The quill pen weakly fell after placing the last dot on the paper. The feathers on the quill scattered and fell. The only things remaining were a featherless quill pen and a piece of paper with all sorts of resentment and anger roughly scribbled on it.
Grace jumped up and hugged Samuel's neck, her complexion completely pale. Even he looked completely speechless at the moment. Everyone present quietly stared at the paper for a while.
A bout of somber silence later, Ian opened his mouth.
“We would have been in big trouble if we just entered.”
Samuel began chewing his lips, hard. He thought this was a waste. It might not have been a royal tomb, but still, its size was several dozen times bigger than your average tombs. Not only was the woman buried here the last-born daughter of a famed household, but she was even canonized as a saintess. The value of burial goods found within would be quite considerable.
However, Seol Jihu had used the Quill Pen of Flowing Consciousness to create evidence to back up his claim that it was dangerous inside the tomb. Of course, it wasn't as if there were no holes in that argument he could pick on, but the real issue here was that Ian's hypothesis, which was based on nothing more than the Magician's intuition, had taken one step closer to becoming a reality.
“Hiya~. And I heard that when a girl bears a grudge, even snow will fall in the middle of a Summer!”
Samuel deliberately spoke up in a loud voice and picked the paper up off the ground. He then shook it around as if it meant nothing.
“Don't be too scared. It's nothing more than just an angry spirit, no? It can't possibly be stronger than a Lioner, right? I mean, one spell from Alex could end this.”
He wasn't wrong about that. What Seol Jihu had proved now was nothing more than the existence of an enemy inside the tomb. Before fighting it, they had no clue how dangerous it could be. It'd be a damn funny joke if they backed off scared when the enemy turned out to be a weakling.
“No, I don’t think that’s the case.”
Seol Jihu immediately disagreed. Samuel let out a sigh.
“Can you tell us your reason?”
“Before that, can I ask you a question?”
“Dylan, Samuel. By any chance, did you see traces of other lifeforms besides our team and that of Kahn's near this tomb? For example, monsters or wild animals.”
Samuel blurred the ends of his sentence. When he went around the hill-like tomb, he didn't find anything of note.
“Indeed, you can certainly look at it that way.”
Dylan agreed, perhaps realizing what Seol Jihu was trying to say.
“It's not only that.”
Seol Jihu continued on.
“According to what Master Ian has told us, a famous Sage had apparently come to this place as well.”
“Oho. An inverse calculation, is it? Indeed, we can deduce the strength of the vengeful spirit from the sheer scale of the defensive magic cast here.”
Ian too nodded his head as if he could see the logic.
Samuel was at a loss as two of the core members of the expedition began showing signs of being swayed.
'Seriously, just who is this guy?'
If it was the issue of morality and all that, Samuel might have understood it. After all, the youth was only Level 1. The kid wouldn't have known much about how Paradise operated yet. His baseless, ridiculous claim could easily be laughed out of the room.
However, each one of the youth's words carried an undeniably sharp point. It was as if Samuel was looking at a seasoned Earthling who had participated in dozen-plus expeditions.
“….I get what you're saying.”
Samuel licked his lips and opened his mouth.
“Seol, I admit that your claim makes some sense. However, it's just an opinion based on an unproven hypothesis, isn't it?”
“What we know for certain right now is that this tomb is where a woman of high status from the Empire is buried, and that there is an enemy inside. As long as we eliminate that enemy, we can take away all the burial goods found inside and return triumphantly to Haramark. We're talking about valuables from the ancient Empire here.”
“Of course, you could be right. However, I still wish to enter the tomb even after considering that. This is my opinion as the leader of this expedition.”
An expedition would always be accompanied by danger. Seol Jihu was now left speechless after this well-known fact was brought up. Only his innards were burning up, instead.
Once the youth shut his mouth, Ian sneakily took a step forward.
“So he says. But, what do you think?”
“Samuel's stance is that we should take the risk and defeat the vengeful spirit. However, if you're thinking of a different solution, then I'd like to hear it.”
'Is he trying to give me a chance?'
For some reason, it was as if Ian was agreeing with his opinion. Just that, he was doing it in a roundabout way in consideration of Samuel, who had invoked the authority of the leader.
'Damn it, it's still black. If we enter it, we'll all die right away.'
