Chapter 7 – Ritual

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The zoans arrived at the refuge when the day entered the time of evening.
When Shyemul, who was the divine child of their god of worship, returned, she gave her wounded and exhausted brethren a smile in compensation for the last few days.
Though the children wore bandages owed to the burns on their hands and faces, they still approached and hugged her with a smile. Shyemul strongly embraced each of them.
However, once they learned that Shyemul had brought along a human child, the adults showed bitter faces as expected. Especially the warriors, who bore the regret that they weren’t able to protect their brethren. Some of them even had open hatred in their expressions..
As if brushing aside their looks, Shyemul deliberately displayed a firm attitude. It’s an ostentation that she hasn’t any kind of indebtedness towards them. Even so, all of it is for the sake of averting the hostility that’s been pointed at Souma.
Shyemul called out to 《Ferocious Fang》.

“Is grandmother here?” (Shyemul)

Shyemul’s grandmother is the eldest person in Shyemul’s village and also a shrine maiden that serves the great God of Beasts. Also, in a village like this, shrine maidens are from time to time storytellers who hand down the clan’s history and cover at the same time the role of herbalists who cure injuries and sickness.

“Yea. She’s at the place of prayer near the waterfall. The Elder was worried about you, too. It’s best if you go to her right away.”

《Ferocious Fang》 replied like that while harbouring the intention of getting them away before the hatred of the villagers suddenly unloads against the human child Shyemul brought along.
Comprehending his intention, Shyemul decided to head to the place of prayer while taking Souma with her.
The location Shyemul aimed for is an old tree that grew close to a small waterfall, which is located at a higher altitude than the refuge. At the roots of the tree, a multitude of wood pieces and stones were piled up into a small mountain as an offer by the zoans. Among Shyemul’s clan, there was the myth that the souls of the dead warriors dwell in this tree and watch over the clan.
Even though they climbed this mountain only at the time of the ritual back when they still lived in the plains, they are now living in hiding right in front of it. They didn’t want to think that the actual distance between the clan and the old tree was hinting towards the time where all of the clan dwells in the old tree being imminent.
An old zoan that looked completely like a monkey’s mummy was in front of that old tree.

“Oh, oh, the immature lass did survive, eh?”

That elderly zoan greeted Shyemul with eyes that were even at the best of times narrow like threads while smiling once she noticed her.

“To call me immature is rude, you know, grandmother? Even though I might appear to be so, I’m a girl that makes even flowers blush.” (Shyemul)

“Ka ka ka, wasn’t it just like yesterday when you hid together with the fur, which was dripping wet due to your bed-wetting, while drying it?”

“T-That’s already a story from ten years back, isn’t it!? Good grief, old people always talk about the past.” (Shyemul)

At any rate, the one who adopted Shyemul at the time she was born is the Elder in front of her. She’s a person I’ve been indebted to since then. Even now I’m no match for her, as she has firm hold on all of my childhood dilemmas I want to forget.

“By the way, isn’t there something you want to request of me? I dare to say that’s likely about that human child.”

“That’s right, grandmother. Can you check this guy’s condition?” (Shyemul)

She lowers Souma, who was still unconscious, from the animal’s back he had been placed on, and beds him on top of a flat, big stone that was set up in front of the old tree.

“Let’s see, let’s see…”

The Elder holds her palm over the sleeping Souma and mumbles something incomprehensible for a while.

“Oh, this is a surprise. Isn’t this child a 『Drop Child』?”

“『Drop Child』?” (Shyemul)

Shyemul was puzzled due to the term she has never heard before.

“Yes. I don’t know whether it’s a rare prank by the spirits or the esteemed will of the gods, but there are people who fall into this world through a boundary different from this place.”

The Elder takes out a pinch of a suspicious powder from within her bag and sprinkles it over Souma’s body.

“As expected, right. This child isn’t tied to this world.”

“Not being tied means?” (Shyemul)

“We are connected by an invisible thread to the boundary we were born and raised in. Because this 『Drop Child』 isn’t tied to the boundary, it won’t last that much longer.”

“Grandmother! What’s that about!?” (Shyemul)

“We don’t live on food alone. Through the connection with the boundary, we obtain the energy to live in the shape of food, water and air. This guy has no such connection. Because of that he’s unable to absorb this boundary’s energy no matter how much he drinks or eats. Even if he takes in the boundary’s energy by breathing, his body doesn’t accept it.”

