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In a World without God Chapter 46

Ygraine's form crumbled. It disintegrated into tiny grains of light, like sand.


Edulis stared blankly at the place where Ygraine's image had once been, his hand still outstretched in the air. He then glanced up, his eyes locking with Laotou's. Even without words, they knew each other's thoughts and the emotions in the depths of each other's eyes.


"The piece must have been too small," Edulis said. It was a shame. If only it had been a little bigger, so he could have seen Ygraine's face a little longer...


However, the grains of light did not scatter into thin air. They danced through the air, like pollen caught in a maelstrom, and swirled around Edulis. 


Then a voice was heard. 


 - Orma.


Edulis felt nostalgic, as if he had turned the first page of an old, dusty storybook and remembered his mother's voice reading it to him. 


 - It's okay, you didn't do anything wrong.

 - Let's forget. Let's forget it all and start over. Someday, somewhere, we'll meet again and...


The voice echoed in Edulis' ears again and again. Words he didn't remember but missed terribly.


And then the grains of light that had been swirling through the air flew toward a single point. Toward the heart of Lutea, held by Laotou. 


Then, at the heart of Lutea, at the apex of the silver apple, a bud emerged. Leaves sprouted from the stem, which grew a finger's length. Soon a warm scent wafted around them, like a mother's embrace. 


"Bosha...can you hear it?"

 

At Laotou's words, Edulis nodded. 


Ding, ding, ding. 


There was a ringing, a clear, beautiful sound. It sounded like the tolling of bells in a church far away. 

 It was unmistakably coming from Lutea's heart, the silver apple. 


"The heart has begun to move on its own."


 Laotou arched an eyebrow, as if thrilled, as her body began to glow. 


 "Laotou?"

 

"Ah...Lady Lutea."


The sword marks on Laotou's body began to heal. At the same time, bone grew and flesh appeared from one of the four broken legs that Laotou had lost, and it glowed like obsidian. 


"What happened?" 

 

"I've been using my power to keep this heart alive, and now that it is beating on its own, albeit feebly, the power to keep it alive has returned to me."

 

"So... if I retrieve more of the pieces, your three remaining legs will also return to you?"

 

"Yes. But...."


Laotou held up her axe spear, which had served well enough in Taharka's hands, but in her hands, it seemed to become a different weapon altogether. It swung freely through the air as if it had become a part of her, as if weightless. Every time she swung the spear, a small storm arose, stirring up the grass and branches around her. 


"See? I'm strong enough as it is."

 

"So?"

 

"Lady Lutea’s heart still needs my magick, but I can go out and fight for about a day now, so...if Akale shows up, call me. Call my name three times against your shadow. Then I can go out to where your shadow is."


She contorted her face and clenched her teeth. 


 "How dare she impersonate Lady Lutea, and get Taharka killed!"


Laotou has the most fiery temper among all the Apostles. If one tried to argue with her, she wouldn't listen. At that, Edulis nodded at Laotou's words. But it never occurred to him to ask Laotou for help. To risk Laotou would be to risk Lutea's heart. If Lutea's heart is lost, there is no hope for the land. 


 "I'll return next time with a larger piece."


 With that, Edulis left the spider forest. The echo of her voice lingered in her ears.


 - Orma.


 A name so unfamiliar and yet so familiar.

 A name that was both nostalgic and heartbreaking.

 

 'I wonder who that is....'


 ***


"How sad! First Taharka and now Ishkur is gone too…" Aruru said. He hid in the gap between the carts led by an Erabu, and they traveled from cart to cart until they reached Grandma Laura's house.


"It's not sad. Ishkur isn’t dead. We’ll meet again someday."


As Edulis spoke, Aruru shook his head.


"Edulis, there is a saying among the mice. 'One mouse can't survive three days of winter, and two mice can't survive a full winter,' which means you need a lot of company to get through the hard times!"


Then Murjana spoke. "It is all right, Aruru. I will not leave Edulis' side. I alone can do the work of ten men."


Aruru didn't even bother to pretend to hear this, but instead, he crawled up onto Edulis's shoulder and shouted.


"Edulis, Enri wants to help you! So do the other children! They train every day at the Imperial Tomb! Why don't you go with them?"


Enri, Marie, Methena, Shuri, and Harsh. These are the children to whom Edulis taught swordsmanship. However, Edulis had no intention of involving them. They were up against a foe like Akale. Her techniques are cunning and cruel. Even a powerhouse like Taharka had to risk his life to face Akale. What about children like Enri? He had no intention of sharing in the danger unless they were strong enough to rival the Apostles. He made an exception for Murjana since she bore the burden of Taharka's death.


"Stop talking nonsense and give me some information. You must have found me because you’ve heard something."


 "Okay!"


Edulis interrupted, and Aruru changed the subject. 


"In the southern part of the continent, in the Gudea jungle region, deep among the ruins of Rekabi, the Gudea cloud rats saw something glowing white!"


 At that, Edulis frowned. 


"The ruins of Rekabi? Isn't that place already well-known to the people? If there are carvings there, do you think the witch would have left them there all this time?"


"The mice said something strange. They said the carving was only visible on certain days and in certain places!"

 

"Do you believe them?"

 

"Gudea cloud rats have the best eyes of any rodent! Moreover, they are very loyal. When a comrade dies, they take care of its offspring even more meticulously than their own! Would such creatures lie?"

 

Even if they weren't lying, the mice might have misread something. But right now, this was valuable information for Edulis. Now that a witch was ruling the world in Lutea's name, information about the goddess's fragments was very hard to come by. 

