Hwareet damned Viias for leaving him without killing him. She probably wanted it; she probably wanted Hwareet to lay on the pool of his own blood, suffering in pain and waiting for his death. Until then he could only neered it in condemnation, but Hwareet could now neer it with certainty. Viias is completely crazy.
[I don’t want to die…. Please, someone help!]
He could not concentrate his mind because of the pain. Hwareet realized that he couldn’t even emit a neerm loud enough for someone right next to him, let alone a neerm loud enough for the whole heart tower to shake. Hwareet thought of using his voice, but he knew well that it was futile. He didn’t even have the strength to scream, and Nagas are always insensitive to sound. Hwareet tried again to concentrate his mind.
[Help! Help me! I’m dying here! Help!]
All was without return, and more pain added on the more he concentrated his mind. From the excruciating pain, Hwareet felt his mind becoming faint.
Then, someone’s mind approached his.
Hwareet tried to see forward but couldn’t. Only then Hwareet realized that he was crying. The silver tears of a Naga, unlike the translucent tears of unbelievers, almost completely obscure one’s vision. Hwareet screamed towards the silvery darkness.
[Is anyone there? Help, please help!]
[Hwareet, it’s me. Ryoon.]
[Ryoon? Did you say Ryoon?]
Fingers that shook wildly grazed Hwareet’s eyes. The silvery darkness dissipated, and Hwareet could see Ryoon’s face. Ryoon looked down at him with a contorted face.
[I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I locked my mind for too long. I couldn’t move. Only now, only now I could start moving. So I couldn’t stop her. I could have stopped her. I’m sorry. I was so dumb and stupid. I couldn’t stop her!]
Hwareet didn’t know what Ryoon was neerming about. But he didn’t need to ask. Ryoon’s mind, which was locked until then, stormed into Hwareet now that it was free again. Feeling Ryoon’s completely open mind, even open to the most private places that one couldn’t even consciously access, Hwareet quickly inhaled.
Hwareet came to know everything.
Why Ryoon ran away, and what Ryoon saw and heard. Self-contempt filled Ryoon’s mind, as he was unable to stop his friend from being attacked, being paralyzed by the aftermath of the mind lockdown. Seeing this, Hwareeet could not blame Ryoon. Because he saw not words nor neerms, but the mind itself, there was only complete understanding.
Then Hwareet understood other things. Ryoon, apprehended by fear and confusion, could not summarize what he had seen and heard, but Hwareet could realize how his sister planned the murder. Hwareet could revisit the body of Yoovex like he had seen it himself, and again shuddered at the Viias’s cruelty.
At that moment, Hwareet felt something strange. Because Ryoon’s mind was completely open, Hwareet came to know everything about Ryoon, and even shared his sight. Hwareet realized that he could see himself through Ryoon’s eyes, and was astounded. But, instead of going into a panic, Hwareet became more calm. It was all thanks to directly colliding with Ryoon’s confused mind.
Hwareet calmly used Ryoon’s sight, and even until the moment he diagnosed that it’ll be difficult to live, he hardly felt any fear.
In composure, Hwareet decided what he had to do.
[Ryoon, listen to my neerm.]
[Hwareet, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I should have stopped her. I don’t know why I couldn’t…]
[Didyusryoono Largand Fei!]
Ryoon was suddenly awakened. At that moment, Ryoon felt fear. Ryoon felt ‘Hwareet inside Ryoon looking at Hwareet.’
It was a moment in which the self and the other was mixed up, the inside and outside contradicted each other, and the cause resulted from the effect. Even to a Naga who is familiar with the interaction of minds from the use of neerms, the chaos of that moment was fear itself. But Hwareet did not allow Ryoon to be apprehended by fear. Hwareet anchored onto Ryoon’s mind and violently attempted to take control of his mind itself.
Controlling the mind of another may be only possible in the realm of magic, but they were Nagas; and because one mind was completely open, it was materialized to some extent. As a result, Ryoon felt a skull-splitting headache instead of fear. Ryoon moaned.
[Something like this…]
[I didn’t think it possible either. But we have no time to form theories that would best describe the situation now. Listen well, Didyusryoono Largand Fei.]
Hwareet consciously used the name with most authority in calling Ryoon.
[It’ll be hard for me to live, and you have no reason to feel guilty about it. I will repeat myself.]
And Hwareet accomplished something amazing. Hwareet repeatedly neered that Ryoon needed to feel no guilt and at the same time, neered about something else. Ryoon dumbfoundedly listened to the two neermed neered by one person.
[You have no responsibility in my death, [Listen well, Didyusryoono Didyusryoono Largand Fei. I have a duty to There was nothing you could have done. fulfill. That Viias merely that she was just an unstoppable force. thought that she killed a brother she hated, but in killing me, You wanted to help me and I am satisfied she I am thankful. You also destroyed my duty. with that. Even if I have no responsibility in my death. Even if I gave my life to Viias, You didn’t kill me. It was Viias I will not let her destroy Makerow that killed me. my duty. So I want to solicit You have no responsibility you to fulfill my. You have no responsibility duty. It’s my last You have no responsibility.] request.]
Hwareet not at the least want Ryoon to suffer for the rest of his life from the guilt of abetting his death. Ryoon could not close his mind even while feeling awestruck.
[Request… What is it?]
Feeling confident that he suppressed the guilt of Ryoon entirely, Hwareet again neered in one neerm.
[Go north. Keep going north. You’ll see a very big river. The Murun river. You’ll be meeting three unbelievers there.]
[Yes. A Dokkaebi, a Leckorn, and a human. They will guide you. You need to sing.]
Hwareet splitted his mind into two again and neered while planting the song he had learned in Ryoon’s mind.
[That’s the signal. Then the unbelievers will cross the Limit Border with you. Take my backpack. There are things that will be of help inside. Meet with the Great Zen Master Juutagi at the Hainsha Great Temple. That human will tell you what you need to do.]
