Finally, after completing the slow climb up the gentle slope of the hill and emerging at the top, the salt mine came into view beyond the gray curtain of the drizzle. The many moving figures in it looked just like ants.
To aid the transport of the salt, the sloping road to the salt mine had been carefully evened out and maintained. However, with the recent rain, the path had turned to slush.
Watching the fawn-colored mount of Lord Ouhan’s second son, Yotal, lose its footing as it walked in front, Hossal muttered under his breath, “…Didn’t they even think about using lime to pave the roads?”
Makokan, who was trotting along by his side, smiled wryly after hearing those words, “How about you propose this to Lord Ouhan, once we get back?”
Looking up at the tall man, who was deftly handling his irritable, black horse, Hossal shrugged.
Seeing the young man’s lips having turned pale beneath the black hood, Makokan knitted his eyebrows.
The mountains are cold. Not to mention the rain. Being forced to ride his horse since dawn in these conditions must be too harsh for my weak-bodied young master. Would it be better if we took a break after all…?
Just as he was thinking this, Hossal raised an eyebrow as if he had heard Makokan’s thoughts, “Don’t worry. I’m alright.”
And then he turned to face forward again, and spurred his horse on. Makokan chased after him with a gloomy expression.
Hossal was an exceptional individual. He would already be special just by virtue of being one of the <Sacred People> descended from the founder of the old Otawal Kingdom, but additionally, his natural gifts bloomed at a very young age under the tutelage of his grandfather Rimiel, a famous doctor. By the age of fifteen, he was already an assistant teacher at Otawal’s <Shin Academy>, a historic institute dating back a thousand years. Now, at the age of 26 years, he was the director of a medical institute, and there was not a single person under Ziol Empire’s rule who didn’t know his name.
He had made his name saving the Ziolan Empress from a terrible illness during his time as his grandfather’s assistant, but even before that he had saved many heavily injured people and those afflicted with illnesses that were previously thought to be incurable.
Makokan had also been saved by him.
Hossal had shown up when Makokan had already resigned himself to his death, lying in agony in a corner on the cold stone floor of the arena. When Makokan saw the slender figure at the edge of his dimming field of vision, he had thought, Ah, so I’m going to finally die.
── After all it was a well-known fact in the arena that as one of the <Sacred People> and with permission from the emperor, this youth was collecting the corpses of the pit fighters.
However, Makokan didn’t die. Even though he had received a wound that was guaranteed to be fatal, Hossal had given him medical treatment, allowing him to miraculously survive.
Even now he clearly remembered the moment he had woken up in Hossal’s mansion. In the bluish light of the dawn, he could faintly make out a profile: Hossal, nodding off in a chair by the window.
Did this man stay awake the entire night, attending to a mere pit fighter…?
Waking up, Hossal smiled faintly after seeing that Makokan had opened his eyes.
“I guess you survived. I expected nothing less from a person hailing from the Yukata Mountain District. You have stamina that would put even a horse to shame.” And then in a much more serious tone that didn’t suit his boyish, slender face, “To begin with, you seem to be someone of a <Inner Servant> family lineage. If you ever feel so inclined, please do enlighten me as to how someone from a family such as yours became a pit fighter.”
Upon hearing this, Makokan was both surprised by the fact that Hossal knew of his origins and bitterly resigned at the fact.
No matter how far I fall… even if I escape to the end of the world, it seems that I won’t be able to cut my bonds with the <Sacred People>. Those born as their retainers are unable to escape their lords’ eyes for as long as they live.
Hossal must have gleaned something from Makokan’s expression because a cold light entered his gaze.
“Don’t mistake me. If you were still an <Inner Servant>, I might not have even noticed you. Even if you were on the verge of death, I would have likely passed by without sparing you a glance. ──I hate those guys who grovel in the shadows.” Hossal brought his face close, whispering, “Even though you have been fighting rather recklessly, you always won, didn’t you? They were interesting, your matches. ──I collect not only corpses but also the living… hey, won’t you become my attendant?”
