Seol Jihu saw the blade of the axe. That was the end.
The moment they collided, a terrible mixture of disorienting noise rang around his ear canals, and his vision rapidly blackened. The back of his nose felt stingy and hot for some reason. The other sensations he perceived simply disappeared.
The metallic screech could no longer be heard. He couldn't sense being cut, either. It was as if the time had been cut off.
But, that only lasted for a brief moment.
The horrendous pain….
…Came knocking belatedly.
If he could, he would have screamed loud enough to tear his vocal cords. However, the serious, crippling pain did not permit him to open his mouth.
Could this be described as the pain felt from his blood flowing in reverse? It sure felt like all his bones had shattered and his flesh had exploded into bits. The sensation of his shoulder muscles being shredded and torn into pieces was a pain on another dimension, a torture that could not be put into mere words.
What made him feel even more despair was the fact that he could not feel anything in both of his arms.
Not like he couldn't move his arms, no – no, it was more like, they didn't even exist in the first place. He even ended up thinking that his arms must've been ripped off from the force of the collision.
'I shouldn't have stepped up….'
Regrets rushed in belatedly. If he was hired as a porter, he should've quietly stayed back. Why did he have to step up here?
'Did I die?'
He only now noticed that the surroundings had become silent as well. Everything was deafening as if he was listening underwater.
Was he going deaf, or did he die? Seol Jihu was thinking as such but then, he realized something was amiss.
If he was really dead, then he shouldn't be feeling pain. Since he was feeling it, then….?
His mind sobered up in an instant. His eyes shot open wide.
The first thing he saw was a huge axe; it was so close that it nearly touched his eyeballs. As a matter of fact, he could even pick up on the subtle tremor of the blade.
His two arms, the ones he figured would've been broken at the bare minimum, were still attached to his shoulders. The shaft of the spear he held with both of his hands was pressed against the axe and stopped it from falling any further.
Seol Jihu's expression became dazed. Even though he was the one doing this, his expression indicated his own disbelief.
….Even though his shoulders felt like they'd shatter any time soon, and his arms trembled as if he'd drop the spear even at the merest hint of a prod.
But if there was something no one could take away from him today, then that would be that he was still standing up resolutely and resisting bitterly.
This was a critical moment where a single mistake could lead to the annihilation of the expedition. However, Seol Jihu succeeded in defending against a rather complacent attack that nevertheless came at him without a warning.
It hadn't ended yet, though. The distance between him and the monster was close enough. It was taken by surprise from his sudden intrusion, but the female Lioner knew that the human in front was no match to it. Indeed, he was so weak that if it increased its strength by a bit more, he'd be trampled underfoot.
And so, the hands grabbing the axe issued a squeezing noise as the monster increased its strength. Just a little bit, a little bit more, trample on the human, and then….!
Seol Jihu spat out a groan as the pressure increased by another level.
The joy of survival he felt lasted only for a split second. The sensation of the cold blade pressing against his forehead could be felt now. Blood trickled down and pooled around his eyes. As his sights reddened, thoughts of surrendering entered his mind.
The thoughts whispered that it was a miracle that he had endured until now, that resisting any more was impossible, that he'd die for real this time.
The moment those thoughts entered his mind, the 'emotions' that had been quietly submerged below suddenly and violently lashed back. He felt like he was yanked out and placed back on the solid ground after he was descending ever deeper beneath the bottomless sea.
Did he jump to conclusions and give up already? It wasn't as if he had pulled out everything he could just yet.
He grasped the spear shaft with even more strength. His palms must have been torn because they hurt like crazy, but he didn't care about them. His glare landing at the enemy sharpened by a notch.
The acceptance of the end he felt changed to determination of not wanting to end things just yet.
The thoughts of giving up, telling him any more of this was impossible, changed to an ardent wish telling him not to give up.
And finally, the despair telling him he couldn't do it changed to hope of him actually doing it.
Seol Jihu's eyes, once trapped in blurriness and uncertainty, regained their shine the moment he began 'denying' all the negative thoughts in his head.
He took in a deep, deep breath, and….
He summoned every little bit of strength and circulated every drop of mana throughout his body.
The hidden power he had never felt before gushed up from deep within himself. The overwhelming and boiling-hot energy rushing out like the tidal waves concentrated on his arms. The spear began buzzing with strange humming.
His face reddened. All his muscles ballooned up, and his veins bulged taut almost to the point of bursting apart.
Seol Jihu gritted his teeth and slowly raised his arms higher.
It was at this moment that others around him could see 'it' – the scene that completely defied all common sense.
If one were to get more specific, then….
…it was the scene of Seol Jihu's spear slowly forcing up the female Lioner's axe.
The axe that touched his face was pushed up above his head, then ever so slowly, it rose up higher and higher in the air. The female Lioner too was giving everything it had, the proof being its arms holding the axe trembling violently. However, even then, the weapon was rising up agonizingly slowly as if he was lifting heavyweights.
Facing against the never-before-seen power that continued to grow stronger, the female Lioner's eyes began showing signs of panic for the first time ever.
