The Hero King spoke: “What? Nagas can shed tears? Let me give you some advice. Next time, look when it’s sunny outside. Your thought might change a little from when it’s raining.” – Penzhoil’s <The Hero King, Not a Hero, Nor King>
Ryoon Fei was lying on a cold stone altar.
There was no one besides him. Nothing had certainty but the stone altar he had he back against, so Ryoon Fei thought that he was a character in a picture that had no background.
Suddenly, Ryoon flinched. Fine art, like music, is a culture that does not exist among Nagas. But unlike the indifference towards music which results from their poor hearing, the reason why Nagas do not have fine arts is because of their astounding vision. To Nagas, who can see temperature, the masterpiece of the greatest human painter is not much more beautiful than a piece of cloth of the same size. Nagas can see a very side spectrum of colors, but since no hot or cold paint exists, Nagas do not draw.
Hence, it is not natural for a Naga to imagine himself in a picture.
Ryoon Fei knew well how he thought of ‘picture.’ He also knew that how he obtained this knowledge was not the something he could naturally neer to someone else. This was a shameful secret. Ryoon looked around quickly to see if his thought was read.
From the darkness, cold shadows emerged.
Ryoon could see the daggers colored even colder than them, grasped in their hands. Ryoon screamed, but ‘sound’ does not influenced Nagas much. The Nagas approaching the altar did not falter even a little bit. Ryoon, who was screaming, scurried to neer. But Ryoon was shocked. He couldn’t neer.
“Am I not a Naga?”
Ryoon tried to shake his hands, but only then he realized that his hands were tied to the altar. While Ryoon futily struggled, the shadows surrounded the altar.
One of them ripped Ryoon’s shirt. At the horrific sound of cloth ripping, Ryoon paniced and looked down at his exposed chest. Under the hard scales, he could see vaguely his beating heart. Because it was beating with such heat, he could see it. Ryoon looked around at those who were surrounding the altar, and shivered as he only saw cold darkness in their chests.
All of them had their hearts extracted.
And now, they were going to extract Ryoon’s.
“Wait! I’m not a Naga! It’s a mistake! If you take out my heart, I’ll die!”
Ryoon screamed like his vocal chord would burst. Even though they would have heard it despite their poor hearing, they did not budge. Actually, there was one that moved. The one to the right held his dagger high in the air. In the darkness, the dagger shined flamboyantly reflecting all kinds of colors and temperatures. When Ryoon tried to scream again, the dagger struck down without mercy.
Ryoon couldn’t even scream.
What Ryoon saw was not red. The red blood drops that poured out like an explosion looked like a fountain of all kinds of flamboyant colors to Ryoon’s eyes. The circulation of air that became a carnival of colors atop his open chest even looked beautiful. It was because hot body temperature was released into the cold air. Ryoon, forgetting pain for a moment, was fixated at the scene.
Suddenly, the one on the right threw his hand forward. Ryoon, as he saw another person’s hand enter his open chest, felt like his breathing was stopped. As that hand moved roughly, from inside the chest came out something like a river of lights. Of course, it was the blood of Ryoon himself.
The hand that went through inside the chest finally pulled out something that looked like a fiery jewel. The pulsating heat flow spread around like aurora. It was the heart. Because it was beating with such heat, the heart was setting fire on the darkness that surrounded it. And because of that light, Ryoon was able to see the one that took out his heart.
It was the face of Ryoon himself.
[The dream can’t even be neered, Ryoon. First of all, the extraction ceremony does not happen like that. Also, the heart that you described is just like that of the warm-blooded non-believers. Too much imagination. Well, I’ll give you that it was mystical.]
Hwareet Makerow smiled as it was amusing but Ryoon did not. Hwareet took back his smile, and calmly neered.
[I’m sorry. It was a horrifying dream. It looks like you’re more worried about the extraction ceremony than I thought. But this is just an illusion created by your paranoia. The only ones that believe that dreams foretell anything are the Dokkaebis.]
[Humans believe in dreams too.]
[Is that so? That could be. They’re level of foolishness match each other.]
[And I want to believe too.]
Hwareet closed his mind and looked at his friend. He could not think of an appropriate neerm, so Hwareet shifted his interest to the top of the dining table.
There were rats on the top of the table. The rats were not hurt anywhere, but they merely trembled lightly instead of running away. This fine touch was probably done by Samo Fei, Ryoon Fei’s second sister.
The reaction incurred by the name ‘Samo Fei’ from the citizens of Haatengraju are two opposite poles. Those who show positive reaction are mostly men. This is because Samo is kind to the men even when she is not luring them into her bed. Kind in heart but valuing honesty as an important virtue, Somero Makerow, the first sister of Hwareet, has expressed her opinion about this conduct by saying ‘What use are men when you don’t sleep with them? She is pretentious.’ Also, those who dislike Samo are mostly women. Because all the men come to the Fei clan. Because the men can stay and relax without the worry of being dragged into the bedroom.
Picking up the warm rat, Hwareet wondered if Samo’s weird behavior was some kind of a point of negotiation that she found. Hwareet decided that he will see if this is true.
[How many men are staying over in this house?]
Hwareet nodded. There can’t be more than two women that are in their fertile window. If two women are paired with eight men, the chances of impregnation is very high. Soon enough, the Fei clan will give birth to many next generation Feis. And the clan will flourish. Samo Fei gained her own peace and the approval of her family by giving up the joys of bearing and nurturing of a child.
[Eight men. Your extraction ceremony would be extravagant, Ryoon. There can’t be too many people that can walk to the Heart Tower guarded by so many men. Samo Fei really is great.]
[I think so too. It’s too bad I’ll only see her for nine days, though.]
