They first noticed the red horns atop its slimy head and the blue moss over its carapace, with small trees adjourning its body like boulders. Its scarlet eyes stared down at them, and its formidable size made Eugene nervous. She had never thought of turtles as dangerous, but this creature made her flinch just by its sheer size. She gulped.
While the turtle did not attack them, Kasser stayed on guard. He readied his stance, quick on his feet if the creature were to do anything dangerous.
Silence engulfed the two parties, with only Abu’s growl rising with the tension. Slowly, the turtle blinked and then started to sink into the water once again.
Eugene cried out, “Wait, don’t go!”
The turtle paused, lifting its head, curious as to why the maiden asked for it to stay. Eugene, scrambling to say something, stuttered, “Are you… Is the Holy Land… I mean — is the area nearby your territory?
Eugene thought it would reply like Abu, through body language, but something unexpected happened.
Out of the blue, a voice rang out.
‘Are you here to kill me? I don’t want to die yet.’
Eugene gasped, and Kasser’s gaze wavered. Still, he remained alert and held her even tighter.
“Can you speak our language?”
‘I am not speaking but conveying my will.’
Eugene stared at the creature, her mind racing and her eyes wide open. She called out, “Your Highness…”
His warm voice rang out in her ears, addressing her confusion, “It’s the first time that I’ve seen or heard anything like this.”
Although she knew that the novel she wrote was not exactly like this world, Eugene thought that she still had enough knowledge of it, especially about hwansus. However, a speaking hwansu never appeared in her novel.
As the turtle stared at her, she pushed back her questions for a later time.
“We’re not here to hurt you. I apologize if we surprised you.”
The turtle then conveyed, ‘If you’re not here to harm me, then can you get rid of the Praz?’
Surprised by the hwansu’s easy disposition, she tapped Kasser’s arm and looked up at him, asking him to follow the request.
Kasser frowned and glared at the large turtle hwansu, still suspicious of the monster. As if echoing his thoughts, the blue snake around him stretched and curled its body, growling at the creature in the water. The turtle, seeing this, slowly started to trail backward to create some distance. Eugene let out a chuckle, amused at seeing such timid behavior from an enormous beast.
“Your Highness, it’s okay,” she said, trying to reassure Kasser.
She lowered her gaze to the arm wrapped around her waist then looked at the blue snake around him, its scales catching her eyes.
‘Was it like this before?’
While the snake symbolized the Desert King’s Praz, the other kings’ Praz never took such a clear form, especially one of a snake’s. The manifestation of a King’s Praz is translucent, the creature still distinguishable as an aura. However, the snake that covered Kasser’s body right now looked too real, its scales shimmering from the light, fully formed.
Subtlety, Eugene touched Kasser’s arm, just below the snake’s body, to check if she would be able to feel the snake’s scales. However, her hand merely went through its body. Relieved, she smiled and tapped Kasser’s arm once again.
Wavering, Kasser allowed the blue snake to fade, its shimmering scales disappearing into his arm. Eugene wondered, had she become a handler of a beast that even a great hwansu would fear? A part of her felt warm that Kasser continues to be by her side to protect her, even knowing that larks did not harm an Anika. For a moment, she thought of how she wanted him to be by her side forever.
After a beat, she turned towards the turtle, asking, “Are there any other hwansus that can communicate like you?”
Its red eyes stared at her as it replied, ‘I’m not sure since I’ve yet to encounter any hwansus bigger than me.’
She furrowed her eyebrows. “Then can all hwansus communicate with humans? But choose not to?”
‘No. I didn’t know how to express myself a long time ago.’
“But you can do so now? What happened?”
‘It just came naturally to me one day, after living for a very long time.’
Was it possible that the turtle learned it with age? Hwansus can learn and develop through studying, so it seemed probable that it would learn to communicate. Eugene thought of the fairy tales from her old world. In these stories, beasts learned how to act like humans after living for centuries.
She looked at Abu. Although it had already calmed down, its teeth remained bare. She felt proud of Abu’s bravery in front of a much larger hwansu. If what the creature said was true, it was possible that Abu could learn to speak after some time.
Kasser then asked, “How long have you been staying here?”
The turtle blinked and answered, ‘Ever since the people of this land left.’