Ryoon was surprised at this shocking neerm and looked back at Hwareet. Hwareet smiled without any strength.
[Yes. The loyal, conservative, and always morally neerming acolyte Hwareet that you knew was in reality a conspirator. Was my acting good enough?]
[To humans what… Why?]
[Please. This is for the Nagas. I don’t have time to neer long so I’ll neer short. You neered that there are no enemies in the south of the Limit Border, right? You said the enemy is at the heart tower, too? You were probably neerming about Yosby’s incident,] Because Hwareet looked inside all of Ryoon’s mind, he knew about Yosby. [surprisingly, you neered the truth. The enemy of the Nagas are at the heart tower.]
[The enemy of the Nagas?]
[Yes. Now you must gather strength with the humans to vanquish the enemy of the Nagas. Only you can do this.]
[Only me? Why is that?]
Hwareet called Ryoon’s divine name again.
[Because you are Didyusryoono Largand Fei.]
Ryoon looked back at Hwareet with a hardened face. Because of pain, Hwareet’s eyes were teary again with silver tears, but his eyes were still smiling.
[This can only be done by a guardian or an acolyte. Only by the grooms of the Goddess without footsteps. Don’t neer to me that you’re not an acolyte, Didyusryoono Largand Fei. I was always curious why you forfeited being an acolyte. Now I know. It was because of Yosby.]
Ryoon was not startled by the fact that Hwareet knew about Yosby. He didn’t have the nerves to be shocked.
[My father… was killed by the guardians.]
[Yes. That was why you could no longer be an acolyte.]
[Yes. Hwareet. You’re right. I couldn’t stand it.]
[I understand. But you were an acolyte who was given a divine name. You know the name of the Goddess without footsteps. Your Goddess is Largand. If you call for Largand, you can call the Goddess. It doesn’t matter if you’re an acolyte or not, because it wasn’t a position but a name the Goddess gave you. Only the name is important.]
Ryoon was again shocked.
[Is that the truth?]
[Yes. If you remained longer and studied you would have known too. You can call the Goddess, because she gave you her name. What you need to do at the Hainsha Great Temple has something to do with this too. So you have the qualification. Also…]
Hwareet painfully smiled.
[You’re my friend. To have someone like you who is both qualified and dependable in a situation like this in which I can’t find another qualifier, I’m such a lucky person.]
Ryoon’s sight was clouded with silver. Unconsciously trying to wipe Hwareet’s eyes, Ryoon realized that the tears came from his own eyes.
Hwareet neered with his exhausted mind.
[Hwareet, you must get up. You can be healed. I’ll get help.]
Hwareet neered this in the sense that he won’t have a chance to survive, but Ryoon understood it in the sense not to call for help. Even until now Ryoon’s mind was open, so Hwareet recognized Ryoon’s misunderstanding, but did not resolve this misunderstanding. He was too tired. He did not want anything more either.
With the last bit of strength he had, Hwareet exercised dominance that Ryoon could not defy.
[Go! Didyusryoono Largand Fei!]
Ryoon bolted up and ran to the door.
Left alone, Hwareet let out a long sigh. He no longer felt the pain on his back. Some kind of chill saturated his body from all directions but he thought the chill was warm and comfortable.
Hwareet knew that he used Ryoon. At that moment, the importance of the duty was not of much significance to Hwareet. Hwareet won’t even be much disappointed if Ryoon had failed. He won’t even know whether he succeeded.
What Hwareet wanted to do was to give his life and death a meaning. He wanted to make sure that he did everything he needed to do. That was the tool that he used to keep his dignity facing the fear of death.
So Hwareet could call his Goddess calmly without fear.
Cephabil, my Goddess.
Hwareet felt something lingering in the midst of his vision. It was shining white, but was also darkness. Were the silver tears covering his pupils again.
But Hwareet felt that was not the case.
Hwareet smiled to that shining but dark lingering that came down from the sky.
In the deep reaches of the heart tower. Or, in the high reaches.
Normally, a covert space is usually placed underground or somewhere similar. But because of the overwhelming 200 meter height of the heart tower, the higher, the more hidden. No one climbs up to the high floors of the heart tower, which takes a few hours just to get their, for something of little importance. Therefore, it is overly obvious that the meeting of three taking place at the 55th floor of the heart tower is very covert. Because it was a meeting that involved climbing up to the 55th floor.
Such sacrifice only apply to two out of the three, however. The last one did not go through the hardship that the other two went through.
Because the room in the 55th floor belonged to him. So, one would not need a thorough knowledge of Naga tradition, culture, and history to assume that he is of high stature. One only needs common sense to assume the amount of power that he has to make others climb up 55 floors.
The owner of the room, guardian Serisma, was one of the greatest guardians. He, who out of all the guardians of Haatengraju is among the most respected, truly was fit to live on the 55th floor. It has already been more than a decade since he last made a trip down all 55 floors. The abundant rain water was his drinking water, and the goat, sheep, calf, or deer on the verge of death brought up once a month by an unlucky acolyte who also would be on the verge of death was his food. Serisma is truly a great guardian.
But that great Serisma was looking at his two visitors with the most unfortunate face.
The two visitors looked uncomfortable as well. Of course, climbing up this horrendous height, even the best optimist in the world would still look a little distressed. But, along with such concrete concerns, they also possessed abstract concerns.
Svachi, one of the two visitors, continued on his briefing with a distressed face.
[They found the clothes and books in the forest. The investigators assume that they were soaked in water. That young murderer put wet books in front of his heart and wore wet clothes to naturally blend in with the other Nagas that finished their extraction. That was probably how he got away with not getting his heart extracted.]
Listening to the briefing, guardian Serisma neered looking at Svachi’s face.