Hwareet looked at Ryoon with a surprised face. Hwareet realized that his friend is not only fearing the ceremony itself. But before he could neer anything, Ryoon got up from his seat.
[I don’t feel like eating. Are you eating before you return?]
[That is my plan.]
[Then I’ll bid you goodbye now. Have a safe trip.]
Before confused Hwareet could neer anything, Ryoon left the dining room. Hwareet thought of following his friend, but decided not to moments later. Knowing his friend’s personality, Hwareet knew that stopping his friend now will most definitely cause trouble.
After Hwareet Makerow ate he looked for his escorts, and at the neerm that two of them decided they will stay at the Fei clan, let out a laughter at this nonsense.
The matriarch of the Makerow clan Dusenna will rampage in rage. Hwareet didn’t mind the fact that he had less escorts but was bothered by his matriarch’s wrath. There were five women in their fertile window in the Makerow clan, but only four men. They lost two of those men overnight to the Fei clan, and Dusenna Makerow will not tolerate the fact that they faced such a loss because of her son that will no longer be related to the Makerow clan in nine days.
For a moment, Hwareet thought about remaining in the Fei clan himself. Staying over at his friend’s place waiting for the extraction ceremony together didn’t sound like a bad idea. The Fei clan will not be interested in Hwareet who will soon become a guardian, or in other words, will not impregnate their women, but will be satisfied that two more men are staying because he is staying. (Of course, there is already ten men staying over, so the joy won’t be too great.) But if this happens, there won’t be any men staying at the Makerow clan. Having no men staying over when there are five women in their fertile window is an immense loss. And Hwareet Makerow did not want to cause such loss to the clan that raised him for 22 years.
In the end, Hwareet left the Fei clan with the remaining two escorts.
The roads of Haatengraju was silent, as it was since the construction of the city. Of course, if one was to open his mind, he would hear the countless neerms going back and forth in the silence, but because Hwareet wanted to think, he closed his mind for the time being.
In the silence, Hwareet thought about Samo Fei.
A woman that wants to remain a virgin, extraordinary for a Naga. But her maidenhood, ironically, promises fertility for the next generation. Naga men do not have lingering emotions for their birthplace, but if they felt such a thing, it would be like the atmosphere that Samo Fei creates in the Fei clan. The atmosphere that not only aims to impregnate a woman, but makes men stay over for a couple of months preparing for their next journey. Even so, men leave many children for the Fei clan before they depart.
Out of nowhere, a sharp neerm penetrated Hwareet’s mind.
[Do you want to sleep with her.]
Hwareet looked over. One of his escorts that he was walking with was looking at him. Hwareet uncomfortably neered.
[Did you look inside my mind, Karoo?]
[It was ‘open.’ You thought too deep about Samo Fei.]
Hwareet was embarassed. Karoo neered, slowly looking around his surroundings.
[Unfortunately, there are three reasons why it’s impossible.]
[Three? Not one?]
[First of all, you’re going to become a guardian. You will become the groom of the Goddess without footsteps, and cannot impregnate a woman.]
[That’s the reason I thought of. What are the two that I didn’t think of?]
[Samo Fei herself would refuse. As you know, her will is accepted. Because of her, the other women can easily get men, and so her clan respects her will to remain a virgin.]
[The third is the reason that we both know.]
[I know. I didn’t forget.]
Because it hasn’t been long since Karoo last shed his skin, his skin was smooth. But he is a very old Naga, and his neerms showed the depth of his experience.
[Many acolytes forfeit becoming a guardian right before the extraction ceremony. Because they become a guardian after the ceremony, and they can’t go back. Some people criticize their acts as a result of weak willpower but I don’t want to. Their emotions are natural. But, if that emotion that makes them forfeit becoming the groom of the Goddess shouldn’t be dominating you. You haven’t forgotten your calling, have you?]
[I never forget my calling, Karoo.
Hwareet didn’t like the fact that he was seen as such a weak person.
[I am ready. But how are the other preparations? Is the rescue party ready?]
[It seems like it is almost.]
Hwareet felt uneasy about the rescue party that consisted of other racers. Of course, because the acolyte’s training curriculum included facts about the other races, Hwareet knew more about them than his friend Ryoon, but there is always a big difference between knowing from learning and experiencing it. Karoo neered, sensing Hwareet’s uneasiness.
[It would be easier if one of us could bring you near the Limit Border.]
[No, you have your own duties. I actually thought of going to the Limit Border alone. Why should they dangerously come down to Keeboren and guide me? Wouldn’t me going beyond the Limit Border alone and meeting them there be safe for both sides?]
Another escort, named Svachi, neered.
[Hwareet, you’re thinking like the Limit Border is some kind of a defined line like a fence or wall, but it’s not. Between our northernmost city Visgraju and the unbeliever’s southernmost city Karabora is where the Limit Border is the narrowest, and it’s still 200 kilometers wide. The other points of the Limit Border is about 500 to 1000 kilometers wide.]
Hwareet was stunned.
[They call that ‘border?’ Such a wide area?]
[That ‘border’ is determined by temperature. This thing called temperature does not change abruptly a few meters in front of you. It changes gradually over a few hundred kilometers. Even Visgraju, if it wasn’t for the gold, there would be no reason to construct a city at such a cold region. Anyways, it doesn’t make neerm that you’ll walk through such a frigid land. Even with Sodrak it’s impossible. But those warm-blooded unbelievers are not immobilized even at Keeboren. Evidently, they must come down to pick you up. Do you understand now?]
[Good. Are you practicing your song?]
[It’s awkward. That song.]
Suddenly Karoo spoke in his voice. “Sing it.”