It was then, Seol Jihu's body tilted out of balance for a moment.
The reason for that was simple. It was because the female Lioner could not withstand anymore and took several steps back.
That was right – it had retreated. And the result from that were the looks of disbelief etched on the faces of the members of the expedition, as well as on the leader Lioner as it fell with an arrow penetrating through it.
This was an event that shouldn't have happened, and the sight they witnessed completely broke their common sense. Although it was only for a short moment, a Level 1 Warrior not only managed to pressure a monster that was reputedly stronger than a Level 4 Warrior, but he even forced it away as well!
'I need to stab it….'
As soon as he lost his goal, his target, all of his strength abandoned him. His legs gave up on him, and his knees fell to the floor. A sense of enervation had overtaken his entire body. All he could do was endure like this without collapsing to the ground.
The female Lioner instinctively raised the axe up high the moment it saw Seol Jihu on the ground, his breath in disarray. It knew that it had to kill the Magician, but the fear it felt just now rang alarm bells in its head, saying that this human male had to die first.
In that next moment, a single line of electricity closed in like a blade of light and sliced off the female Lioner's right hand. The axe fell helplessly to the ground, and the female Lioner cried out in a sorrowful, pained whimper.
Seol Jihu watched on with a dazed face but felt a huge hand slapping him in the back out of the blue.
“Good boy!! Good, very good!”
When did he come? The always-calm Dylan was grinning very happily and very toothily.
After that, he felt someone lightly rub the top of his head. Chohong walked past him and looked at him for a moment or two before she laughed out jovially as well.
Samuel roared in laughter like a madman and slapped Seol Jihu's shoulder as he went past the youth.
'These, these guys?!'
He was already half-dead from his aching body here!
“Why do you….!!”
Seol Jihu was about to shout out “Why do you keep hitting me?” but then, Hugo cried out first.
Hugo cried out again as if the emotions he couldn't control rushed in, and his face showed a mixture of excitement, pure joy, and extreme happiness.
Seol Jihu stared like an idiot at Hugo as the big guy energetically grasped his axe that had been hanging on precariously until now. The youth then suddenly felt someone tightly hugging his neck next. It was Alex.
“Well done!! Really well done!!”
Alex shouted with a highly elated voice, and at the rate he was going, he might even start kissing the youth as well.
“Seol put his life on the line and created this opportunity for us.”
Dylan spoke, failing to disguise his own excitement.
“There are only a few of them left. Kill them all!!”
Seol Jihu's good fight encouraged the members of the expedition, and they all pounced forward with renewed fighting spirit.
Soon enough, the Forest of Denial was filled with the sounds of weapons clashing and the cries of the Lioners.
The battle had come to an end pretty soon after that. It was correct to say that the outcome of the battle had been decided the moment the female Lioner's sneak attack had failed.
The Lioner leader schemed to have both the Magician and the Priest killed and thus turn the battle in their favor. However, the interference from Seol Jihu was not within its calculations.
Although none had died, the expedition didn't have any time to enjoy the well-earned rest. As soon as the battle came to an end, Ian used yet another 'Motus Stabilitatem' spell he had 'memorized', and then, they all had to drink one more bottle of that unknown medicine as well.
Only after they got to calm themselves down from the excitement of the battle did the members of the expedition find some time to organise themselves properly. Alex basically stayed next to Hugo, who had received the most injuries out of all of them, and continued to chant divine magic; meanwhile, the others simply made do with healing potions.
While Dylan, Samuel, and Ian exchanged opinions with grave faces, others went around retrieving the armaments Lioners had dropped.
Lioners tended to never leave the area they designated as their homes. So, the incident of a pack containing a leader-class and a female to boot making their way this far into the Forest of Denial was not something they could overlook.
Of course, the problem was that they couldn't figure out the reason why these creatures that usually lived at the mountain range beyond the forest decided to come this far in the first place.
Ian thought for a while before slowly opening his mouth.
“It's like reading about the Barbarian invasion during the Migration Period back on Earth.”
Dylan replied in confusion at the sudden mention of European history. Ian just shook his head.
“No, don't mind me. It's nothing but speculation at this point anyway. Right, I'll take full responsibility and report this matter to the royal family as soon as we get back.”
It was unwise to delay a problem they couldn't solve. Ian thought like that and shifted his gaze over to Samuel.
“And, as for the expedition….”
“I'd like to continue on if it's okay with you.”
Samuel spoke as if he was waiting for this moment.
“It's definitely nearby. As it's not a tomb shrouded in secrecy, the chance of it being hidden is really low. If I fail to find it in one hour, no, 30 minutes, then we'll stop right away and go back.”
Rather than him being blinded by greed, he sounded far more desperate than anything else. Ian sighed out softly and looked at Dylan.
“What are your thoughts?”
Dylan organized his thoughts first and spoke.
“How many times can you cast that spell?”
“Two more times. I still have enough potions though.”
