It was dim. That was Lukshuna’s first impression of Baal Gonane.
The castle city which was built by digging holes had no light. Candles made with tallow were lit here and there, but they were only limited to large, well-ventilated holes.
Mud-slurpers have good night vision. Perhaps it was obvious since they call this dimly lit place home.
“Luk, eat quickly. Work, unusual.”
“I know. I know, Galdana. Just wait a little longer.”
“… This is why jujura is no good. Nest work, delayed.”
Lukshuna was called Luk here. He lived with the mud-slurpers and helped them reinforce their nests. He kneaded the sticky discharge from the mud-slurpers butt or tail gate into mud and turned them into bricks. Then, he replaced the weakened bricks in the wall with the new bricks. It was hard work.
“Luk, hurry. Hurry.”
Food was also a problem. Mud-slurpers, like their name stated, slurped mud. Lukshuna, on the other hand, ate grilled fish. The fish smelled muddy because it was from the swamp, but the only other thing available in the city was uncooked rice which was old and smelled bad. He grilled fish and ate it, so naturally, he was a slower eater than the mud-slurpers.
Galdana, who had been appointed as Lukshuna’s caretaker, was unhappy about this. He didn’t understand what jujura meant, but it was probably a cuss word. Whenever Galdana called Lukshuna a jujura, the compound eyes of the mud-slurpers who were in the same room as them would quietly shake.
There is a lot of rain in the southern part of the demon realm. It rained heavily. It pours down heavily for a short while then clears up. Occationally, however, it rains for long periods of time. It didn’t rain often enough to even be called a rainy season. It would stop after a day or two at most. Lukshuna knew this.
But the effect the rain had on Baal Gonane was beyond his imagination.
“Luk! Luk! Bricks!”
It was a waterfall. The vertical drainage pits that lead the rainwater deep into the earth were roaring. The huge volume of water was black and muddy and showed no signs of stopping. The muddy water chipped away at the bricks. It was a water attack.
The mud-slurpers were frantically continuing their repair work around the pits. Lukshuna and Galdana were also sent to fill in the broken walls. There was barely any light from the candles. Only their partner’s voice could be heard amidst the violent splashing.
“Lukshuna, more to the right!”
“Alright, sorry, Galdana!”
Bricks were lined up to stop the water leaking out of the vertical drainage holes.
Baal Gonane, which consisted of corridors and rooms, was vulnerable to water overflowing from the drainage holes. Water will continue to accumulate in these holes until it’s pumped out by hand.
It was hard work. The newly hatched youngies on the lower floor will be in danger if the hole is breached.
Suddenly, the mud-slurper in charge of the work shouted something.
When Lukshuna heard this, he couldn’t see anything anymore.
When he came to, he found himself lying in the doctor’s room.
He was a doctor, but he was a mud-slurper, or rather a Gonane. He couldn’t give Lukshuna any treatment. Their bodies were too different, so Lukshuna was just lying there.
“Are you… awake?”
“Yeah, sorry about that Galdana.”
Galdana had lost one of his left arms.
Gonanes moult at growth milestones but lost limbs never grow back.
“I can no longer sneer at you and call you a jujura. Galdana is a jujura too.”
Galdana said as his compound eyes trembled with loneliness.
‘Jujura’ is a discriminatory term for someone who ‘lacks limbs’.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a jujura, Galdana. You still have more limbs than me.”
“Lukshuna, no need to comfort.”
“I’m not comforting you, I’m stating a fact. Everyone is a jujura outside of Baal Gonane. There aren’t many tribes with lots of limbs like the Gonanes.”
“Outside the giant nest?”
“Yeah. Why don’t you come out with me, Galdana?”
Those words came out naturally. Before he knew it, Lukshuna felt close to Galdana. He realised that his feelings for Galdana had developed to the point where he could call him a friend.
“Galdana, go outside. Will go against duty.”
Lukshuna changed his meal from fish to rice porridge. He could eat rice porridge as fast as the mud-slurpers slurped mud. The rice was stale and smelly, but he put up with it since he thought this was the key to adjusting to Gonane.