Hwareet confusingly looked at Karoo. The place they were walking through was the main road of Haatengraju. There were many Nagas walking alongside them and there should be many Nagas in the buildings surrounding them as well. Hwareet couldn’t dare answer in his voice.
[Here? Are you crazy?]
“Hwareet, if we thought that your singing would draw other’s attention, we wouldn’t have planned to have you sing.]
[But that’s in the rainforest. In the rainforest, the birds chirp and animals make sounds too, but we’re here at Haatengraju.]
“So it’s better. Here everyone is talking with their neerms so they don’t pay attention to the sound around them. I’m speaking in a very loud voice right now. But no one’s paying attention, are the?”
Hwareet looked around and admitted that Karoo was right. If himself, a Naga, could clearly hear Karoo’s voice, he must be talking a very loud voice, but the Nagas around them weren’t paying them attention.
But Hwareet couldn’t open his mouth easily. Alien, inappropriate, weird, uncomfortable, displeasure. These were the emotions Hwareet felt about singing, and he was yet to feel any emotion that was more positive than this. After Karoo insisted a couple more times, Hwareet made some sounds that sounded like singing.
Then, Hwareet was surprised by the fact that no one was actually paying attention to him just like Karoo said. Hwareet raised his voice, encouraged, but there was no one that gave him even an indifferent look. Hwareet looked at Karoo with a bright face and Karoo nodded. Hwareet thought. ‘Is this what it feels like to wear a Dokkaebi Gamtu?’ Like how no Dokkaebi could see what the Dokkaebi wearing the Dokkaebi Gamtu is doing, other Nagas were not hearing Hwareet’s song. (In reality, they would hear a very small sound, but because they don’t care, it’s as good as not hearing it.) Hwareet became completely confident and raised his voice even higher.
And Svachi and Karoo thought to themselves. It’s so fortunate that the others can’t hear that song. Both in a good way, and a bad way.
Ryoon Fei leaned towards the fading sound with a dumbfounded face. The reason why Ryoon was confused was not because it was Hwareet’s voice. He could not know why his friend was walking away while saying such crazy things in such a weird pronounciation. ‘Rotting limbs? King? What does that mean? Awaken the spirit?’ Ryoon pondered shaking his head, but he couldn’t figure out why, and his mystical feeling only deepened.
The next moment, Ryoon realized a surprising fact.
‘Music… It’s a song!’
Ryoon sprang up and grabbed the fence of the balcony. He leaned his upper body forward, but the song was already fading away. Ryoon turned his body half way as if he was to follow Hwareet, but then realized that his urge was impossible to come to reality. It is extremely dangerous for an immature Naga to go outside without escorts. Like Hwareet’s warning, they could be ‘hunted.’ Of course in the Fei clan stayed so numerous men, numerous enough to be envied by other clans, but Ryoon did not want to ask a favor to those despicable people. Ryoon thought about his aunts and sisters, but none of them would go outside for their younger brother.
[Can I come in, Ryoon?]
Ryoon changed his mind again. There was one person that would stand up for him. But he couldn’t ask that person. Ryoon neered as he hurriedly walked to the center of the room.
[Please come in.]
The door opened. Because Ryoon was looking down, he could only see a pair of graceful feet. Those feet slowly walked towards Ryoon and stopped in front of him, and Ryoon had to tilt his head downward even more to not stare into the person’s eyes.
[Pick your head up, Ryoon. Your neck must hurt.]
Because he was permitted, Ryoon slowly raised his head. An expression he was too familiar with was looking up at him. Eyes that opened wide as if surprised by something. But on her lips under her eyes dangled a smile that distanced itself from everything of this world. Ryoon forced himself to open his mind.
[What’s the matter, Samo?]
[I heard that Hwareet just left. I thought he would stay longer. If it hasn’t been too long since he left, can I call him back?]
Ryoon almost neered to her to do so.
[There is no need for that.]
Samo again looked at Ryoon with those surprised eyes and sat down on a chair, nodding. Ryoon waited standing still and Samo neered as if she was a little troubled.
[Were you going to wait until I told you to sit?]
[Of course I was.]
[Sit. Ryoon Fei.]
Ryoon sat on a chair. Even though she sat her brother down, Samo just looked at him with a face that didn’t know what to do. Ryoon neered like he was helping her.
[Please stop calling me Fei.]
[Huh? What are you talking about? You’re still a Fei.]
[Only nine days are left.]
[You’re a Fei until then.]
Ryoon gestured to show that he didn’t want to argue. At the same time, it also meant that told he would follow the will of the woman as a man without his own opinion. Samo did not like that gesture.
[It was me who called Hwareet, Ryoon.]
Ryoon showed a twisted smile.
[Yes, I congradulate your success. Two men? Madame Dusenna must be greatly annoyed.]
Confused for a little while, Samo soon neered like she was chagrined.
[Ryoon, I didn’t invite Hwareet to steal men.]
[Dusenna Makerow might think otherwise.]
[Whatever Dusenna thinks is not true. I invited Hwareet because you looked so anxious before the extraction ceremony, and I thought calling a friend might be helpful. Hwareet came because he agreed, too. But why did you send him back after just a day?]
Ryoon answered impertinently, as if he misunderstood Samo’s mind.
[Then again, if he stayed for a few more days, we could have stolen the other two men. I’m sorry for acting on my own. But according to my insufficient wit, I thought it would have caused a serious discord between the Makerow clan and…]
Ryoon closed his mind. From Samo’s body emitted sharp sounds of her scales crashing into each other. She looked angry, but when her mind opened, her neerm was closer to sadness than anger.
[Why are you being so sarcastic? We don’t have much time to spend with each other anymore. Like you neered, only nine days. Why should we spend this precious time being angry at each other? You don’t talk to me, and you just send back the friend I called over for you. Ryoon. Neer to me. What should I do?]