[But why are you so distressed?]
[This is too strange. That Ryoon Fei having signs of extraction anxiety has been confirmed by Karoo and I with our own eyes. But this… This doesn’t make sense.]
Standing next to Svachi, Karoo also nodded his head. Serisma neered.
[I will organize the events again in chronological order. Ryoon Fei ran away from the hall first. He was absent-minded, as if apprehended by fear. Many people witnessed him. And soon after, Hwareet Makerow arrived at the hall. But Hwareet disappeared somewhere before anyone paid attention. Then, the guardians discovered the bodies of Yoovex and Hwareet at the special library after the extraction ceremony. The conclusion the guardians drew is as follows: ‘Ryoon Fei was apprehended by the fear of extraction, and attempted to flee by hiding in the special library. There is nothing weird in this, as this is done by many others who are too scared of the tales of the extraction. But the difference between this incident and others, is the fact that Ryoon actually succeeded in his attempt, and murdered those who discovered him in the process.’ And the guardians requested the punishment of Ryoon Fei to the Clan council.]
[I too am a guardian. There was no need to explain all that.]
[I apologize. But to see the uncanniness of this incident, there is a need to recap all that happened. First, hiding somewhere out of fear for the extraction is understandable, as the guardians concluded. But, when he was found, is not crying or breaking down in anxiety the logical chain of action? It seems unfitting to have butchered a guardian and slain his best friend behind his back.]
[The afraid sometimes display absurdly irrational behavior.]
[If that is so, then what of Ryoon Fei’s rational behavior when he was fleeing the heart tower? I cannot accept the fact that a man who minutes ago committed a brutal murder would calmly look for a way to hide his heart.]
[The insane are in some ways very meticulous.]
[The problem still remains. Why did Hwareet Makerow go to the special library? Why did he, instead of waiting for the guardians in the hall, go to the special library and die to his friend’s Syker?]
[It could be that he heard from others that his friend escaped and tried to look for him.]
[No, that cannot be. No one claims to have talked to Hwareet after he entered the hall. Therefore, there is no way Hwareet new that Ryoon escaped.]
[So, what is your conclusion?]
Svachi sternly neered.
[Our plan has been exposed. Ryoon Fei was probably a carefully planned assassin. He acted like that to make it look like this was done by a Naga scared of the extraction. He showed his act on the main road and in the hall twice. Then, he hid at an appropriate place, and called on covertly as Hwareet entered the hall. Hwareet probably tried to help his friend suffering from the anxiety attack. Ryoon Fei lured Hwareet out like that and murdered him in the special library.]
Guardian Serisma clasped his hands and bowed his head down a little.
[Then why the poor Yoovex?]
[It was to create a scene of murder. Also, by brutally murdering librarian Yoovex, there was probably intent to highlight his mental state, being capable of even murdering his best friend. It would have been suspicious if he only killed Hwareet, since Hwareet is his best friend. But, by killing Librarian Yoovex as well, he made is seem like this was a indiscriminatory serial killing saturated in insanity.]
[But why did he play that act? If our plan is exposed, why did he, instead of attacking us directly, kill Hwareet Makerow using such a complicated plan?]
[It was probably a warning. They could be being cautious since they know not much about us. If so, we still have hope.]
Serisma shook his head.
[No. Your assumptions are convincing but you are oblivious of an important piece of information. Hwareet and Ryoon are not just best friends. I know very well about the two, because…]
[Because Ryoon Fei was once an acolyte?]
Guardian Serisma looked at Svachi with surprise.
[How did you know that?]
[By coincidence. That day, when Ryoon collapsed on the main road, Hwareet tried to mollify Ryoon. Then, Ryoon called Hwareet this: Ashwareetal Cephabil Makerow. I assumed that this was Hwareet’s divine name.]
Serisma nodded his head. Svachi continuted to neer.
[Also, judging from Hwareet’s attitude, Hwareet too called Ryoon’s divine name. It wasn’t audible, but that doesn’t matter. The fact that they know each other’s divine name must mean that they were once acolytes together, right? Presumably Ryoon Fei forfeited being an acolyte in the middle of it.]
[They both became an acolyte when they were 7 years old. Despite Ryoon forfeiting in the middle, their friendship continued. 15 years of friendship. How could they, make Ryoon kill such a friend?]
[There are many ways to make someone a murderer. Even if Ryoon Fei stayed home since he forfeited being an acolyte, there would be no problem. Many men visit the Fei clan. Continued brainwashing and conditioning could have taken place.]
Serisma made a very uncomfortable face. Then, Karoo, who was quietly listening, started to speak.
[There is something that bothers me.]
Svachi and Serisma looked back at Karoo. Karoo calmly neered.
[Before dying, Hwareet neered that he will be murdered, and told of the murderer’s name.]
Serisma looked back at Svachi with surprise, but Svachi neered annoyedly.
[Are you neerming about that absurdity? That was just a twisted projection of Hwareet’s own fear of extraction. You yourself thought so too.]
[Wait.] The guardian neered. [Is there something I’m missing?]
Svachi explained, frowning.
[Hwareet neered that his sister Viias Makerow will kill him. But that was a paranoia given birth by a combination of extraction anxiety, hatred and fear towards his sister, and Viias’s prominent medicinal capacity. Hwareet believed that Viias would kill him with poison, but Hwareet died to a Syker. Everyone saw that Ryoon Fei had a Syker.]
[Was there a reason for Viias Makerow to kill Hwareet?]
At Serisma’s question, Svachi and Karoo looked at each other. The guardian was curious of their attitude, but patiently waited. Moments later, Karoo neered, carefully selecting his words.
[This is not our reasoning but Hwareet’s. We were told that Viias Makerow wants children. Of course, all women want that, but Hwareet deemed that Viias could use methods that others couldn’t even think of to achieve her objective. So Viias suggested a certain proposal, and Hwareet declined.]
