Just as Samuel had suspected it, the tomb was not hidden. In fact, they almost ended up walking past what looked like a large hill, but the experienced eyes of the Pathfinder still managed to accurately grasp the parts added by the human hands.
A long time had passed by and the tomb had almost become one with nature. However, the four passageways and rusted steel doors they eventually found hidden around this 'hill' clearly proved that this was not a simple mound of dirt but an actual tomb.
“Now that I think about it, this whole area is rather strange.”
As soon as Ian said those words, the attentions of everyone immediately fell on him.
As one of the main actors who enabled this expedition to the Forest of Denial, every word he said carried heavy weight. Also, when recalling the fact that he dissuaded Samuel when the younger man wished to continue on with the expedition just before the battle against the Lioners broke out, it was obvious that he wished to save as many lives as he could.
“Ahh. I wasn't saying that in a bad way, so relax yourselves.”
Ian lightly waved his hand about, and the relief came washing over the members of the expedition.
“Well, it's like…. Mm, what should I say here, I wonder. I can't be too sure, and that was why I haven't said anything until now, but….”
Ian carefully reorganized his thoughts and only then did he speak up.
“Actually, I’ve been feeling more comfortable in my chest and my head starting from a short while ago. The closer we get to this tomb, the effects of this forest seem to soften more and more…. No. It feels as if the magic itself is surrounding the tomb, with it in the dead center.”
Paradise was a world where one's 'gut feelings' held very little value. If there was an end result, then there should be a cause for it. Thus, people preferred truth formed from actual, tangible pieces of information rather than simple feelings and baseless assumptions. This was especially so for Archers. It was utterly forbidden for them to speak up about their gut feelings at all.
However, Ian was a Magician. Of course, Magicians also tried to keep the attitude of searching for the logical explanations in everything, but unlike Archers, they weren't really forbidden from speaking their minds most of the time.
Not to forget, Ian was an Earthling famed for his scope of knowledge. There would be a reason for him choosing to open his mouth here, even if it was an unimportant matter.
“After I discovered the existence of a tomb inside the Forest of Denial, I began theorizing that this burial site could be the source of all the disasters taking place in this area. I thought that a powerful, horrifying resentment of the dead had become a curse enveloping this land.”
“But, you said it's not a curse, but a magic spell.”
“That's right, Samuel. By any chance, do you know who is buried in this tomb?”
Samuel shook his head.
“According to the written history found in the royal library, it's supposedly a beautiful last-born daughter of a noble family, who used to enjoy great acclaim once upon a time before their influences waned a great deal. And she was even chosen as a saintess after her death, too.”
“A saintess, you say?”
“Mm. Let me correct you on one thing first. The meaning of a saintess from that era is rather different from what we are familiar with. How should I say this…. It's more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.”
Ian lightly coughed to clear his throat and slowly carried on with the tale.
“This is a tale from several centuries ago. The owner of this tomb suffered a tragic fate of being sacrificed in a politically arranged marriage. Of course, such marriages were a common practice back then, but the issue was with her husband-to-be.”
“Did he hit her and abuse her or something?”
When Hugo asked, Ian shook his head.
“There was no record of him being violent. Only that, he was struck by a deadly illness and was on the brink of passing on.”
“Now, why would anyone send off their daughter to marry a guy like that?”
“Why? Because they had reached upon a mutual understanding. Isn't it rather obvious why a ruined noble household would marry off their last-born daughter as if they were selling her off?”
Hugo's expression showed how confused he was.
“On the flip side, the noble family of husband-to-be located in this remote backwoods would have schemed to earn big from this marriage. Even if they had been in decline, the past glories would still remain as glories, after all. And, also….”
“By any chance, was that husband the only child?”
Seol Jihu asked after quietly listening to the tale. Ian's eyes opened up wider, before a smile formed on his lips.
“That's correct. When their only son was on the brink of death, they would've been in a great hurry for a new heir to appear. That would've been the only way to ensure that the bloodline would continue on.”
“And so, they bulldozed ahead with the wedding ceremony, but…”
Ian seemed rather sorrowful as he spoke.
“Somewhat coincidentally, the husband ended up dying as soon as the wedding ceremony had been concluded. Indeed, he died even before the important goal of continuing on the bloodline had been met.”
