Chapter 145. Choice of Destiny (5)

The heated bickering full of back-and-forth turns eventually changed over to a fierce battle of baiting.

Seol Jihu tried persuading her, saying there was a real reason for them to not go to the villa and that he would take her to Scheherazade today instead. However, it was difficult to placate the excited Flone.

Who could blame her? After all, flying around the world as an incorporeal spirit was something everyone must have imagined at least once. Since the expedition was even laced with a stimulating description called ‘forbidden’, it wasn’t surprising for Flone, who was thirsty for adventure, to be so excited.

For a while, Seol Jihu stood his ground with firm ‘NOs’. However, when Flone took out her secret weapon of crying tears of blood, he had no choice but to surrender.

Do you think I’m going only out of curiosity? Grandpa adored me when I was little. If he were alive, I wouldn’t have been buried alive. It might be late, but I want to retrieve his body and give him a proper burial. And so on and so forth.

Seol Jihu couldn’t resist when she lamented nonstop.

In the end, Seol Jihu agreed, but only after making her promise to guarantee their safety.

But even if he wanted to go, there were problems that hindered them.

‘I don’t even know where it is.’

All he knew was that Phi Sora left the port of Nur on a ship. But as it looked like Flone would remember if she was in the area, he ignored this part.

Another problem was that this matter was wrapped up in great controversy. Since standing out wouldn’t do any good, he didn’t dare to ask his comrades for help. After all, he might cause them trouble by getting them wrapped up in the controversy as well.

Thus, Seol Jihu made up a story about having something to do and prepared to travel alone.

He never imagined that things would turn out this way, and he definitely had his worries, but he changed his mind when he saw Flone’s bright, joyful smile.

‘I’ll just think of it as paying her back.’

Thinking about it now, this was the first time Flone — the Giving Tree — wanted something so much. Letting her have this one thing should be fine.

Thinking so, Seol Jihu hopped onto the carriage to Nur.

**

Tap, tap- The sound of footsteps rang out in a hallway.

A deathly silence filled the interior of the villa, and total darkness made things barely visible. In addition, chilly air cold enough to cause goosebumps flowed around in the atmosphere.

A group of people walked in this dark hallway, relying only on a torch flickering precariously.

But soon, the header stopped, having come to a dead-end.

A dusty, dilapidated wall revealing a long passage of time caught Phi Sora’s eyes, and she let out a sigh.

‘Again.’

The hallway was blocked. She lost count of how many times they had experienced the same thing.

She stared at the wall with tired eyes before turning around and checking on the group.

‘One, two.’

Her comrades didn’t look any better, having emaciated complexions.

‘Three, four.’

In truth, the group was unable to tell night from day and had even lost track of the number of days that passed since they entered.

‘Five….’

Phi Sora counted five people. Six, including her.

The group had 18 members at the start of the expedition, yet 12 had disappeared.

Right, they didn’t die. They vanished after entering this villa.

‘How?’

How did things turn out like this?

Phi Sora bit down on her cracked lips.

The start wasn’t bad. Entering the villa went smoothly, and exploring the 1st floor wasn’t any more difficult than the tests of courage she’d had in college.

When the group was collecting the treasures and luxury goods lying around in the villa, she thought she had finally hit the jackpot after spending such a long time in Paradise.

The problem began when they climbed up the stairs.

After exploring the second, third, and then the fourth floor, they were ready to go back home, delighted. However, they couldn’t find the staircase. They returned the way they came from, yet the staircase had vanished.

Having explored the villa for dozens of hours, the expedition group was dead tired. They chose to set up a campsite, but when Phi Sora woke up from her sleep, she couldn’t see the two members who were supposed to be standing watch. Next, four members who went to look around the area disappeared without a trace.

Enraged, Phi Sora conducted a thorough search of the villa, but she couldn’t find the six missing people anywhere.

The remaining members continued to vanish. The tail guard would disappear in the middle of an exploration, or one or two members would disappear if Phi Sora took her eyes off of them for just one second.

Just like that, only six people were left.

She knew the gravity of the situation she was in.

But what unhinged her the most was…

Drrrk—

…the mysterious sound ringing out from an undiscoverable location.

On one hand, it sounded like someone forcefully opening a rusty door, while on the other, it sounded like an unknown creature lightly dragging its feet on a run-down wooden floor.

The important thing was that the sound rang out whenever she was starting to forget. And once this sound reached her ears, someone would always disappear.

Gulp. Someone swallowed hard.

“Unni….”

A girl wearing a Priest’s robe teared up.

“Don’t be scared.”

Phi Sora’s eyes turned sharp.

“And don’t talk weak. This son of a bitch is doing this on purpose. It’s getting enjoyment out of seeing our reactions.”

“But….”

“No buts. If this thing was anything special, it would have appeared in front of us a long time ago. Think about it. Why else would it play around so shamelessly?”

Drrk, drrrrrk!

Immediately, an unpleasant racket resounded in the hallway. It was as if the mysterious creature was laughing in ridicule.

