There were sets of clothes hanging in the main bedroom’s closet, male and female tunics with a trace of modernism.
As Zax’s clothes were beyond redemption, after getting stained by the Black Chrome Alligator’s blood and gore, he was looking to no avail for a tunic of his size.
Around five minutes after he began to skim through the closet, Zax heard the cottage’s entrance door open and the steps of someone entering.
Observing with his Soul Sense, Zax saw a middle aged woman standing in wait at the ground floor of the cottage, holding a pile of folded male tunics.
Covering his lower half with the towel he used to wipe himself, Zax went downstairs.
From the woman’s patient behavior, it appeared that she was aware of Zax’s presence, yet upon seeing the muscular structure of a young man at the peak of his prime and is furthermore an expert which even got the chief warrior’s respect, despite her experiences, her face flushed.
“Sir, my name is ‘Razela’. During your stay I will be the temporary attendant of the fifth cottage”. Razela composed herself and said with a bow.
Each of the village’s six cottages had a permanent attendant, but due to language limitations, Garnet sent temporary replacement who knew Earth, Zax’s and Nea Earth’s language, to the fifth cottage along with instruction to bring larger size tunics for the respectable tenant to measure – apparently Zax’s physique was bigger than the standard of Selivereb.
Zax did not intend to correct every person who timidly calls him ‘Sir’ or uses other honorific. He nodded and received the pile of tunics, guessing why Razela brought them.
“Thank you. Don’t concern yourself with me, just let me know when the service is about to begin”. Zax said in a relaxed tone, at the very least, letting Razela feel more comfortable toward this stranger.
Sitting on a chair in the kitchen’s corner, finishing a fruit of some sort that was full of taste, Zax picked up in his free hand the dictionary he received from Garnet and browsed in it.
‘There are notes’. He was glad to find them among the pages.
The notes were in both Earth and Netherling. Most were in the latter. They helped Zax in understanding a bit the pronunciation. Regrettably, they were not so helpful in learning the proper use of verb forms.
As a cultivator, given enough time, it was simple for Zax to memorize the dictionary. The lexicon of an entire language laid before him in a book format of thousand pages, would probably take him between ten to twenty hours, depending on the similarities of the new language and Earth.
Outside the sun was at its descend to the horizon. Zax was limited in time and could only go through key words that he specifically searched, arrange them in his mind and practice with himself before the door to the cottage opened.
“Sir, the village’s head, the elders and chief warrior invite you to the service”. Razela said politely. Pain and sadness were apparent in her voice.
Placing the dictionary in the inner pocket of his tunic, Zax stood up, compiling to the invitation.
As for not keeping the dictionary in his Blue Stone, Zax did not want to do so in front of Razela. He was unsure of the small stone’s worth in Ercas Mir and regardless of his confidence in himself to prevent others from stealing it, he assumed that for now he would be better off not revealing it casually.
“Please show me the way”.
The village had a number of squares, the largest one at its center, and that is where the service for the departed and afterwards the banquet were designated.
There were already hundreds of villagers encircling the square when Zax and Razela arrived. Men and women of age were building a great bonfire, but from Zax’s recollection it should not be to cremate the dead, since they were already buried.
Fifteen or so meters from the bonfire was a crescent platform with wooden, tall chairs, nine in total. On seven chairs sat a group of elderly men and women, the youngest looking, surprisingly, was the middle aged Garnet.
Garnet sat to the right of an old man who was sitting in the middle chair. The man was shaved, with short white hair and had a somber look in his eyes as he stared at the bonfire.
Led by Razela toward the platform, on the way Zax noticed Mendor mercenary band, along with the man himself, standing close to the platform and the carcass of the Black Chrome Alligator guarded nearby.
“Zax”, Garnet got up to welcomed him.
He was not the first to pay attention to Zax. All the old the men and women and even Mendor and the rest of the mercenaries paid attention to the young and fearsome, they saw and heard about, the instant he entered their field of view.
“Come on up. We already arranged a place for you at the platform”.
To the side, Mendor climbed up the stairs to the platform. Before Zax’s arrival he did not care about the seats that was prepared for him. Having some interest in Zax, he decided to accept the gesture in order to get familiar with the lad.
“Head, elders, allow me to introduce to you Zax, a benevolent expert who helped us in today’s battle to turn the tide and rid ourselves from the menacing Deformed Being”.
Garnet spoke a little exaggeratedly deliberately.
Although it sounded like all the credit was bestowed to Zax and omitted the participation and sacrifice of his mercenary band, Mendor remained silent. He already concluded the issue of the additional fee with the village’s head, after the battle, and even secured the creature’s valuable, yet unripe, Pure Core!
To his ears, Garnet’s words were only a pitiful effort to recruit Zax’s services until the village’s condition will stabilize.
The village’s head and the elders courteously got up from their chairs.
“Young hero Zax, I am ‘Leonard Virgil’, the head of Virgil’s Pasture. Elder chief warrior has acquainted myself and our circle of elders of your selfless deeds. I and the entire village thank you from the bottom and hearts”.