“That's a bit cruel for a coincidence.”
“That lady's fate had been unlucky, you could say. However, from there on, the tale diverges quite noticeably between the official records and the unofficial one.”
Ian continued on.
“The official history is actually quite short. Even though they could not share their wedding night together, the lady volunteered to follow after her husband to the grave. And the Empire applauded her desire to keep her chastity and integrity, and thus made her saintess so that she could serve on as an ideal example to others.”
Hugo's expression crumpled unsightly.
“W, what the hell? Did they bury her alive?!”
“Technically speaking, indeed they have.”
“What a bunch of crazy fuckers! Why would they do something like that?”
“You shouldn't try to understand the culture of that era with our thought process. The title of saintess must have been used in that kind of meaning back then.”
“Hugo, I agree that such a thing is inhumane. However, our own history back on Earth is just as ripe with such cruelty. What would the people of Paradise think when they learn about the ancient Earth's custom of offering human sacrifices?”
When Ian spoke with a serious tone of voice, Hugo had no choice but to close his mouth shut.
“Hmm. Now, the tale found in the unofficial history is completely different. It's the exact opposite, actually. The lady refused to be entombed, but the noble family of the husband utilized oppressive means to bury her in here. Right until the moment she was placed in the casket, she violently resisted and hurled insults and all sorts of curses, her words filled with resentment and hatred.”
Seol Jihu frowned and asked.
“Did the woman's family not do anything?”
“Looks that way. Although it was nothing more than a symbolic gesture, having a saintess in your family would have been a huge honor back then.”
Ian continued on, sounding more assured now.
“As I've said earlier, I assumed that the ill effects of this forest were due to that lady's curses. However, only half of my thoughts proved to be correct. Without a doubt, the lady's resentment lingers, but the noble families also acted in a very careful manner as well.”
“A careful manner, as in….?”
“The official history doesn't have any more records concerning this event, but the unofficial one does have one more additional paragraph. Three months later, the Empire's renowned sage, who also happened to be a Magician, came to visit the forest where the husband and wife were lying together, at the behest of the two noble families.”
Seol Jihu and his quick head figured it out right away and he leaked out a soft gasp.
“My tale has become drawn out somewhat, but I can finally give my answer. I now believe that the effects of the Forest of Denial is actually from the defensive magic that sage had come up with. An everlasting spell that would protect the two families from the resentment of the lady.”
Ian shrugged his shoulders.
“If that sage was aiming to deny the lady's resentments and help her attain the state of nirvana, so to speak, then I have to acknowledge how well-thought-out this magic is. Of course, I can't be 100% sure of it. It'll always remain as a theory until fully proven, after all. Still….”
Ian suddenly lowered his voice.
“Don’t forget this. If even half of my theory turns out to be spot on, then….”
His expression turned grave as he stared at the tomb.
“The most dangerous place in the entire Forest of Denial should be inside of that tomb.”
Seol Jihu rubbed his arms after hearing that chilling announcement.
“I guess we should find out.”
Dylan opened his mouth after listening to the tale without saying a word.
“I'm not going to suppress my emotions here. If the effects of the forest don't manifest after a while, then one of your theories should be proven correct, Master Ian.”
Ian nodded his head.
“Let us try it. However, be careful.”
They spent some time near the tomb, but the effects of the Forest of Denial did not manifest. If it were only one person, sure, it could be chalked down to coincidence, but when several people also stopped suppressing their emotions and no strange thoughts entered their head, it ended up strengthening Ian's suppositions greatly.
Of course, the fact that the effects of the forest no longer threatening them was a good thing, but from what Ian said, it was not exactly something to celebrate yet, either.
If this expansive magic was indeed protection, then just how strong could be the resentment gathering and festering inside that tomb?
'Nothing's easy, huh.'
Seol Jihu could only lament inwardly. He had been thinking that, even though it was called an expedition, it should not be too different from what he had experienced so far. He'd just go a bit further away, fighting some monsters, find some sort of historical ruins, achieve results and get the heck out of there. That's what he thought.
However, the gap between his thoughts and the actual reality proved to be enormous. Did this situation qualify to be called 'a misfortune on top of another'? Right after they scaled the mountain called 'Lioners', they had to face an even bigger danger. Of course, nothing had happened so far, but still….