“Can’t you do anything about that, grandmother!?” (Shyemul)

“Well, it’s not like I can’t, but…”

Being urged on by Shyemul, her grandmother began to examine Souma’s body while wondering Well then, what to do about it? She takes his pulse, puts her ear on his chest to listen to the sound of his heart and sprinkles the suspicious powder over him.
Eventually, when she tried to check his temperature by putting a hand on his forehead, she got surprised.

“Howawawawa!!”

“What happened, grandmother?” (Shyemul)

“I-Isn’t this child the divine child of Aura?!”

At the moment the Elder brushed away his forelocks, the seal on his forehead became visible.
Even for Shyemul, who is likewise a divine child, it’s a seal that she sees for the first time.

“This is…?” (Shyemul)

“Aura’s seal. It’s also my first time seeing it.”

The Elder was taught the knowledge by the previous storyteller, but for her to see the real thing was her first time.

“Aura? Though it’s a name I never heard before, is she a goddess?” (Shyemul)

“It’s not about her being a goddess or not! She’s a greater goddess who is older than the seven gods, including the God of Beasts.”

“I never heard about such a goddess existing though.” (Shyemul)

“I guess so. Aura is a goddess who rules over death and destruction. It’s been forbidden to mention that name carelessly.”

“Is she an evil goddess?” (Shyemul)

“No. The seven gods were actually born because Aura existed. Because there’s death and destruction, there’s also life and creation. Aura is a greater goddess that should also be called a fragment of the great God of Creation.”

“But”, as the Elder shakes her head slightly.

“Death and destruction are things that are loathed after all. If we keep this child alive, we might bring calamity upon ourselves.”

The current period is especially bad.
Under these circumstances, where they were chased out of their village by the humans and where they might get attacked at any time, the fact that there’s a divine child who rules over death and destruction is something that is quite capable of uselessly stirring up the anxiety of her brethren.

“《Noble Fang》, do you still intend to let this child live?”

The Elder’s words were heavy.
Saving this human at the same time means burdening myself with everything this child does from now on. Despite him being a human who is hostile towards us under normal circumstances, this human child is also the divine child of the goddess of death and destruction. Putting aside myself, there’s no way for me to know what kind of calamity he will give rise to among my brethren.
Can I really take responsibility for all of his crimes once they came to pass?
That’s what grandmother is asking.

“Indeed. Please, grandmother. I have a debt to this guy which must be repaid.” (Shyemul)

Shyemul answered after making her decision.
Among the zoan’s proverbs, there’s one like this:
『The kindness of a rabbit received at the moment of starving must be returned even if it means death.』
To say nothing about this human child, who shared what little food he had even while he was on the brink of starving himself. There’s no way she could let him die without returning even a single thing, after having received such huge favour.

“Hyo hyo hyo, if you go as far as telling me this much, it will also be wrong for this old woman to shun any hardships.”

“That’s a great help, grandmother. But, are you alright with that, grandmother?” (Shyemul)

Shyemul’s worry was that her having saved this human child might cause troubles to the Elder afterwards.

“I don’t mind. It’s obvious that the day when we will be destroyed by the humans isn’t that far away, regardless of killing or saving this guy. Even if our ruin comes a bit earlier due to that, it won’t make any great difference.”

Her grandmother laughed loudly after smiling broadly.

