and hallways and stairs in those floors, is the castellan. Of course, there are some facts well-known to frequent visitors to Millemundos. For example, the fact that the 4th floor of the main building can only be reached from the 7th floor, the fact that turning right on three corners anywhere in the castle leads to the dining room, and the fact that spinning left twice on the top of the east tower teleports one butt-first to the center of the castellan’s study are such. So the former castellans of Millemundos, according to their taste, placed a pillow, a bunch of iron nails, or a lit candle.

Sabin Hasooun, the chief of force of Millemundos, saw that the castellan was carrying a bucket full of beetle feces moments ago, and so he looked up at the black sky with a face full of melancholy.

Usually, it was the job of Bihyung, who is the butler of the castellan,  to land butt-first on the floor of the study. But right now, the chief of force had a letter that had to be delivered personally to the castellan. Sighing, Sabin spun twice in self-abandonment.

As his surroundings changed, he landed butt-first on the study floor.

Sabin got up a little confused. There was nothing on the study floor. Sabin got up dusting his hip, and looked at where the desk of the castellan is.

The 11th castellan of Millemundos, Bawoo Muridole, was looking at Sabin with a trowel on his hand. Sabin at last felt relief when he saw the bucket and flower pots near the window.

“Have you been dreaming well, castellan? Was that bucket for manure?”

“Yes?”

“Oh, I thought maybe you would spread that on the floor…”

Sabin stopped talking because he saw the castellan’s eyes gleam.

“Hmph!”

As he heard the castellan hem, Sabin apologized to the next visitor. At the same time, he started making a list of people to tell ‘that the castellan called you.’ Who should it be? As Sabin was engulfed in his imaginations, Castellan Bawoo spoke to Sabin a little frustrated.

“So, what’s your business?”

“Ah, castellan. Wouldn’t it not be the manure, but the amount of sunlight?  Millemundos is dark, for sure.”

“What’s your business!”

Sabin smiled. The castellan probably wants to kick him out right now. So, Sabin decided to cooperate. Sabin dragged a chair and sat.

“The beetle of Kims that shave their head had a message for you.”

“Ah, the Kims that call themselves monks. But why did you come yourself? What’s Bihyung doing?”

Bihyung is the name of the butler of the castellan. Sabin shrugged.

“The Kims wanted it. You know, how they process business they think is important?”

“How do they process it?”

“…They think that only a minimal amount of people should know about it.”

“Ah, is that so?”

“This is my theory, but Kims think the importance of an important business is kept when only a few people know about it. Such a weird way of thinking, right? The more the people know about it, the more help they’re going to get.”

“There can be more people that try to sabotage as well.”

“If its such an important business, why would someone try to sabotage it unless they’re crazy?

“Kims think too much, that’s why. Anyways, that’s what they want, so let it be that way. Let only us two know. What is the message?”

“The Kims requested a dispatch of one Dokkaebi.”

“For what?”

“They’re forming a rescue party to go south of the Limit Border and rescue a Naga. They need a Dokkaebi that will be a part of that rescue party.”

Castellan Bawoo looked at his chief of force with a surprised face. The castellan knew that his chief of force dedicates most of his time every day to come up with pranks for his castellan. He also knew that his chief of force respected him. This gave castellan Bawoo Muridole a kind of comedic entertainment. Sabin Hasooun detects a few dozen chances every day to pull a prank on his castellan, but only executes not even a tenth of them. So, the castellan would enjoy the joys of purposely let his guard down and putting his chief of force in an internal conflict. But, the words of the chief of force were no joke.

“Those Kims decided to bring a Naga north of the Limit Border? Why?”

“Can’t say. They never told me the reason. It’s probably a part of their secret-ism.”

“Is the rest of the rescue party a secret too?”

“Ah, they told me that one. Those Kims seem to follow that old maxim that says only three can go against one. The rest of the rescue party consists of a Kim and a Leckorn.”

“Interesting. What reward are they offering?”

“They will give 200 gold bars.”

“That’s pretty unconventional. That makes me want to go. Hey, wait, what’s  with that face?”

“Nothing, really. You can call it the face of a chief of force contemplating who to support for the next castellan election.”