[You need not to do anything. Don’t waste your precious time for a person that will not be a Fei anymore in nine days.]
Samo Fei looked at Ryoon with an awestruck look. She knew that her brother was trying to coldly cut off all relationships. And this isn’t irrational. Relationships disappear since he loses his Fei name and he is never allowed back to the clan. But Samo thought they could remain to be good friends, and believed that her brother would want that too.
But Ryoon maintained stubbornly a stance that opposed her humble wish.
[Ryoon, do you want us to be complete strangers? Why do you do this?]
Ryoon stared at Samo sadly and neered, dropping his head forward.
[Yes? Go ahead.]
[I don’t want to be a replacement for the child you’ll never have.]
With a loud bang, the chair fell down. Samo sprang up from her seat and glared at Ryoon with fearful eyes. But Ryoon, instead of looking up at his sister, continued to neer while staring at his knee.
[If you want a child, have one. Compete with your sisters and aunts. If you don’t want to, if you’re afraid of the competition, give up the child. There is no such thing as a middle ground. Your brother can’t be your child.]
[How… How dare you neer that!]
Samo’s scales emitted a frightful sound. No one has ever seen Samo Fei this angry. Ryoon felt terror but kept his mind open.
[It’ll be troublesome if it’s too late. You’re already too late at this point. There are women that have two or three daughters already. Since there are ten men in this house, it shouldn’t be difficult to have…]
Ryoon could not complete his neerm. Because Samo slapped his cheek with all her strength.
Ryoon looked up at Samo carousing his cheek, and was surprised.
A silver fluid was flowing from her eyes. It isn’t shown often by Nagas, and because of it’s surprising color, the other races believe that its magical, but it’s merely tear. But for Ryoon, it wasn’t just a normal tear. Ryoon looked at Samo dumbfoundedly, even forgetting to carous his cheek.
Samo too looked like she was surprised that she was crying. Her trembling fingers grazed her eye. Soon her finger shined in silver. Ryoon carefully called for Samo.
Samo Fei did not receive Ryoon’s neerm. Her mind was completely closed.
Suddenly, Samo threw her hand sideways.
Then, drops of glimmer flew across the dark room.
Ryoon could not look away. The silver lines that flew across, cutting through space, shimmered on the floor like small explosions. To the eyes of a Naga, which can not only see their silver but also their temperature, it was an explosion. When Ryoon woke up from the daze and turned, Samo was no longer seen. Instead, drops of silver tears leading to the door shined on the floor.
The reason why Dusenna Makerow did not exert physical force to Hwareet was not because he was her son. It also wasn’t because she didn’t want to leave bad memories for her family member that does not have much time left to spend together. Dusenna Makerow was an exemplar matriach of a Naga clan that was far from these absurd reasons. Even after spewing on him terrifying amounts of verbal abuse and profanity, the reason why Dusenna ended up not laying a finger on Hwareet, was because Hwareet was an acolyte.
[Listen well, you Dokkaebi! Thank the fact that you can’t make children for other clans. If you gave children to other clans after hindering our own childbirth, I will not tolerate that!]
Hwareet was astounded at his mother’s wisdom. Dusenna admitted that she cannot touch the Naga that will one day become a guardian, but she neered so that it did not looked like she was submitting to a Naga that will one day become a powerful social figure, but because she was pitiful for a Naga that won’t make any children in the future. Hwareet, to fit this magnificent speech, made a miserable face – in other words, pretending to grieve the fact that his body cannot make children for other women, was able to mollify Dusenna.
Dusenna was satisfied, but the passion of Hwareet did not end easily. Because his three sisters and two aunts who were in their fertile window was waiting for their turn to spit fire.
Fortunately, Karoo and Svachi, who escorted him, volunteered to go to his aunt’s bedrooms. Somero, the oldest sister, had enough judgment, like her mother, to not to scold her brother that will one day become a guardian. Also Karindol, who consider all men to be mentally challenged, thought this to be a dumb mistake only stupid men could make, and did not scold him much.
However, despite all this, Hwareet had to be baptized in fire by Viias Makerow.
[Would you neer to me how old I am?]
Viias’s terrifying neerm burned Hwareet’s mind. Hwareet thought to close his mind, hiding behind his position as an acolyte, but soon changed his mind. Nothing good could come out of that.
[You’re thirty-four years old.]
[Yes, thirty-four. It’s been 12 years!]
[It was my fault, Viias. Forgive me.]
[Forgive? This was absolutely my turn. I should have had my own child! But you went and lost two men! Is this matter forgivable?]
Hwareet, with a disturbed mind, wished Karoo or Svachi would sleep with Viias. Viias Makerow, unlike Karindol or Hwareet, was not a child of Dusenna. And, unlike Somero, she wasn’t the oldest, either. Somero was the child of Dusenna’s sister, but was adored by the matriarch with her age and her actions that fitted it. But Viias Makerow had nothing to show off. This was why she was so desperately clinging to having a child.
Hwareet knew from a certain experience from a past how much Viias wanted a child. That experience was a terrifying one, and Hwareet cautiously neered, getting rid of that memory.
[I couldn’t do anything. It’s not like I could have just dragged them back when they decided they would stay at the Fei clan.]
[This wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t go to that bitch’s house!]
Hwareet didn’t think that this ‘bitch’ was referred to Jikuren Fei, the matriarch of the Fei clan. It had to be Samo Fei.
[Viias, Ryoon Fei is my friend. Am I not obliged to visit a friend that’s distressed about the extraction ceremony? It is a duty, for an acolyte like me.]