What an odd person, Makokan thought, A terrifying man with a strange charm.
Behind his back, the Ziolians called him <Devil’s Child>1. The rumors that his ability to drag people back from the brink of death came from lying with the devil were not solely malicious gossip started by those who hated Otawalians; they were also owed to the strange aura he projected.
It might simply be that people were unable to believe that he was capable of such extraordinary feats without the addition of such rumors, but Makokan suspected that it might be Ziol’s clerical healers who were spreading those rumors behind his back. The clerical healers feared and hated Hossal and his grandfather, Rimiel. In the first place, they regarded the Otawal medical treatment as heresy, but it was only compounded by the fact that Hossal had become famous overnight thanks to his services for the empress.
The current emperor, Natal, was a decisive and open-minded man. Despite the strong opposition from those around him, he summoned the Otawalian doctor Rimiel, known for his <Miraculous Healing Art>, and his grandson Hossal to the imperial court to treat the empress’ incurable disease. This resulted in a massive uproar at the time.
The proverb <Healing practitioners are the fingers of God> exists in Ziol. Healing arts, which governed over life and death, were regarded as the carrying out of god’s teachings. All healing practitioners were also priests of the Sacred Spirit Faith worshiped by the Ziolians. Should the imperial court’s clerical healers diagnose a patient as terminal, it was customary to bestow a medicine that would ease their passing into god’s hands.
However, Emperor Natal refused to give up on treating his beloved empress, and upon hearing rumors about this illness having been cured, he summoned Rimiel and Hossal. The two of them carried out their duties splendidly and saved the emperor’s beloved empress. The emperor was shocked and awed by their superb medical techniques and knowledge. He requested that they teach Otawal’s superior medical techniques to the imperial court’s clerical healers, but upon learning of this, the court’s healers flew in a rage, and it all developed into a dispute where neither the emperor nor the priests would back down.
In the end, the uproar was settled by Hossal and Rimiel declining the position, but the seeds of trouble had already been deeply planted. Because the uproar had been too big to suppress, news spread across the empire, and Ziol’s nobles ended up learning about the superiority of Otawal’s medical treatments.
It was human nature to choose a cure over death when suffering from an incurable disease.
Just like how Ouhan had sought out Hossal when the clerical healer had told him that he had no hope, the number of nobles who secretly invited Otawalian doctors to their mansions was slowly growing.
The priesthood was naturally displeased with this. They continued to obstinately insist that the country would fall into chaos if the nobles started to be disconnected from the path dictated by the Sacred Spirit Faith. Because the Sacred Spirit Faith was a spiritual foundation holding the empire together, neither the emperor nor the nobles could openly go against them and even now, close to ten years after the empress had been cured, the medical techniques of the Otawalians were still officially considered heretic arts.
In the first place, the fact that the Ziolians harbored emotions of fear and rejection towards the Otawalians in their hearts might have complicated this problem as well.
The Monarchy of ancient Otawal was a kingdom that had prospered for several thousand years. In the past it had extended to the southern Yukata Plains, the northern Oki District, and the western Toga Mountainous District, not to mention the area the Salt Mine was in.
The Otawalians excelled in medicine, engineering, and industrial crafting. It was said that the people who had lived in the kingdom’s domain enjoyed an idyllic life of abundance.
However, a strange disease began to spread amongst the aristocrats, and the untimely deaths of their top statesmen caused the foundations of their government to shake. And, around 250 years ago, an epidemic struck, devastating the kingdom in the blink of an eye.
Some had wondered whether the aristocrats might have provoked the wrath of the gods seeing as the techniques they had adopted had been approaching the realm of the gods, far beyond human understanding, but the truth remained shrouded in mystery to this day.
When Otawal’s aristocrats had determined that the kingdom could not continue, they began to take the steps old wise men took when they prepared to hand over the reins to the next generation. The Otawal Kingdom’s last Sacred King Takarhal moved the royal capital to the Trade City of Kazan in the Akafah province, which had been untouched by the epidemic, ceding sovereignty to the young City Lord after making him swear to govern leniently and to allow the various ethnic groups to have autonomy. This was the beginning of the Akafah Kingdom.