Seol Jihu activated his 'Nine Eyes' and began chewing on his lips ferociously. Out of everything around him, only the tomb was in the shade of pitch-black. After he had regained his ability, this would be the second time seeing that color – the ‘escape immediately’ warning.
“This can't be right.”
Samuel frowned slightly after walking around the entrance to the tomb. Chohong approached him.
“And what can't be right?”
“What about the entrance?”
“I see some traces.”
“Seriously? What kind of traces?!”
When Chohong expressed her irritation, Samuel smacked his lips. He seemed a bit dumbfounded at the moment.
“Looks like Kahn's team also discovered this tomb.”
“I'm sure of it. The traces match what I've found while coming here.”
“Wait a second. Wait.”
Chohong quickly summoned the rest of the expedition over. As soon as everyone had gathered, Samuel began his explanation.
“The traces entering and leaving are still visible to the eye. But, there is a noticeable difference between the two, and that would be the ones leaving were in a great hurry. It's as if they were being chased out…. Looks like they escaped while risking their lives and split up to everywhere.”
“That is strange.”
Dylan reconfirmed as well, and the uncertainty was written large on his expression.
“If I haven't seen it wrong, the leader of the Lioners was carrying around Kahn's weapon, was it not?”
He didn't see wrong there. All the armaments collected after the battle were nestling quietly inside the bags carried by the porters, after all.
“However, Kahn's team found the tomb, entered it, got chased out and split up to everywhere in order to escape…. They were not killed by the Lioners then?”
“I don't know. It's possible that they were hunted down one by one, but… I can't figure it out. Something is wrong. Something isn't adding up here.”
Feeling conflicted now, Samuel massaged his forehead. He spat out a groan and muttered as if he couldn't help it.
“We aren't going to find out anything by staying here wrecking our brains. Let's just go inside and find out first.”
Dylan didn't seem entirely convinced but didn't disagree with the idea. Since there was only a limited amount of information, the only remaining way was to face it head-on and find out.
“Looks like we'll have to change the formation. Chohong and Hugo should be in front….”
“Hold on a minute.”
Seol Jihu raised his hand up. Samuel's opinion was to enter the tomb first and figure out the rest later, but that definitely could not happen. Although his words were interrupted, Samuel didn't seem dissatisfied.
“Seol? Is something the matter?”
“We shouldn't go in like this.”
Seol Jihu quickly opened his mouth after receiving the gazes demanding answers landed on him.
“Uhm…. This tomb is where the ancient dead is resting, right?”
“Sure, that's the case.”
“Not only that, it's a tomb that a woman full of resentment had been buried alive, too. However, if we enter just like this and try to steal the grave goods, wouldn't she get really mad at us?”
His words made sense, but that was just about it.
“What you're saying is, we shouldn't raid this tomb simply out of our moral obligations?”
Seol Jihu was at a loss as to what he could add here. He wanted to stop them from entering, but even from his perspective, his reasoning sounded flimsy at best. Didn't this expedition form just for the express purpose of raiding this tomb? If he was unhappy about it, then he shouldn't even have participated in the first place.
“That's not what I'm saying….”
However, that didn't mean he could reveal the existence of his 'Nine Eyes' either.
“It isn't? It's fine so please speak your mind. You're also a member of this expedition, too.”
The only reason they had been listening to his words was that he had earned big merit during the battle against the Lioners. But, if he wanted to change the opinion of the 'header' of the expedition, then he needed a very good reason to do so.
'What should I do?'
He pondered for a while, then the existence of a certain item in his possession entered his brain.
“Give me ten minutes. No, five. There's something I'd like to experiment first.”
“Five minutes shouldn't be too hard. However, what are you planning to do?”
Instead of an answer, Seol Jihu opened the mouth of his bag slung around his shoulder. The luggage had been handed over to the porters, but he always carried around his bag.
“Master Ian, may I have a spare piece of paper you are not going to use?”
“Mm? Here it is.”
When Seol Jihu asked while rummaging through his bag, Ian quickly pulled out a paper. He then quietly stared on at the youth, his whole expression was filled with curiosity as if wanting to find out what this level 1 Warrior might do next.
