After some snow was removed, the shovel’s tip dully clanked against something.
Ayra, who trembled in the cold but was on standby with a materialized stat window just in case, approached the deep hole.
The shovel could no longer dig efficiently because of the hard, frozen ground, and clanked loudly a few times.
Right at this moment…

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     “Ahh! Eugh!!”

      “The ground is collapsing! Get out of the way!”

     The ground below them suddenly gave way; the villagers scrambled up the pit.
Ayra was the only one who kept his calm as he watched the darkened snow pile collapse.

      Soon, he began to hear the voice of survivors coming from within.
They were covered in black, sooty dust and looked to be in horrid condition.
They were the merchants that had been buried when the first landslide occurred.

      “Ah! They’re alive! Alive!”

      “Thank you, oh god!”

      The villagers were surprised to see the merchants they’d thought dead, still alive.
On the other hand, the merchants who had been trapped underground for a long time crawled out of the pit while shedding tears.
Looking inside, the hole was so spacious that the few wagons within were almost perfectly intact.

     The merchants thanked whoever they saw, as long as they locked gazes.
“Thank you so much for saving us.
We thought we’d just die like that.”

     “To think we’d see the sun again…”

     They were exceedingly filthy, but, besides that, they seemed to be in good health–they were at least well enough to crawl out on their own.
However, that wasn’t the only surprising thing.

     Ayra tilted his head as he counted the number of people that crawled out.  ‘Huh? There’s five more people there.’

     When he looked at Pebble, peeking out from the back of his hand, it shyly manifested a notification window.
He belatedly opened the other five’s stat windows as well.

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[Tip! The quest said, ‘Let’s save the citizens in crisis.’ These five NPCs are not citizens of Solar.]

     Wow.
So, the five weren’t included in the rescue list and their stat windows did not pop up because they weren’t citizens…? As Ayra gaped, dumbfounded and speechless, another notification window manifested before his eyes.

[Tip: There’s a large difference in mana consumption between maintaining 8 stat windows and 13 stat windows.]

     The phrasing of the tip implied that Pebble had blocked the additional stat windows on behalf of its master.
Even though it was right, and this was more efficient, Ayra still felt like Pebble was apathetic to another citizen’s plights.
It was as if it didn’t care if others died or not.
When the young lord squinted his eyes at the spirit, Pebble pretended to act cute, gave a clumsy wink, and hid back inside Ayra’s body.

     ‘My artificial spirit’s personality is a bit…’ Ayra lamented.

     In the meantime, the citizens couldn’t understand how the merchants had survived and asked, “Honestly, how the hell did you survive all this time? And, how did that space get created?”

     The residents of Dallum were all natives to this area, so they clearly understood how hard it was to survive when caught up in an avalanche.
However, Ayra had a guess as to how the merchants survived.

      The young lord glanced at someone.
It was a man who was breathing heavily and looked haggard.
The man locked gazes with Ayra and made a surprised face.
The lead merchant, who had narrowly survived and escaped disaster, patted the man on the shoulder with a bright smile.
“It’s all thanks to him.
He was hired by the higher-ups in the merchants guild; we all managed to survive that landslide, safe and sound, with his magic.”

      The locals were faithful and passionate believers of Mollunka, the mountain god.
When the villagers heard that the merchants had only survived through a mage’s magic, a tumultuous reaction swept through those gathered.

      “He’s a mage?”

     “That wizard used magic when the landslide occured?!”

      As expected… Ayra clicked his tongue at the villagers’ vehement comments on a fellow mage.
The residents’ reactions became increasingly worse.
“Wouldn’t that mean that the mage is the cause of all of this?”

       “Was his magic the reason why two avalanches occured one after another?!”

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       “The mage caused this catastrophe! Mollunka must’ve been angered by how he’d cheated death!”

      Mollunka, the mountain god.

      The northern region was situated in a rugged mountain range, so Mollunka was often represented as a mountain god; the people here regarded landslides and avalanches as signs of divine retribution.
The merchants who had narrowly survived after their ordeal were flustered by the fierce response.
However, the three among them who were from Solar did not show any surprise; they had expected this.
The three simply gave the mage that had saved their lives and kept them safe for several days apologetic looks.

     And the mage in question was dumfounded–his temper flared.
“What are you saying? Haven’t you seen how I almost died as well? How could you say that I cheated death with my magic?! If that’s how you see me, then that person standing there…”

     Before the man could point the young lord out as a Mage, Ayra took the initiative to cast a hex.
Suddenly, the man’s words came out as an unclear mumble, and his legs lost all energy.
Ayra had switched the nerves that moved the tongue with the nerves that controlled his legs.