The castellan growled until his chief of force was satisfied and spoke seriously.

“So who should we send.”

Sabin was a little startled.

“You intend to send someone? Three going against one is merely an old maxim. That silly rescue party is going to get murdered the moment they set foot in Keeboren. It’s impossible.”

“Why is it impossible?”

“They don’t know. Who knows so well about Nagas or Keeboren?”

“That Kim will.”

“Huh?”

“That Kim that’s a part of the rescue party. I can guess who that will be. There is only one Kim that knows a lot about Nagas and Keeboren and is capable of leading such a rescue party.”

“There is such a Kim?”

“Kaygan Draaka.”

Sabin was surprised. He knew that name. That was the name of a legendary Kim wrestler that went undefeated among Dokkaebi wrestlers.

“That Kim wrestler is still alive?”

“Yes he is. He lives near the Limit Border, eating Nagas.”

Sabin tried to laugh. He didn’t understand the castellan, but he thought it was some kind of a joke. But the castellan’s face wasn’t expecting a laughter.

“What do you mean, ‘eating?'”

“Take it literally. He hunts Nagas, and eats them.”

Sabin held out his hand with a confused look on his face. Sabin made a gesture of him grabbing food with his hands and moving it to his mouth. The castellan nodded, and Sabin’s face became blue.

“Is he insane?”

“He cooks them, so I heard.”

“Ah, is that so… what?”

The castellan locked his fingers together on his lap, and spoke with a face like he didn’t know what to say.

“Um, Kaygan hates Nagas. He hates them so much that he literally eats them. That’s why he does it. He ambushes Nagas near the Limit Border, butcher them, and boil them.”

Sabin gulfed.

“If he hates them so much that he would eat them, wouldn’t people call him ‘mentally deranged’ than ‘a man of his words?'”

“I don’t know, he has his reasons. As you know, a heartless Naga is very difficult to kill.”

“Oh, is that why he boils them? So they don’t regenerate? But he doesn’t have to eat them, right?”

“It’s a waste of meat.”

Sabin, chief of force, looked at the castellan as if he was mad. The castellan smiled and waved his hand.

“That was Kaygan’s answer. I asked like you did, and Kaygan answered as such. But he has other reasons. Hm. Give me a second.”

The castellan looked for something in his desk drawer. A little after, the castellan took out an old piece of parchment.

“This is a letter from Kaygan from 6 years ago. Give it a read.”

Sabin carefully received the letter and started reading.

Peace be with you, this is Kaygan.

I was secluded for quite some time. As you know, in the outback near the Limit Border, it’s much easier to obtain weapons than writing utensils. A habberdasher that I met by coincidence yesterday happened to have some parchments, so I was able to contact you at last like this.

I considered about your suggestions on the last letter. But I’ve decided that I cannot stop this act. Yes. I still eat Nagas these days. I do not want to sound morbid, but I do not feel the need to circumvent, either.

Do you know the story of the Kithalger tiger hunters? When a tiger hunter of Kithalger is eaten by a tiger, the son of the dead tiger hunter becomes the son of all the other tiger hunters. Then, the hunters teach all of their techniques to him. When the son is ready, they go on a tiger hunt. When they cat a tiger, they open the tiger’s stomach and take out its liver on the spot. They make the son eat it.

I am that survived son, castellan.

Nagas engulfed everything that was precious and meaningful to me other than my disgusting body. So, I eat them. Maybe one day, I too msy be eaten by them. I try not to go south of the Limit Border, but as I pursue a faltering Naga, I realize myself standing in the rainforest. When I realize that I gave up that one advantage I had over the Nagas on my own, castellan, I feel chills like the Nagas even in the scorching heat of the rainforest. I quickly make my way back north, but I get myself  in a same situation a few days later.

And one day, once I cannot swing the Yearner anymore, I will die. I wouldn’t mind if you dismissed it as a death of a madman and forgot about me.

There is no way I can’t go mad.

Under the letter was not a signature, but weird symbols. Sabin looked up and the castellan explained.

“Those are the hunting symbols of the Kithalger hunters. Black lion and dragon.”

“Black lion and dragon?”

“Both were made extinct by the Nagas. It’s read ‘Kaygan Draaka’ in Kithalger hunting language. He got his name from this.”