And then the remaining Otawalian aristocrats built the <Sacred Land Otawal> in a basin surrounded by steep mountains, moved there, and dedicated themselves to the research and development of the various crafts, including medicine.
Even Otawalians who weren’t aristocratic studied in the Shin Academy in the Sacred Land when they were children, then chose a way of life suited to their respective talents, with few choosing to remain in the Sacred Lands into adulthood. Many traveled far and wide, living in various countries and capitalizing on the knowledge and techniques they had learned.
The words <Live for yourself and make good use of other countries> was written above the Shin Academy’s main gate, and as such the Otawalians each chose a way of life which was not constrained to their own country.
The technologies and handicrafts produced by the <Shin Academy>, the center of learning in the <Sacred Land Otawal> were well known in foreign countries, and had contributed to the wealth of the Akafah Kingdom through the production and trade of merchandise.
There had also been an organization called <Inner> in ancient Otawal. Just like spiders spinning their webs, they left their threads in even the deepest corners of the various ethnic groups living in the kingdom, observing all kinds of events. Even after the sovereignty had been transferred to Akafah, that organization remained, supporting the kingdom from the shadows as the King’s private network. ──If the Akafah Kingdom were a body, the <Sacred Land Otawal> could be considered its head.
It was said that the Akafan king only had a few skirmishes when the Ziol Empire attacked, and readily surrendered after hearing about the Ziol’s mighty military force and after the benefits of negotiating had been explained to him by the people of the <Sacred Land Otawal>.
While their loyalty to Ziol was clear, the people of the <Sacred Land Otawal> cleverly infiltrated the heart of the empire by advertising their ingenious technologies. Their medical knowledge spread very slowly due to the clerical healers’ stubborn opposition, but in the fields of public works and construction, the Otawalian technicians were assigned to important posts, and even in fields such as mine exploitation and metallurgy, their advanced techniques had begun to be a basis for Ziol’s growth.
Because of these achievements, the Otawalians held an odd position of being respected while being oppressed, and being appointed to important posts while feared and shunned.
Even among the Akafans, the number of people who were displeased by the Otawalians’ rather unsavory methods wasn’t small. However, since they understood that Akafah had only been able to retain the level of autonomy it had without being devastated by the fires of war thanks to the skillful negotiations of the Otawalians, the people living in Akafah didn’t want to go as far as avoiding the Otawalians, though they still felt a faint feeling of disappointment towards the <Sacred People> in their hearts.
However, since the Otawalians didn’t have as much history in Ziol, which had risen in the distant east and expanded its territory like a swelling cloud, the Ziolians considered them terrifying.
The merchants that had traveled the roads between the east and west for a long time had become accustomed to calling the <Sacred Land Otawal>, which had quietly continued to exist in a basin walled in by steep mountains, a haunt of evil. There were rumors that the people living there had lived for thousands of years by sucking the blood of humans. The negotiations that made Akafah part of Ziol might have dispelled those particular rumors, but even now the fear that the Otaliwalians were terrifying people lurked in the hearts of the Ziolians.
Having said that, they understood that the Otawalians possessed highly sophisticated technologies that seemed like magic to them, and for precisely that reason, they simultaneously relied on the Otawalians even as they avoided them.
Even while being criticized by the priesthood, Emperor Natal continued to associate with Rimiel as a close friend and an individual worthy of respect, and the reason why Ouhan continued to assign Hossal to important positions was because he knew better than anyone else that Hossal could save him from disease.
In the past, when his life had been saved, Ouhan said to Hossal, “──…For you to have been here, now, at such a time… If this isn’t a divine sign, what else could it be…,” If Ouhan’s retainers had been able to see his face back then, they would have doubted their own eyes. Though he was known for his arrogance and greed, a timid smile had graced Ouhan’s face to accompany his flattery.
