With a ring of chime in his head, Yuusuke Tagami felt his hazy consciousness clear up.
The air was chilly. When he tried to move his body he felt rough stone with his back and bottom. Instinctively opening his eyes, what he saw was a bright, swaying fire of the brazier that lit a room, which looked like it was made entirely from stone. After getting up and finding his body unchanged he looked around again to confirm his surroundings.
It looked like he was lying on a stone pedestal. Somehow he was completely naked. In front of the pedestal there was an altar with a pitch black statue of a being that somehow resembled a human and a monster at the same time and created a sinister atmosphere.
“What the hell is this? Is it some kind of ritual?”
Not knowing if anything was done to his body, Yuusuke, instead of feeling fear or panic, wanted to gather information and to find some clothes.
He got up from the pedestal that looked like a 1 meter height rectangle. Right near it was a small table-like stand upon which there were fruits, resembling mandarins, and a bundle made of slightly withered flowers of various colors. Besides that a fabric, resembling clothes, was lined up.
“It looks like I was an offering at the altar”, Yuusuke thought.
The small stand was surely made of stone. The surfaces of both the altar and the pedestal were worn, making them seem old.
“Is that really an offering … rather, what is that.”
Having a few doubts he finally decided that in order to find that out he has to make a few sacrifices. Thus he stretched out his hands towards the fabric that the statue of the suspicious altar held in its hands. Being naked made him more anxious than anything else right now. The moment Yuusuke touched white, slightly yellow fabric….
Startled he drew back his hand. It was a sound he heard when he awoke a little while ago. He looked over around the altar but did not see anything out of place. After looking around the stone room one more time and confirming that nothing has changed, he softly touched the fabric.
Nothing happened this time and Yuusuke, after taking the cloth into his hands, being uneasy about his surroundings, attempted to spread it out.
“It’s not a women one piece, is it?”
Aside from three holes for arms and head it was just a simple piece of cloth. It held an image of a futon sheet with holes that allowed a person to wear it as a piece of clothing.
“It can’t be a paper doll cloth…..”
After tightening it around his waist like a koshihimo (NOTE: a type of belt used to tie a kimono. It is used under the obi belt) he looked like a person from ancient times, shown in movies. After he put his clothes on, Yuusuke tried to remember what happened just before he lost consciousness.
“A dream… No it doesn’t look like it.”
Looking up at the low ceiling of the brazier lit stone room one could see a picture of round, disk shaped land abundant with oceans and mountains. The mural looked like it was taken straight out of the imagination of people of the ancient times. It gave Yuusuke a strong feeling of déjà vu.
“… What could it be…? I heard a strange voice and my body started to float … I have a feeling I’ve seen this picture before.”
The words rather than the voice. Rather than hearing the words directly, it was as if he felt them in a mysterious way. Afterwards he saw his own body stand up and leave the shrine grounds at a quick pace. The memories of what happened afterwards were hazy in his mind.
Yuusuke sighed once, stood up from the pedestal, he was using as a chair, and turned towards the exit of the stone room. Looking from behind the pedestal, in front of him there was an exit with no door, leading to a dark corridor.
Immediately after leaving the room the corridor stretched to the right. After going forward a bit it turned to the left. After that it for some reason turned to the same side again. He took a piece of wood out of the brazier and held it in front of him as a torch.
When he touched the piece of wood, the same chime rang again in his head, but, as Yuusuke got used to it by now, he did not panic.
Curiosity and feelings like uneasiness or anger did not well up inside him. Yuusuke also did not feel his mind freeze in this sudden, unnaturally mysterious situation. Deep is his heart Yuusuke sensed a feeling of acceptance.
With her pure white hair fluttering in the wind a girl hurried along a small path to the shrine that was built in the woods, located a short distance away from the village.
Sun, you are going to the shrine, right?
“Ah, teacher Zeshald.”
An elderly man shouted to a village girl Sun, who was holding multicolored flowers and freshly picked rara (ララ) fruits. Man’s name was Zeshald. He was a doctor in a nearby [Rufk] village. Although dull from age, this blue haired, blue eyed man has received divine protection from [God of water – Shalnar] and was a [divine artist] belonging to [water art users].
—Divine arts users —
Unique powers, called [divine arts] were possessed by four great gods. In this world people believed in the religion of four great gods, governing over [fire], [water], [earth], and [wind], who, supposedly, have created the world.
The majority of the people have received divine blessing and protection from the gods and, as a proof of that, had the ability to use divine arts. The law was that one person could use one divine skill and, under the effect of the blessing of the god, their hair and eyes changed color to the pure color of the god.
Zeshald could use a divine art of Shalnar, God of water, who is the second strongest of the four great gods and is considered a God of average strength. Because he has mastered healing type water divine art he was so influential that if he lived in the society of divine arts users he would be able to lead a luxurious life. Still, he was eccentric…
“Teacher, are those new books again?”
