Interlude: “That Day” with Suzume

To the north of the Kingdom of Canaria lay a vast forest vast enough to engulf an entire nation.

This forest, known as the Titis Forest, was the subject of a certain rumor. It was said that Kijin lived deep within the woods.

Kijin refers to a horned race that fought against humans for dominion over the continent three hundred years ago. Rumors spoke of these Kijin hiding within Titis Forest.

Indeed, there was once a Kijin village in Titis Forest, a fact confirmed by history. However, this settlement was destroyed about forty years ago by swordsmen from the east. Thus, the tales of Kijin residing in the forest remained mere rumors.

However, the truth was that Kijin did indeed live in Titis Forest. Deep within what was known as the inner reaches, a place far more perilous than the outer areas and roamed by numerous magical beasts, the Kijin quietly survived.

The name of this Kijin was Suzume.

She was the sole survivor of a girl from the Kijin village known as Kamuna.

“Good morning, Mother, Father,”

In the early morning, before the sun had risen, Suzume, emerging from her straw bed, washed her face in the nearby stream before visiting the graves of her parents to greet them.

Her day began with greeting her deceased parents and cleaning their two small, side-by-side graves.

After cleaning, her tasks included fetching water, collecting dry branches, gathering wild vegetables, hunting for mushrooms, and picking fruits. There was always plenty to do.

Securing food was Suzume’s top priority.

This was not only for her survival but also to gather offerings for the village’s ritual.

This ritual was known as the Serpent Subduing Ceremony.

To appease the great serpent spirit that slumbered in this land, offerings were presented at the sacred tree standing to the north of the village, and dances were dedicated.

This was a ceremony passed down through generations in Kamuna village, and Suzume’s parents had prioritized offerings over their own sustenance.

Even Suzume’s mother, who fell ill, never skipped this ritual, teaching the young Suzume the dance so she could continue the tradition after she could no longer dance herself.

As mentioned, Suzume was the village’s sole survivor. After losing her father at three and her mother at six, she had been performing the Serpent Subduing Ceremony alone for seven years.

That day was also a day of the ceremony.

After scouring the village for food from morning and including what had been saved up until the day before, Suzume successfully secured enough offerings by midday, letting out a sigh of relief in her accomplishment.

The ceremony was to be held at night, after the sun had set. Until then, Suzume decided to practice her dance.

“O great and revered gods of heaven and earth,”

“Before the sacred tree, I offer this Kagura dance,”

“To purify and expel all calamities and sins, and cleanse us,”

“With utmost reverence, I pray, I pray.”

Chanting the ritual prayers taught by her mother, Suzume danced before the sacred tree.

Sometimes her dance was as vigorous as scattering sweat, other times as gentle as a butterfly’s flight. Running across the four corners of the Kagura stage, Suzume stretched her slender limbs to their limits as she continued to dance.

The dance taught by her mother was not one of mere performance but of martial vigor. Each time Suzume danced, she felt as though she was battling something.

After finishing her dance, sweat poured from Suzume’s body, leaving her so breathless that breathing was all she could manage for a while. However, the fatigue after dancing was pleasantly satisfying, and Suzume never disliked performing this dance.

After practicing her dance, Suzume washed off her sweat in the stream, cleaned the Kagura stage, and prepared for the night’s ceremony. She also checked the offerings just in case.

At this time, Suzume noticed that some of the food had spoiled. The recent increase in warm days, especially the last few, likely caused it. In this nearly forsaken village, there was no icehouse to preserve food.

Suzume stood pale-faced and frozen. She could not use rotten food as offerings. That would betray the trust her deceased mother placed in her to continue the ritual.

But searching the village now wouldn’t make up for the shortage. Everything that could be found had already been harvested from the morning. It was with great effort that she had gathered just enough. Searching the village further would only end in vain effort.

The only option left was to venture outside the village.

It didn’t take long for Suzume to reach this conclusion.

Stepping outside the village with trepidation, Suzume found no signs of magical beasts nearby, and she discovered wild vegetables, mushrooms, and fruits everywhere.

Delighted by this unexpected fortune, Suzume began gathering them into her basket.

The reason the magical beasts that usually roamed around the village were nowhere to be seen today was because something far more dangerous was nearby – a realization that dawned on Suzume too late.

Soon, a shadow fell over Suzume.

Looking up in confusion, Suzume saw the figure of a giant fly monster swooping down from above…

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