Chapter 132

Soon, the twenty-fifth Giant Beatle had left the world for good. An arrow, still burning in flames, was embedded in its body. The smell of burnt flesh emanated everywhere. The remaining Giant Beatles went back into the forest to hide. The disgusting smell of burnt flesh, like burnt rubber tires, lingered in the air. However, it seemed that the group members had already gotten used to the smell as no one paid any attention to it.

“There’s no end to this work… I’m getting sick and tired of this.”

“I think it’s mostly over now though, right?”

“Then, shall we leave?”

“Let’s grab what we can… These talons look expensive…” 

***

A monsoon poured rain down upon the party. They waded and trudged through the knee-high rushing rapids that were created by the hill’s slope, which was sloped at nearly thirty degrees.  The party members were moving up the hill in single-file, had a rope around their waists, and were connected together with specially designed rock climbing carabiners. 

From time to time, muddy water from the right cliff would pour all over their heads. They were already completely drenched in water such that the curves of their bodies could be clearly seen. They looked like wet mice that were caught in the rain. As they moved away from the rushing rapids, they were greeted by lumps of sliding mud. The slick surface made it hard for them to gain a firm footing. To their left was a sheer cliff drop. 

“Eu-heuk-”

One of the weaker men in the party slipped and stumbled sideways. Just as he was about to roll down the sheer cliff, two people tightly tugged on their connected rope and pulled him up. 

“That was a close call!” A good-natured-looking member said as he helped his party member get back up. 

“I thought I was being careful… Damn it… Thank you.”

Gun shrugged his shoulders and looked down. The other person cocked his head to the side. Gun, a royal family member, expressed his gratitude while the other man had a strange frown on his face. 

“From the looks of it, I think we're going to lose the bet…”

***

The ‘Black Forest’ was as dark in broad daylight as it was at night. Even though the forest was dense, there was a path for the caravan to pass through. The path leading into the Black Forest opened up like a cave. It was the only path they could take. 

The forest was exceptionally vast. Despite walking for three days, they were still shrouded in darkness. There didn’t seem to be a distinction between night and day.  

The Black Forest was a very dangerous place — too dangerous for them to even sleep properly. Everything imaginable appeared. 

The person in the lead stopped. He carefully scanned the surroundings ahead before making a hand signal to the people in the back. 

- There are two ‘Chain Snakes’ up ahead; about fifteen meters long. 

Among the party members who were keeping a specific distance from each other, four people quickly picked up something and slowly moved forward. The man in the lead quickly retreated. The snakes were very dangerous. Four vertically divided yellow eyes moved slowly in the darkness. The snakes tensed their muscles. Even though their eyes did not seem very developed, they were able to sense the presence of their prey through the air. Something delicious was seemingly making their way towards them, though they possessed an odd smell… 

The long scales that wrapped around their bodies stood on end like tightened chains. Quietly and stealthily. Curling like a whip, the ten-meter scales that spanned from their head to the center of their bodies were effective hunting tools. Their scales were as strong and hard as steel, and they were also as flexible as rubber. They were on high alert as they waited for their food to approach. One of the snakes had already moved to the other side, blocking their prey's possible escape route. They were a pair of male and female Chain Snakes. This was how their hunting worked — it was a cooperative activity. However… 

Pat- 

An intense flash of light appeared. The snakes gave a shrill scream as they turned their heads. They felt agonizing pain as though something pierced through their eyes! While they temporarily lost control of their bodies, a white sword and a spear flew towards one snake while two revolving blades flew towards the other. Before the two snakes even had the chance to cry out, both were beheaded at the same time. Afterward, a voice rang out from the darkness. 

“They look pretty expensive.” 

“And delicious.”

“...?”

***

Twenty-odd people plowed through the knee-high ‘black water’, with the horses and wagons in the middle, as they moved forward. They looked like a line of beggars — they were as dirty as they could be, and their clothes looked more like rags. Their glistening eyes and white teeth that were occasionally exposed, the only proof that they were sane people. All of them looked exhausted, but judging from their actions alone, it did not seem that way. 

“What the hell is this black water…” said a man.

“Who knows? It’s making me really annoyed… It’s sticky and smells nasty…” said a woman, who sounded very annoyed. 

However, others had a different perspective. 

“We hit the jackpot!” exclaimed a man.

“We're going to be rich,” said a woman. 

“But when will the crude oil refining technology be developed?”

“We should still give it a try. It'll be very useful in the future. Isn’t it an energy source raw material that we absolutely need?” 

***

“What are you picking up?”

“I’m not sure. It’s not a very valuable gem...but I’m sure it has its uses. Those people never did anything without a reason, right?” 

“Should we pick some up too?” 

“Do it…”

People glanced at the man and the woman. Shortly after, they started to get excited about gathered things for themselves. 

This place was known as the ‘Valley of Jewels’. Following the gently sloping path from the upper region of the valley for no less than ten days, they finally descended to the bottom. Just like the valley of precious jewels, they were greeted by all kinds of snakes and poisonous insects, but that did not turn them away. In truth, it was because that was the only path they could take. However…the entire valley was covered with all kinds of jewels, such as the aluminum oxide-based sapphire, ruby, emerald, topaz, and last but not least, amethyst - even though it had a slightly different composition from what they were used to back on Earth. 