He also tried to be creative with his constructions. He would go above the nest to fetch bamboo. He used those bamboos as a frame to harden the mud without turning it into bricks. As he recalled, this was a construction method often used by lizardmen. They had fascinating twists on civil engineering since they were at war all the time.
Seeing this, the Gonanes around him, who had first made fun of him and called him a jujura, began to call Lukshuna by his name.
He also noticed that fish and rice were frequently being delivered to him, but Galdana would grimly look for the sender every time and return it to them. It wasn’t long after that he learnt that a gift was a form of courtship in Gonane society.
“Chief has heard a lot about Lukshuna.”
One day, he was summoned by the Demon King Chief Gilgida.
Unlike before, the audience was cordial.
“Galdana has a fine firmness among Chief’s daughters. She is the first princess.”
Lukshuna never knew this. He thought Galdana was his supervisor, but he had no idea that she was a princess Gonane.
“She was terribly sad when she turned into a jujura, but she’s alright. Chief is thankful to you.”
“You praise me too much. It must have been Princess Galdana’s strong heart that made it possible for her to endure being a jujura. I merely stayed by her side.”
“Being by her side is extremely difficult. Gonanes hate jujuras. Gonanes believe that jujura is a contagion. They are deluded, but they can’t escape from this delusion. Lukshuna helped her through this.”
To Lukshuna’s surprise, Chief Gilgida wasn’t flattering him. Chief strongly believed this.
“Chief strongly believes in friendship with Alunaha. As long as the water is clean.”
“Yes, the Mother Water, Lau Gonane. Those who live in Alunaha hate us Gonanes because they defile Lau Gonane.”
The year was filled with resentment.
This was the hastily built prison on the outskirts of Alunaha. There were only a hundred criminals housed here. They were all violators of the new law.
There weren’t any bars in the prison, only rows of rooms. The crimes of those who were put in this prison weren’t serious. They just didn’t obey the law. Those who kill or steal were sent to the prison that was used back in Demon King Benan’s time. Those who were imprisoned here were only detained for three days at most so that they can reflect on their actions.
All this was La Banan’s job.
He was no longer a timid magic researcher. He was now a respected law officer who worked day and night to spread the new law to every corner of Alunaha. You could say that he suddenly changed.
Draco felt in jeopardy because of La Banan’s enthusiasm.
He was visiting today at La Banan’s invitation, but he also partly wanted to see the new judge.
“Thank you for coming to this prison, Draco-sama.”
“It’s alright. I, for one, want others to know of the new law.”
It was La Banan who had greeted him. He was smiling. His eyes were blazing in the light of the tallow candles that illuminated the prison.
“Who are imprisoned here?”
“Those who have transgressed the new law three times.”
“Yes, there are many who don’t know the new law yet. We tell them about the new law and let them go the first time they violate it. The second time they will be reprimanded and released, then they will be thrown into prison if they violate the new law for the third time.”
“Do you have those who are connected to those who have violated the law once, those who violate the law four times, or those who bribe their way out?”
“Everything is written down.”
A register had been made. It was astonishing how fast things were going.
It was a simple register to record the offender’s name, address, gender, and family information. La Banan had this register created. The work of filling out the register was done by the civil officials from Benin’s time, but Draco observed that this too was done by La Banan.
It couldn’t be helped, was all he could say.
It was a literacy problem. Most of the kobolds who made up the majority of Alunaha’s citizens were illiterate. If you can’t read, then you can’t write. It was difficult to recruit literate people in Alunaha in the first place.
Conversely, it was precisely because of the nature of this place that a small number of goblins were able to take control of the city.
“So, I hear that there is a criminal that you want me to meet.”
“Yes, this way please, Draco-sama.”
La Banan took him to the furthest room in the prison. There were no candles here, and of course, no windows for light. A goblin shaman was sitting alone in the dimly lit room.
“Who is this?”
“This is my uncle, Ryu Giroku. He is my father’s younger brother and the father of Ri Gudang.”