“I found it.”
Shortly afterwards, Seol Jihu pulled out a lengthy quill pen.
Grace pointed at the pen and cried out.
“That, that thing! Hey, did you get that back in the Tutorial?”
“I have. How did you know?”
“I also got that during the treasure hunt, you see. It's a SPECIAL item, right?”
“Wow, it's been such a long time since I last saw that.”
When Grace sounded mystified, Chohong couldn't help but ask her.
“What is that thing, then?”
“Oh, that. It's called the Quill Pen of the Flowing Consciousness. You get that from that item draw machine or whatever if you’re lucky. It cost like 300 coins back then.”
“What kind of effect does it have?”
“Mm~. In short, it converts the flow of the target's consciousness into words.”
“….And how did you use it, then?”
Chohong's face showed how confused she was still. Grace cackled ominously.
“I used it after entering the Neutral Zone. There was this guy we went around since the Tutorial, and I got real curious why he kept on looking after me.”
“He~eh. So, what happened?”
“It was as I expected, you know? What a revelation that was. 'A killer figure', 'wanna slap that ass', 'wanna push her down real bad', 'should I force myself on her', etc, etc.”
When Grace boldly spoke those words, Samuel began coughing out loudly once for some reason. Chohong smiled brightly in the meantime.
“Pu-hah. What a relief, then. You found out before he did something to you, which is good.”
Grace then tilted her head.
“Nope, not really?”
“….What? You didn't go your separate ways even after seeing those things?”
“Mn. I just let him take advantage of me instead.”
Grace spoke as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Not only Chohong, but even Hugo stared at her in disbelief, causing Grace to mutter out a complaint.
“Why are you looking at me like that? It's my preference, okay? Please respect it.”
Suddenly, Samuel yelled out in anger.
“You were the one who took advantage of me, not the other way around!! I was asleep, but you crept up like a cat and climbed on top of my bed, and then…..!!”
“Kek. But weren't those things written by the quill pen the truth?”
Samuel continued to shudder while Grace giggled softly.
“What an idiot~ That's why you should've jumped on me when I gave you the chance. I gave you plenty of hints yet you were so indecisive, you know? That's why this noona had to…”
“Okay, okay. That's enough. We're in the middle of an expedition, okay? Continue on with your lover's quarrel after we return home, and for the time being, don't forget where we are.”
Dylan jumped in the middle and changed the atmosphere. Samuel turned his head away, while Grace stuck her tongue out.
“How did you use this quill pen back then?”
When Seol Jihu asked her, Grace rested her index finger on her chin and rolled her eyes around.
“Maybe~ Hmm, I wrapped Samuel's hair around the pen…. I think? His hair was long even back then, so getting a strand or two wasn't that difficult, you see?”
'A strand of hair, is it?'
Seol Jihu took a look around himself. He then spotted tall grasses growing on the tomb itself.
'Can I think of those as a part of the tomb, I wonder?'
He decided to find out. Seol Jihu reached out and tugged a stalk loose, then he wrapped it tightly around the pen. When he carefully placed it on top of Ian's paper, the quill pen mysteriously started to vibrate all by itself.
“Using the Quill Pen of the Flowing Consciousness to find out what the tomb is 'thinking' about…. Huhuh. What an interesting fellow.”
Ian expressed his admiration and stared at the paper below him. It wasn't just him, but every one of the expedition's members was focusing on the quill pen and the paper.
It was then.
No one touched the pen, yet it stood upright quite abruptly. And then, like a crazed madman, it began swishing around to jot down many letters. The heads of everyone gathered closer to the paper.
A short while later.
Seol Jihu's complexion froze very stiffly after he read the first paragraph.
Krrt, krrt, krrrt, krrt, krrt, krrt, krrt, krrt.
—More came kill them all kill kill hehehe must kill wanna kill, hehehehe
it's unfair i’m angry why am i bothersome hateful detestable blame everyone i curse you
wanna rip you to shreds wanna pull out your eyes and squeeze until they pop kill kill!
yes enter here and i kill kill kill kekeke kill hehehee!!
Krrt, krrt, krrrt, krrt, krrt, krrt, krrt, krrt.Previous Chapter Next Chapter