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A mysterious pane moved and cut off Yuataree’s form.
Her heartbroken gaze beheld Roten, until she disappeared beyond the pane with a click.
A weak mutter escaped his lips.
She was no longer anywhere to be seen. The panel was thin, and tinged white, with delicate rises and falls. He didn’t know how it worked, but like staring into deep water, no matter how he stranged his eyes, he couldn’t see a person.
Yuataree was long gone now.
Roten clenched his teeth. His eyes were wide, and his breath had stopped. The blood was rushing to his head, and his brow felt terribly painful. He knew that he was making a terrible expression. But Roten continued staring in the direction that Yuataree had once been.
It was because Yuataree had taught him that boys could never cry.
Even if he couldn’t see his mother or sister ever again, Roten couldn’t cry.
Yuataree had been a strict sister.
In place of their weak mother, who was busy with her duties as Chief, Yuataree had strictly disciplined Roten.
From teaching him his studies, to how to treat elders, to his duties as the son of the Chief. If he made even a little mistake, he would be hit without mercy. Just because he left a little jiitake left on his plate, he was forced to sit in front of the dinner table for two koku.
Even so, Roten loved his sister.
It was because he knew that Yuataree’s strictness was built atop her love for him.
In order to teach him to read and write, she stayed up until dawn drawing pictures and words on cards. When he made a mistake in his courtesy, she would bow with him. Until he managed to swallow the jiitake, she would wait by him.
She was stricter than anybody, but kinder than anyone. To Roten, Yuataree was the best sister in the world.
And in order to protect him, that sister had recklessly attempted the ritual.
And it was all because he couldn’t use the flute well.
This time, there was strength in his voice.
He had to do it in her place, no matter what. There was no time for him to pity himself.
“…This can’t be.”
He heard a voice from behind him.
“How long are you going to hold me!”
Suddenly, the white arms wrapped around his waist made him indescribably irritated. He struggled to escape her arms. The liquid below him splashed as he kicked, and suddenly, the woman tightened her grip in a panic.
“H-, Hey, don’t struggle.”
“Release me, Flasher Woman!”
“I told you I wasn’t a flasher! Wai-, rather, calm down for a minute!”
“I am calm. Release me this instant, you insolent thing!”
The woman sounded bewildered. But her grip just grew stronger and stronger.
“I’m technically an angel, okay!? How am I insolent!”
By now, even Roten knew that this woman was no spy.
It was because he considered that she might really be an angel that he endured elbowing her in the gut, or headbutting her in the ear. Amongst the things that Yuataree taught him as the son of the Chief, was self defence. Breaking free from a frail woman’s grip was no trouble for him.
“I’ll let go, but you have to promise me one thing.”
“I’ll do whatever you want, so spit it out already.”
He obeyed her because he wanted her to let go this instant.
“Look over there.”
The woman turned, with Roten still in her arms. It was a white plank, not unlike that which separated Roten from his sister. This one ran vertically, and was quite large.
“You absolutely can’t open that door. Ah-, and this window is no good either. If you charge through while this window isn’t connected, I can’t even imagine what might happen…”
That was two things.
Roten looked around, peeved.
He was inside of a small room.
And the things inside of this almost irritating brightly coloured room were all things he had never seen before in his life.
A light pink tube, and then a slightly darker pink tube, as well as an elliptical prism with a hole right down the middle. Attached to the wall was a long, snake-like, shining rope, and at the end of it was a silver head, that hung above the two of them.
As Roten stared intensely at the insides of this room, suddenly, something occurred to him.
“Oi. If I can’t open these boards you call a window and door, then how am I supposed to get out of here. Don’t tell me that you intend to lock me up here forever.”
Indeed. In this room, there were only those two exits.
And unbelievably, when the woman heard his question, she let out a surprised, “Eh-” before falling silent.
Did she really intend to lock him up here?
“I need to take the ritual in place of Sister. I can’t keep your promise.”
――He didn’t care if she was an angel or not anymore. He was going to break out of here.
Roten prepared to move. Realising this, the woman called out in panic.
“Of course I’m not going to lock you up here. It’s okay, that window will connect you to the person you want to meet. So we can return to you to your sister. …Probably.”
Her words had given him hope, but when he heard that last word, anxiety gushed up in him.
“No, uh, definitely! I’ll definitely return you to your sister, so first please tell me what’s going on. Inauguration rituals, and insects and stuff, I don’t understand what you’ve been talking about at all.”