“This time they seem to be from an old Nossentes shrine.”
“That shrine as well, of course from the village of those without powers …?”
“After all it is unlikely that powerless people and the evil god have some kind of relationship.”
—The powerless literally meant people that could not use any divine art and, therefore, were differentiated from the divine arts users.
Divine arts users have created a [rank system], governed by the differences in the divine arts. According to this system, people with similar abilities lived together in separate towns. Powerless people on the other hand were not allowed to enter these towns, so they banded to villages and communities.
A typical community where powerless people lived was called [a village of the powerless]. Thus in the old villages of the powerless people, spread all over the land, there were several mysterious shrines, called [shrines of the powerless]. Those, that studied those shrines, mentioned altars enshrining ominous deities. Thus the shrines have been started to be called [Evil God shrines].
In Kaltcio the [Evil God] was known as the [God of calamity] since the old times. According to the legend, it descended to Kaltcio roughly once every 300 years and brought calamities with him. This year exactly 300 years had passed since the last calamity.
However, the [last calamity] and the [god of calamity] was only a legend as there was no written information about the events 300 years ago neither about those that happened 300 more years ago. More than half of the educated people believed that this god was a superstition.
“An Evil God?… Does it really exist?”
“Hoho, I, too, know a lot of legends about evil beast, but I do think that it exists.”
The [God of Calamity] is thought to be linked with events such natural disasters and epidemic outbreaks. Powerless people also got injured or sick, but, unlike divine arts users, they did not have any arts like the healing arts the water users had, which could immediately cure them.
Thus in case of a large scale disaster or an epidemic the powerless people took the brunt of the damage. They built the shrines for the Evil God near their villages to pray for those great disasters to avoid them. It was thought that for this reason a statue resembling an evil god was enshrined in these temples.
“In that case, for teacher to come to Rufk, the evil god should not be scary, right?”
“Hohoho, You are a good girl, Sun.”
Zeshald smiled with the corners of his eyes (a barely noticeable smile) and stroked Sun’s hair with the back of his hand. She was a girl with distinctive white eyes framed by the white hair, which was the feature of a powerless person. She lived in one of the villages of the powerless that were scattered in the area, called Rufk.
Because the strength difference between the ability users and the powerless was so desperately evident, it has become an absolute identification of social status. Depending on the country powerless people were either considered to be of low status or not even treated as humans at all.
There were no divine arts users interested in the constantly oppressed powerless people, aside from jokes and charity. Zeshald, who lived in the village of the powerless, shared the same outlook of living in the villages and freely used his divine healing arts to help them, was truly an eccentric.
Thus Sun, even if he was a divine arts using doctor, even if he was just one person, respected Zeshald.
“Then, I’m off to replace the offerings.”
Zeshald saw off Sun, who headed towards the small shrine. He then sat looking towards the Rufk village while skimming through the newly obtained books related to the [God of Calamity]. The books that he has studied until now contained the common knowledge about the Evil God: [The Evil God brought about the calamity upon the world and then disappeared].
“Hmm, the same thing is written in this book… After all the kinds of infectious diseases are noticeable, eh?”
Besides being a village doctor in Rufk, Zeshald also performed research related to the shrines of the powerless. In fact, the original reason why he started to live in the village of the powerless was so that he could study the rustic lifestyle of the people that have not received the blessing and could not use the divine arts, whose ingenuity and effort left a deep impression on him.
In the cities of divine arts users, if it was a job of crafting simple jewelry or to build a splendid house, the work was done by the divine arts users. There were almost no jobs for people that were not craftsmen. Products and structures that were the result of persons mastery in divine arts could be seen everywhere.
Yet, in the villages of the powerless, if one house needed to be built, entire village worked together to build it. From cutting the lumber and preparing the base to completing the door and the roof, the people that had the skills and experience, while teaching those who wanted learn the work, worked together to complete the building.
Zeshald, recognizing this lifestyle of the mutual support and cooperation and having obtained the said experience and skills, did not think that the small temples and old legends of the powerless carried no meaning that had to be left for the future.
“If I had to guess from the description and period of last calamity… It should be between the fifth day and the tenth day of the fire month of Shalnar. Today is the 11 day, eh?”
There was a fair amount of rumors floating around in the cities regarding the 300 year period of the calamity. But the atmosphere was calm and in no way resembled that of a preparation for upcoming calamity. One could usually hear these rumors as a small talk while drinking alcohol.
“…? There are more birds around than usual?”
Inadvertently raising his eyes at the sky above the forest Zeshald startled after sensing something resembling a divine power similar to the one that he wielded himself.
“Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
He glanced again at the flocks of birds circling around the forest, stopped his work, and started to walk towards the small shrine.