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(TL: I’ve cut the chapter around 2/5 mark.)
An expedition was an entity sharing one fate – this assertion from Samuel was something pretty much all Earthlings would readily agree with.
Didn’t matter whether one’s relationship was bad or not, or there was some bad blood; as long as they belonged to the same expedition, every member simply must cooperate with one another. No exceptions. If not, chances of the expedition spiralling into an uncontrollable mess during a march or during battles were very high, which would naturally lead to endangerment of the entire team.
In that regard, both Seol Ji-Hu and Klara lacked the ‘educational’ aspect of what made Earthlings the Earthlings.
Klara was blinded by greed, did something idiotic, and provided a pretext. And, when she was criticised for it, she got angry, instead. Seol Ji-Hu was triggered by her and relentlessly pushed her to a corner afterwards.
The result of that was the atmosphere of the expedition becoming icy, as if they were walking on thin ice.
Klara continued to wipe at the edges of her eyes, her breathing heavy and rough as if she couldn’t get over her anger. Seol Ji-Hu deliberately ignored her altogether.
Eventually, Samuel stopped leading the team only ten minutes after leaving the tomb.
“Master Ian, I apologise for this, but can we return to the vicinity of the tomb?” (Samuel)
“Mm? Why?” (Ian)
“It seems that we have left too quickly.” (Samuel)
“What do you mean by that?” (Ian)
“I think we should take a short break first. I thought that, from what you told us before, the vicinity of the tomb should be the safest….” (Samuel)
Samuel glanced at the still-sobbing Klara, the ends of his sentence drifting away.
“….Apologies. She hasn’t been in the team for long. She’s only a level 2, and thus is a bit lacking in some areas.” (Samuel)
He revealed the reason for the break with an embarrassed tone of voice. Ian scanned his surroundings, not really minding it.
“Now that I think about it, we haven’t taken a single break since we entered the forest in the morning. And, the meal time has flown by us as well. Right, shall we take a break here, then?” (Ian)
“You mean, right here? But….” (Samuel)
“It’ll be fine. If you’re worried about the effects of the Forest of Denial, then I believe we’ll be fine.” (Ian)
“Is that true?” (Samuel)
Ian nodded his head.
“A Sorcerer is more sensitive to the flow of magical energy. If my hypothesis is correct, then the boundary for the activation of that defence spell will be just beyond where we are right now.” (Ian)
“Is… that so?” (Samuel)
For a brief moment there, a strange light flickered within Samuel’s eyes. It was truly for an infinitesimally short time, though.
“It is hard to believe, isn’t it? A magic spell that encompasses this massive forest.” (Samuel)
“Well, he was called a sage even by the people of the ancient Empire. You shouldn’t even compare him to a fake like me. Oh, it’s just my supposition, so don’t get too hung up over it, though.” (Ian)
Ian waved his hand around and settled down with a bit of groan.
“Everyone, we take a short break! Eat something, if you’re hungry!” (Samuel)
Samuel shouted out loudly, and then, silently stared at Klara for a while. He stood there staring at her as if he was caught in a dilemma, before calling out to Alex, who was still unable to calm down even now.
“Alex, let’s talk for a bit.” (Samuel)
Samuel dragged Alex away to a distance and they spoke softly to each other for a while. Alex formed a troubled expression and shifted his gaze towards Klara, now in the middle of being pacified by Grace.
Next up, Samuel walked over to Klara. His expression seemed determined, as if he had made his mind up over something.
“Klara. We need to talk.” (Samuel)
“Sob! But, that b*stard…!” (Klara)
“Stop! You are not a little kid anymore! Don’t you understand that your actions are negatively impacting the atmosphere of this expedition?” (Samuel)
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Klara continued to sniff away in bitterness.
“I only, I…!” (Klara)
“I hear you. I hear you, so lower your voice. I’ll listen to whatever you want to say, so come with me.” (Samuel)
Samuel spat out in irritation, grabbed her arm, and dragged her deeper into the forest. Grace wordlessly followed after the two and disappeared from the view as well.
“What a dumb*ss little b*tch. Seriously now.” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong spat out some mocking words while chewing on the dried jerky.
“Cho Hong.” (Dylan)
Dylan quickly warned her, since Alex had joined them again. But the latter simply waved his hand about with a weak smile on his face.