[And you have the duty as a member of the Makerow clan to watch those men! Even though there’s only nine days left, you’re still a Makerow! Two men! My aunts won’t give them away!]
‘And you’ll get more sisters before you get any children.’ Hwareet thought maliciously. For a woman that is not the oldest nor has any children, but yearns to become the matriarch, having more sisters would be like a Dokkaebi’s prank.
Hwareet neered unconsciously.
[Some women without children are still respected by all clans for their moral excellence.]
Viias looked at Hwareet with a shocked face. Hwareet realized his sarcasm and became nervous. But soon, Hwareet reminded himself that he is an acolyte, and will become a guardian soon enough. ‘Okay, then.’ Hwareet drew a portrait of a certain person in his mind and opened his mind a little.
Viias sent neerms like an angry skyfish.
[She intends not to have children, but I don’t know. If she ever wants children, it feels like she won’t have the trouble that you’re struggling with right now.]
[Don’t call me in vain. Also, I would like to refuse being reprimanded for something not of my fault. I am an acolyte, before I am your brother. One that will become the groom of the Goddess without footsteps one day. I solicit that you treat me according to my status.]
Viias growled as if she was going to attack Hwareet any moment, but could not do it. It was obvious which side the matriarch Dusenna would be on, between the son that will become a guardian, and a daughter that has no children. Penetrating into his sister’s thoughts, Hwareet smiled coldly and neered.
[Also, let me give you some advice as an acolyte. Viias, be virtuous. Unlike having a baby, this can be done without a man.]
Hwareet waited for the explosion after he finished his neerm. But Viias did not lose self-control. Instead, Viias neered, her face becoming like that of a Dokkaebi.
[Thanks for the advice, dear brother. Let me give you some advice in return.] “Be careful of that.”
Viias left without him. Until she completely left the room and closed the door, Hwareet stood still. It was the first time he heard Viias’s voice.
But the real reason why Hwareet was shocked was because of the content of her voice. When she spoke in her voice that he heard for the first time, she was pointing at the heart tower. And Hwareet couldn’t help but to remember that no more than a few days ago, his friend acted the same way. Ryoon spoke in his voice that the heart tower is the enemy. And Viias spoke in her voice to be careful of the heart tower. The fact that both his friend and his sister used their rarely used voice to ‘speak’ similar things, left a deep impact in Hwareet.
So Hwareet began thinking about the heart tower.
Svachi turned away, shaking his hand and groaning painfully.
[Please let me be. I don’t have the energy to do that this early. It was too much last night…]
[Svachi, wake up! It’s me! What ever ‘that’ is, I won’t do ‘that’ with you!]
Svachi laid down straight, feeling puzzled. He sighed in relief as he realized that the Naga that shook him awake was not a certain woman of the Makerow clan, demanding to do it.
[Hwareet? Thank god. Dammit, your aunt almost killed me last night.]
[It’s been quite some time since her last birth.]
[Yeah, she was so pushy, I might not go near other women for a few years. Anyways, what brings you here?]
Svachi got up slowly because of the cold temperature of early morning. And because Hwareet knew his status, he waited patiently until he was completely fine, enduring a little frustration. A little later, Svachi was at a state in which he could talk, and Hwareet brought up his business.
[I must not go through the extraction ceremony.]
Svachi blankly stared at Hwareet and turned to Karoo, who was sleeping next to him. But Karoo also was saturated in exhaustion as much as Svachi. Svachi decided he’ll let Karoo sleep a little longer.
[Your friend. Ryoon, was it? I think his fear infected you, Hwareet. Only very rarely someone dies during the extraction ceremony.]
[It’s not about that.]
[If you don’t extract, you can’t leave Haatengraju. That neerms that you can’t complete your calling. No, even before that, you yourself can’t survive. Would you neer to me why you’re neerming that?]
[Yesterday, I angered my sister Viias. It might have been because she was enraged, but she left me with a very impressive allusion. That she’ll kill me.]
Svachi felt his mind awaken abruptly. He looked around, confirmed that he didn’t sense any temperature around him, and cautiously neered.
[Are you sure?]
[I believe so.]
[Why does Viias Makerow want to kill you?]
[Because she couldn’t have children for 12 years.]
Svachi looked at Hwareet, perplexed. Hwareet sent calm neerms.
[Sister Viias has never had a child before. So she desperately wants men, but on the contrary, extremely hates her brother that can never make children for her. Therefore, being mad at me even the slightest would be enough reason for my sister.]
Svachi found some strange implication hidden in Hwareet’s neerm, and became utterly confused at what he found.
[Uh, this question might not even make neerm, but did she…]
[As you think, Svachi.]
[Oh, god.] Svachi couldn’t come up with any other neerm, so he neered again. [Oh god.]
Hwareet nodded, smiling sadly.
[Yes, my sister is crazy. She has a strange obssession.]
[Did she really…. demand that from you?]
[I could only stop her with the neerm that if she touched the acolyte of the Goddess, she will be cursed.]
Svachi looked at Hwareet with eyes full of sympathy, and neered.
[That is horrible. Okay. What if my and Karoo visits her bedroom? If we give her what she wants, will she be satisfied and forget her hatred towards you?]
[Can you impregnate her in eight days?]
[If we visit her taking shifts, she might believe that her chances of impregnation is high.]
[Viias herself won’t want that.]
[Hmm? What are you neerming about? Didn’t you say she wants children?]
[Yes, but the reason why Viias wants children is to become the matriarch. My sister is not the direct child of the matriarch, nor the oldest like Somero.]
[Ah. You neerm that she can only count on a daughter.]