◆◇◆◇◆

At the time when the moon was at its zenith, a bright red fire was burning at the place of prayer.
The firewood, stacked up plentifully, has its sparks dance and burns intensely.
Souma, who is nude after having all his clothes taken off, was lying on top of the flat rock placed in front of the old tree. He is groaning painfully while drops of sweat are trickling all over his body which is warmed up by the flames’ heat.
Sitting in front of the blazing fire, the Elder picks up and grasps things similar to powder from within several pots that were placed in front of her, and throws them rapidly into the fire. Once she does so, the fire’s intensity flared up even more while emitting a white smoke that smells like medicine. Once more she grasps powders from other pots in succession and throws them into the fire. Once she repeated that countless times, the smells of the many substances mixed with each other, turned into a unique stench and wafted around all over.
Elder Lady faced the moon in the sky and raised a howl by making her throat warp. At times violent, at other times plaintive, that howl makes the night’s atmosphere vibrate.
Joining the howling with its peculiar intonation, Shyemul sprang up.
Her entire body is painted with the colour of soil which was dissolved in water. She is decorated with richly coloured bird feathers very similar to a mane. A necklace which has things such as animal teeth, jades and agates threaded on it is hanging around her neck. She wears golden loops with bells attached to them on her wrists and ankles.
Each time Shyemul’s flexible limbs moved, the bells made a jingling sound.
The Elder’s howling reverberates like a wave approaching the shore closeby and in the far distance.
Following that, the motions of the dancing Shyemul increased in their intensity as well. Stepping out to the rear with her right leg visibly dividing her groin in a grand manner, she stretches her upper body in front as if trying to glue herself to the ground. In the next instant she leaps up with a *tham* and makes a full revolution in mid air. At the moment of landing, all the bells jingled.
The Elder began to largely sway her upper body while raising the howling. At first it was a small swaying, but it widened gradually. She swayed her body back and forth as if falling over.
When Shyemul’s arm draws a large circle, the bell rings beautifully. Each time she performs light dance steps like a fairy dancing on a water’s surface, the bells jingle.
As soon as Shyemul made her body bend loosely back and forth completely like a snake, she dances in mid air while spreading both her arms similar to a large bird. Performing dance steps with a *ta-tap*, she makes a full turn. In an instant she becomes four-footed just like a female leopard and howls while facing the sky, after bending back her spinal column as if displaying her voluptuous breasts.
Heat welled up from within her body, sweat flowed down from Shyemul’s body like a waterfall while she was warmed up by the heat of the blazing flames, and sprays of sweat were sent flying alongside the lively motions of her body.
The Elder took a small pot under her arm and rushed over to Souma. And then she takes out the stick which was stabbed into the pot while singing loudly. A gooey, green mucus covered its tip. She skillfully operates that stick and draws a complex pattern on top of Souma’s body.
Once she finished drawing that, Shyemul picked up a water jug that had been offered in front of the old tree while dancing. And then, just like a beast aiming for its prey, she circles around the flat rock with Souma lying on it while bending her body. She narrows down that circle gradually and then the body of Shyemul, who carried the water jug, looms over Souma’s feet.
The body of Shyemul, who placed both her hands on the ground and was grovelling, climbs slowly upwards and upwards from the end of Souma’s feet. Swaying her body left and right while matching it up with grandmother’s howling, as if teasing, as if having her fill, she climbs up from the ankles to the knees, from the knees to the waist and from the waist to the chest.
The sweat, which dripped down from Shyemul’s body like rain, and Souma’s own sweat were mixed together and Souma’s body became soaked.
Shyemul, who had finally reached the head, straightens up her body and sits down on Souma’s chest.
And then she pressed the opening of the water jug on Souma’s lips and poured the cloudy liquid in it into Souma’s mouth.
Souma choked fiercely. Even so, the body of Souma, who swallowed the majority of it, began to tremble all of a sudden.
Next to him, the Elder’s howling reaches its climax and at last turns into shrieking.
As if trying to shake off Shyemul who had mounted his chest, Souma’s body bent back in an arch. Shyemul clings to Souma so that she won’t be thrown off.
And, at the same time as grandmother’s shrieking ceases abruptly, strength leaves Souma’s body and it lies there limply.
For a short while the vicinity was dominated by just the cackling of the fire and the rough breathing of the three.

“Good grief, for my old body to put up with this…”

While grumbling like that, the Elder holds up her hand over Souma’s head.

“I see, I see. It connected, it has connected.”

“Did it turn out well, grandmother?” (Shyemul)

Shyemul asks her grandmother while her whole body has become listless due to the exhaustion from the dancing and this heat.

“It’s successful. Well, it only applies if he hasn’t died due to this though.”

Due to her grandmother’s words, Shyemul presses an ear against Souma’s chest in panic and makes sure of his heartbeat. Once doing that, she heard that his heart was fortunately beating regularly.
Did the sigh that Shyemul leak out of relief brush his face? Souma’s eyelids twitched slightly and he opened his eyes a bit.

“Did you wake up? Do you understand my words?” (Shyemul)

Though Shyemul asked him that, his look is roaming around the air as it seems that his consciousness is still hazy. However, eventually his sight turned towards the face of Shyemul in front of him.

“How about it? You understand?” (Shyemul)

When Shyemul asked a second time, Souma’s lips opened slightly.
As he’s trying to say something, Shyemul brings her ear close to his mouth.
Souma released weak words together with a sigh.

“… It’s beautiful.” (Souma)

And then he ended up losing consciousness again just like that.

“Wh-!?” (Shyemul)

Shyemul has become speechless due to the unforeseen remark.
Seeing Shyemul’s shaken appearance, her grandmother laughed happily.

 


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