After finishing his neerm, Karoo was surprised. Serisma did not seem at all perplexed. Instead, Serisma nodded his head in gloom.
[Such thing went on…]
[You’re not surprised?]
[Viias Makerow can’t be the first woman to think of it, and certainly can’t be the last one.]
Karoo and Svachi was left neermless. Serisma neermed numbly.
[What do women think of men? Superficially they pretend to think of them and for them, but all they want is to lay them down on a bed and suck out their bodily fluids. For them, it would have been better if men were mindless creatures. To some extent, they think so. Men are wandering animals, and if your proposal was declined by an animal, you might get angry.]
Karoo and Svachi could not help but show bitterful agreement. Serisma continued to neerm as he shook his head in discomfort.
[Are there any other evidence other than Hwareet’s own reasoning, Karoo?]
[I don’t know. That day, she was studying in her lab. But because of this, no one saw her.]
[Just because she was unseen doesn’t make her a murderer.]
[Yes, but she is a famous medicinologist and therefore possess access to the special library. She could have left her house without anyone knowing and snuck into the heart tower using the chaos of the extraction ceremony. Then, she could have vacated the special library by killing Yoovex and, by luring her brother into it, killed him.]
[Viias Makerow does have access to the library. But since Yoovex died, there is no way of confirming if Viias did visit the special library. All in all, there are no other suspicions for her other than her hatred for Hwareet, then? Of course, hatred is one of most the common reasons for murder.]
Karoo tried to reply but Serisma waved his hand.
[Hwareet Makerow is dead. His murderer must be found and punished. But, like how finding Hwareet’s murderer will not revive him, our plan too cannot be resumed. The plan failed. We may need to look for a fitting one among the acolytes.]
Svachi nervously grabbed the hilt of his sword and let go again.
[Wait another year? Will they give us time?]
[We have no other way. We’ve discussed this already. This can only be done by an acolyte, and a Naga can only safely cross Keeboren once he goes through the extraction ceremony. So we can only look for someone suitable while we wait for the next extraction.]
Finishing his neerm, Serisma realized that Karoo maintained a strange face. Following the guardian’s eyes, Svachi also looked at Karoo. Karoo carefully neered.
[We may not need to wait another year.]
[What do you mean? Are there remaining acolytes? I am aware that a few are still in Haatengraju without having left to wander, but is there someone suitable among them?]
[There is. He may be a somewhat weird candidate, but he was once an acolyte, and has a reason he must flee Keeboren.]
The two, perplexed by Karoo, looked carefully into Karoo’s mind, and found a name.
[Ryoon Fei?! That murderer?]
Svachi screamed in shock but Karoo firmly asserted.
[If Hwareet’s reasoning is correct, the murderer is Viias Makerow, not Ryoon Fei. But Ryoon also has a reason to go north of the Limit Border, because he didn’t extract. And, once, he was an acolyte in possession of a divine name.]
Karoo looked back at Serisma.
[Allow me to follow Ryoon Fei, guardian Serisma. If he is not the murderer, he may help with our plan.]
Serisma gravely neered.
[And if he is?]
[If he is,] Karoo grasped his sword for a moment. [I could avenge guardian Yoovex and Hwareet.]
[I invoke the right to revenge.]
The clan council suddenly became silent. Of course, gatherings of Nagas are always silent so this would be a Nagaan expression, and should be understood as all the members of the council closed their minds at once. Each members of the council, all representatives of their respective clans, looked at the chairwoman’s seat.
The chairwoman of the council, Lato Sen, was an aged Naga. There were pieces of skin, which Nagas call ageshed, everywhere on her face and the back of her hands. This happens because aged Nagas cannot shed their skin cleanly anymore, and therefore is a display of experience and reason for respect. But even the great Lato Sen could not hide her discomfort at the neerm of the right to revenge.
[Did you just say ‘the right to revenge,’ Viias Makerow?]
[Yes I did.]
The representatives of each clan that sat in a semicircular table at last found the little bit of composure to neerm weakly. Their reactions that weakly diffused in politeness all seemed to lean towards unbelievable doubt. ‘Of course.’ Lato Sen could understand the reactions of the others, and at the same time, found it difficult to hold back anger towards Somnani Fei. Inside the semicircular table, two desks were placed facing each other, and there sat facing each other the two stakeholders of this incident, the two representatives of the Fei clan and the Makerow clan. The elder daughter and representative of the clan, Somnani Fei sat on the chair on the Fei clan’s side, and had an expression on her face like she didn’t know what Viias was neerming about. Gnashing her teeth inside, Lato Sen, risking protests of being unfair, bought more time.
[To confirm, your clan invokes the right to revenge against the Fei clan?]
[That is correct.]
Lato Sen wanted to scream. Somnani Fei still sat with that stupid face. Looking at that face, chairwoman Sen reached the thought that maybe Somnani Fei does not know what the right to revenge means. ‘Dear God, that’s it. She doesn’t know!’ Chairwoman Sen quickly devised a strategy and neered.
[You invoke a very old-fashioned right.]
[But a righteous one.]
[I am aware. But since some of us here may not have an interest in our tradition, I will take a moment to add on in order to help the understanding of those who are unaware of what the Makerow clan is invoking.]
Chairwoman Lato Sen did not like what she was doing. But it is the first duty as a chairwoman to avoid terrible conflict, and for that duty, she had no choice but to overcome this temporary embarrassment. Viias gestured in protest but the chairwoman neered, suppressing Viias with a fierce glance.
[Sit back down, Viias Makerow. I know what you’re trying to neer. But I will not permit towards me any insulting neerms of partiality. The right to revenge is an uncommonly used expression. I would like to point out that the sheer fact that you used such an uncommon expression may already be a contempt to this council.]