[Yes. If all she wanted was a daughter, she wouldn’t have given you up so easily to her aunts. But she has an ambition, and therefore won’t do anything that will anger the other women of the clan. If this is so, you will only be able to visit her about once or twice over the eight days. I don’t think Viias would believe her chances of impregnation is high.]
[What method do you think she’ll use to kill you?]
[She neered to be careful of the heart tower. I believe some accident will happen during the extraction ceremony.]
Svachi neered in a confused face.
[That doesn’t even make neerm. Are you neerming that she’ll bribe the guardians? That’s impossible.]
[I didn’t say such absurdity, Svachi. I probably know more about the guardians than you. Because I am an acolyte. But Viias is a phenomenal medicinologist. I do not like my sister, but because I trust her skill, I stole some of the Sodrak she made. With her skill, she might be able to forge a drug that makes an accident happen during the extraction ceremony. And over the eight days left, she’ll make me take it.]
Svachi repeated Hwareet’s neerm, maintaining his confused look on his face.
[A drug that causes an accident during the extraction ceremony? Is something like that possible?]
[I don’t know. But if it’s not interpreted that way, nothing can explain her allusion to be careful of the heart tower. Most definitely, something will happen in the heart tower. During the extraction ceremony.]
[Okay, a drug. What if you eat nothing in this house?]
[How would I do that?]
[What if you eat outside the city with us? Karoo is an adept hunter. You might not have eaten anything bigger than a rat yet but that’s not such a big problem. You have to do it anyways when you’re an adult. What if you eat an animal outside that’s big enough for you to last eight days?]
[Svachi, do you think I can go outside with you again? I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel that my dear aunt won’t allow that.]
Svachi groaned and closed his mind. Hwareet felt anxious. ‘Dammit, what are you thinking about. The conclusion is obvious. A change in plan. I need to escape, now.’ After the moment that felt too long for Hwareet, Svachi opened his mind again.
[Hwareet, I can feel that you’re nervous, but the more I think of it, these are all merely conjectures.]
Hwareet was surprised.
[You don’t have any objective evidence that Viias will kill you, nor know for sure how she’ll do it. Of course you neered to me a conjecture, but I’ve never heard of any drug that does what you told. You too probably haven’t heard of such a drug, have you? Is my neerm correct?]
Hwareet had to accept it. Svachi got up as if he was reminded of something and put on his clothes.
[There is another interpretation that does not involve such a drug that no one has ever seen or heard about.]
[You might want to disagree, but I do want to neerm you this. Hwareet Makerow, do you intend to accept that you’re under the influence of an anxiety that all Nagas face right before the extraction ceremony? No, don’t answer so quickly. You were probably going to neer that you’re an acolyte and that you’re a perfectly rational Naga that’s distant from such absurd anxiety.]
Hwareet complained in his mind a little, because he was about to neer that. Svachi kept on neering.
[There is no such thing as a perfectly rational creature. Think about it. You might be as anxious about the extraction ceremony as your friend Ryoon, because you might be too embarassed to accept it, and projecting that anxiety on your sister. Don’t you think it all makes sense?]
[Svachi, I don’t have extraction…]
[Wait, first anwer me this question. If Viias wanted to kill you, why didn’t she do it in the past 22 years? She should have had many chances.]
Hwareet looked at Svachi, mouth agape, and Svachi smiled. With difficulty Hwareet could come up with an answer.
[It’s not 22 years. She must have decided yesterday. Because I made her angry yesterday.]
[Hm. You neerm that the hatred not yet substantialized turned to an urge to kill just yesterday. Well, okay. The last drop always makes the cup overflow. But can you explain to me why she is trying to kill you in front of the supreme authorities?]
[The supreme authorities?]
[The guardians of the heart tower. If an accident happens during the extraction ceremony, the guardians will examine your body thoroughly. I don’t know how good Viias is, but I won’t play with fire in front of a Dokkaebi.]
Hwareet felt that he had nothing more to neer. Svachi neered as he walked to the window to raise his body temperature.
[I won’t make fun of your anxiety, Hwareet. You probably know more about Viias than me. And, if there is any kind of threat to you, our duties are in peril too. So, I will confess now that your neerm sounds a little absurd, but even so, I will consider it seriously. Let’s do this. Karoo and I will visit her as much as we can. We will try to amuse her, and at the same time, observe her. And you, should look for a more objective evidence. And be careful.]
Svachi’s neerm was rational. Suddenly Hwareet felt like he was an idiot. Like Svachi neermed, he might be neerming that Viias is going to kill him during the extraction ceremony. The more he thought about it, Hwareet felt embarassed. My god. That absurd drug.
At last, Hwareet decided to agree with Svachi’s plan. And, at the same time, be very very careful
Kaygan looked at the Punten desert. Over the scorching white desert, the color of the sky was closer to dark blue. The sky of a desert rarely looks blue. Sky looks blue in regions that are more humid. But right now, Kaygan was looking out through a southern window, and to the south of the Punten desert was the humid Keeboren rainforest. Because of this, the sky on that side was blue, and looked dark blue like blight contrasted to the eerie white of the desert.
There was a knock on the door. Kaygan told to come in. After the door opened and a few footsteps, Kaygan turned his head.
“Sir, should I leave it on the table?”
Kaygan nodded. The young son of the inn-owner, Morty, put the pot he brought on the table. And let out words that he wasn’t even asked for.
“My mother won’t even touch this. And so won’t my father. So I brought it.”
Then Morty made a face like a puppy that brought back a stick. But Kaygan, instead of complimenting Morty, tilted his head a little. As Kaygan’s stare became longer, Morty started to feel nervous.
“Uh, do you need anything else?”
“Nothing for the time being, Morty. You can leave.”
Morty hesitated and spoke suddenly.