From his way of conduct, background as a foreigner, level of strength and, most importantly, the fact that he did not squabble for a piece of the Black Chrome Alligator, all the people present on the platform had a satisfactory impression of Zax.
“Thank you, young man”.
“Thank you, young hero Zax”.
Along with Garnet, the five other elders showed their gratitude to Zax.
“I could help, so I did. If the Deformed Being was beyond my capabilities, you would have been on your own”. Zax said earnestly.
Yes, he could and fought in the past cultivators with greater strength and higher ream without betting an eyelash. But, he was no longer a child. Unless he was desperate, taking uncalculated risk fighting someone, for example, of Supreme Ruler Ariel’s caliber was out of the question. At the case of a deeply rooted enmity, Zax could always strive, grow stronger and make a comeback.
“If the alligator was beyond your capabilities, it would not have mattered if you helped or not. The village would have been destroyed, either way, and the villagers dead or running for someplace else to survive”. Mendor cut in, not to belittle Zax in any way, but to put a realistic view, as was his temperament.
Nonetheless, his abrupt and rational interruption caught Leonard and the village’s elders at loss for words. They could not refute him, but at the same time wanted to fawn over Zax so convincing him to stay would be easier.
“Well… that doesn’t matter anymore”. Garnet said to mellow the already heavy atmosphere. “Zax, have a seat. Head, it seems that everyone is ready for you to commence the service”.
Leonard examined the crowed of mercenaries and villagers, following Garnet’s comment.
“Everyone, please excuse me”. Leonard asked the people at his sides and took a few steps, to the edge of the platform.
Most of the people around the bonfire and next to the platform, were already waiting for the village’s head. Only children, those who kept them in check and those who mended the flames were yet to pay attention to him.
Chief warrior Garnet clapped his hands. His Mist Lord palm released thundering sounds that pacified the crowed completely.
Sitting quietly, Zax attempted to understand Leonard’s speech with what little Netherling he had time to learn. Parts of the speech he did recognize, others, although they sounded like words he memorized, made no sense due to Leonard’s phrasing.
As Leonard concluded his speech, the sitting elders and Mendor stood up and joined at the edge of the platform, while the ignorant Zax imitated them.
The crowed on the ground, the few on the platform all turned their gazes to the great bonfire.
“It’s fine for you to stay standing, but don’t move or make a sound until the end of the ritual”. Zax heard Mendor directing him as his voice was solely transmitted to his ears.
Zax did not respond. He had no notion of the rituals and culture of the people in this new land. But at a situation like this, where they occur just in front of him, as long as he was not compelled to participate, he was willing to be considerate and behave kindly.
Villagers and mercenaries alike, fell down to their knees as young supported the old and parents guided their kids.
Falling down, prostrating, rising their backs up and repeat, Zax witnessed as everyone but him lowered themselves to the raging flames in resignation, veneration, a level of fear and only the too young, confusion.
Villagers and mercenaries called the names of all those who fell to the vicious Black Chrome Alligator.
Over fifty names echoed from the weeping throats of the villagers, a too many than Zax actually saw dying to the alligator. The reason was that most of the names were of villagers who died since the alligator very first appearance, through its constant assaults.
‘Eh?!’ Zax suddenly was taken aback by a glimmer at an odd manifestation that flickered and disappeared before he could gather what it was.
‘Again!’ It happened once more, above the highest flames of the bonfire, however this time making Zax doubtful if what he saw was and illusion formed by the fire or his own imagination.
‘Did they add something to the fire?’ Zax wondered, but before he could decide a foreboding sensation was imposed on him out of nowhere, a terrifying force that was similar to nothing he ever felt, unrelated to any of the three aspects he knew.
‘What the is that?!’ Zax struggled to stay on his feet. Nothing explicitly forced him to go down on his knees, he also did not feel targeted, but somehow it came to his mind that, as if by a temporary law of nature, right now, for all living beings, the condition to stand was withstanding the pressure.
Looking down at all the people around him, as they submitted in advance, it appeared as if they were aware, even welcoming the force and unaffected by its pressure.
The manifestation emerged, not in one place, rather materializing all around the bonfire, distorting the air.
The number of manifestations corresponded to the number of names that were shouted. Finally, there was a moment of stillness, everyone but Zax faced the ground.
The manifestations vanished along with the strange force, the pressure was lifted from the spent and perspiring Zax and crackling sounds of wood burning were the first to break the calm.
Gradually and in a slow motion, the villagers and mercenaries issued long breaths and started to get up.
Next to Zax, Mendor lifted his head and surveyed the lad the continued to impress him.
“You stayed on your feet to the very end”. It was hard to tell if he meant to complement or casually said. His gaze shifted to the bonfire. “Hope the departed will be guided to their proper paths…” He lamented.
Leonard, Garnet and the rest of the elders returned to the seats, while below the platform quick preparations for the banquet were taking place.
“Mendor, what was that ritual? What was the overbearing force and where it came from?” Zax asked fretfully the instant his body fell tiredly to his seat.
Upon hearing his question, Mendor was stunned for a second and then looked bizarrely at Zax before actually berating him. “Regardless of where you are from, Zax, you should not raise this sacrilegious question again, especially when God just revoked its presence!”