Viias sat down reluctantly, and at last Somnani Fei flashed on her face an understanding of what was going on. Chairwoman Sen was risking great danger to teach Somnani Fei what was being discussed before she accepted or declined something she didn’t know. She gestured gratitude with her eyes, but Chairwoman Sen only showed an agitated expression.
[The right to revenge is an expression for Shozain-Te-Sheiktol.]
Somnani jolted out of her seat in fright.
[Sit down, Somnani Fei! I did not allow you to speak!]
Somnani Fei quickly sat back on her seat. There was not even a minute need to anger the chairwoman that was showing favor on her side. But, Somnani Fei, after sitting down, glared at Viias with fearful eyes. The chairwoman continued to neer, now expressing her anger at both Somnani Fei and Viias Makerow.
[Another expression for it is the right to appoint assassin. Please refer to these more well-known expressions at a later occasion, Viias Makerow.]
Viias Makerow bowed her head begrudgingly. Chairwoman Sen kept on neering.
[To simply neer, the Makerow clan, for the price of Hwareet Makerow’s death, is invoking the right to appoint a member of the Fei clan.]
From the council seats bursted out sharp neerms. Those came from the councilwomen that did not bother to close their minds. They quickly tried to close their minds but instead faced the wrathful stare of chairwoman Lato Sen. Chairwoman Lato Sen suddenly felt the temptation to shut down the council for the reason of disturbance. It was an impossible hope, however. Chairwoman Lato Sen first sharply glared at the council seats then neered strictly.
[Now it appears that everyone understands. Somnani Fei. Neer.]
Somnani Fei neered [Thank you.], but her face was still towards Viias. After standing from her seat, Somnani neered with her fists clenched.
[I swear on the name of the Goddess without footsteps, I have never, ever heard of such an absurd request. How dare they appoint an assassin? Hwareet Makerow is a man! Our clan absolutely declines this ludicrous request!]
Viias first requested the right to speak from the chairwoman, then neered.
[Somnani Fei, there is no right to decline for Shozain-Te-Sheiktol.]
[But he is a man!]
Somnani again spoke without the right to speak but chairwoman Lato Sen patiently waited, as if she was out of energy even to condemn her for her actions. Viias smiled coldly and neered.
[But he was a Makerow before he was a man. Hwareet Makerow died before his heart was extracted. Therefore, at the point of his death, he was still a Makerow. And hence, we still possess the right to request Shozain-Te-Sheiktol for the death of a member of our clan.]
Somnani, this time asking for the right to speak, then neered.
[Makerow died after entering the heart tower. Your clan escorted him to the heart tower. The escorts of the Makerow clan, with certainty, sent in an alive Hwareet Makerow into the heart tower, and ended their escort duty. Therefore, as soon as Hwareet Makerow entered the heart tower, he is not a member of the Makerow clan. How can one not escorted by the clan still be a member of the clan? It does not make sense. If Hwareet died during the extraction ceremony in an accident, will your clan appoint an assassin from one of the guardians of the heart tower?]
Somnani’s refutal was all-in-all okay, and chairwoman Lato Sen could feel that a lot of the councilwomen were agreeing to her. Because Somnani ended her neerm with a question, Viias Makerow responded right away.
[That neerm is not even worthy of reconsideration, Somnani Fei. It is your argument that is out of sense. My brother Hwareet visited many times your clan. While staying over at your clan, was Hwareet escorted by members of our clan?]
Somnani only growled at Viias, but did not answer. Viias smirked.
[I’ll take your silence as he was not escorted within your house. According to your logic, since Hwareet was not escorted by members of the Makerow clan in your house, he was not a member of the Makerow clan? Do you agree to this logic?]
Somnani screamed, fuming with anger.
[Ryoon is also a man! He is not a member of our clan! Appointing an assassin for his deeds is absolutely…]
It was a strategical mistake on Somnani’s part. Lato Sen moaned mentally. Somnani Fei needed to drag on the discussion of ‘escort.’ Viias did not fail to catch her opponent’s mistake.
[No, he is Ryoon ‘Fei.’ Like Hwareet Makerow, Ryoon Fei committed his murder before his heart was extracted. This is a confirmed fact. Therefore, this is a crime done by a member of the Fei clan to a member of the Makerow clan. It perfectly fits the requirements of a Shozain-Te-Sheiktol.]
The councilwoman seemed impressed by Viias’s explanation. Those who were taken aback by the fact that Viias is trying to resolve a murder of a man by a man by using Shozain-Te-Sheiktol, the method used for resolving a clan-to-clan feud, were opening their minds showing favor for Viias. Somnani could read this atmosphere, and became more immersed in despair, but at the same time, Somnani thought that she could not understand Viias’s intent.
‘Why is that woman like that? She could have just accepted the reimbursement and stayed silent. We already suggested. It was way too much to pay for a mere man. It was wiser to have accepted that reimbursement. Why on earth is she trying to appoint an assassin? He was only a man. If it was a woman…’
Suddenly, something horrible occurred to Somnani. At that moment, Somnani had complete understanding of Viias’s intents. She looked at Viias shocked, but she could not neerm anything properly.
[Then, who will you appoint…]
Viias neered, fully smiling.
[There is one person in your clan that is praised by everyone for being thorough with the etiquettes and the law, is there not? We the Makerow clan, with respect and faith, would like to appoint Samo Fei as the assassin for Ryoon Fei.]
Somnani Fei spat furious neerms. Those neerms should not have been allowed to be said in the council room, but chairwoman Lato Sen decided to forgive her trespass. Somnani, saying vehement neerms about Viias who was not even here anymore, turned to the chairwoman in the end.
[Ma’am, how could you let that happen?]