When the top of the salt mine’s mine shaft finally became visible, the stench of smoke suddenly deepened, probably because the direction that the wind was blowing in had changed. As soon as he noticed it, Hossal’s face visibly tensed. Spurring on his horse, he called out to Yotal, who was up ahead, talking to the commander of the soldiers who had come out to greet him.
“Sir Yotal.” Seeing that Yotal had turned around, and while holding down his unkempt hair with a hand, Hossal said, “I think it’s better for you to put on the mask sooner rather than later. Also, could you stop the cremation for a moment?”
Noticing that the ash of the burning corpses was dancing in the wind, Yotal quickly retrieved a cloth to cover his mouth in a hurry. As he tied the string behind his head, Yotal asked with a muffled voice, “Why stop the cremation? The disease will spread if we don’t burn the corpses as soon as possible, right?”
Hossal nodded as he also put on a mask, “There’s no problem with cremating them. As you say, this method will prevent the spread of disease. However, I must have a look at the corpses before they are burned. I came all the way here just for this.”
Hearing that, the commander, who had come to greet the lord’s son, wrinkled his nose. As soon as he noticed that expression, Yotal’s expression changed, “You bastard, what’s with that expression of yours! This is Master Hossal, the person who saved my father’s life!”
Being loudly reprimanded by Yotal, the commander froze, before quickly bowing, apologizing in panic, and then turning on his heels striding rapidly towards the big brickwork building from which great plumes of smoke were rising.
“Hey! Stop the cremation!”
Hearing his voice, the serfs, who had been carrying and piling the corpses on wagons, sluggishly stopped moving. The eyes of the soldiers, who were supervising the serfs’ work, widened when they noticed Hossal approaching, and immediately averted their eyes in fear.
Seeing one among them forming a seal to repel evil by folding down his middle finger, a sarcastic gleam suddenly flashed in Hossal’s eyes. He placed a finger on his lips, and then immediately pointed that finger at the soldiers as if throwing something. The targeted soldier turned ghastly pale in no time, and began to tremble.
Chided by Makokan, Hossal growled throatily like a cat, and dragged his cheeks up into a warped smile. And then he quickly dropped the smile, got off his horse and passed the reins to Makokan, and walked over to a wagon loaded with corpses.
Makokan also dismounted and chased after Hossal with the two horses in tow.
A cacophony of whispers broke out amongst the soldiers, who were looking on from a distance. Makokan couldn’t understand what they were talking about, but he was sure that they must be sharing their impressions after seeing the <Devil’s Child> with their own eyes for the first time. Taking a piece of cloth from his pocket and covering his mouth and nose with it, Makokan surveyed the vicinity.
Corpses of the criminals, who had been brought to the mine to do the dirty work, lay on wagons all around, horror still carved into their faces and iron rings around their necks. The soldiers watching from a distance also looked unsettled.
Hossal stepped up to the corpses carelessly lined up next to a wagon and stopped, taking in the details.
Makokan turned around, scanning the surroundings as he wasn’t inclined to study the corpses like his young master.
The salt mine was located in a crater-shaped valley, surrounded by hills and mountains in all directions. Thick forest began near the mine and continued up the mountains in the north and west. An endless, imposing iron fence had been constructed in front of the forests, protecting the blind spots of the watchtowers. The south and east were covered by rocky areas with bad footing, except for the road that had been built and had rather good visibility due to the relatively scarce tree growth. Even if someone tried to attack this place, quickly running downhill while armed would be difficult.
Even the road has turned into a quagmire.
‘It might be like that as another layer of defense against enemy attacks, and not mere ignorance. Looking closely, quite a few praiseworthy defense measures have been set up here.
Well, it’s the place where they are digging for white gold, after all.
If he were to be negligent in his management, Lord Ouhan, who has been granted jurisdiction over this area, would be harshly reprimanded by the Emperor.
All these defense measures were of no use in this disaster.
Returning his gaze to his young master, Makokan stared at his profile. Hossal was inspecting the corpses. He didn’t seem to mind the putrid smell or the evidence of their cruel deaths at all. Makokan suddenly felt a shiver run down his spine at his master’s stony countenance.
