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(TL: Sorry for the delay. Things happened…)
The remaining expedition members hurriedly ran to the tomb, but their steps came to an abrupt halt as soon as they saw Samuel in front of it.
There was around 50 metres or so to the tomb from where they were. However, they realised something was off about Samuel’s movements. His face was dyed in the colours of pure terror, and tears were streaming down non-stop from his eyes. And most importantly, his long hair was in a yanked-back position in the air behind him.
….As if someone, or something, was pulling at them.
“S-save m….!!” (Samuel)
Samuel tearfully tried to say something, before he suddenly crashed to the ground on his back. As he flailed about, something fell out of his hand.
Just as everyone had finally regained their senses, Samuel was sucked into the tomb and disappeared from their view.
The iron door slammed shut violently after that.
And then, an ear-piercing scream followed. The remaining five people belatedly ran forward, now utterly speechless.
The front of the tomb was in a chaotic mess. The altar Alex took away while saying it was for eating lay upside down, the food scattered about everywhere.
“This…. Those dumb idiots!!” (Ian)
For the first time ever since the expedition began, Ian flew into rage. Dylan looked at Ian angrily stomping on the ground for a sec, before raising his crossbow.
“Cho Hong, Hugo! I’ll cover you.” (Dylan)
Cho Hong and Hugo stuck to either side of the tomb’s entrance. They stared at each other and mouthed the words one, two, three, before Cho Hong kicked the door, hard. And, just as she was about to enter….[GET OOOOOOOOUUUUUUTTTTT!!!]
Incomprehensibly thick murderous intent, sharp enough to render flesh apart, slammed and dug into everyone’s brains.
“U-uwaaah?!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong, who always behaved like a female version of man’s man, began to falter, her face full of fear.
The roar of the Lioner leader was a joke compared to the enormous evil aura pouring out from the interior of the tomb. Never mind Cho Hong and Hugo, even Dylan and Ian had collapsed to the ground, gasping urgently for air. The only one standing unaffected was Seol Ji-Hu.
Before anyone present had the chance to recover their wits, Seol Ji-Hu instinctively activated ‘Nine Eyes’, and couldn’t help but question his own eyes.
‘It’s yellow?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Meaning, he had to pay attention?
But, why? Even Dylan, a high-levelled ranker, couldn’t fight against whatever force was affecting him.
Seol was unable to figure it out, but the situation was rapidly getting worse.
The corrupted, indistinct, and blurry miasma leaked out from the tomb and began to envelop his teammates one by one. Seol Ji-Hu looked around in helplessness, only for an object glittering on the ground to catch his attention. It was small tiara boasting a brilliant silver hue.
Seol Ji-Hu hurriedly picked the tiara up, and his trembling eyes shifted back to the tomb itself. The ‘Attention Required’ could not be seen as absolutely safe, but…. But, when he saw Cho Hong grasping at her neck with her eyes wide open, Seol Ji-Hu stopped hesitating and ran inside the tomb.
As soon as he entered, the door slammed shut by itself. Seol Ji-Hu flinched, but he never stopped moving.
And so, he entered through the doorway and managed to make his way past the lone corridor. What waited him by the entrance of the burial chamber was a man sprawled on the floor.
Samuel was staring at the ground with dull eyes…. while his head and body had been separated. No, would the description of his head being yanked out from the body be more fitting here?
“Samuel….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
He wasn’t the only one.
“….Alex!!” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Alex, who had been holding that keepsake he desired so much, lay there with his neck twisted around like a twisted doughnut.
“G-Grace….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Meanwhile, Grace’s head was cracked open like a watermelon.
Seol Ji-Hu’s jaw opened vacantly after spotting Klara, now literally ripped in half from the top of her head right down to her groin.
Her remains showed the most amount of damage compared to others. As if something had dug her eyes out while she was still alive, her eye sockets were empty now. Her limbs were twisted into bizarre angles.
That wasn’t all. Her neck flesh was crumpled inward as if something had squeezed it too tightly. And, she must’ve been flung against the walls dozens of times, because her body now resembled finely ground meat paste.