[Quiet, Somnani. You should know that the other councilwomen were agreeing to her. What would have happened if I declined Viias’s request in that circumstance? It could have bought some time but Viias would have promptly asked for a vote. And without a doubt, she would have won. Are you neerming to me that I needed to go through such embarrassment and risk solely for your clan?]
Somnani calmed down a little bit.
[I will not forget your help, chairwoman. Dammit, I should have known when she declined the reimbursement. Not even in my wildest dreams I could have known that she would request Shozain for a man!]
[Don’t cut off the rest of the phrase, Somnani. It ruins its meaning. You’re missing the ‘Sheiktol.’]
Somnani, thinking that the chairwoman was being picky about something insignificant, soon realized that the chairwoman was not neerming in that sense. Chairwoman Sen was staring at package on the desk. Pointing at the package, but at the same time, refraining from pointing at the package, Somnani neered in a very weird form.
[Is that the Sheiktol?]
Somnani took a step back.
[But I can’t take that with me. How on earth do I bring that to Samo!]
[But you must. The decision has been made already. As you know, Samo is allowed three days to write a will and sort out her surroundings. She must depart within three days with this Sheiktol. And, until she brings back the head of Ryoon Fei, she cannot stop, take a break, nor return.]
[You don’t need to explicitly neer like that…]
[Be quiet and listen! I want you to convey this verbatim. There is no compromise, no deception, no untied endings! Until it is certain that either Ryoon himself or his assassin is dead, the Shozain-Te-Sheiktol does not end. One of them must die to pay for the life of Hwareet Makerow. Do you understand!]
[The Makerow clan isn’t doing this for Hwareet’s death! They’re doing it to kick Samo out of Haatengraju!]
[I am aware of that of course. And that is the very reason why all the councilwomen agreed to Viias. Did it not cross your mind that Samo’s attitude could be seen as a terrible act of arrogance to other clans? Taking away all the men there are even though she wants no child? It would have been less obnoxious if Samo at least had a child, because then the others would have lost in a competition in its purest sense. But Samo’s current actions are like snatching away a mouse she won’t even eat and throwing it into the water. Do you not understand how spiteful that is?]
[Samo doesn’t intend any of that!]
[I know! But even so, you should have stopped her! It was all your fault in the end. Making Ryoon Fei into an idiotic murderer, and making Samo Fei into a target of hate, it was because all of you only knew how to enjoy the gift that is Samo and did not know how to be careful! And so, now you must pay the price. Without it, you can’t possibly live on Haatengraju with your feet on the ground.]
Somnani could only look at the chairwoman with a rigid face. Her face maintained a rejecting expression, but the chairwoman knew that she was ready to face the truth. The old chairwoman leaned her back against the chair like she was tired and stared at the Sheiktol on the desk.
An adamantine and sharp sword, made only for an assassin and used only by an assassin. The reason for its adamancy is for the assassin to stalk the target to the end of the earth, and the reason for its sharpness is to inflict less pain when the assassin slashes her blood-relative. As born-warriors, Leckorns greatly desire this sword, but never was the Sheiktol held by any race other than the Nagas, because once the assassination is over, the assassin breaks the Sheiktol.
Chairwoman Lato Sen was reminded of an old phrase describing the Sheiktol: a violent monster created to drink the blood of a kin. Chairwoman Sen, with difficulty, finished her neerm.
[Be thankful that such an opportunity is given, Somnani. At least when Samo returns with Ryoon’s head, it will lessen the hatred of the other clans for her. She just needs to slay a man that has no longer anything to do with your clan. This too could be called a gift, no?]
At that time, in the Makerow clan, Viias was trying her best not to feel elated by all the praise from the matriarch. Dussena Makerow could hardly believe what her daughter had achieved.
[Very well done! You have literally taken down a dragon with a tenues sagitta! At last I get to see that Dokkaebi of a woman leave Haatengraju!]
[All thanks to Ryoon Fei.]
[It surprises me to think that a man’s idiotic doing had a use. And it was our idiotic son that died. Still a Makerow since his heart wasn’t extracted? That was such an amazing point. Catching big game with thrown away bait, your talents are astounding. I merely believed that you were talented in medicinology. Of course, that alone is magnificent, but I couldn’t have known that you would show your prowess in clan politics as well.]
Viias stiffened up. Dussena, while laughing and rejoicing like a good-natured person, was placing an elaborate trap within her words. If she ignorantly showed modesty, she would be branded an ambitionist. It is unreasonable to challenge the trust that Somero Makerow receives with merely one achievement. Should she act arrogant instead? The matriarch may take that as an expression of her pride. But that too is risky.
After an immense amount of consideration within just a trice, Viias picked an appropriate answer.
[I just thought that Hwareet’s death was a bit absurd. He must have died so easily because he was not extracted yet. And him not being extracted means that he is still our responsibility.]
[Very logical. Is that the attitude of a scholar?]
[We were lucky that our opponent was the Fei clan.]
Fortunately, Dussena was satisfied. Viias bowed her head and left her room.
The Makerow clan was literally throwing a party. It was likely that all the clans of Haatengraju was rejoicing over what Viias Makerow had done. Viias received great praise from Somero and her two aunts, and had to accept a bundle full of letters and gifts from other clans. One of the gifts that was more impressive than others was a magnificent sagitta tenues made of gold. Viias couldn’t help but let out a laughter.
A sagitta tenues is a thin and easily bent arrow. When hunting with a sagitta tenues, one stalks the animal that is hit with the arrow until the animal becomes exhausted because of its lack of lethality. Mostly herbivores are prey to this arrow, and firing a sagitta tenues to a violently charging beast would only anger it more. Therefore, ‘to take down a dragon with a sagitta tenues’ means the unbelievable feat of taking down a great target with an absurdly little effort. Viias became curious as to which clan had sent this symbolic gift, and nodded when she discovered that it was from the Sen clan. It was a gift with grace that fitted the stature of the clan.