 

There was only one problem: the ruins of Rekabi were in the southernmost part of the continent. It would take over a week to travel to Velox from Garug in the mid-west of the continent. 


"Are there no bounties on us yet?"


"No!"


It's been almost two months since Edulis fled the city. And yet, he hasn't been wanted. The Fae, under Kurzina's command, are merely conducting a perfunctory search for the descendants of the missing Igrainne. 

 

 "...Akale. What are you planning..."

 

"Edulis, what are you going to do?" Murjana asked Edulis, who was lost in thought. 


 "First, let's go to the Rekabi Ruins. We'll see what the cloud rats have to say."

 

"Okay, then stick your head out, Edulis." Murjana pulled out a cylindrical box. It was the hair dye she'd gotten from the Garug villagers. It was a special ingredient that could only be removed with water mixed with sulfur. 

 

"Murjana, why do you have to dye your hair too?"

 "

Wouldn't it be a good excuse to say we're siblings if we had the same hair color?"

 

"Our faces don't look alike, so that excuse won't work." That's what Edulis said, but Murjana insisted on dyeing her hair. When they came downstairs, they had both dyed their hair jet-black. 


"Are you leaving?" Grandma Laura asked. 


"No, please, just ten more nights, okay?" Elena sobbed as she stood in the way of Edulis and Murjana. Then Grandma Laura rummaged through a drawer, pulled out something, and handed it to Edulis. 


"Take this."


Edulis shook his head.


"It's an old woman’s request. The plague took away all my sons and daughters-in-law, and Elena was the only family I had left. She is my most precious treasure, and since you saved her, shouldn't I be able to repay you properly?"


Edulis shook his head again, but Grandma Laura was adamant. 


"It's the plea of an old person with not many days left. I don’t want to leave with debts in my heart. Not accepting it would be more of a burden to this deaf old lady."


Reluctantly, Edulis accepted the gift. It was a jewelry box, smaller than the palm of his hand. He opened it, and inside was a necklace. On the necklace was something flat and shiny, about the size of two fingers, strung on a thread. 


The colors and patterns changed depending on the angle you looked at it. Sometimes it looked like an autumn sky, sometimes it looked like a summer ocean, sometimes it looked like the Milky Way streaking across the night sky. 


Edulis fetched some paper and asked Grandma Lora.


 - What is this, old lady?


"I hope you like it. This is the necklace my son gave to my daughter-in-law when he proposed to her."


- Where did you get this?


"My son picked it up."


- You mean he picked it up off the ground?


"Um...  It's a strange story, but on the day he brought this home, he said he met a mermaid. Huge as a wild beast but with a face more beautiful than a princess. He exchanged three rice balls and some salted grilled fish for it, and in return, she gave him this scale…It's a crazy story."

 

"Wow, Grandma, is that true? Is it true that Daddy met a mermaid? Why didn't you tell me about it before?"


 Elena bounced with excitement, forgetting her grandmother’s hearing difficulties. 


 - When was that?


 "When? Let me think..... Elena is ten now, so it was... fifteen years ago?

 

"Fifteen years ago...."


Edulis furrowed his brow. 


"Edulis, what’s wrong?” Murjana asked. 


Edulis remembered the words of Ramu, the mermaid. 


 - Even Geshtuna was eventually defeated by a witch and destroyed. What good is pride if you die?  


The blue scale on this string... it had to be Geshtuna’s. This peculiar color was unique to mermaid scales. Although, no other mermaid's scales would be this large. Moreover, Geshtuna was the fondest of human food among the apostles. Laotou symbolized excessive drinking, while Geshtuna was the symbol of excessive eating. In that sense, it's fitting that she traded her scales for food.


However, it was 80 years ago that Ygraine and the apostles fought the witch's forces. If Ramu is right, Geshtuna would have perished by then. But to have met her 15 years ago?


 - A warrior pursues righteousness, not profit. If you don't fight injustice when you see it, you're not a warrior.


With that said, Geshtuna has always been at the forefront. If she were alive, she'd be charging out to find the witch right now. If she's not, there are two possibilities.


First, it's possible that Laura's son is lying about what he said, and that he just happened to pick up the scales and was bluffing. Second, there might be some reason Geshutina couldn’t move…


***


It had been three days since Edulis and Murjana had been in the cart, and they were still less than halfway down the Ashdod for the terrain is very long. 


It was Kishi who drove the Velox, and he was willing to pull the cart because he considered Edulis a hero. From the Imperial Tomb to Garug, the terrain was too rough for Velox, but from Garug to Rekabi, the terrain was suitable for one.


At the second stop at the station house, Kishi, who had been talking to the other Erabu at the station house, returned to the wagon and said. 


"Um... I think we should turn around here."

 

"Why?"

 

"There's been a disturbance in Lunia. Two days ago, tax rates suddenly skyrocketed across Ascidia, and the backlash has been severe."


Hearing that, Edulis was puzzled. "What are you talking about? Ascidia is a Fey family estate, and Kurzina raised the tax rate?"


Edulis had told her to keep the tax rate low, and the Fey family had been loyal.


"No. Two days ago, the central state sent an acting lord to Ascidia, and he raised the tax rates all over Ascidian at once."


"What do you mean?"

 

"There is a man in Lunia who is inciting the people, and I hear he is a man the people trust very much. They're gathering in front of Lunia Castle and staging a huge demonstration... Wait… his name was… Armilro, was it?"


Hearing Kishi's words, Edulis's face hardened.





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