His comrades who were alive and well only a few minutes ago had now all met with horrifying death. Realising this chilling truth, Seol Ji-Hu froze up like a statue on the spot.
“Why…. why….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Everything would’ve been fine if they just chose to quietly return home.
Run away! – suddenly, this thought popped up in his head. However, he couldn’t do that. Seol Ji-Hu looked behind him and gritted his teeth.
This wasn’t ‘Do Not Approach’; since it was ‘Attention Required’, there must be some kind of a solution to what was happening outside. At the bare minimum, a broader range of options should be available to him, compared to something like ‘Escape Immediately’.
But, he could think of only one way out of this predicament.
Seol Ji-Hu reached out to the bodies with his trembling hands. He retrieved the token from Alex; took the earrings from Grace; and finally, found the necklace emitting blue lustre near Klara and picked it up.
He then looked at the sarcophagus, only for his breathing to come to a choking halt.
The left sarcophagus was completely disarranged. Not only that, the lid was half open, and chilly, pale blue aura was slowly permeating out from the opening to fill up the burial chamber.
Could Samuel and his team have tried to open the sarcophagus, too?!
As Seol Ji-Hu stood there frozen in shock, he realised that the burial chamber had suddenly become a level darker.
His surroundings became eerily silent. For some reason, his instincts loudly screamed at him not to move from the spot.
All of a sudden….
Seol Ji-Hu could feel ‘it’.
The glare, staring at his back. Someone, or something, standing behind him. And then, the disgusting, acrid odour of blood stinging his nose.
The fog that darkened the burial chamber slowly enveloped him, too. The evil aura he sensed on the outside of the tomb brushed past his skin, and he thought that every cell in his body had woken up and was screaming.
The only other time he trembled this hard, must’ve been back in the days of going through cold-weather winter training, when he was still in the military.
Even though he tried to control the tremor, his body still trembled like crazy. Not just because of the chilly aura leaking out of the sarcophagus, but also from something else grasping at him.
His brain continued to ring alarm bells. It told him to never look back. He must not look back.
Subconsciously, Seol Ji-Hu’s neck creaked like a piece of rusted machinery and slowly turned towards his back, but he managed to squeeze his eyes shut in time. He also somehow managed to extend his shaking arms out as well. This was all he could do under the circumstances.
After five minutes that felt like eternity had passed, he sensed the necklace slowly leaving his hands.[A keepsake from my mom.]
He nearly opened his eyes after a certain ‘will’ entered his mind.[This, a gift from someone dear.]
Next up, the slick and cool-to-the-touch tiara was gone.
And then…[I warned them.]
Suddenly, the words got colder, sharper.[I don’t like these people.] [Told them not to enter.] [But, they entered anyway.] [I was going to endure, but then, these two…!]
‘I’m sorry.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu dropped his head.
‘I thought we’d be going home, but I didn’t know they would….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)[I know.]
When he desperately spoke in his mind, her will that sounded like a reply entered his mind.[These people, they secretly schemed.] [They lied.] [That man said it.] [Once past the boundary, I won’t be able to chase them.]
He did fear the worst, and it turned out to be true. Samuel and his team couldn’t throw their greed away in the end.
‘Really…?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)[Not lying.] [I was seeing you off, but felt something was wrong, so followed you.]
‘Seeing me off?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)[Ng.] [You promised to come and see me again.]
Before he had noticed it, he was no longer shaking.
The evil aura was still thick and heavy, just as before. However, Seol Ji-Hu had finally realised that it was not directed at him. He even began to think that she sounded like a sulking, pouting child, busy whining about this whole thing being not her fault.
Just how much time went by, like this?
The token and the earrings remained in his hands, yet he could hear the footsteps shuffling away. Regaining some calmness, Seol Ji-Hu breathed in deeply and opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw was a pair of person’s feet. He expected to see a rotting, withered feet of a mummy, but hell, they were small and beautiful, instead.
