The Young Daughter of the Goddess 5

Ribola knew Ayub. Though he was not a retainer like himself, he had carried out the secret orders of the queen’s family for over thirty years. This had been the case since the time when the queen’s father led the family. Ayub had received several offers to become a retainer, but he had politely declined each time, accepting only the promised rewards. The last commission Ribola knew of was from Queen Sabina, who had given Ayub a jar of gold, a ruby necklace, and the bodies of the victims as payment. The last item left a bitter taste for Ribola. One of the victims was a child, the same age as Ribola’s beloved young son.

Ribola didn’t know what Ayub did with the bodies he obtained. However, he knew he wouldn’t covet them just to bury them in his backyard. The people of Epherium believed that the deceased had to be buried properly to be guided to the afterlife by the sister goddess who ruled the underworld. Those who fell into Ayub’s hands would find no rest.

If Ayub weren’t a necromancer, he wouldn’t have the power to refuse offers from the powerful, but no one wanted to cross a necromancer. If he were offended, it would be better to kill him on the spot to avoid future trouble. Yet, he had his uses.

Ayub only undertook tasks that suited his tastes, regardless of the reward. His preference was tied to the bodies he received as payment. He would appear on his own accord for tasks likely to yield desirable victims. He preferred those who died unjustly, those whose deaths would cause great sorrow. He only took on commissions to safely acquire bodies under the protection of high-ranking individuals, but if that weren’t necessary, he would kill far more people. He might already be doing so in secret. This thought sent chills down Ribola’s spine.

After Ayub’s audience with the queen, Ribola escorted him out of the palace. As he bowed at the gate, Ribola couldn’t hold back his question.

“Aren’t you afraid?”

If discovered, the king would never forgive them. Ayub chuckled. “A scoundrel like me deals with evil spirits. There’s nothing more frightening than them.”

As Ayub’s figure disappeared into the darkness, Ribola thought for a moment before following him.

At dawn, something black stood in the field. It looked like a pile of manure at first glance but soon moved. It had no legs, tail, fur, scales, or horns like an animal. Instead, it harbored something like an ember deep inside.

It was huge but the same color as the darkness, making its presence noticeable only when looked at closely. Wheat stalks fell and rose against the wind, and starlight blinked in and out. The water’s surface faintly parted, wet footprints appeared and vanished. And a smell spread. A burning smell.

What was burning? First, the inside burned. Then, anything in its path burned. Blazing stalks withered, stones heated, and beasts melted. It neither avoided nor bypassed anything until it found its target, summoned from the soil.

It had many names, but since all were given by humans, none were its true name. Perhaps it had no true name at all. Though unrelated to ghosts, it was commonly called an evil spirit. Official magicians or shamans called them “mad beasts of the earth” and never disturbed them. They couldn’t be communicated with, negotiated, or persuaded. The only way to control it was through appetite. Thus, without a living sacrifice, there was no way to handle it.

Evil spirits, always craving blood while lying in the soil, easily responded to the calls from above. A little knowledge of shamanism was enough. But controlling an evil spirit once summoned was another matter. Through countless accidents and centuries of trial and error, it was learned that those attempting to summon an evil spirit must first coat themselves in sulfur to mask their human scent. When it emerged from the ground, the summoner had to present a part of the target’s body or possessions, ensuring they weren’t mixed with other scents. If the ritual was successful, the spirit wouldn’t stop until it attacked the target and, then satisfied, returned to the soil.

However, if the ritual went wrong and the target’s scent was disrupted, the evil spirit became a monstrous embodiment of hunger. An uncontrolled spirit would first kill the summoner and then go on a frenzied quest for blood. There were stories of summoners offering up their own servants and eventually their entire families to appease the spirit. There were even instances of entire towns of a thousand people being wiped out.

Despite this, there were always those who relied on the power of evil spirits to practice shamanism. Though spirits didn’t speak, they also didn’t lie. With skill and strict adherence to rules, one could wield immense power, albeit with extreme danger. Evil spirit shamans were often marked with the “Mark of Aragis,” known as the centipede tattoo, on their foreheads or the backs of their hands. These locations ensured the mark was visible immediately if the spirit turned on the summoner. Evil spirits didn’t kill those marked with the sign of Aragis. However, if people saw the mark, the bearer might be torn apart on the spot. The mark was said to belong to the great king who subdued the spirits and trapped them in the earth. The records of which era and country this king ruled did not survive. The mark of Aragis was so intricate that only a skilled person could engrave it.

The black mark left in the field would instill fear in the nearby villagers the next day. Some would flee their homes immediately, some would call for a magician, and some would run to the temple. They would all be grateful that they weren’t the target of the spirit the night before. While sympathizing with the unknown target, they would eagerly await news of their death so they could sleep peacefully.

Eventually, it stopped. It was at the edge of a wide reed field. Once a river, the area had turned into a swamp with a few abandoned houses and a watermill hidden within. Just as the sun began to rise, it sank back into the ground.

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