“Ah, almost forgot. My father asked me to ask this, but how long do you plan to stay?”
“I won’t stay for long. I am waiting for a Dokkaebi and a Leckorn. They will arrive soon.”
Morty, who had nothing to talk about, left the room as if he was kicked out. Left alone, Kaygan blankly stared at the pot on the table. And in the inside, thought about Morty’s attitude.
How strange of a creature are humans. It’s been only two days since he met the inn-owner of the Last Inn, but he could already know what kind of a person he was. It is very easy to assume how sturdy a man is, when he has defended his inn against the desert and its infinite threats. But that same inn-owner forced his wife to cook, who probably cried in protest, and made his young son carry the dish. Maybe he did the cooking himself. But it was his young son Morty that brought the pot. Kaygan did not want that.
Kaygan sighed and opened the lid of the pot that Morty brought.
And he bit off and ate a chunk of Naga meat.
At Karabora, Kaygan led a quieter life. In his hut at Karabora, there is a kitchen that is bigger than all the space in the hut combined. In there, Kaygan prepared all kinds of knives, saws, pinchers, hammers, mortars, and skewers, and a fireplace spacious enough for three large cauldrons. He could go south for two to four days, capture a few Naga scouts faltering in the cold (in Naga’s standards), and return to his hut without encountering anyone. There was no inn-owner that screamed at his game, nor the stupid son of the inn-owner that felt astonishment about things he couldn’t handle with his immature values. In that pacific place, Kaygan lived peacefully, butchering and boiling Nagas and eating them.
Those were idyllic days of carnage.
But the Hainsha Great Temple sent him a letter and now Kaygan was waiting for the companion of two others in this weird inn. As Kaygan reminded himself of this fact, he threw the bone that he was gnawing on on the table and covered his face with his hands. In the letter than Orenol left him, it said that his two companions will be a Dokkaebi and an Leckorn. Kaygan could not know how to treat them. He couldn’t even remember how to treat humans.
What kind of people were Dokkaebis.
As he broke a shower of sweat tracing back in his memory, Kaygan could at last remember the winning streak from 20 years ago. This led to other memories. It was castellan Bawoo Muridol that stepped up at last to prevent a Kim – even though it was commonly known, Kaygan barely remembered that all Dokkaebis called humans this – from going undefeated. By that time, Kaygan was already regretting ever participating in this wrestling match. But he also thought that he didn’t want to lose. Kaygan was slightly startled as he remembered his emotion from back then.
Maybe back then he had some competitive spirit left. Feeling like he was looking at the past of some other person that wasn’t himself, Kaygan wondered about that last match. Was it a single-leg takedown? Or a duck-under?
After a short ponder, Kaygan lost his interest. Why does it matter. Since the winning streak didn’t break, he probably won that match. Kaygan stopped thinking about that wrestling match. He didn’t even have interest.
And after three hours later, he regretted his decision.
The inn-owner of the Last Inn found the Dokkaebi Bihyung Srable from quite a distance. But the inn-owner could not have guess that he was a traveler headed to the inn, becaue the inn-owner was yet to greet a traveler that came from the sky. Only when Bihyung approached the Last Inn very closely the inn-owner realized that it was a Dokkaebi riding a beetle.
The beetle landed next to the boulder causing a sandstorm, and by the time the storm settled, the Dokkaebi was up the stairs. Bihyung glanced at the inn-owner as he barged in the inn, and the inn-owner, without hesitation, pointed at the second floor.
“There, first room from the left.”
Bihyung looked up. The center of the first floor of the inn was empty to the ceiling, and the circular hallway surrounded the space, allowing the rooms of the second floor to be seen. As he found the room the inn-owner was pointing to, Bihyung smiled.
“Did you dream well! You can put my beetle in the stable! You have a stable, right?”
The inn-owner nodded and Bihyung ran upstairs to open the door of the room. And he questioned the human that looked at him with surprised eyes.
“Did you dream well! How did you faceplant our castellan on the sand?”
“I’m Kaygan Draaka.”
Kaygan and Bihyung looked at each other awkwardly. Kaygan thought that he might have said something wrong, but could not figure out what. Don’t people tell their name first when the meet? Was it different for Dokkaebis? And also Bihyung felt that he did something wrong. Fortunately, Bihyung realized his mistake. Bihyung laughed cheerfully.
“Ah, pardon me, I’m sorry. I’m Bihyung Srable. You’re not offended right?”
Kaygan could not know why Bihyung was smiling apologetically, nor why he should be offended. Thinking that his back was breaking a sweat, Kaygan carefully spoke.
“From Hainsha Great Temple… Yes?”
“You’re correct. You waited for me?”
“Uh, how did you faceplant our castellan on the sand?”
“I apologize, but I forgot what I used.”
“Huh? It was the single-leg takedown! No Dokkaebi doesn’t know this. I was asking you how you pulled off a single-leg takedown on someone like our castellan that tilts his body forward so much. But you said you didn’t remember what you used? How could you? If I ever went undefeated, I would have told the story until the day I died. You forgot? Completely? Definitely? Without a doubt?”
“I don’t know, I think so.”
Bihyung looked at Kaygan with so much disbelief. Kaygan felt nervous. Do Dokkaebis respect things they don’t understand? He couldn’t remember. His head started aching. Kaygan bit down on his molar and looked at Bihyung.
Bihyung shrugged and put down his bag by his feet.
“That could happen. It’s been 20 years, and you might not love wrestling as much as we do.” Kaygan was relieved. But, Bihyung’s speech pattern that always added a question at the end gave Kaygan another subject to think about. “But how old are you this year?”
Kaygan hesitated a moment and pushed a chair for Bihyung. And by the time Bihyung sat on the chair, he could think of an answer.