Returning to her room in delight, Viias withdrew her smile when she saw Karindol sitting in the center of her room.
[How did you get in?]
The door was locked. Viias unbelievingly looked at Karindol but Karindol did not try to explain herself, and did not even try to smile. Instead, she stared back at Viias without expression. That made Viias uncomfortable. The stare was at best rude to be targeting someone that was until then praised by everyone.
[Why’re you looking at me like that?]
[What is all that?]
Karindol neered as she pointed at all the gift packages and letters that Viias was holding. Viias laid them on the desk.
[Just gifts from everywhere.]
Karindol also found the gift from the Sen clan. Karindol neered, clearly amused.
[To take down a dragon with a sagitta tenues. Where is it from?]
[Radiol Sen of the Sen clan.]
[Not the matriarch Lato Sen nor the elder Suiishin Sen. Such a great clan indeed. Even when giving an impressive gift they plan a way out. Everyone knows that Radiol Sen is an idiot.]
Viias was startled.
[I didn’t know it was your hobby to devalue the gifts that others received. Wasn’t it to devalue men?]
[It’s certainly a better hobby than killing men.]
Viias was too close to panicking. Karindol stared into her face and got up from her seat, and walked towards the desk past Viias. Karindol picked up one of the accessories out of the pile of gifts. It was a fancy one made of copper which absorbs heat well.
[Thanks for this.]
Viias was confused.
[You lost your room key a few years ago, right?]
Viias closed her mind. Now she could assume how Karindol came in her locked room. Glaring at Karindol, Viias realized that Karindol’s expression-less face was a mask to hide her fear. Karindol neered, staring at the accessory.
[I came over that day.]
[The extraction ceremony. The day that Hwareet died.]
Viias flinched and turned to her bed. Karindol coldly neered.
[Is there something under the bed?]
Viias felt like she was going to lose it. She knows that too? If Karindol discovered the hidden Syker, everything would be over. Viias clenched her teeth and prepared herself to lunge at Karindol bare-fisted.
But Viias froze as she saw Karindol put on the accessory. If Karindol was planning to accuse her, there would be no reason to ask for such an accessory. At that moment, Viias could come up with a word. ‘A deal?’ Then Viias reconsidered all the neerms that Karindol had neered. ‘Even when giving an impressive gift they plan a way out.’ A smiled shined on Viias’s face at last.
After putting on the accessory, Karindol neered with an apathetic face while staring at the wall.
[I’m neerming about that day.]
[Thanks for teaching me those things. Medicinology is too hard. I’m lucky to have such an accomplished medicinologist as my sister.]
Viias smiled victoriously.
[Come any time when you have a question.]
Karindol left the room.
Left alone, Viias pondered who lost or gained more. Without a doubt, Karindol gained more. Karindol knew that Viias left her room that day and even has the Syker that was the murder weapon. Viias looked under her bed, and discovered that it was missing. And Karindol even took an accessory, despite its triviality.
However, which side won was unclear. Karindol probably believed that Viias was more likely to be the next matriarch than Somero. This was probably why she chose to grasp her weakness instead of exposing Viias too. However, the ‘deal’ that Karindol symbolized with the accessory was a dangerous one. More or less, since Karindol became Viias’s accomplice, it could be said that both had won. Viias only then realized that in the house occurred many instances of failing and missing keys. How many keys does Karindol have? Viias suddenly felt a little bit afraid.
Not the eldest like Somero nor is ambitious as Viias, was collecting keys the only thing that Karindol has been doing to survive? Viias thought that she should keep an eye on Karindol. Of course, before that, she thought she needed to change the lock to her room.
Somnani Fei looked like she was wondering if her limbs were still intact. To help her not knowing where to look, Samo looked back at the Sheiktol, and Somnani only then could directly look at Samo and opened her mind.
[Do you understand what I’m neerming?]
Samo neered a neerm of affirmation that could not be translated to a specific word. It is like nodding one’s head, but a Naga’s vague neerm as such contains a much more complex aftereffect. Samo neered in the sense that she does not know if she understood fully but she still has to affirm. Somnani, as if she was condemning that vague neerm, neered firmly and heartlessly.
[Stalk Ryoon, and kill him. The head must be returned. There needs to be evidence that the Shozain-Te-Sheiktol has been complete.]
Samo neered, still staring at the Sheiktol.
[If not, will my head do?]
[Do not even neer that!]
[Only the assassin or the target needs to die, no?]
[But this time, Ryoon must die. Go get Ryoon. It might be tiring, but not difficult. That idiot ran away still having his heart. Even if you don’t get him, the scouts will. It won’t even take long. So, you just need to pretend like you’re chasing him and come back.]
Suddenly, Somnani found something close to a weird stain in Samo’s mind. Somnani focused on the stain, and realized that it was rather an emotional orientation than a firm will. However, what it signified made Somnani shudder.
Somnani enclasped Samo’s hands.
Samo looked with surprised eyes at the eldest daughter of the Fei clan. Somnani emitted her neerm as if she was trying to fuse her mind with Samo’s.
[There is no need for you to die. Think straight! Ryoon can’t live anyways. How will a Naga with his heart live in Keeboren? Even worse, he killed an acolyte and a guardian. Only so much can be covered by the ignorance of man. He doesn’t even deserve your pity. To be real, he doesn’t even deserve you killing him!]
Somnani again felt hatred for Viias. This is an outrageous insult, requesting the most respected woman of the clan as an assassin for a man. But Somnani was reminded of chairwoman Lato Sen’s neerm. ‘Instead, be thankful such an opportunity was given.’ Somnani sent her memory directly to Samo, and so Samo was able to hear chairwoman Lato’s neerm. Samo’s head sunk.
[I understand, The woman needs to take responsibility.]