But, she should’ve been dead for a long time, though? Seol Ji-Hu summoned up some courage and raised his head a bit higher.
And he saw her back. What he saw was the rear of a woman, her long, gently-waving silver hair reaching down to her ankles. Wearing a white gown with icicles adorning it, she readily entered the sarcophagus and laid down.
When the sound of the lid closing resounded out, Seol Ji-Hu finally regained his wits.
His mind was now silent, her will no longer sounding within.
‘Did she just spare me?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
He half expected to be killed off here, so right now, it felt like ten years were shaved off his lifespan.
Seol Ji-Hu turned around hurriedly to leave, but then, he noticed the chaotic state of the burial chamber.
And then…. For some reason, he began to tidy up the burial goods. He closed the lid properly, and unfurled the red cloth before laying it back on the sarcophagus. He also correctly placed the longsword and the shield back to where they used to be.
The problem only occurred when he was just about done with tidying up.
Something weird happened. When he tried to place the earrings and the proof of chastity to their original positions, they kept falling down. No matter what he tried, they resolutely refused to stay in their original positions.
‘What’s going on here?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
He only wanted to finish tidying up quickly and leave, so this was one hell of an exasperating event.
“Gimme a break…” (Seol Ji-Hu)[Gimme a break…]
Seol Ji-Hu tilted his head this way and that, before cautiously thinking to himself.
‘By any chance, are you doing this deliberately?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)[You can take them.]
‘….Pardon?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)[Thanks.] [It was the first time.] [A person protecting me.] [Come again.]
‘No, hang on. I was….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
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Seol Ji-Hu was about to say something inwardly, but then, he saw the sarcophagus suddenly grow distant from him.
His body was actually being pushed out. No, it was more like someone or something was dragging him away, and before he could do anything about it, he slid past the corridor. Soon, he heard the sound of the door opening up, and the darkened world brightened up once more.
As the door closed shut with a resounding ‘slam’, Seol Ji-Hu looked behind him.
Dylan, Cho Hong, Hugo, and Ian were patiently waiting for him.
Just before Seol Ji-Hu opened his mouth….
“As soon as you entered inside, the miasma dissipated.” (Ian)
Ian spoke up in a soft voice.
“We heard what happened. Listening to the will of the vengeful spirit…. That was truly an unexpected phenomenon.” (Ian)
Ian sounded lonely and wistful as he closed his eyes. It seemed that the vengeful spirit relayed her will to the four people outside the tomb, as well.
“It’s my fault that Samuel’s team decided to act separately like this. If only I didn’t speak of my hypothesis so carelessly, then….” (Ian)
“No, that is not true.” (Dylan)
Dylan spoke in a formal tone of voice.
“We all were given the same opportunity. And it was them who ignored it. They could not control their greed and paid the price for it.” (Dylan)
“Is that so….” (Ian)
Ian sounded resigned. He shifted his gaze over to the accessories in Seol Ji-Hu’s hands – the proof of chastity, and a pair of nameless earrings. From a certain point in time, the fate of Seol and Samuel’s team had become clearly divided.
The older man chuckled wryly and gazed up at the sky, looking somewhat helpless.
“Goodwill with goodwill, and malice with malice, is it…. I’ve learned a lot during this expedition.” (Ian)
“I agree. It’s not only humans that possess intelligence, after all.” (Dylan)
Dylan smiled ruefully before turning around. Their Pathfinder might have died, but he too was an Archer.
“Let’s go back.” (Dylan)
Soon, the remaining members of the expedition assumed a new formation according to Dylan’s orders and silently left the tomb’s vicinity.
11 had entered, but only 7 were leaving the forest.
The return trip proved to be uneventful. With the sole exception of Ian performing another one of his mind calming magic spell, nothing of note happened.
The mood of the expedition remained…. quiet. Sure, they had experienced the annihilation of a friend’s team, but also, each of them had a lot to think about.
It was a rather common event for a person to die in battles against monsters or other enemies. However, today’s circumstance was slightly different. It was Samuel’s fault for making the vengeful spirit their enemy in the first place.