Seol had experienced the 'Escape Immediately' color only once, back in the Neutral Zone. Thinking about how close he was to dying back then still gave him a nasty case of chills.
If he stood around like this doing nothing, then without a doubt, he'd have to enter the tomb. No, hang on – entering the tomb was already set in stone. Now that Samuel had strongly expressed his determination to enter, Seol had no right to stop him anymore.
'What do you want from me?'
As a last-ditch attempt, he alone could resolutely refuse to enter, but then… Thinking about the aftermath, that also wasn't a very smart idea, either.
What should he do here, then?
The best thing would be them taking away the burial goods without incurring the wrath of the vengeful spirit. However, he couldn't think of a good way to achieve this.
'A different solution, a solution….'
[You see, women are creatures of emotions. They are different from us males.]
'What the hell. Why am I suddenly recalling what Hao Win said….?'
It was here that a certain possibility popped up in his head.
“I'd like to approach this problem in a different direction.”
Seol Jihu's once tumultuous eyes became calm once more. Seeing this, Ian's own eyes began sparkling.
“This is a woman who was sold off to a political marriage and got buried alive when she didn't do anything wrong. This is no longer on the level of us saying we're sympathetic or it's unfair.”
“Sure, most likely so.”
“Since she’s been trapped in there for hundreds of years, I can't even begin to imagine how strong her unresolved resentment is by now. If we enter the tomb like this, that resentment would all be directed to us. It'd be like her trying to kill everyone, including herself.”
Seol Jihu swallowed his saliva.
Even he knew this was a laughable notion, a nonsensical thought. But, without it, he had nothing. He couldn't think of any other way.
However, his life was precious, and in order to survive, he'd clutch a straw if he must.
Now determined, Seol Jihu carried on.
“So, rather than trying to fight the spirit, how about appeasing it, instead…..”
Samuel emitted a high-pitched shriek. Ian raised his hand and signaled him to be quiet.
“You want to appease the spirit? In other words, you want to obtain its consent, is that it?”
“Something like that, yes. From the perspective of the woman, we're the grave robbers and trespassers, after all.”
“Hmm, I wonder. Not sure the house owner would be so understanding when a bunch of thieves tries to obtain her consent.
“Well, the woman is already dead, anyway. What I'm saying is, let us at least show her a minimum of sincerity.”
Ian slowly stroked his beard. It looked like he needed a bit of time to organize his thoughts regarding this strange concept.
“Hmm. Appeasing the spirit, is it….”
“Master Ian, I have heard of a similar story before.”
Surprisingly, Dylan came out in support of Seol Jihu.
“I think, Seol is referring to an exorcism here. I've heard that, in reality, exorcists don't exterminate the soul during the exorcism ceremony, but most of the time, converse with the dead and resolve any lingering attachment they have with the world.”
“Right, I've heard of something like that too.”
Hugo suddenly butted in as well.
“One of my friends specialize in robbing graves, you see.”
“You should be sooo proud of yourself there, buddy.”
“Eii, come on now, listen till the end, will ya? In any case, before he digs into a grave, he always holds a little ceremony first.”
“Yup. He offers up a couple of plates of food and some booze and asks the owners of the graves to not get too angry and stuff. He tells the owners he'd use the burial goods well. And once he's done, he even makes sure to put the burial mounds and whatever back to how they were. He says that's the only way the dead don't get angry or something.”
With Hugo following up after Dylan, Ian now displayed signs of being convinced. Seol Jihu seized this opportunity.
“The quill pen can be used one more time. So let’s try to appease the soul first and then find out what the woman's consciousness has to say.”
Samuel stood there licking his lips for a while before opening his mouth.
“How long will this appeasing of the soul take?”
“If we perform a simple ceremony, ten minutes should be sufficient.”
“….Okay. We'll do it this way.”
Samuel continued on.
“Let's do what you have proposed. Ten minutes, well, that's nothing at all. But, even if the end result isn't so good…. Then, I'd like you to follow my idea.”
That was how far Samuel would concede. Seol Jihu didn't say anything else and stood back up.
“Okay, so, how do we do this ceremony?”
“We're going to hold an ancestral rite ceremony.”
“An ancestral rite ceremony?”