Once Makokan called out to him, Hossal blinked as if he had just been woken from deep thoughts.
“…Have a look.”
Hossal pointed at the calf area of a corpse. The leg, which had long paled with death, had clear traces of something similar to a dog bite.
“Every corpse has these bite marks. You can also see traces of a rash that broke out on their bodies.” As he made these observations, Hossal sighed softly, and wiped his forehead with a hand.
Seeing the gesture, Makokan suddenly noticed that his young master was sweating. Sweat gathered in small droplets on Hossal’s white forehead despite the cold. The instant Makokan saw the sweat, a numbing dread spread across his scalp.
When he heard that the people working at the salt mine had all died, he didn’t feel such a dread, though it had been surprising. His thoughts were that it was something along the lines of a cook making a mistake and using a poisonous plant or mushroom for the meals.
However, these corpses had bite marks. It wasn’t food poisoning. They had died after being bitten by something.
For it to cause this man to be so shaken; just what kind of disease…
Something absurdly abnormal is happening. And I’m right in the middle of it now.
Makokan thought, and he felt a sudden throbbing in his chest.
Taking gloves out of his pocket and putting them on, Hossal urged Makokan to do the same. And then he had Makokan retrieve the mineral powder for killing insects from their luggage, and ordered him to spray it on the five corpses lined up in front of him.
Waiting patiently until the cloud of white smoke to leave the corpses, Hossal nodded as if he had confirmed something.
“Take the clothes off this corpse. With this cold and since you have sprayed so much, I think it will be alright, but since fleas and ticks might still be inside the clothes, be careful not to get bitten.”
The corpse was simply cold and heavy, not at all stiff.
“…It looks like more than three days have passed.” Makokan muttered to distract himself from the fear, and Hossal nodded.
“Rigor mortis occurs early in people who have been doing hard labor, but these bodies are all fairly limp so I think about four days have passed since their deaths.”
Once the rags that they called clothes had been removed from the corpses, Hossal closed his eyes briefly, and once he opened them again, stared so intently at them that it began to feel a little immoral. Mumbling something under his breath and, satisfied that he had examined every nook and cranny of the five corpses, Hossal got up, stretched his back, and sighed deeply.
Yotal, who had been standing behind him with an uneasy expression, called out, “Did you deduce what kind of disease it is?”
Hossal looked over his shoulder, silently gazing at Yotal for a short while before he sighed once more, and said, “Unless I examine the corpses in a lot more detail, I won’t know the exact cause.”
Yotal stared at Hossal, “But there is a disease that you suspect, right?”
Yotal took one step closer to Hossal, and whispered, “Please tell me. What illness is it?”
Hossal looked down at a corpse, saying, “Keep in mind that this is merely a guess based on the situation and a preliminary inspection, but…it might be the Black Wolf Fever.”
The instant he heard that name, Makokan instinctively leaped back from the corpses. As if something invisible was being emitted by the corpses, he was scared of even breathing.
Hossal smiled a faint, bitter smile as he shook his head.
“Don’t be so afraid. It’s pathetic for someone with such a big frame to act like that. It’s alright. If this is truly the Black Wolf Fever, you can’t be infected by these corpses, at least.”
Yotal had been silently listening to their exchange and looked to Hossal with his eyebrows furrowed.
“It’s a little embarrassing, but I don’t know anything about a disease called Black Wolf-something2. Is it a dangerous sickness? Or a fearsome, contagious plague that will spread like wildfire?”
Hossal dropped his smile, looked at Yotal, and nodded, “Indeed. I was teasing him just now, but it’s natural for him to be scared. It’s a terrible disease. Having them be cremated quickly was the correct response. Besides…” Hossal looked towards the wagons that had been drenched by the chilly rain that was still gently falling. “This cold is good luck for us. The last few days have been cold enough for there to be frost, and since the people here died there wasn’t any heat from any fires, right?”
Yotal nodded blankly, his face betraying the fact that he didn’t quite understand.