And Samo grabbed the Sheiktol. Somnani, about to neer something, was taken aback by her aura and closed her mind. Picking up the Sheiktol, Samo slowly unsheathed its blade.
The Sheiktol resembled a Syker in its form. In reality, the sword presented by a human, a Dokkaebi, or a Leckorn to be the Sheiktol are always Sykers, as the Sheiktol itself has never been brought outside Keeboren. Even Samo found it difficult to distinguish whether the sword in her hand was a Syker or a Sheiktol. Samo looked at its blade for a moment and turned to her side.
There was a stone table there. While Somnani looked with surprise, Samo held high the Sheiktol, and in a breath struck down on the stone table.
With sparks, a corner of the stone table fell on the floor. Somnani, surprised by the potency of the Sheiktol, looked at Samo. Samo was examining the blade of the Sheiktol.
[It’s not damaged.]
[That’s a Sheiktol after all. Do you know how to break it?]
[I need to brush it with Hichamma leaves and smash it on a rock.]
[Yes, you know well. Now get ready.]
Somnani left Samo’s room. Left alone, Samo looked still at the blade of the Sheiktol. The blade of the Shiektol, which had the same wave patterns as the Syker, reflected oddly the face of Samo. Samo turned to the piece of stone on the floor. While looking at the piece of stone, Samo felt dizzy. Samo sank on the chair next to her. Suddenly, her conversations with Ryoon came back inside her head.
‘I don’t want to be a replacement for the child that you’ll never have.’
‘Will you be my friend if you won’t be my child?’
Samo laughed weakly. Where the child she’ll never have and the friend she’ll share memories was no more, there was only a target of assassination that she needed to behead.
Samo raised the Sheiktol onto her left arm.
She pulled on it.
Samo was again surprised at the sharpness of the Sheiktol. Almost no pain was felt. It almost felt like her flesh wasn’t cut. But on the blade was Samo’s blood. Samo took out a handkerchief and cleaned the blood off. Now the Sheiktol will look for those who share the same blood. Samo, testing if the blade soaked her blood, pointed it towards various directions. As she expected, the hilt warmed up at all directions, because she was inside the Fei clan. But once she went outside, the Sheiktol will be able to find Ryoon even if he was at the end of this world. As a sword born to drink the blood of a blood-relative, it could not be more perfect, as it looks for the blood that once soaked its blade.
The next day, Samo Fei left Haatengraju.
The body temperature rose slowly. The heat that soaked the revealed parts of the skin, by the blood flow, moved onto the more concealed parts of the skin. When that heat reached around the eyes and the head at last, Ryoon opened his eyes.
The sun was rising.
Ryoon realized the mess he was and muttered an obloquy. He was laying on the revealed part under the tree. It was a mistake to have eaten an armadillo out of hunger after running for four days without eating. Nagas usually have trouble hunting an armadillo, because an armadillo’s hard skin makes the detection of its body temperature difficult. But that armadillo made the mistake of curling into a ball and staying still. Even inexperienced hunters like Ryoon can find an armadillo if he steps on it and trips.
Against the sharp blade of the Syker the armadillo’s shell was of no use, and having a feast after five days, Ryoon fell right into a deep sleep.
It was comfort that shouldn’t have been allowed. However, Ryoon still lied under the tree and stared blankly atop. The branches were so intertwined with each other that it was hard to see which tree they were from. The gigantic trees that have never experienced the axe of a lumberjack felt like fossils. Looking at the intertwined branches, Ryoon thought of blood vessels. The leaves that grew covering each other were green blood that spewed out of the veins.
Like the blood that spewed out of Hwareet.
Ryoon jolted up.
Ryoon resented Hwareet. With friendship, Hwareet made a powerful knot inside Ryoon’s mind. It was where guilt was processed, and Ryoon could not untie it. Ryoon thought that he needed to feel guilty about not being able to stop Hwareet’s death, but it was only out of rational judgment, so no emotion was felt. Because of this, Ryoon even doubted if he loved Hwareet or not.
‘Why don’t you allow me to even mourn your death freely, Hwareet.’
Ryoon, while raging, thought about Yosby in an attempt to allocate some sorrow for Yosby for Hwareet. But emotion cannot be distributed in such a way. It is impossible to move some off where there is too much to where there is too little.
Instead, the fear that Ryoon felt at his father’s death apprehended Ryoon. Yoovex overlapped Yosby’s final moments, and Hwareet on top of that. Ryoon got up quickly in fear.
‘There is no time for this.’
Ryoon approached a shrub nearby. The dew was already drying off the leaves. Ryoon carefully gathered the dew from the top of the shrub. Even at the very bottom of the shrub, not much dew was gathered. Ryoon drank the collection of dew and wiped his mouth. He then estimated the direction of the sun.
‘So that’s east. This must be north.’
His stomach felt heavy, and Ryoon felt uncomfortable. Nagas digest slowly, as they do not chew their food. Ryoon was unfamiliar with his status, as he never ate anything bigger than a mouse. Ryoon even felt unpleasant when he thought that chopped up pieces of meat, almost retaining their shape, was floating in his stomach.
“I must get used to this. Men eat like this until they die anyways.”
As he heard his own voice, Ryoon was terrified. It took him a long time to realize that it was his soliloquy. At the same time, Ryoon was surprised at the fact that he was paying attention to his hearing.
In the Keeboren jungle, an abundance of sound overflowed.
Ryoon realized that the sounds he heard were not all the sounds by any means. The sounds his weak auditory sense can detect are very limited. Even so, Ryoon lost himself in the sounds that were almost overwhelming. Sounds he had never heard before, but he could say what those sounds were.
As he heard the sound of the forest waking up, Ryoon started to walk north. Ryoon, who could no longer even mourn the death of his friend, could only blindly pursuit the death wish of his friend.
Silver trails thinly shined where he had left.
Translator : Imblygon
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