It sounded a little bit like the woman was simply buying time, but if she was truly an angel, and this was truly the Heavens, then Roten had no means of returning to the mortal world. He reluctantly nodded.
“I get it. I’ll tell you everything… Angel. I will abide. I won’t open the planks without permission, and I will explain. So let me down already. I don’t know how it is in the Heavens, but in the mortal world we call it ‘lewdness’ when a naked woman embraces a man like this.”
“…A, man…? …But, well, I guess.”
Roten finally succeeded in escaping her arms.
As his feet touched down into the warm, bath-like liquid, relief came to Roten.
“It’s common sense in the Heavens to be naked, but I’ll conform with your mortal courtesies for a while. I’ll be back right away, just-, just wait there, okay? Okay? Don’t move, and don’t touch anything!”
“I got it,” nodded Roten, and the woman disappeared out of the room from the plank she called a door.
It opened and shut with a sound. But almost immediately afterwards, the woman reappeared with a white cloth wrapped around her body.
“…You’re misunderstanding the mortal world.”
With a single cloth that covered neither legs nor shoulders, what part of this was ‘conforming with mortal tendencies’?
“It can’t be helped, okay. My bar’throwb is still in the wash, and I was worried about taking my eyes off you. Anyway, forget about me. More importantly, explain. Why is it that you two didn’t want the other to become Chief? And what does it have to do with I’Jibro? Also, what relationship do you have with Conyork the Second?”
The woman fired one question after another.
Certainly, it was no time to be worrying about her misunderstanding. Roten opened his mouth to speak, but,
“Ah-, wait, yeah, hang on a moment.”
the woman immediately interrupted him.
“You’ll tire out if you keep standing. I’ll start feeling cold too. At least stick your feet in.”
With those words, the woman left the room again, and this time came back with a cloth in hand.
She placed one of them on the rim of the container that Roten was now standing in.
“You can sit on this. Aah, your cuffs are wet, aren’t they. It might not help much, but I’ll fold them for you.”
After Roten sat down as directed, she knelt down at his feet and began folding his pants.
“Oh? This clothing…”
The woman’s long hair was casually tied behind her head. When she tilted it, the stray hairs that weren’t tied in would tickle Roten’s knees.
Suddenly, Roten recalled something that happened as a child.
During the hot summers, Yuataree would often bring him to play in water as a break. When there wasn’t time to get naked and swim, she would always bend over in front of him to pull up his pant cuffs.
Under the sunlight, filtered through tree leaves, he would sit on a large boulder, while her hair fluttered in the wind. The water in the stream would sparkle brilliantly.
It was a precious memory, with his precious sister.
The woman in front of him doubled up with the image of his sister.
The woman raised her head and tilted it, at his quiet mutter.
“I-, It’s fine! Sister always told me to do things myself! I’m not a little child.”
When he considered that the woman might have heard him calling for his sister, the embarrassment became unbearable.
“What are you talking about? You’re plenty little enough.”
The woman was taken aback for a moment, but then suddenly hung her head and clenched her teeth.
“What’s wrong? Are you feeling unwell?”
Roten was sent into a panic when he saw the woman hold her stomach. Perhaps the air in the mortal air didn’t sit well with her body. Or could it be that his existence was contaminating the essence of this world? But despite his worries, what escaped the suffering woman’s lips was a laugh.
“Wha-, What are you laughing about!”
“I’…m sorry. You just remind me of a child I know, so I just.”
Roten clenched his fists and stood up. The humiliation made the blood rush to his head. But that was only for a moment.
“It’s shameful to let your emotions control you. Remember to control them.”
His sister had often told him this.
Since the woman kept saying “I’m sorry,” Rotan spat out “It’s fine,” in reply, and sat down with his head turned away.”
“I really am sorry. That one was my fault.”
The woman took a few breaths to stop her laughter, and then sat on the rim opposite Roten.
“So why do you two not want the other to become Chief? Is there something wrong with the inauguration ceremony?”
The woman was no longer smiling, nor stifling a smile. Now that she seemed seriously willing to listen, Roten changed his attitude too. Straightening his posture, he placed his hands on his knees. He was the next Ottko Yu Chief, and he needed to look the part. Calming his mind, he spoke as calmly and slowly as possible.