Sabin asked as he returned the letter to him.

“Ah. So that name isn’t his real one?”

“Yes, but I cannot tell you his real name without his agreement.”

Castellan Bawoo returned the letter into his drawer and looked back at the chief of force of Millemundos.

“So, what do you think?”

“So this wrestler is taking revenge on the Nagas by the way of Kithalger hunters who vanished hundreds of years ago? Murdering and eating their nemesis?”

“You could say that.”

“What did the Nagas do to him to make him deserve such an insane revenge?”

“Something very horrible.”

Sabin waited for the castellan to continue with his words but he did not. Sabin, almost unconsciously nodded his head, but noticed something strange about the castellan’s face. The castellan’s face was contorted. “It was very horrible.” Sabin, not knowing how tense he got,  asked carefully.

“What happened?”

The castellan, engulfed in painful thoughts, shook his head.

“Like his real name, I cannot tell you his past without his agreement. Anyways, you can assume that he will know about Nagas and Keeboren better than anyone, right? It’s obvious that the predator knows a lot about his prey.”

Sabin spoke uncomfortably.

“That is true, but I would prefer having confirmation that my companion is sane if I’m going somewhere so dangerous. It would be very unfortunate if that Kim decides that he’s bored of Naga meat, and would like to try some Dokkaebi meat for a change, wouldn’t it be?”

Castellan Bawoo laughed out loud, even though it should not been laughed at.

“Don’t worry about that. All of Kaygan’s rage is directed towards the Nagas only. You can’t incur more anger from him, either.”

“I can’t incur more anger?”

“Yes. Like it said on the letter you read, there is nothing left to take away from him. The Nagas took it all. It may sound ironic, but Kaygan could be the safest person to people that are not Nagas. They can’t make him angry.”

“That is sad.”

“Yes, it is. True, too. I can confirm Kaygan’s safety.”

Sabin could not completely agree with the castellan. But also, Sabin did not feel an urge to attempt to refute the castellan’s decision, either. There are a few things that need not be done to a castellan of Millemundos, and logical refutation against his statements is one of them. So, Sabin returned to the original topic of conversation.

“If that wrestler Kaygan is so safe and deals with Nagas like he deals with his meal, there can’t be anyone better to go on the rescue party into Keeboren. So, you’re sending someone?”

“Only three can go against one. A Dokkaebi makes it three. Therefore I will send someone.”

“Who will you send?”

“You can’t qualify for these kinds of things, can you? No Dokkaebi knows even a little bit about Nagas or Keeboren. Therefore, all Dokkaebis are equally qualified for this task. There is no need to think about this longer. I will send the first Dokkaebi that enters this room.”

“…The first Dokkaebi?”

“Yes.”

If he was outside of Millemundos, Sabin Hasooun would have gently ignored everything the castellan had said just because the castellan had said them, and would not have considered it being disloyal. Anyhow, Sabin knows that Castellan Bawoo is not very wise. And it is a known both to himself and the castellan, that this fact does not affect Sabin’s loyalty towards the castellan. But, inside the Millemundos, the words of the castellan must be fully accepted just because the castellan had said them.

So, Sabin did not require further explanation. He did complain for a short moment, though.

“Can I wait here with you? If I go outside, I may become that unlucky Dokkaebi.”

Castellan Bawoo guffawed. Then the castellan and the chief of force started waiting.

They didn’t have to wait long. Moments later, an angry Dokkaebi landed hip-first on the center of the study. The Dokkaebi saw the chief of force and started screaming loudly.

“Chief of force! Are you trying to take away my job? Then by the name of the God who kills Himself, I’m the chief of force from now on! Do you accept?”

Bihyung Srable, the butler of the castellan, was a young fellow that loved his job. Sabin Hasooun shook his head, thinking that was his misfortune. Castellan Bawoo spoke, tittering.

“That won’t do. Because you need to be a rescuer.”

Bihyung Srable repeated what the castellan said, blinking his eyes slowly.

“A rescuer?”

“Yes. You need to get inside a place that no one has ever been for a couple hundred years, and rescue someone.”  


Translator : Imblygon

Index | Next Chapter >>


 

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