“In that case, maybe one hour is doable. Since we have taken care of the Lioners, there are no immediate dangers facing us, too. And more importantly, no one died today. But, with Alex having lost his artifact and Seol's main weapon now broken, we have to consider our weakened overall fighting force as well.”
“Mm? That friend's weapon did what?”
“That’s what I heard.”
Dylan shifted his gaze to Seol Jihu, who was dispiritedly picking up the shards of his shattered spear from the ground. Chohong was doing her best to console him while following him around. As soon as the fight ended and he withdrew his mana, cracks formed on the spear shaft and it shattered into hundreds of small pieces.
“Well, it did receive some serious impact back then, didn't it.”
Ian muttered to himself and then tilted his head slightly. Something felt odd here. If it snapped in half, sure, but for the spear to shatter apart like that? But, when he thought about it, it was already beyond the realm of common sense for the spear and its wielder to defend against and overwhelm the female Lioner, albeit only for a brief moment.
“If it wasn't for that friend over there, I would be dead meat by now.”
“M-my apologies. I didn't expect another one to appear from behind us.”
Samuel hurriedly offered his apology, prompting Ian to chuckle out in a jovial manner.
“It's fine Even I didn't expect the female to jump into the fray.”
“Even you, Master Ian?”
“The ratio of sexes among Lioners greatly favors males. That is why the pack would protect every female born among their midst with everything they have. They may be born with amazing combat prowess, but they rarely participate in battles…. Well, in any case.”
Ian rubbed his beard before forming a refreshing smile.
“If you agree to do me a favor, I will agree to continue on as well.”
“A favor, you say?”
Ian lowered his voice and whispered. Samuel smiled brightly and nodded his head.
“Alright, let's do that. I was actually thinking the same thing.”
“Well, then. Let's go.”
The three men approached Seol Jihu. Ian bent down and picked up a piece of the shattered spear on the way and a flash of understanding flickered in his eyes.
“Oho. This spear was loaded with magic, huh?”
Seol Jihu looked behind him. He was trying his best to look not too dejected, but he still failed to fully disguise his disappointment.
“Did you buy this back in the Neutral Zone? It wasn’t an outstanding magic or anything, but looks like it can reduce the impact force by a bit…. Was that the reason why you were able to withstand the attack?”
In truth, it was more correct to say that the spear was damaged from the inside after being unable to withstand Seol Jihu's mana.
Of course, Ian made an incorrect assumption because he did not know of Seol Jihu's Mana stat being at an absurd level of Intermediate (High). After all, Seol Jihu was only a Level 1.
Whatever the case may have been, it was a big matter to Seol Jihu. He had purchased the most expensive spear available in the Neutral Zone after giving it much consideration, yet it had broken before he had the chance to properly use it. He was doing his best to suppress his emotions because of the Forest of Denial, but seriously speaking, he was feeling really embittered at the moment.
As Seol Jihu's shoulders drooped further on, Ian coughed to clear his throat and signaled with his eyes. Samuel took a step closer and lightly patted the youth on his back.
“Don't be too depressed, okay? I brought you two pieces of good news!”
“For now, we decided to carry on with the expedition. If my thoughts are correct, then we should find the tomb pretty soon.”
“And well, there might be an excellent spear waiting to be found inside that tomb. No, it doesn't matter even if that's not the case. If we sell a couple of grave goods we find inside, you'd be able to buy several great spears!”
Seol Jihu nodded his head while stewing in great confusion. A porter had no right to demand the rights to possess any artifact found during an expedition. In other words, from his perspective, there was not much difference whether the expedition went ahead or not. So, what could be the good news?
Samuel picked up the bag next to the youth and called out to the local residents. He was already feeling rather unhappy at the two of them not doing anything and dumping all the luggage on Seol Jihu's shoulders anyway. Samuel 'entrusted' the bag to the two porters and looked back at Seol Jihu with a wink.
Seol Jihu stared at this with a dazed expression before his complexion brightened noticeably. He finally figured out the reason behind Samuel's actions.
“Of course! Not only me, but both Master Ian and Dylan also agree. 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?”
He wasn't just saying those things. He actually meant them. What Seol Jihu had achieved was something even Grace, a Level 3, would not be able to do.
“But you gotta prepare yourself, fella.”
Samuel wrapped his arm around Seol Jihu's shoulders and formed a teasing smile.
“Since we're still in the middle of an expedition, we're holding ourselves back, but as soon as we get out of this place, you'll definitely be bombarded by our questions. There are so many things we're curious about.”
Seol Jihu didn't mind stuff like that. For the time being, he was just really happy about being recognized as a member of the expedition, something he so wished for since this whole thing started. Of course, he couldn't express that happiness, as they were still inside the Forest of Denial.
Shortly afterwards, Samuel announced the Level 1 Warrior as the new participant to the expedition and came up with a new formation. However, nothing major had changed. The only difference being, Seol Jihu's position now had been shifted to the left, right next to Chohong.
Once they were done with preparations, the expedition resumed their march.
And around 20 minutes later, Samuel found the spot where the tomb was, as he promised.Previous Chapter Next Chapter