1 Prologue

[Yamatai Territory, Wa country. Primitive Human Era 3000 BCE]

Heavy smoke from a few burning pyres of wood and corpses wafted to the skies as the chief and his deputy watched the large settlement in helplessness from the platform of a guard tower, a part of their wooden wall, near the forest.

Death, in a form of a killing disease, had wandered into their midst, the largest settlement for miles, wreaking havoc. Their settlement of a few hundred souls bore witness to the fear and devastation wrought upon them by a mystery sickness.

The chief wondered for a moment about how they offended the gods, enough to lose protection from the malevolent spirits. What more could it be? He has never seen such a sickness kill at such speed.

Yet, there was no sight of an end to the deaths but only a name, sekiri, a deadly sickness. Very few survived. Sekiri spread like wildfire.

From the guard tower, they could see groups of men patrolling or checking the small wooden huts, residences of the common folk. All those marked by sekiri needed to be isolated until their deaths.

The settlement had small groups of residential areas, each belonging to a clan, scattered across within the boundaries of the wooden wall, with smoke wafting from the opening in their thatched roofs.

They had to isolate and quarantine three of the six areas with a picket fence to prevent the spirits from traveling to the others. The suffering and the mourning within the quarantined areas cried and pleaded with the gods to save them.

An odorous stench of burning corpses amidst the haze created an eerie deathly atmosphere of gloom which reminded the chief of the vivid oral history about the underworld which awaited the living.

A guard ran up the wooden stairs, and whispered to the pensive chief, "they are here. The two of whom the gods spoke to our shaman about."

Their shaman went into the mountains for the appeasement ritual to seek help from more merciful gods. After two days, his assistant brought an oracle from his retreat - the coming arrival of two powerful, divine spirits that inhabited two human bodies, a hooded figure and a girl.

They were not to be offended - the shaman's warning echoed in the chief's mind. No decorum or etiquette was to be expected except to let them move as they wished.

"Where are they?" The chief asked.

The guard pointed to the northern side of the settlement where one patrol was moving along.

"Let them do their work, undisturbed." the chief waved his guard aside as his deputy gestured to the guard to leave.

***

Dressed in plain, undyed clothes, with makeshift masks made of woven flax over the lower half of their faces, each man clutched a torch in one hand. The leader of their group held a bunch of burning herbs to attempt a fruitless ritual purification.

The patrolmen murmured the word 'sekiri', the name of the ailment, as they stopped outside a hut for a glimpse. Sekiri came out of nowhere with symptoms like a bloody diarrhoea.

A group stopped outside a hut, and glanced inside to check the occupants, a family of ten who shared the same symptoms as the family in a former neighbouring hut, now razed to the ground with the ashes of the once living.

The leader of their five-man unit stumbled back from the doorway, covering his already masked face. The smell inside was so revolting that he gagged. His men retreated at once in fear.

They had smelled effects of sekiri before - the unmistakable decomposing stench of both blood and faeces, and none desired to repeat the experience.

Walking behind them was a hooded figure holding a gnarled staff accompanied by a young girl, around seven years old. No one could make out if the hooded figure was a man or a woman.

The men moved aside as instructed to let the two near the affected hut.

Curious faces of children and adults peeked out from the doors of neighbouring huts, expecting the worst - a replay of yet another somber scene. Only a day ago, the men set another hut alight after the occupants died, according to their fire purification rituals.

As the hooded figure came to a halt outside the kindled hut, it spoke a sentence in a strange monotonous language to the young girl, who replied in kind, as the men watched in curiosity.

With a gnarled wooden staff in a wiry, wrinkled hand, the hooded person stretched out its arm and opened the palm. A mysterious orb levitated above the palm as the men fell to their knees and prostrated with closed eyes.

The once curious faces hid away from the doorway, too afraid to look on. Mortal eyes must not offend the divine. Some said staring too long at the gods might cause blindness and they needed their eyes to till their fields.

A blinding bright light flashed through the area, causing some to tremble.

"Divine fire will cleanse the polluting spirits. Look up and the great serpent spirit will answer now," the girl said to the trembling men.

As soon as she finished her sentence, the men gazed up in wonderment. A sudden streak of whitish serpentine light weaved through the small clouds in skies, illuminating the simple huts.

The inhabitants stepped out of their huts to join the patrolmen, gazing at the strange phenomenon. Some dropped their jaws and stared with their mouths agape in awestruck wonderment at the strange sight. No one dared to utter a word as they watched on.

The affected hut burst into an unusual blaze of greenish flames, as they reeled back in fear.

"To the West, where the divine messenger descended, there will be a sign of the celestial stars on the ground with the offspring of the great serpent. Make offerings of respect during the day, and the illness will never return," the girl said.

"What type of offerings?" Another enquired with great respect, keeping his head bowed in reverence and eyes lowered to the ground.

"No blood, for it will desecrate the sacred sanctuary of the gods," replied the girl, with her eyes glowing.

"But live, healthy animalsss are fine," the hooded figure quipped.

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