These gemstones reflected the sunlight. The brilliance of these gleaming jewels stopped the party in their tracks, whose eyes sparkled like those gemstones too. 

“I’m guessing that somebody used to run a jewelry business here a long time ago…” 

“Perhaps there was a large-scale aluminum chemical plant here in one of the older episodes that got hit by a meteorite or lava…”

“By the way, is this…?”

“Yes. That’s a rough diamond. It doesn't look attractive in its uncut, raw state. Even on Earth, the diamond was only hailed as the “king of gems”, after the brilliant-cut processing method was developed in the 17th century…” 

The two people looked at each other. 

“Are we… coming back to this place again?”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Kind of… There are things we need to get, right?” 

“A lot… and big ones.”

“.......”

***

They passed by the ‘Forest of Sacred Machines’.

...Redacted...

(One-sentence summary from Biyeon's journal: No one will ever believe what I experienced, saw, and heard in that place…)

They traversed through the plateaus, grasslands, black waters, wetlands, the Black Forest, the Valley of Jewels, the gray fog zone, and made a detour following the path due to a cliff, so they moved slightly northward, walking along the shore of a huge salt lake. It was the only path they could take to advance. They had no choice. It was a passage that was beyond the reach of humans for thousands of years. Forbidden Grounds... (Redacted)

Strange monsters, terrifying carnivorous plants, giant insects, flying snakes, man-eating fish that attacked by wrapping around one's body like carpets; not forgetting fluorescent iron-clad insects, and iron-clad avian people. Last but not least, spirits, dinosaurs, and crocodiles in the Sugar Pond, swarms of vampire bats, etc… 

(Two-sentence summary: Death was always around the corner, and ultimately…we lost a warrior and three merchants, who were careless. However, I will never forget the exciting adventure that never ceases to end, as well as the Essen crew...who are the bravest people I’ve ever met.)  

After three days of descending the valley, they had finally reached the border of the Damun Empire. It had been three months since they left Essen. They had to spend another ten days there, and in one month’s time, they would finally get to Prigojin

“Finally… I get to see people.” Rain muttered to herself. 

She closed her diary. 

She looked ahead. Far away beyond the valley, a watchtower on the border of Asrai could be seen. She could now return to the empire because she had ‘survived’. Rain raised her hand to block the sunlight. Even though she wore a wide-brimmed hat, it did not do much to prevent the afternoon sun from piercing her eyes. Her face was very tanned, and she furrowed her brow. It was still very hot, even though the heatwave season was coming to an end… Every single one of them looked terrible. Even the beggars in the empire were not in such a horrendous state. 

Rain tried to picture herself. She probably looked very much like a ‘person’. Suddenly, she smiled. She found Gun once again. Even though he still acted a little awkwardly, he was now doing his job correctly, for the most part. It seemed like he was starting to get a feel for life outside the sheltered imperial courts, finally connecting with humanity. 

“You're such a mess, Gun. Oh my. It seems like I can’t hate you a lot from now on, huh?” 

The bard, Cecil, started singing. 

The pain and hardship

Thawed the weak and evil heart,

Life-or-death challenges sharpened the will like a blade.

The memories of shared suffering, cries and laughter with arms around one another

Have led to a strong and considerate self

You, who have enclosed the poor, weak and shameful pretense

With a shell of deceit and makeup…  

By boldly stripping it away,

The king opened his eyes 

To see the most beautiful things. 

Rain stretched.

The big adventure that she never could have imagined had finally come to an end. For some reason, she felt a little sad…but at the same time, somehow, she felt as though she had become an actual adult, physically and mentally… Nonetheless, she had a simple wish she wanted to fulfill before she returned to the empire - clean water to take a bath. 

Rain pulled out a handkerchief. The yellow stains left by the muddy water could not be removed. Tears started streaming down out of the blue. 

***

Doyo, the merchant, stared at a man. He was a very scary-looking man. He was still as scary as before, but it was not as hard for her to face him now, as compared to the very first time. In fact, they had become close to one another. 

It was the same with the mischievous people of Essen. Every single day with them was fun and delightful to the point that she did not want to part with them. Even the intense fear of the Forbidden Grounds did not stop them from being reliable and joyful. It got to the point where she was actually waiting for those scary monsters to show up… 

Even though she was trembling with anxiety back then, she did not have a choice but to follow her uncle. Initially, she did not agree with her uncle’s decision at all. Prigojin was not the merchant guild’s destination. 

Why did her uncle pay the escorts a premium and change the destination? It was only a few days ago that she had barely escaped death. She wondered why she had to risk her life again… She absolutely could not understand why. 

In the past month, she had experienced the first grueling adventure in her entire life. Every second, she was on the brink of death, and she barely survived each time.

What did she get out of it? Doyo looked left and right. Before she knew it, her uncle was next to her.

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