Endless questions still swimming inside his head, Seol Ji-Hu remained confused. He didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad about this expedition.
But, if he were to be honest, he was more regretful than anything else.[More importantly, if we don’t acknowledge the Warrior who managed to defend against a female Lioner as one of the members of the expedition, then how can we even think about acknowledging anyone else?]
Samuel….[Name’s Alex. I’m a level 3 Investigative Priest. From Area 4.]
Seol Ji-Hu never once thought of them as bad people. Samuel could be a bit hard-headed at times, but still, he was a good leader who did pay attention to the opinions of his teammates. And Alex was a good-natured young man with a bright smile on his face most of the time.
And that was precisely the reason why Seol Ji-Hu found it so much harder to understand. Why did they try to take on the risk, when the situation was anything but certain?
As he walked while submerged deeply in his thoughts, the sky that had been hidden away by the trees began to show up. He could even see the distant Napal hill too, as well as the previous night’s camp site.
“How much do you know about ‘death’?” (Ian)
Soon after they finally managed to escape from the Forest of Denial, Ian initiated conversation with Seol Ji-Hu.
“All I know is that you lose all memories of the Paradise and it becomes impossible to re-enter.” (Seol Ji-Hu) (TL note at the end.)
“Looks like you have some understanding of it. If I were to correct one thing, then there actually is a way to re-enter the Paradise.” (Ian)
Now that was the first time Seol Ji-Hu heard about that.
“It’s not easy, of course. First of all, you need to revive the dead being. And secondly, you must find a way to bring the person back here, the person who had utterly forgotten about the Lost Paradise. If you meet these two conditions, then you’re given one last opportunity to re-enter.” (Ian)
“Revival?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Well, rather than calling it ‘revival’, it’d be more like you praying to the gods for your wish to be granted, instead. Will you please revive that person, or something like that.” (Ian)
The moment he heard that, Seol Ji-Hu felt like a hammer had struck him in the head.
That was a rather familiar word to him.[You have honoured your side of the deal, so I shall honour mine. What is it that you wish?] [And so, do you wish to be revived?]
Indeed, back in his dream….
“Of course, the act of praying for that wish itself is the difficult one. You need to either achieve a great military merit in the battlefield, or get a promise from a god, or get yourself truly ridiculous, unbelievable offerings…. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the whole thing is practically impossible.” (Ian)
“….Master Ian, do you think Samuel was trying revive Vanessa?” (Dylan)
“I do.” (Ian)
‘….Vanessa?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu shifted his gaze over to Cho Hong after hearing an unfamiliar name. She quickly whispered to him.
“A level 5 Blade Runner. The OG leader of Samuel’s team.” (Cho Hong)
“….I was worried about that, so I tried to warn him, but in the end, he couldn’t let go, could he?” (Ian)
“I can understand, just a little, where he was coming from. They had been teammates for a very long time, and while she was still alive, they were one of the best teams in Haramark, after all.” (Dylan)
“I’m sure that the weight on Samuel’s shoulders was heavy. In any case, I’m deeply worried. Samuel was a capable enough Archer to enter the ranks of level 5. And now, both Vanessa and Kahn, too…. Right now, every single upper rankers coun…..” (Ian)
Ian abruptly stopped talking and began rummaging through his robe. He then pulled out a round crystal. Seol Ji-Hu remembered seeing something similar in Carpe Diem’s office, but this crystal was several times more clearer.
“Is it from the royal family?” (Dylan)
“Looks like it. Sorry about this, but can you give me some privacy?” (Ian)
“Of course.” (Dylan)
Seol Ji-Hu followed Dylan and the rest, to distance himself away from Ian.
“Is it possible to communicate with Haramark from here?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Well, he works for the royals, right? I mean, they are still a royalty, so they should at least possess good quality crystals, no?” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong replied and lightly clicked her tongue.