Draco had seen his name in reports.
He could have succeeded Benin and became the Demon King, but instead, he planned to set up a faction for La Banan. The eyes that were glaring at him did indeed belong to someone from a Demon King bloodline. There was a glint in his eyes that could kill his opponent.
Draco looked at La Banan.
Why did he arrest Ryu Giroku, and show him to Draco?
The answer was: to show his loyalty.
I see, there is no way more effective than this. He was holding his supporter in prison. It may seem funny, but Draco had heard that goblins were very harsh to their own family in cases like this.
“Is he an example?”
“No, this goblin has uttered something terrible. Gudang is conspiring with the <Succubus Princess>.”
“Ah, that sounds like a likely scenario.”
Draco knew the <Succubus Princess> well. To be more precise, the whole Great Demon King’s family knew her well. That slime has betrayed many Demon Kings in the past. That was why she was forced out of the capital to the frontier.
“It’s like getting a new toy. That monster will send a messenger here too. Don’t be fooled.”
“She’ll send a messenger here?”
“Yeah, they will say something like this, ‘We have been threatened by a goblin named Ri Gudang, who is pretending to be a Demon King, so we have no choice but to send our troops, but we don’t want to’.”
Ryu Giroku’s eyes widened when he heard this.
He was surprised. Ryu Giroku immediately tried to not show his surprise, but Draco’s eyes weren’t fooled.
“What’s wrong, Ryu Giroku? I heard you know something, so it must be about Ri Gudang pretending to be the Demon King and making a deal with that whore or something like that. Too bad. That woman won’t keep her end of the deal. Nothing that comes out of her mouth can be trusted.”
Draco spoke then kicked the wall.
He was seething with anger. Worthless. That woman must be thinking that this is nothing more than a way to pass time. Draco had no intention of letting go of Alunaha since he went to great pains to obtain it.
“Tell me what you know, Ryu Giroku.”
His voice was hoarser than Draco imagined.
There was no ambition in his voice. The contents of the letter he had received from his son was exactly what Draco had pointed out. He knew from the beginning. He knew but was willing to believe it. His son could become the Demon King, but the words of the hateful Draco brought him back to reality. The sweet words of the <Succubus Princess>. His son had no chance at becoming the Demon King. His dream was shattered. No, it never existed in the first place.
“You should also know the background of the Demon King in the neighbouring city. Palmyra is that kind of woman.”
“I knew that.”
“Then you are a fool. A fool who thought that only he and his son wouldn’t be deceived.”
“But we are legitimate…”
“If you want to say that, then La Banan is more legitimate than you both.”
Draco was surprised by the anger in his own voice. What am I so angry about?
Is it because I saw myself as Ri Gudang since I’m ridiculed as the <Dethroned Crown Prince> and my inheritance with the throne is being toyed with?
“Tell me, Ryu Giroku. What is Ri Gudang up to?”
“Yeah, he’s going to poison the Lau River. It won’t be an ordinary amount. He’s unleashing the poison from the <Succubus Princess’s> storage.”
Poison storages have a legend.
The legend goes that all shapeshifters always store vast quantities of poison in their cities to survive a crisis that would affect their race. In fact, these storages have been found in cities that were formerly occupied by shapeshifters.
“Their target is Alunaha?”
“No, it’s the mud-slurpers, or so my son stated in his letter.”
The mud-slurpers will rush in droves because of the poison. It was nothing short of a nightmare. Draco had no way of stopping them. He’ll warn the mud-slurpers, but he didn’t know how effective this would be.
“When will the poison be released?”
Ryu Giroku remained silent.
He had to know. His son Ri Gudang had sent him the letter to prevent him from drinking the poison, but Draco didn’t feel the need to ask.
“La Banan, call as many of the reserve army as you can. Also recruit from the peddlers at the gate. I will go first. Everyone else will pursue Ri Gudang under Taibanka.”
“As you wish. I will warn the mud-slurpers.”
It was a race against time. Whoever made the first move will win.
Ryu Giroku could only weep silently against the wall as he was left alone.