“No, no. It’s fine. Honestly, even I don’t have anything to say in her defence…. Tsk.” (Alex)
While looking at Alex clicking his tongue, Hugo opened his mouth.
“Will it be fine for you to not chase after them?” (Hugo)
Hugo raised his pinky.
“I mean, she’s your gal, right? Didn’t Samuel ask you just now to pacify her somehow?” (Hugo)
“Well, that….” (Alex)
Alex’s shoulders drooped real low, before he messily tousled his hair.
“Argh, d*mn it! I don’t know anymore.” (Alex)
“I won’t help you if you get into trouble later~.” (Hugo)
Hugo giggled loudly. Alex spat out a long sigh and pulled the altar out from his bag. He carelessly placed a couple of plates on it, before throwing on some food there. Seeing this, Cho Hong couldn’t help but ask.
“What are you doing? What are you doing with the food?” (Cho Hong)
“I want to at least get her to eat something. Also, I should let the others have a chow, too.” (Alex)
Alex spoke while not even turning to face her.
“Why doesn’t she just come over here and eat, instead?” (Cho Hong)
“With her personality, she’s not gonna calm down anytime soon. All I can do is feed her and hope for the best.” (Alex)
“Well, sure thing. Come back after doing what you think is the best. However, if she comes back here and continues on with that b*tchy attitude of hers, I ain’t gonna take it lying down. Okay?” (Cho Hong)
“Che. I hear you. But still, aren’t you too openly favouring someone here?” (Alex)
Alex carefully picked the altar up and began walking towards where the rest of his teammates had gone off to. Meanwhile, Cho Hong glanced to her side after her ‘sore spot’ was accurately pointed out. Seol Ji-Hu was sitting a bit further away, busy sucking on a cigarette.
Hugo stopped gulping down on food and sneakily approached the youth, before reaching out with his cupped hands. Seol chuckled and pulled out a new cigarette for him.
“Keuh! As expected, Seol, you really are quick on the uptake, you know.” (Hugo)
Hugo grinned brightly and lightly tapped the youth’s shoulder.
“You aren’t feeling down from that fight, right?” (Hugo)
“No ways.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“That’s right. You haven’t done anything wrong. Even I didn’t want to touch that coffin, you know.” (Hugo)
“Really?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Yup. It’s like, I was kinda tempted back there, but like, my instincts stopped me from doing anything, you know? I kept getting this feeling that I should not touch that coffin.” (Hugo)
Seol Ji-Hu looked at Hugo with renewed interest. The big man’s Job was supposed to be the ‘Barbarian Warrior’, so the youth couldn’t help but wonder if he possessed some sort of animalistic wild instinct or some type of skill like that.
“Besides all that. My man, you looked pretty d*mn cool back then, you know?” (Hugo)
With a cigarette still stuck between his lips, Hugo stood back up. He then assumed the position of aiming something to his front and formed a grave, intense expression.
“….If you really want it, then try to take it over my dead body.” (Hugo)
Cho Hong burst out in a boisterous laughter. Even Dylan began chuckling quietly as well. Seol Ji-Hu’s cheeks reddened instantly.
“Did I really say that?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“That’s right, you did! Wowsers, I really wet my pants just then!” (Hugo)
“Well, I…. I just couldn’t understand it. I still can’t tell if that thing was worth all that greed.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“It was definitely enough to rouse that sort of greed.” (Ian)
Seol Ji-Hu said what came to his mind so he could change the topic, but a reply did come, anyway.
“I don’t know much about the necklace itself, but I know well enough what that keepsake, the token, was.” (Ian)
Ian lightly massaged the back of his neck and carried on.
“If my memory serves me correctly, then that thing was most likely the ‘Proof of Castitas’.” (Ian)
“Proof of…. what?” (Hugo)
When Hugo asked back, Ian clarified.
“It’s the proof of one’s chastity. It’s one of the artefacts given to a saintess.” (Ian) (TL: “Castitas” is a Latin word for ‘chastity’. The author came up with that name, not me.)
“But, wasn’t her becoming a saint only a symbolic gesture?” (Hugo)
“Well, it’s not only the chaste women who get canonised as saints, after all. Also, since you’re a symbolic existence, you’d be asked to appear publicly every now and then, don’t you think so?” (Ian)
Ian lightly winked back and looked at Seol Ji-Hu next.