Kasser stilled. Realizing that the sacred land of his kingdom had become a monster’s nest, Kasser felt a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Although the kingdom moved its capital a long time ago, he did not think that larks would make a home of such divine lands. Eugene looked at him with worry, understanding his feelings.
‘Hwansus do not leave a place once they establish it as theirs,’’ Kasser thought.
The only way was to hunt it down, but the hunt would be arduous since the lake’s depth gives the hwansu an advantage. The king also had more pressing matters to attend to, unable to bestow enough resources for such a long hunt.
‘We can only acknowledge this to be the hwansu’s domain for now and ask it to avoid causing any trouble…unless!’
Eugene suddenly grabbed onto Kasser’s shoulder, addressing the turtle.
“Please, hear us out! This land is very special to our people. If you help up, we will leave you in peace.”
Eugene turned towards Kasser as she spoke, giving him a look. Kasser, curious of the twinkle in her eyes, briefly nodded.
The royal couple returned to the camp sometime past noon. Since it was too late to depart for the day, Kasser declared their departure to be the next day.
As the sun began to sink across the horizon, he called for Adrit and spoke in front of everyone.
“It is not favorable to spill blood on sacred lands, especially when we are here to pray. However, after witnessing such malevolence, the Queen believes that the holy lake will wash away such corruption within its reach,” he then turned towards Sven, calling out to the warrior.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Kasser nodded towards him and said, “I entrust this matter to you. Give him a watery grave, but ensure that his blood does not tarnish the lake’s water.”
“Of course, your majesty.”
He turned towards the rest of the party, “If any of you wish to be a witness, you are free to be on your way.”
The royal couple then went inside their tent. The warriors began to prepare for the execution, some of the court ladies and officials following them to the lake. As the clamor started to quiet down, Eugene let out a breath, a hand on her chest.
“I hope everything goes according to the plan.”
Kasser turned to her, assuring the Queen, “It will.”
“What if the wanderer doesn’t follow my words? What if he actually lied to me?” she stared back at him, inching closer to Kasser. “What if he runs away?”
“It won’t be your fault,” he answered. “And letting go of a wanderer is not a big deal.”
Eugene looked up at him, before wrapping her arms around him in a hug, her face lying on his chest.
“Thank you for granting my request.”
Only read original translations at keopitranslations.com
Kasser could only smile and wrapped his arms around her back.
She muttered, “I know that this might be a big risk since it goes against Sang-je’s will.”
The hostility Kasser felt for wanderers was unlike what others felt. He was disillusioned from them, keeping such a method that would save many lives a secret, rather than hating them for their malevolence. However, he did not feel anxious about going against Sang-je’s orders.
Kasser then thought of Eugene’s question not too long ago.
[“Have you ever questioned Sang-je’s words?”]
‘I always have,’ he answered internally. But he could not be upfront with such sentiments, as Sang-je remained the divine entity of God, one whose absolute influence Kasser must heed to, especially as the ruler of a kingdom.
He suddenly remembered the late king’s final words.
He had called Kasser, who was standing over his death, near his bed, and whispered words only he could hear.
[“Son, do not trust Mahar.”]
Those words became his testament, as Kasser’s father passed away after a few days, never regaining consciousness after that. Kasser remained unsure if such parting words were meant as a piece of advice to not rely on God in pursuing his ambitions, or if they meant something else. Since the late king was known to be unpredictable, he did not place too much importance on them. However, he might have unknowingly been putting distance between himself and Sang-je because of those exact words.
‘It might have been my emotions, not actual grandiose pretexts, that made me do so,’ Kasser smiled bitterly. His father’s words rang in his ears, despite him trying to take them lightly. If he were to be completely honest, only one word continued to repeat itself in his head.
Only read original translations at keopitranslations.com
It was the first and last time he had been called by that word, the first time he had ever felt that he was someone’s dearest child. How childish, he thought, to be obsessed with such a title. But maybe it was because they were traveling on the sacred land that symbolized the kingdom’s long history — Kasser could not help but be sentimental.
He held Eugene tighter, and a part of him wished that his father met the woman in his arms.
A leather pouch covered Adrit’s head, with his limbs restrained with tight knots. Tied around his bounded ankles was a bag filled with large rocks. No matter what tricks he had up his sleeve, Adrit had no chance of escaping. As he sinks to the bottom of the lake, it would not take him ten minutes to die.