“Yes. Alex? Can I borrow your altar for a little while? And if you have any offerings on you, those as well.”
“Well, uh, I do have an altar, but….”
Alex began mumbling something to himself. Actually, he was rather skeptical about this soul-appeasing thing. From his point of view, it'd be a terrible waste of offerings for something that wouldn't even work anyway.
“Of course, since I’m walking on the path to becoming a High Priest, I make sure to be ready all the time, but, how should I say this…. I'm still only an Investigative Priest.”
“Alex, just give it up. Once the expedition is over, I'll pay you back.”
“God damn it. Fine.”
Alex complained bitterly and took his bag from one of the porters before opening it.
“Do we really have to go this far?”
Clara shot a pointed question, her voice full of dissatisfaction.
“What the hell are we doing? Resolving attachments? Are you kidding me?”
“Clara, please keep quiet.”
“Let me be. I still gotta say what needs to be said here. Hey, you. Do you know that once you use up the offerings, they lose all their value? Don't you have any sympathy for Alex? He even lost his important artifact too, you know?”
Samuel's voice became louder.
“If you come out that way, then Seol also lost his magic weapon. He even resorted to using that quill pen too.”
“Stop whining like a baby. I already gave my consent.”
Samuel spoke decisively and turned to look at Seol Jihu.
“My bad. Let me apologize on her behalf.”
At a casual glance, it might look like Samuel was taking Seo Jihu's side, but actually, there was an ulterior motive for doing so. By conceding properly on things he had to concede, he'd get the other party to do the same as well. If the ceremony worked, great. If not, Samuel would be able to silence the youth for good.
'I only have to wait ten more minutes, anyway.'
That wasn't all, either. Both Chohong and Hugo were glaring with sharp eyes at the breathless Clara as she tried to calm herself down. If Samuel didn't intervene, those two might have stepped forward instead. As the leader of this expedition, he had to stay alert to division forming within his team.
And so, under Seol Jihu's guidance, the preparation for this ancestral rite ceremony got underway. The altar was set before the tomb, and various offerings were placed on top. Not only that, food was placed neatly on top of each plate, and Hugo even pulled out the bottle of booze he had been saving for a rainy day.
If there was a silver lining among the dark clouds, it'd be the fact that Seol Jihu possessed a somewhat okay level of knowledge on performing an ancestral rite ceremony. The experience was supposedly the best teacher there was – he had been participating in one three times a year, so he was more or less familiar with the whole thing. After all, Korean tradition dictated ancestral rite ceremonies.
Once the preparation was over, Ian approached the youth and asked him.
“Is there anything we should keep in mind during the ceremony?”
Seol Jihu thought for a little while before opening his mouth.
“There is something my father used to tell me all the time. He said that one's sincere heart is half of the ceremony itself.”
“One's sincere heart is half the ceremony….. Those are meaningful words.”
“Thank you. I know it's kind of annoying, but please, do your utmost to wholeheartedly participate in the ceremony. The ceremony itself isn't difficult, anyway. It's fine if you console her in your mind or beg for her forgiveness out loud. Just make sure you don't do it half-heartedly.”
In all honestly, even Seol Jihu wasn't confident of this thing working. However, since they were going to do it anyway, he wanted them to do it properly.
“Well, then. I shall start the ceremony with Chohon.”
“It means calling for the soul of the departed…. Well, just think of it as a part of the ceremony.”
Seol Jihu smiled wryly and stood before the altar.
The ancestral rite ceremony finally went underway. It wasn’t such an uncommon sight as there were High Priests and Chief Priests in Paradise. But considering the fact that the opponent this time was a vengeful spirit, this event would surely qualify as somewhat bizarre and uncommon even in this world.
Just as Seol Jihu said, the shortened ancestral rite ceremony didn't last that long. Next up was 'Sejan'. Seol Jihu washed the cup with alcohol, kowtowed before the tomb, and moved the utensils to different dishes of food on the altar.
After that was 'Yushik', followed by 'Sashin'. The final step in the ceremony, 'Bunchook', had to be satisfied with the burning of the paper with the woman's consciousness written on it.
“I never thought I’d do something like this.”
When the ceremony was over, Chohong softly muttered to herself.
“Hey, Seol. Can I eat those?”