“Have you heard of a magic system called ‘Memorise’?” (Ian)
“Yes, I’ve heard of it.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Well, that should make explaining it a bit easier. Now originally, ‘Memorise’ was supposed to be unique only to the Sorcerer profession. As one’s level increases, the number of spells that one can ‘store’ goes up by one. For instance, I can store up to four magic spells.” (Ian)
“Is it impossible for a Priest to store spells?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Originally, yes. The reason for that is, the Job of a Priest is most closely associated with the gods, you see. Many of the important spells that require borrowing of gods’ powers can only be activated via the principle of ‘equivalent exchange’. It’s not for nothing that Priests lug around altars and offerings all the time.” (Ian)
Seol Ji-Hu nodded his head. For some reason, he recalled Maria’s face all of a sudden.
“The honest truth is, many Priests find this point rather annoying. However, there is an item that can make up for that shortcoming.” (Ian)
“By any chance, was the crucifix Alex carried around one of those?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Correct. There are artefacts that let you store spells as well as allow you to perform holy magic without the need for the offerings. Sure, there is a limit to the number of times it can be used, but then again, just those two points alone make such an artefact very valuable to a Priest. During emergency situations, or when the spells you’ve prepared ran out, such items would become indispensable, then.” (Ian)
Only now could Seol Ji-Hu understand why Alex desired that item so much. Now that he had lost his artefact, Alex was no different than an average Priest.
“I guess that proof of chastity is a far better item than the one Alex lost.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“No need to even mention that! I’m actually feeling rather embarrassed for even thinking of comparing the two. You can store six holy spells for as long as you want at no cost, which is the same thing as possessing the power of a level 6 Sorcerer. On top of this, there is no limit to the number of times you can use the artefact, so can you imagine how amazing that thing was?” (Ian)
Ian spoke passionately, but it still didn’t fully register with Seol Ji-Hu. He could only guess that the item they were talking about was an incredible thing, judging from how wide-open Cho Hong’s mouth was.
“I’m sure that, had we walked out of there with that artefact, every single Priest in Paradise would have come looking for us.” (Ian)
“To that extent….?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“I’m not exaggerating. And then, the other accessories, the longsword, and that shield, too. Every single one of them should match the proof of chastity in value.” (Ian)
With his explanation now over, Ian gazed at the youth with warm eyes.
“Well, that’s that. I have answered a question of yours, so I’d like you to answer one of mine.” (Ian)
Seol Ji-Hu tilted his head.
“As long as it’s something I can answer.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Well then, let me ask you this. What would you have done if I voted yes back in there?” (Ian)
This was yet another question with no easy answers. Wasn’t he deliberating on his choices right until the end?
What should he say here? Seol Ji-Hu pondered for a little while, before deciding to come clean.
“I’m not sure. Should I convince others, should I fight, or should I just give up and leave? Before Hugo voted against, I was in a dilemma. I can’t be sure of what my choice would have been.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
He tried to read Ian’s possible reason for asking this question, but the older Sorcerer remained expressionless. And here he was, thinking that the older man was a bit of a character the first time they met. Seeing those deep, thoughtful eyes, Ian now came off as a different person altogether.
“Regardless of what the result was, you had no thoughts of ever touching the items found on the sarcophagus, is that it?” (Ian)
“That’s correct.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Ian silently stared at Seol Ji-Hu, as if he was trying to judge the youth.
“You are a righteous man.” (Ian)
“A righteous man? No way that’s true. Hahaha.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu broke out in a loud laughter.
‘I’m righteous?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Even a passing mutt would guffaw non-stop at the notion. However, Ian’s brows rose up and down quickly for a moment there, after seeing the youth deny that suggestion without a shred of hesitation.
“Being modest is a good thing, indeed. Still, you do look like a righteous man from where I’m sitting. Or, you wouldn’t have gone that far to defend a woman who was already dead. Am I wrong?” (Ian)
“I won’t deny that I did sympathise with her. But, if you believe that I acted only because of her, then well….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Are you saying you didn’t? If that’s the case, then why did you desperately stop Klara back then?” (Ian)
“Mm…. If I were to put it into words, I’d say it was for me, as well.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“For… yourself?” (Ian)
“Yes.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
That wasn’t a lie, though. He didn’t want to die, after all. Also, he didn’t want any sour feelings to linger in his heart, too.