“I hope that’s just a friendly call.” (Cho Hong)
“Unfortunately, doesn’t look like it.” (Dylan)
Dylan seemed to get a little tense after seeing Ian’s surprised reaction.
“Wait, it’s not a war breaking out, is it?” (Cho Hong)
“I wonder. Surely, Parasite wouldn’t have the necessary manpower to focus on us right now.” (Dylan)
“In that case, is it the Federation?” (Cho Hong)
“That makes even less sense.” (Dylan)
While they chatted among themselves, Ian’s communication came to an end. As the older Sorcerer slowly walked over, his complexion was definitely not so good.
“What happened?” (Dylan)
“….They say that all communications with the Arden fortress have been cut off.” (Ian)
Hearing that, Cho Hong’s expression crumpled immediately.
“D*mn it! I knew that would happen!” (Cho Hong)
“Let me continue. The last communication was two days ago. The royal family of Haramark has issued an emergency bounty, and has recruited level 3 and 4 Earthlings. And they have issued draft notice to those above the upper levels.” (Ian)
“Draft notice?! Gimme a f*cking break!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong angrily shouted out. Dylan calmed her down and asked.
“How many answered the notice?” (Dylan)
“Not even one.” (Ian)
“I thought as much.” (Dylan)
“It can’t be helped. The Arden fortress was the strategy the royal family had pursued against advice, anyway. In any case, they are in the midst of marching towards the fortress as we speak, along with a small contingent of Earthlings accompanying their own armed forces.” (Ian)
Things just got complicated as they were about to return. Ian helplessly stroked his beard. After a short bout of silence later, Dylan asked.
“Will you be heading there, as well?” (Dylan)
“You know it. I’m still employed by the royal family, after all. I’ve received quite a few benefits from them, so I must comply.” (Ian)
“Argh, don’t go! You’re supposed to quit after scouting the Forest of Denial is done, right?” (Cho Hong)
Seeing Cho Hong so vehemently react like this, Seol Ji-Hu became quite curious. He could tell that a war had broken out, yet he failed to understand why everyone was so openly vocal about it.
Dylan finished organising his thoughts and asked once more.
“What did they want from us?” (Dylan)
“The mission to scout the Forest Denial is to be put on hold immediately. Escort me to the previously-agreed rendezvous point. As for the rest, they will discuss it with you. They also added that you’ll be paid suitable compensation so you should rest easy.” (Ian)
“Sounds like the royal family is in a serious bind.” (Dylan)
Dylan slowly shook his head.
“I will have to discuss this with my team first. Can you give us a bit of time?” (Dylan)
“Well, I don’t have a say in that, to begin with. And also, I’m sorry about this.” (Ian)
“This isn’t something you should apologise for, Master Ian. Well, then. ….Ah.” (Dylan)
Dylan was about to gather his teammates around, but he thought of something before that and asked quickly.
“By the way, who is the commander of the forces?” (Dylan)
“It’s Teresa.” (Ian)
“…..Pardon me?” (Dylan)
Dylan frowned deeply.
“Teresa Hussey is personally participating?” (Dylan)
“Fufufu. I see that you’re reacting exactly the same as I did.” (Ian)
Ian chuckled loudly and nodded his head.
“That’s right. The princess of the Haramark’s royal family is personally going to war.” (Ian)
< 59. Goodwill with Goodwill, Malice with Malice (2) > Fin.
(TL: Okay, so. This line initially confused me, because the dear author didn’t even leave a hint about such a thing until this chapter – or did he? In chapter 45, or more specifically, when Kim Hahn-Nah was talking about the mysterious disappearance of Seong Shi-Hyun, she said no trace of that man could be found either in the Paradise or on Earth. I even left a TL note, denoting my confusion at that time. Well, this does clear up a bit about that part now.)
(TL: Also…. if you are feeling curious about what Cho Hong looks like, or for that matter, the vengeful spirit or the princess, as well a couple of other folks, you can always check out my Twitter feed. My Twitter handle is: https://twitter.com/JamesKa50514542)
(Shameless plug FTW.)