“Yes, that should be correct. I hear that some corpses even had a thin layer of ice on them, too.”
“Then it’s alright. I don’t think we’ll catch anything from the corpses here for now.”
“There are no insects present. The Black Wolf Fever is a sickness that is transmitted through bites of black wolves or wild dogs. However, what’s most dreadful is that it can also be propagated through fleas and mites who bite sick people or animals.”
Yotal’s face turned pale and he wiped at the sleeves of his own attire.
“Don’t worry. Fleas can’t move around easily in frost. However, it should probably be noted that they are very resilient insects and can survive the winter as long as they are eventually thawed out again, whether it be by a fire or the warmth of a dog’s body.” Hossal gazed at the wintry, colorless landscape obscured by the chilly rain.
“I think we were really lucky that this place was isolated by this cold weather for over four days…” Hossal sighed lightly, and said to Yotal, “Still we should make sure that anyone who had any contact with the corpses or were in the vicinity burn the clothes they wore, wash their hair and bodies, and change into new clothes before we go back.”
Yotal’s eyes widened, “No way…we have to go this far?”
Hossal nodded, “Yes, we do.”
Makokan silently watched as a strange gleam entered Hossal’s gaze. Suddenly he knew what Hossal would say next.
Hossal quietly added, “This disease killed six thousand people in the past. ──It is what caused my native country, the old Otawal Kingdom, to its eventual fall.”
Yotal’s face became as white as snow.
“…What about a cure?”
Hossal shook his head at Yotal’s muttered question.
“We still haven’t found anything that works against it.”
While swaying back and forth as the the strength in his legs had left him, Yotal asked, “Are those who contract it…guaranteed to die?”
Hossal looked down at the corpses, and answered, “It’s not guaranteed. I hear there are people who have survived even after being bitten by the black wolves carrying the disease. However, according to the ancient documents that survived to this day, eight out of ten people died once the symptoms of the disease started to show. It’s a terrifying plague.”
Although his face was paler than usual, Hossal’s voice had already regained its calmness.
Yotal took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself, and asked with a low voice, “Is it different from rabies? I mean that Black Wolf Fever.”
“Yes, it is. Rabies is also a disease caused by an animal’s bite. And the fact that there is no cure for either disease and that death follows once there are symptoms is the same as well, but one would not die so quickly from rabies. It depends on where one is bitten, but even in cases where the bite is close to the head, it will take around fourteen days after the bite for anyone to notice anything unusual. Most of the patients will continue with their lives without realizing that they are sick until then. However, with the Black Wolf Fever, it is written that the disease will quickly progress and symptoms appear within a few days after being bitten, leading to death. This is also the reason I believe that it might be this disease.”
“There had been no reports of any rabies cases, right?”
Yotal shook his head. “At the very least there was no mention of it in the regular reports.”
Looking absently in the direction of the corpses being placed on the wagon one after another, Hosaal suddenly began to fluently explain, “In the first place, rabies isn’t transmitted from one person to another. And even for a contagious disease, it’s exceedingly abnormal for so many people to all die within a short period of time. An infectious disease spread by rats could be another possibility, but at least on the bodies here, the bite marks are definitely not from rats. Just like I said before, the cold rules out fleas and mites.
Given cold weather, and the harsh environment, the flu could be a possibility as well, but still, it’s difficult to imagine that this many people would all die from it. When it comes to such a large number of people dying so suddenly, the first suspicion is always food poisoning or other poisoning. However, even after disemboweling the corpses, I could find no traces of poison, and there are no symptoms pointing to poisoning either.
Well, I can’t say it with absolute confidence since some time has passed already. After all, there are poisons out there that make the deaths look like they were caused by illness. But with the rashes and the bite wounds on all the corpses…I can’t exclude the possibility of it being the Black Wolf Fever.
I think we should deal with this under the assumption that it might either be poisoning or the Black Wolf Fever.”