Ian quietly closed his eyes. As if he was mulling over what Seol Ji-Hu had told him, he stood still and didn’t move from the spot.
Seol Ji-Hu tilted his head in confusion and shifted his glance over to Cho Hong, but she raised her hands in the air with a shrug, her face saying ‘I dunno either’.
After some time had passed, Ian’s beard began to quiver.
He grinned softly, rubbed his forehead and opened his eyes.
“So, that’s how it was. I wondered why there was this certain incongruency whenever I looked at you, but now…. I think I can understand you just a little bit better. You are an interesting fellow, that’s for sure. Your words and actions are unusual, but your thought processes are quite unusual, as well.” (Ian)
“Hey, isn’t that the same thing?” (Hugo)
Hugo asked, but since Ian was talking to himself anyway, there was no reply to that question. Soon, the Sorcerer smiled warmly and stroked his beard.
“Seol, let me introduce myself properly. I am Ian Denzel, a level 4 Alchemist, currently employed by the Royal Magic Corps. I’m from Area 4.” (Ian)
Suddenly, he introduced himself.
“From what I hear, it had not been long since you came to Haramark. Have you found a suitable team to join, yet?” (Ian)
“Very good. Actually, I was planning to resign from the Royal Magic Corps.” (Ian)
Surprisingly, Dylan asked a question, which was rare.
“I’ve already informed them of my decision. I told them the scouting of the Forest of Denial will be my last assignment for them. Well, it’s true that I was comfortable there, but things could get rather stuffy and boring, too. And I believe that I’ve repaid their kindness by now.” (Ian)
Ian grinned brightly.
“In any case. I’ll soon be unemployed, and no team is asking me to join them, so…. How about it? Would you like us two with similar circumstances to partner up?” (Ian)
After hearing the older man’s suggestion, Seol Ji-Hu became utterly dazed.
“Pardon me??” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“What I’m saying here is, don’t you want to go on the next expedition alongside this old man? After two of us forms a team, that is.” (Ian)
“Uwahk?! Hey, Dylan!” (Hugo)
Hugo yelped out and hurriedly got down to the ground in a kowtowing position.
“Dang it, what are you doing? Hurry up and get down! Mister Seol! We’re sorry for turning you away the last time!” (Hugo)
Hearing that, Ian’s eyes opened wider.
“What are you talking about?” (Ian)
“Oh, my gosh.” (Dylan)
Dylan began to chuckle wryly, and Ian pieced together what had happened quickly enough.
“Huh-uh. But, why? I’ve always thought that you possessed pretty discerning eyes.” (Ian)
“In all honesty, I was tempted, yes. However, I was not confident at all. If the old man was here with us, then, well….” (Dylan)
“Ahh, that fellow? Wait, now that I think about it, I haven’t heard anything from him recently.” (Ian)
“He’s preparing to retire soon.” (Dylan)
The forest became noisier as several people began raising their voices. Hugo continued to plead with Dylan, but the latter didn’t say anything. Meanwhile, Ian told Seol Ji-Hu that the youth didn’t have to answer right away, that he should carefully think it over, and ended the conversation there.
Seol Ji-Hu remained flustered even then, but still, happiness welled up rapidly in his heart. The expedition was coming to a successful conclusion, and it seemed like he’d be able to earn additional rewards, as well. On top of that, a Sorcerer even tried to scout him with the words of ‘let us form a team’.
He was thinking that, everything would work out well as long as they managed to return to Haramark safely. It happened then.
From afar, a desperate scream resounded out.
The flowing conversation came to an abrupt end.
Two people reacted first before anyone else could.
“Dylan!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong grabbed her mace and shouted out, prompting Dylan to grit his teeth.
“That was Alex. Came from the direction of the tomb!” (Dylan)
‘What was that??’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu’s expression hardened. What was going on here? Didn’t Samuel and his team change their location to quietly pacify Klara?
“Those dumb f*ckers!!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong angrily spat out and rushed forward first.
The cordial atmosphere was broken up in an instant. Even as he reflexively joined others and rushed forward, Seol Ji-Hu continued to pray in his heart.
….That his thoughts were wrong.
(TL: I’ll try to TL the rest of the chapter 59 and release it as soon as possible. As I’ve stated at the beginning of the chapter, the second half is even longer than the first, so it’ll take a bit longer.)