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166 Seeding Festival

 Three days after winter was a festival that the entire Eastern Continent acknowledged: the Seeding Festival, which signified the start of the new year.

Even in the Unnamed Town, the daily quests over the last two days had changed from developing the town to decorating it with a messy assortment of items.

Since those decorations were provided by Xi Wei who was idling away at his divine kingdom, one could see many trinkets from Earth.

That included huge red fireproof and windproof paper lanterns, dragon-boats the length of chopsticks that could move by itself on water, red wool socks larger than humans, cackling pumpkin lights, firecrackers that carried Players up in the air when ignited, along with translucent ghosts that resembled flying blankets.

Amongst all that, the most popular item proved to be a rather elegant red papercutting which purpose was not quite understood.

***

"Could you tell your grandfather that we're not going to the festival...?"

"No way. We promised that everyone is showing up yesterday."

"I'm overworked. I just want a good sleep."

"Please pull yourself together." Vela smiled helplessly. "You're our liege."

At her words, Angora who for some reason had a big red '[1]' character pasted over his forehead reluctantly put on his travel cloak. "How do I look?"

"Very... hmm, energetic." Vela grinned.

"You could just lie and tell me I'm handsome." Angora appeared even more deflated.

"You're the most handsome person in my eyes all along." The girl replied with a straight face.

"There you go again, always making fun of me..." Angora groaned as he left the room."

"I never do." The girl muttered inaudibly before following Angora, keeping half a pace behind him.

"Won't you stand beside me? Talking feels inconvenient with you behind me." Angora said, puzzled.

"Please don't mind me. Girls at the border are like this."

"Really? If you say so..."

Angora thought that it was unusual, but such trifle was not worth concerning over. Hence, he left the guest room and came out on the first-floor balcony which faces the largest square of the Unnamed Town, where almost all festivities were held.

Many Players were gathered there at the moment too.

Some were competing in dance-offs in their anglerfish heads or dolphin heads, some were talking about gaming strategies (Marni: What! Thunder has a Boss too? Why did I never encounter one?!), some were waving flags and shouting cheers for the dragon-boat they were supporting in the fountain, whereas some children were wearing pumpkins they plucked somewhere, laughing as they chased the blanket ghosts.

The entire square was buzzing with the air of celebration wherever one would look.

"Greetings, believers of the God of Games and my citizens! I'm Angora Faust, the liege of this little town."

The letter over Angora's forehead flashed under the sun, and his face was full of wonder and pride as he spoke to the Players who paused their conversation and dancing for the moment. "We had seen much this winter, experiencing adventures that we would never have come across if we had stuck to our old lives! That said, everyone, be proud of your present achievements! Every last one of you had conquered all hardships in perfect response to the God of Games' expectations! Everyone here is a hero, and that is why..."

At that, Vela handed Angora a glass of wine from behind, whereas down at the square below, each Player got themselves various beverages or alcohol from self-service stalls (which bore commercials for the owners' shops) and raised their cups like Angora.

"To the God of Games!"

"""To the God of Games!"""

"Cheers!"

"""Cheers!!!"""

The simultaneous burst of cheers from the Players sent the scene to its climax.

"I hence declare the start of the Seeding Festival!" Angora smashed his glass on the floor before shouting. "O Master of Games, grant us new life!"

"""Ooooh-!"""

***

Seeding Festival at Lancaster was less peaceful compared to the cheer at the Unnamed Town.

"What? The swamp fishmen are multiplying unusually?" Count Corinth, mayor of Lancaster was frowning at the parchment his retainer delivered.

"Yes," the retainer replied respectfully. "The scholars believed that with the passing of winter and the strange phenomenon at the Seira Marshes was causing the swamp fishmen to multiply."

The miserable death of Baron Nigelania at Lancaster North had kept Mayor Corinth on the back foot since the emperor himself had placed the baron in Lancaster. Still, Nigelania's death served as a warning too, dealing a blow on other nobles of the city who had ulterior motives-including those who were approaching the baron on their own accord-to rethink their plans, fearful that their mayor who still had some influence left would wipe them out.

"If I remember correctly, there are swamp fishmen living in the aqueducts beneath this city too, yes?" Corinth stroked his beard in thought.

"That's right, but there haven't been any encounters in the city since the manhole covers were strengthened." The retainer said what he knew although he didn't know what the mayor was thinking.

"What's the reaction of the churches?" Corinth asked.

"Uh... they said that they would do their best to cooperate." The retainer replied hesitantly, aware that the mayor wouldn't be happy with such an answer.

And unsurprisingly, Corinth sneered. "Not mentioning any actual help, just 'do their best to cooperate'? It's really those buggers' style. Forget it, have the city watch prepare-we can't mount an expedition to the Seira Marshes, but it wouldn't be a problem defending Lancaster... By the way, what about Marni Wilf? Have you found him yet? Did he agree to come?"

"Well... the truth is that we never found him." The retainer stiffened himself as he answered awkwardly. "He doesn't appear to be present at Lancaster, but we did find some of his friends... but they seemed... well, unhinged. Their words are simply incoherent, like 'Marni's dead... again' or whatnot. It would probably be some time before we could reach the man himself."

"Oh, I see. You may leave."

Corinth frowned deeply, but only after his retainer left. "So, the astrologers divined that he wasn't 'of this world, and not even the spies could find him... That Wilf is much more mysterious than I would imagine to hide himself to such extent."

[1] , or 'double happiness' is commonly used as a decoration symbol for weddings.