Yotal knitted his eyebrows and whispered, “What about the black death? I have heard about that one being spread by rats…”
Hossal shook his head, “I don’t think that’s possible here. If it’s the bubonic plague, the armpits, the area behind the ears, and the groins will swell up dramatically, and you can often find ulcers and necrosis, but neither of those are present on these corpses. Furthermore, there are several symptoms that don’t match. Besides, the color and shape of the rashes that I found on all the corpses resemble the descriptions of what’s characteristic of the Black Wolf Fever.”
Yotal wrinkled up his nose, reddened from the cold. “You said that the disease is also spread by fleas, but given how these corpses are already decomposing, wouldn’t the fleas switch hosts? Jumping over to our bodies while we’re talking next to the corpses like this, is it really impossible…?”
Hossal suddenly burst into laughter.
“Hmm, I think we will be okay. We’re beyond salvation if we do get infected, but even if we aren’t, it is the fate of all living things to perish eventually anyway.”
Yotal blinked, his expression making it clear that he couldn’t decide whether these words were a comfort or a burden.
Makokan cleared his throat in the background, prompting Hossal to restrain himself, dropping the smile and fixing his gaze on Yotal.
“Either way, there’s something I would like you to do for me as soon as possible.”
“What is it?”
“Please put around thirty of the dead bodies here, including the ones that were discovered in a thin layer of ice, into coffins, and send them to my clinic in Kazan. …Can you do that for me?”
It was a loaded question, implicitly asking if Yotal would be able to obtain the consent of the clerical healer in charge of Lord Ouhan, but Yotal nodded easily.
“That’s okay.” And then, lowering his voice so that the soldiers wouldn’t be able to hear him, “I’m grateful for you taking him into consideration, but Master Rona won’t stand in your way. It’s fine.”
Lord Ouhan’s clerical physician had misdiagnosed Lord Ouhan’s illness in the past, causing Lord Ouhan to be on the verge of death. Lord Ouhan had been saved by Hossal, but Hossal never informed Lord Ouhan about Rona’s misdiagnosis in an attempt to protect his position. However, as soon as Rona discovered his own mistake, he went to Lord Ouhan with the resolve to be punished by death, and apologized to his lord for exposing him to danger due to his own lack of skill.
That’s the kind of man Rona was. He was a taciturn man, and what he was thinking about wasn’t always clear, but unlike many other clerical healers, he seriously faced god’s teachings rather than protecting his own clout, and it seemed as though his only concern was how one lived.
Lord Ouhan had taken him in for his incorruptible personality that had withstood the opinions of the clerical healers at the imperial court. He dissuaded him from resigning so that he could continue being his clerical healer. After considering it carefully for a long time, Rona remained as clerical healer.
Given these circumstances, Rona relied on Hossal whenever Lord Ouhan was afflicted by something, and by special arrangement, he indirectly protected Hossal by not raising any objections or reporting the details to the clerical healers at the court. Thanks to him, Hossal could freely wield his abilities as a doctor.
“However, if it’s such an important matter, I think that even he will find it impossible not to inform his superiors.” Hossal said with his voice lowered as well.
However, while nodding his head lightly, Yotal answered, “That’s a matter of course. But, it’s fine. Master Rona is an ally, and we have gotten used to dealing with the higher ups as well. Please do what you want to your heart’s content.”
Hossal relaxed his expression.
“That’s much appreciated. …Oh, right, make sure to have the corpses thoroughly sprayed with mikim.”
Yotal nodded, looked back at the commander, and told him to prepare carriages and coffins for the transport.
Hossal called out to the commander, who had saluted and was about to go back to his subordinates, “I’d like it if you could ensure that the corpses are kept as cool as possible to slow decomposition. If they end up decaying, it will become difficult to determine the illness. It will also complicate the creation of a cure. …Given that a number of days has already passed, it might be a difficult task, but I still want to do what I can.”
Once the commander darted away with a crisp salute, Hossal turned his eyes towards Makokan.
“Get me paper and a writing brush. And also, lend me your back.”
Makokan sighed, and retrieved paper, brush, and an ink bottle from their luggage as he was told. Then he bent down, allowing Hossal to write on his back.