     Then, the young lord came forward to calm the heated atmosphere down.
“Now, everyone.
Why don’t we usher them into a warm building first? After all, we’re not sure what caused the avalanche in the first place.

     The villagers paused in the middle of their buzzing and fear-mongering to listen to the person that had been the most help in the rescue.

     To placate them, Ayra continued, “And we’ll need to retrieve the carts down there as well.
There are probably supplies in there for those that have been injured in this incident.”

     The young lord softened his tone and masked his true motive.
The villagers glanced at each other.
Tempted by the merchant caravan’s goods, they reluctantly stepped down.

     However, it seemed like seeds of doubt had grown in the villagers after they saw the other mage.
Someone hesitantly asked Ayra, “But… You said you came from the lord’s castle? Excuse me, but…who are you? How did you find the people buried under the snow?”

       Contrary to the hostility they showed the other mage, the person treated Ayra with cautiousness; after all, Ayra had claimed to be an agent of the lord, and the young lord was ultimately their benefactor during this catastrophe.
Countless silent eyes, drenched in the sea of anger and sadness from the deaths of family and relatives in the landslide, turned towards Ayra.

      ‘Hm, well, of course things unfolded this way.’ Ayra stepped forward; he had expected this reaction.
Due to the cold, he had been bundled up from head to toe all this while, but now he finally removed the hood of his thick robe.

      His long, brilliantly silver hair, which had been hidden away, was revealed.
Dark grey eyes, silver hair…all features that were common to people from this area.
With slightly downcast eyes, Ayra opened his coral lips.
His face was pale–almost translucent as snow, and tears welled up in his eyes as his silver eyelashes trembled.
“As you all know, we lost our lord recently due to an unfortunate accident.”

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     At those words, a few citizens deeply sighed, shook their heads, and drew a holy symbol across their chests.

     Ayra continued in his clear, elegant voice, making sure to look them all in the eyes, “So, the second son of the Lord, who had been living down South, arrived not too long ago to take up the mantle as the new Lord.”

     This was the first time the residents in this area had heard of this news; they were isolated due to constant landslides and avalanches.
They murmured amongst themselves.
Ever since Ayra had arrived at Solar, he had seen several people draw the holy sign several times a day.
He now drew a cross symbol according to his memory, albeit slowly, across his chest.
Many more villagers followed his actions.

     “Our new Lord is a devout follower of Mollunka’s words…” He said.

     Naturally, that wasn’t the truth.
He was devoutly atheist.
However, Ayra continued to smoothly lie, without even needing to wet his lips with saliva.
He spoke without a single reference to “mage” or “magic”–the syllable ‘ma’ never even passed his lips.
“Not too long ago, our new lord had a bad dream in which Dallum Gorge was covered with snow.
However, in his dreams, a silver-haired woman holding three red flowers appeared and got rid of the snow single-handedly.”

     “Ahhh…” A few villagers clapped their hands together; their expressions were laden with great admiration.
A silver-haired woman with three red flowers was how the Mollunka goddess was typically represented.
The heated, almost overflowing atmosphere began to gradually subside.

      “The Lord, who believed that something must have happened beyond the Dallum Gorge, hurried to send me here and believed the goddess would take care of things.”

      Ayra sneakily took out a red flower, the symbol of the Mollunka faith, from his subspace inventory.
He had received one from Botello–the old man predicted it might come in handy.
As soon as he held the red flower and assumed a prayer stance, the denizens all took out their holy symbols and followed in prayer.

      A pious and heavy silence followed.

     Ayra, who only understood the Mollunka faith on a surface level, inwardly urged, ‘Pebble-ah, get to work!’

     After a short while, his mana was sucked out and a choice selection window emerged.

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Let’s all thank the lord and pray.
(0.3% increase in approval rating in the Dallum region)

 

Everything has all been a blessing from Mollunka.
Let’s be thankful and pray.
(5.6% increase in approval rating in the Dallum region)

 

In the holy text, Mollunka said this: Find me when heavy snowfall covers the world… (… Fetching real-time data, matching emotional output from village elders and the faithful in this area.
Approval rating in the Dallum region increases by ??%)

      The decision was clear.
The differences in the sincerity and the length of the various choices screamed at him to choose the third option.

TL: So, it seems Mollunka is a goddess.
Without gendered pronouns (As is common in Eastern languages), it’s often hard to tell if someone’s male or female.
I’ll probably go back and try and make things standardized.

Very smart Ayra, relying on Pebble to and plagiarising a prayer from your spirit.

Thanks for being patient you guys! If you’re not in the discord, I explained that I was going to take a few days break for vacation (I hiked so much!).
That’s why this chapter was a bit late.

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