“Why do you ask that?”
“Since you went undefeated 20 years ago, I thought I would meet someone old. But you don’t look that old. Ah, you were probably very young when you went undefeated, right?”
“Yes. I was.”
Kaygan thought that Bihyung’s speech pattern that always ended in a question had its positive side. ‘I could either agree, or return the question.’ Kaygan tested this, and was relieved to see it work. By the time Kaygan gave Bihyung the letter from Orenol, he recovered some composure to observe the Dokkaebi in front of his eyes. While Bihyung read the letter, Kaygan slowly restored his knowledge about Dokkaebis by comparing past memories and Bihyung.
After Bihyung finished reading the letter, Bihyung put it on the table and tilted his head in confusion.
“This letter only has things I already heard. You, me, and the Leckorn. Ah, is he not here yet? Ah, okay. Anyways, us three will enter Keeboren and follow down the Murun river. Then, we find the Naga singing a song that followed up the Murun river, protect him, and bring him to Hainsha Great Temple. This part about using the song as the signal is amazing. It’s likely that only us could hear this song south of the Limit Border. Of course, only he would be the Naga that sings a song. It’s a signal that won’t cause confusion, nor reveal us. Anyways, is that it?”
“I’m curious about the things that aren’t on this letter, though. The other person would feel the same way too. Things such as this: Why do the Kims want us to bring this Naga? Who is this Naga?”
“I don’t know anything beyond your knowledge, nor do I have speculations.”
“Then could you explain me this? I heard of this Murun river for the first time today. Can you find this river?”
“Yes I can. The Feldori river is one of the main major branches of the Murun river.” Kaygan thought this explanation was enough, but changed his mind as he saw Bihyung with his mouth agape. “So if we follow the Feldori river, we will reach the Murun river.”
“Where is this Feldori river?”
“We can find it in a day’s time after we go south of the desert. This is probably why the Great Temple chose this inn as the rendezvous point.”
“You know so well about the south of the Limit Border.”
“I’m probably the ‘guide.’”
“Huh? You articulated ‘guide’ like there is a meaning behind it?”
Kaygan regretted mentioning this. He was too lazy to explain. But Bihyung was staring at Kaygan like his eyes were lighted up. Kaygan gave up.
“Do you know the old maxim about only three can go against one?”
“Yes, I do! Doesn’t it mean that to go against one of the four chosen races in this world, the other three races must gather their force? Now that I think of it, we are three races gathered to rescue one Naga. Do you mean this?”
“Yes. But that maxim is followed by a more archaic explanation. When three is gathered to go aginst the one, the three must be a guide, a sorcerer, and an antagonizer. You’re probably the conjurer.”
“Huh? But I can’t do sorcery.”
“The sorcerer is a trickster or a joker that disrupts order with deception. You don’t need to be an actual sorcerer. Also, your will-o-wisp sufficiently looks like sorcery to others.”
“So the guide doesn’t need to actually guide the way?”
“Yes. I think the monks of Hainsha Great Temple believe that I need to be the guide that makes all the decisions. Because I know well about Nagas or Keeboren.”
“Then the Leckorn that’s not here yet must be the antagonizer. What’s an antagonizer?”
Kaygan nodded slightly. As much as the human being the decision maker and the Dokkaebi being selected as the deceiver, Leckorn fits the role of antagonizer well. Dumb monks obssessed with old fairy tales.
“Simply put, it’s a destroyer that demolishes everything that hinders our way. Fitting for a Leckorn.”
Bihyung, after two hours, came to completely agree with Kaygan’s words.
Leckorns do not like traveling in the desert. It’s natural, as the luscious feathers of a Leckorn provide obvious support against withstanding the enemy’s attack or preserving body temperature, but only provide disadvantages avoiding heat. If a Leckorn must travel in the desert, he crosses it faster than anyone. (Of course, not counting a Dokkaebi on a beetle.)
So, when the inn-owner saw the sillhouette of a traveler that became bigger and bigger from the horizon, he immediately realized that it was a Leckorn. The Leckorn, running while causing a sandstorm behind him, was almost terrifying even, but because the inn-owner already encountered the previous two guests, he remained calm. The Leckorn ran away in a speed close to flying and leapt over the 30 meter tall cliff as if climbing the stairs is too much work. But he had to slow down when he entered through the inn door. Everyone that carries around a 7 meter long iron spear and is entering through a door, must be careful.
The Leckorn looked around after he entered the inn. And he found Kaygan and Bihyung eating dinner on a table, and promptly walked towards them. The center of the first floor had a high ceiling because it was hollow to the top, but for a 3 meter tall Leckorn that walked with an a pillar-like iron spear, it looked like it was enough to cause him claustrophobia. Bihyung couldn’t stop him from being amazed. And Kaygan again felt nervous. He somehow treated the Dokkaebi properly, but Kaygan couldn’t remember how to treat a Leckorn.
Thankfully for Kaygan, the Leckorn opened his beaks first.
“Dokkaebi and a human. I came to the right place.”
Kaygan was relieved again. Bihyung answered the Leckorn.
“Bihyung Srable. This is Kaygan Draaka. You came for the Great Temple’s request?”
Leckorn, after saying this, looked around and leaned his iron spear on the ledge of the second floor. Bihyung again put a smile on his face, and when the Leckorn sat on the floor because he couldn’t find a chair big enough for him, smiled even bigger. The Leckorn sitting on the floor still looked down on Bihyung and Kaygan looked amusing to him. But when the Leckorn opened his beak, Bihyung could not smile anymore.
“I am Tinahan. I have some complaints for the Dokkaebis.”
Translator : Imblygon