“Man, it’s great that you have such a broad back. It’s a little too soft, though.”
From Hossal’s light tone, Makokan sensed that Hossal’s mood had greatly improved. Hossal often purposely acted frivolous, but in reality it was rare for him to truly be excited. Right now Hossal was all fired up.
By the time Hossal finished writing a letter to the assistants in his clinic’s research facility, the commander and his soldiers had come back with carriages and coffins in tow. Hossal handed the letter to Yotal.
“Please give this to my assistants along with the corpses.” With that, Hossal turned to face the commander directly, “By the way, was it you who first noticed the incident here?”
The commander’s face stiffened, and he shook his head.
“It wasn’t me. It was discovered by the soldiers who came here yesterday early in the morning to take over guard duty, who then reported to me.”
“I see. ──Can I speak to them?”
The commander saluted, “Yes, sir. I will bring them here at once.”
After they were brought over, the soldiers stood stiffly in a row in front of Hossal. The soldier who had pointed at Hossal earlier was among them as well, but right now Hossal wasn’t in the mood to tease him, and calmly looked over all of them.
“There are several things I want to ask you. I won’t mind even if you think it is trivial. Please tell me anything you remember.”
With that introduction, Hossal began with simple questions such as how the salt mine and the outside interacted with each other, or how often the guards were relieved. Once they had relaxed a little and began to speak more freely, he asked them about the situation when they discovered the scene in the morning.
From the conversations with the soldiers, Hossal understood that there were no unusual reports from the salt mine up until at least fourteen days ago, that there was no one alive when they arrived yesterday morning, and that they didn’t see any animals at that time.
“…So everyone died, right? Including the slaves who had been chained inside the mine.”
When Hossal asked this, the eyes of a single, young soldier shook faintly. His sharp eyes taking notice immediately, Hossal stared at him.
“Was there anyone who survived?”
The young soldier wet his lips, and cast a fleeting glance at the commander. Then, clearing his throat, the commander spoke up.
“I wasn’t certain whether I should report it to you, but it’s possible that a single slave escaped.”
The color instantly drained from Yotal’s face, “What was that!?”
The commander continued to speak in panic, “It’s only a possibility. Since we still haven’t finished tallying the people, I was planning to tell you when we were sure.”
“What do you mean by a possibility?”
“In a rock chamber on the third layer there are broken chains that should have been attached to a slave’s shackles. As you know, the slaves are chained inside the mine at night, but those chains had been torn off. However, it’s not clear whether a slave had been bound there. Those chains aren’t something that can just be torn off even with multiple people, and since they were fairly old chains it is also possible that there just wasn’t a slave chained there.”
Seemingly regaining his composure as he spoke, the commander added one more thing in his usual deep voice, “Since the slave overseers have died as well, we won’t know for certain until we cross check it with the records. I’m having it investigated right now.”
Yotal stared menacingly at the commander.
“There should be a number engraved on the chains, no?”
The commander’s eyes swam. They were in the middle of such a mayhem. He had probably been reluctant to spare any manpower to go down just to compare the numbers and ascertain the status of a single slave. The edges of his eyes became red.
“Indeed, that’s true, but the records have been kept fairly sloppily, and there are also many missing numbers…” He trailed off, likely believing that this would be enough to justify it. He swallowed down any further words, and bowed deeply. “I’m terribly sorry. We will immediately go down with the records and check the number.”
Hossal had been brooding silently as he listened to the two, but once the commander stopped speaking, he shifted his attention to Yotal.
“…Umm, I’d like to see the broken chains. Could you guide me there?”
- It’s a slightly funny way to call him since in the raw he’s called 〈魔神の御稚児〉. The 御 (go) is a prefix expressing respect, reverence. In other words, the people title him Devil’s Child, which you’d usually associate with something bad, and at the same time express their respect towards him.
- The author used a wrongly written version of Mizuzual here. I prefer going with Black Wolf Fever, even if it’s a bit wordier