Hugo spoke while pointing at the food on the altar. Now that he mentioned it, the lunch hour had flown past them a long time ago.
“Yes. With the ceremony over, you can.”
“Oh, so that's how it was. I hope the ceremony worked, though.”
Hugo spoke as if in passing, and reached out towards the altar.
Now that the whole thing was over, the pressure Seol Jihu felt increased by a hundredfold.
'What should I do if it doesn't work?'
Would the kings of the past have felt this way after performing the rain-calling rituals? While trying to calm his palpitating heart, Seol Jihu activated his 'Nine Eyes'.
The tomb remained jet-black. Nothing had changed. But, it happened then.
“Argh, ptooi! Pttooi!!”
Hugo frowned deeply and spat to the ground. Chohong had been standing next to him and freaked out immediately.
“Hey, you dumbass!! Watch it!”
“W-what the hell is going on here? Why do they taste like shit?”
Hugo looked at the dried meat in his hand and angrily spat out.
“What's wrong with the taste?”
“Well, uh, how should I say this, it's like chewing sand, you know?”
With a somewhat unconvinced expression, Chohong lightly bit into the same dried meat and began grandly frowning as well.
“Ptooi! What the fuck is this?”
“What's going on?”
After hearing this commotion, Dylan and the rest of the expedition team got closer, and they put various food items in their mouths as well. And all of their reactions were roughly the same. The food was not spoiled at all, yet they had lost all flavor, so much so that it was impossible to eat any of them now.
Seol Jihu stared at the unfolding situation with a pair of dazed eyes, before hurriedly shifting them back to the tomb. And then, almost out of reflex, he held his breath.
The color of the tomb began to change slowly. From pitch-black to red, from red to orange, and finally, from orange to yellow.
Seol Jihu clenched his fist real tightly and shouted out.
Ian had already pulled out a paper and was in waiting. Dylan was also quick on the uptake, so he hurriedly yanked out a blade of weed growing on the tomb and brought it to Seol. The youth tightly wrapped the weed around the quill pen and placed it on the blank paper.
A short while after, the quill pen suddenly stood upright.
Was it being confused? It seemed to hesitate for a long time before it began inscribing words rather cautiously.
If there was one noticeable difference from before, the pen didn't swish around like a madman and, instead, it moved slowly and carefully. It was as if the writer was hesitant over something.
Not too long after, the pen fell down. Even then, the quill pen continued to scratch at the paper as if it wanted to write something else. However, it suddenly stopped moving and turned to a handful of dust.
Seol Jihu had confirmed with his 'Nine Eyes', but he couldn't rest easy just because it was the yellow color. As his throat dried up, Seol Jihu swallowed his saliva and began reading the words written on the paper.
—The first time in a long time I ate food my stomach is full Really? You understand me? Really? Really, really? Right those bastards they are bad I’m angry I resent them I want to be consoled it’s totally unfair Thanks for understanding me thank you black-haired man thank you really You can come inside it’s fine take things I don't need anyway Ah and don't touch the keepsakes around my coffin keepsakes please
The paper had nearly-illegible letters scribbled on it. It was like reading the rambling of a drunk. However, they still did their job and conveyed the underlying message.
Samuel's jaw dropped to the floor.
“….I really can't believe it.”
This whole thing only had a fifty-fifty shot. Even for someone like Ian who had experienced all sorts of hardships and crazy events, the current situation was something he hadn't run into yet.
“An event like this is worthy of making a report to the Magic Tower. Just who are you really?”
Ian gazed at the youth with eyes that had gone past being marveled and straight into sheer respect.
“Seol, there is something I'm really curious about.”
Hugo chuckled and stared at Seol Jihu.
“Just who were you back on Earth?”
Seol Jihu pretended to not hear anything. Obviously, he couldn't tell them anything at all.
“This expedition is full of surprises, one after the other. I'm learning a lot here.”
Dylan shook his head wryly.
Seol Jihu looked at the tomb with sympathetic eyes. After the method he didn't hold much hope for actually worked, he was feeling rather happy, but at the same time, he also felt sorry for the spirit.
'Just how lonely and scared was she…?'
….For her anger to soften so much with nothing but a simple little appeasement ceremony?