Phi Sora clenched her teeth and forced herself to continue talking.

“We’ll stop the search here. Next, we—”

Whoosh. The torchlight flickered off.

The moment Phi Sora’s eyes shot open…

Drrrk!

All six people could feel it.

Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrk!

From the other side of the hallway, something was fiercely charging toward them.

“UAAAAAAAH!”

“AAAAAAAAK!”

Piercing screams echoed out in the hallway.

**

After arriving at Nur, Seol Jihu waited until dawn to head to the port.

After going to a desolate place he had seen in the afternoon, he checked to see if anyone was watching before entrusting his body to Flone.

The method Seol Jihu chose to cross the sea was flight. He was making use of the fact that Flone could exercise physical force if she wanted to.

Taking a boat was also an option, but he wasn’t sure if he could find a captain who would be willing. More importantly, he would attract attention by taking a boat. As Seol Jihu dreamed of committing the perfect crime, flying in Flone’s arms was the safest approach.

‘It’s much faster too.’

Crossing the dark sea splattering with waves, Seol Jihu felt his heart pound. He felt a little guilty, like a kid who was doing something mischievous.

How much time went by?

Seol Jihu slicked his hair up to prevent it from fluttering in the air and discovered a coast getting nearer in the darkness.

Technically speaking, this seaside marked the start of the Parasites’ territory.

“How is it? Do you remember anything?”

[I’m not sure. Kind of…?]

Flone, who was traversing the sea in a straight line, gently turned to the side. At the same time, Seol Jihu activated his Nine Eyes.

‘Holy shit!’

He immediately swallowed his breath. The entire coast became dyed in a shade of yellow.

‘Attention Required.’

Hesitation emerged on Seol Jihu’s complexion. He knew this area was the Parasites’ territory, but from what he had heard, their army often wasn’t stationed here.

Judging by the color of the shore, perhaps the information was wrong.

‘Maybe it’s better to just go back….’

[Huh?]

At that moment, Flone yelped after flying around the coast for a long time.

[I found it!]

Seol Jihu looked around the area and saw a lone building shining in a different light.

“Are you sure that’s the place?”

[I’m sure. Sacrificium, the villa on the cliff.]

Just like Flone said, the building was standing at the edge of the shore cliff. Perhaps because it was still dark, it gave off an ominous aura standing by itself in the middle of nowhere.

The problem was that the villa was colorless.

‘Why?’

According to Flone, the villa was an incredibly dangerous place. Seol Jihu for sure thought the color of danger would appear. However, the villa was colorless no matter how he looked at it.

Was it related to the shore being yellow?

He couldn’t be sure, except for one thing. From now, even a seemingly insignificant action could determine life or death. No, it certainly would.

Flone stopped near the villa.

Seol Jihu stared at the camouflage army helmet in his hand. He had spent quite a large sum of money to purchase this equipment, which could only be used one time but had a fantastic effect.

His original plan was to send Flone in and camp out nearby in hiding. But since the surrounding area was dyed in yellow, he had no choice but to change his mind.

‘What should I do?’

Looking at the yellow color, he felt uneasy about separating from Flone and staying alone. But he didn’t want to go inside the villa together either.

In truth, ever since he escaped from the laboratory in the Parasites’ territory, he never wanted to step even one foot in there again.

‘Do I just hide out underwater?’

He hated the idea of staying in the Parasites’ territory to the point of having such an absurd thought. But in the next moment, he shook his head.

It wasn’t as if there weren’t flying creatures among the Parasites. If ocean waves swept him away to the open ocean, he would be in a terrible position.

He couldn’t see rocks or any tiny islands to hide on either.

‘How troublesome.’

[Um, what are you going to do?]

A fidgety voice rang out in his already-confused head.

“Do you need to go?”

Perhaps sensing the hint of annoyance in Seol Jihu’s voice, Flone dropped her head.

[I want to go….]

“….”

[Being curious is one reason… but I really want to find Grandpa. There’s something I want to ask when I meet him….]

“But there’s no guarantee that your grandfather is in the villa.”

[Yes, but… it’s not a matter of possibilities. That’s the only place he can be at.]

“?”

[We were told about the assassination, but we never got his body back.]

Seol Jihu furrowed his brows and raised his gaze. He could see a ghost staring at the villa with an ardent expression.

[I realized after I died.]

Flone continued.

[I became free thanks to you, but most spirits who were once living are restrained to a specific place.]

“By a specific place, you mean….”

[The place they died.]

Flone emphasized.

[If he isn’t in the villa, he must have become a free spirit and left, or passed on to the afterlife. Since we can’t really find him if that is the case, I can give up on finding him without regrets.]

With Flone saying all this, Seol Jihu’s expression softened.

“…What do you want to ask him?”

[This.]

The pendant on Seol Jihu’s neck clattered.

[I’m curious why Mother left me this and why she said what she did when she placed this on my coffin….]

Hearing her sorrowful voice, Seol Jihu bit his lips.