“The inauguration ceremony occurs when the position of Chief is passed on. The main meaning of the ceremony is to show to the king of I’Jibro that we have the power to make the insects obey us.”
“Right. To explain the ceremony, first I need to explain the history of the Ottko Yu tribe. We were originally a desert nomad tribe. Apparently we made our living by digging wells for other tribes. But because we didn’t have our own land, other tribes were harsh to us. Even though they asked us to dig up water for them, once we lost our use, their attitudes became cold. Perhaps they thought that we were aiming to steal their lands. Sick of that life, our ancestors sought a land of their own. With good timing, they met a king of I’Jibro. The king was interested in their ability to control the insects, and presented us with an offer for land in I’Jibro, in exchange for rescuing his mother from a tower. At the time, the one who negotiated with the king in our place was Kon York the Second. It wasn’t all he did for us, but I’ll leave that for now. Having gained a place to live from the king, our ancestors made a promise with the king. If the king of I’Jibro so wanted, we were to provide the power of the insects to help him. But at some point, the meaning of the promise changed, and if we ever lost the power to control the insects, we would need to return the land to the king.”
The further the story advanced, the wider her eyes became, and the more her mouth hung open.
Naturally he was left in wonder, but the woman just shook her head a little.
“I was just a little surprised. I’ve heard some of this story somewhere else, you see… But I see. So the boy who had his mother imprisoned ended up becoming the king.” muttered the woman, with her arms crossed. Before long, she looked up and him and asked,
“Meaning. Meaning that it’s time to pass on the position of Chief, and you need to show the King of I’Jibro your power.”
“That’s right. Normally the one who chooses the time is us. But demanded that we do so now… They completely forgot the meaning of the promise, and as time passed on, they became more and more greedy.”
Roten’s gaze dropped to his knees.
His fists clenched unconsciously.
His arms trembled, and his fingernails dug into his skin.
“My mother can’t stand up for long. Sister has only just lost her ability to hear the insects. And I… I can’t convey my voice to the insects! Because of me, because of me, Sister…!”
A hand with longer fingers covered his trembling fists.
At some point the woman had knelt down in front of him again.
Her hands were trembling too. Roten wondered if she was crying. But he was wrong. She was angry. Her eyebrows were raised dangerously, and she was looking at their hands.
“I’ve got it,” said the woman, and she stared right at him. “So all I have to do is give you the power to talk to the insects, and your sister the power to hear the insects, right? Then I’ll send you to your sister.
“When does the ceremony begin? Where’s your sister now?”
“It starts in about two koku… Sister should be praying in front of the ritual nest right now.”
“I see. Then we’ll barge in! If the two of you aren’t qualified to be Chief alone, then you can just do it together. Or is there some promise that it has to be done alone?”
Roten shook her head. She had a point. There was no reference to the number of Chiefs. It was obvious that there was one, after all.
“Then I’Jibro shouldn’t be able to complain. As long as the insects listen, it should be fine even if there are two of you. Or rather, you can prove to them that it’s fine! It’s unforgivable to harass a child like this!”
Right now the woman seemed even angrier than Roten was.
“Leave it to me,” she said, as she held out her chest. Roten felt embarrassed for suspecting that she was a spy. This woman was undeniably an angel. He was certain that she would mediate for him, just like Kon York the Second once did.
“Then, Angel. Can that plank connect me to my sister?”
The angel stood up with vigour, and placed her hand to her the ‘window’ plank. But she suddenly froze.
“What’s wrong? Won’t it open?”
“Eh? Ah, mn, it will, you know?”
There was definitely uneasiness in her voice. But now that he was distracted by the hope that she had given the Ottko Yu tribe, he didn’t think too much of it.
Perhaps it was too heavy for her to move. Thinking that, he placed his hand behind hers to help.
The plank moved much more easily than expected.
Almost like fog clearing up, the white-tinged plank disappeared.
Roten thought that he was about to save his sister and the Ottko Yu tribe. But what met his eyes left him shocked. Far from his sister, he was looking at some place he’d never even see before.
“Where… is this?”
A flat expanse of green. A damp wind brushed his cheek, followed by the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind. It was one large tree, surrounded by a sea of green grass.
“H-, Huh? This place isn’t… the ceremony place… huh…”
Roten looked up at the woman standing next to him. The image of the woman’s dumbstruck expression entered his eyes.
Rage bubbled up from deep inside. What “Leave it to me!”.