It was her circumstances, her surroundings that forced her fragile young soul into darkness. Could it be that her personality before her untimely death had been gentle and kind?
'If I ever find an opportunity….'
He even thought about coming here once or twice every year to perform a ceremony if he could.
Thinking like this, Seol Jihu began to slowly put away the altar.
The owner had consented. So the only remaining thing was to enter.
After opening the front gate, the expedition carefully entered the interior of the tomb. Although it was dark inside, Ian used light magic to illuminate the area.
Unexpectedly, the interior layout wasn't complicated. They continued down a corridor and encountered another door, and beyond that, there was a large room resembling a cavity.
Samuel cautiously entered first, before his steps came to an abrupt halt, a loud exclamation escaping from his mouth.
“W-what now! What?!”
Alex also formed a shocked expression.
The room was dome-shaped with a diameter of around 20 meters. At the highest point of the arched ceiling, it was at least 4-5 meters high.
But, what shocked the expedition most were all the valuables displayed on the walls.
Many decorative items were hanging on the circular wall, and every single one of them was adorned with priceless jewels. Some of them even shone in the distinct dull red luster of gold too.
However, the highlight was the two sarcophagi located on top of the altar in the middle of the room. The one on the right didn't have any distinguishing features, but the one on the left was truly eye-catching and incredulous.
Not only was it made out of top-quality marble that could accept intricate, metaphysical carvings, but it was also draped with a red fabric with gold embroidery. And on top of all these, a beautiful longsword and a sleek shield rested there, too.
That wasn't all.
Many accessories that emitted an attractive luster even from a casual glance were arranged neatly all around the sarcophagus as well as on top of it. They were earrings, rings, some things that looked like coins or tokens, and some others that no one had seen before.
All of them boasted the most beautiful appearance imaginable yet they also emitted rather strong magical energy as well – those had to be the artifacts from the ancient Empire that Samuel had been dearly wishing for.
“This is incredible! Hey, hey man! Just how much do you think this will sell for??”
Samuel asked while picking up a flower from the wall. At a deeper inspection, it was a small sculpture fashioned out of several jewels that emitted a five-colored glow.
“It's really rare to find a jewel sculpture carved with such precision nowadays. Hell, I can name any price I want to an enthusiast, probably.”
Dylan smiled in satisfaction and replied.
“That, that, that is….”
Ever since entering this chamber, Alex couldn't take his eyes off from the left sarcophagus. To be more precise, he was staring with wide-open eyes at a palm-sized item that was on top of the lid.
When Seol Jihu lightly tapped Alex, the latter's neck trembled as he opened his mouth.
“Seol, Seol. Can, can you see that?”
“What's the matter?”
“Y-you know, that thing? If that thing's what I think is…. It’s an unbelievably rare and unbelievably expensive item. That's the equipment of dreams for a Priest.”
He even closed his eyes and began shuddering in excitement.
“Fufu. You're rather knowledgable for a Priest, Alex.”
Ian grinned and came closer.
“You're most likely be correct. Most of the items on the left sarcophagus are probably related to the Priest profession.”
“As I thought.”
“The burial goods found in tombs are usually things the dead used during their lifetime. This lady was not only the daughter of a famed household, but she had also been canonized as a saintess. So it'd only make sense that they prepare the goods accordingly. That is the reason why there is a noticeable difference between the two sarcophagi here.”
While listening to Ian's explanation, Alex nodded his head like a madman. It was as if nothing else could hold his interest at the moment.
The way he avariciously stared at them, there was little doubt they were amazing items. But regrettably, they were just pies in the sky. The spirit of the woman said it was fine to take the others but asked them not to touch those found around her coffin. They had appeased her somehow, so they shouldn't do anything to betray her.
'It'll be more than enough to take the things on the walls.'
Seol Jihu spotted Chohong and Hugo checking out things on the right sarcophagus, but he didn't stop them. At the moment, he had left 'Nine Eyes' on. With the exception of items on the left coffin, everything else was in varying shades of green.
Seol Jihu gathered his hands and offered a prayer towards the sarcophagus containing the woman before turning around to head towards one of the walls. Other expedition members were too busy packing in the burial goods at the moment.
And so, some amount of time had passed by, and most of the goods on the walls had been taken away – that's when it happened.Previous Chapter Next Chapter