‘Now that I think about it….’

[That necklace….]

[A fragment of the Seven Virtues. You did well to find that.]

After a short silence, Seol Jihu asked.

“How does it look?”

[Hm?]

“The villa, I mean.”

[Oh, who knows? I don’t feel any presence worth noting…. It’s just that…]

“It’s just that…?”

[It’s strange. It feels like it’s gesturing at me to come in…. That’s the only way I can describe this feeling.]

Seol Jihu crossed his arms and lowered his head.

‘I have to make the right decision.’

Going together or staying alone.

After looking back and forth between the colorlessness and the yellow color, Seol Jihu decided.

“You can go.”

[I can go?]

“Yes, but we’re going together.”

[E-Eh? You’re coming too? Really?]

“It might help you ask if you have this pendant.”

Although this was the reasoning he gave, the real reason was that he trusted his Nine Eyes.

Of course, the Nine Eyes was more varying than one might think. Although the villa might be colorless now, entering it or touching something wrong could instantly change the color to something more sinister.

‘But…’

Even while taking that into account, Seol Jihu thought it was better to go in.

He didn’t know why, but he had a strong feeling that staying near Flone would greatly increase his chance of survival.

He would be able to deal with any situation that comes up too.

[Really? We’re both really going?]

“…Yes.”

A sigh heavy enough to sink the ocean escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth.

“But don’t forget the promise you made me.”

[Yeah! Of course!]

Flone shouted joyfully.

Soon… the youth and the ghost circled around the cliff and disappeared inside the villa.

*

Seol Jihu and Flone entered the villa without much trouble. Because the villa was extremely dark, Seol Jihu turned on the illuminating stone he had brought along.

“Hm….”

The villa looked rather small from the outside, but as expected, the interior made him exclaim in awe automatically.

He could see traces of the place having been rummaged recently as if to say that the place had been worn down through the passage of time. One thing that surprised him was that there weren’t many ornaments and luxury goods that would be worth taking.

‘Did they take everything…?’

“They should have left some for me…” Seol Jihu murmured to himself before suddenly remembering Phi Sora.

He wouldn’t have to worry if she died or went back after the expedition, but there was a chance that she was still here. He had to be careful not to run into her.

[So this is the Sacrificium….]

“Flone? I don’t think there’s anything nearby.”

[Yeah. Let’s go somewhere else.]

“Don’t forget. We can’t stay here for more than an hour.”

[Okay, okay.]

Where should I go? Flone wondered to herself before going up the stairs. Worried that he would get separated, Seol Jihu quickly chased after her.

At first, the desolate, ghastly atmosphere bothered him. But the uncomfortable feeling disappeared as he conversed with Flone.

Perhaps because of the black smoke Flone continuously emitted, Seol Jihu seemed to get used to the surroundings as time went on.

After wandering around the second floor for a long time, Flone pushed open a door. There was furniture and bed inside, but it seemed overly luxurious to be a simple lodging room.

Seol Jihu spotted a portrait of a woman smiling kindly, then when he saw the small drawer underneath it, his eyes widened.

The White Rose Guild must have missed this room as a beautiful ornament was placed on top of the drawer.

It was a large glass cup. The stem was crystalline, and the bowl was crafted with gems. Inside, tantalizing grape-like golden orbs were stacked on top.

‘Just taking one would be….’

Since one gold coin was 550 million Won, the gold orb should easily go for a billion Won.

[You can take it.]

Seeing Seol Jihu entranced by the cup, Flone whispered.

“I, I can?”

[Yep. It’s not like it has an owner.]

“But the emperor….”

[Don’t worry. That greedy emperor was beheaded at a guillotine.]

In other words, he had been killed elsewhere.

In that case, there was no reason for Seol Jihu to hesitate.

Seol Jihu approached the jeweled cup and stared at the golden orbs with a look of rapture.

‘Just how many are there?’

There seemed to be at least ten orbs in there.

[The cup’s pretty too. Let’s take it.]

Seol Jihu nodded in a daze.

‘This place really is a treasure trove.’

To think just one room would have such an incredible treasure….

It was then…

While Seol Jihu was picking up the orbs with his jaw dropped, he suddenly felt a strange gaze. When he looked up, following his instincts…

“!”

His body froze stiff and his eyes widened.

The kindly smiling woman in the portrait now had the corners of her mouth hanging by her ears.

When he met the eyes of the woman, whose head had turned at a strange angle, his breath stopped. His scream became stuck in his throat.

[What’s wrong?]

Seeing Seol Jihu frozen, Flone looked up without much thought. Then, when she saw the woman smiling frighteningly….

[NOOO!]

She let out a short scream and swung her arm subconsciously.

In that instant, Seol Jihu barely managed to snap out of his daze. A clear scene became etched in his mind.

Flone’s sharp nails scratched the portrait mercilessly…

Tzzzzt!

And the smiling woman’s face turned to stupor.

[You surprised me!]

It didn’t take long for the portrait to transform into an unrecognizable mess.

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