The fact that he believed in her once just made him all the more angry.
“You damned liar! You really are just a breast-flashing woman!”
“EEH!? You’re that disappointed in me? But, I mean, I do feel bad but… this alone I can’t… Anyway, shall we close the window and try again?”
It was when the woman feebly tried to close the window that it happened.
“Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh! Stay awayy! Please stay awayy!”
A somewhat shrill, yet somewhat deep, voice. But definitely a woman’s.
And at the same time, a familiar GICHICHICHI sound.
“I’m all skin and boness! I’m not tasty at alll!”
While Roten was too dumbfounded to even scold the dumbfounded woman next to him, another woman jumped out before him. Without noticing them, she single-mindedly tried to climb the tree.
When Roten saw what emerged to chase her, he screamed.
The arrijighock noisily clacked its jaws in threat, and placed a forelimb against the tree.
It couldn’t climb it. But the woman was clumsy, and seemed like she would fall at any moment.
Roten fumbled with his shirt. There were zaza leaves inside his pocket, used for leaf whistles.
Taking one out, he placed it against his mouth.
-pyuuui pyu pyuui pyu pii-
The sound began clear, but immediately grew weaker.
Still, Roten continued to blow, and made the wind vibrate.
“Eh? That, eh? Wai-, eh? That’s a leaf whistle? Wait, you guys make insects listen to you, wha-, could it be that it’s one of the whistles!?”
Roten ignored the discomposed breast-flashing woman and desperately blew the flute.
But the arrijighock simply turned his way once, and wouldn’t part from the tree.
Even if he was terrible with the flute, never had an insect paid so little attention to its sounds.
Roten continued blowing, and listened carefully.
-GICHI GICHICHI GICHICHICHI-
“Please don’t come heree, I’m really not yummyy.”
The woman’s voice was getting in the way of the insect’s.
Roten had the best ear in the village. Even so, it was no easy task to understand the insects.
He grew irritated, and then shouted.
“Shut up! If you want to be saved, then shut up! Don’t make a sound.”
“Yessh! I’b sorrwy! …Wahhh, first id’s an insecd anbd now id’s a ghostdt? Plwease jusd cud mee a break alrweadyyy…”
The woman stiffened with a start, and began apologising with mucus running down her face. After apparently finally noticing them, she looked their way, before almost bursting into tears again.
“I told you to shut up. Shut your mouth right now!”
Perhaps overwhelmed by his threatening look, the woman nodded without a word.
The noise was finally gone. Roten desperately strained his ears.
He looked up with a gasp.
The arrijighock kept mentioning something over and over again. That was ‘starvation’. The starving arrijighock stubbornly pursued the woman. He immediately realised why.
“You there! You have a sunarabi don’t you! Throw it away, now!”
“A four-legged animal with long ears. You have one, don’t you?”
“Ah-” muttered the woman in realisation. Apparently she knew what he was talking about.
“Throw it away now! The arrijighock is going after it!”
The dim-witted woman had finally found a foothold. Placing a foot on a branch, with one hand she hastily unfastened the bag on her back.
Roten began to undo his clothing as he watched.
“Eh? What are you doing?”
The breast-flashing woman was hysteric when she saw him strip, but he ignored her. After he finished, he soaked them in the liquid at his feet.
Suddenly, a strong smell filled the small room.
――This should be good enough.
Roten looked up at the same time the dim woman threw the sack on her back.
His eyes widened.
Of all things, she threw it towards him.
But luckily, the bag opened in the air, and the wet sunarabi landed on the floor.
The arrijighock immediately ran to capture it.
The bag approached his head. He tilted to avoid it, and then bundled up his wet clothing.
He heard the bag land behind him.
“Uwah-, what is this. It stinks of alcohol.”
Roten clicked his tongue. Apparently there was still a sunarabi in there.
“Oi! Woman! Take this!”
He tossed his balled clothing at the dim woman. She almost fell over, but she caught it.”
“There are hahanero leaves weaved into those. Rub it all over you so the scent sticks in. Wait until the sun sets, and then wrap those around your legs. Try and get as far away from here as possible!”
“Yhess-! …B-, Butd why?”
The arrijighock turned their way with the sunarabi in its mouth.
It began approaching at terrifying speeds, attracted by the scent of the remaining sunarabi.
There was no time left to throw it back.
“I’m closing this!”
He shouted, as he closed the window.