It really happened without any warning. At the very least, it felt like the whole thing happened like a bolt of lightning to Seol Jihu, who had been checking out his teammates cautiously packing the burial goods until then.
The chamber that had been a mixture of green and yellow suddenly changed to a subtle shade of red. Then, as if the owner of the tomb was getting angrier, the whole space began to get dyed in a deeper shade of red.
Utterly shocked by this occurrence, Seol Jihu turned around and found Alex and Clara in the midst of touching burial goods found on the left sarcophagus.
To be more precise, Alex was reaching out to that very same keepsake as if he had been bewitched, while Clara was busy stroking a brilliant necklace with blue gemstones engraved within with an enraptured face.
There was no time to even think about anything.
“What are you two doing?!”
The two people flinched grandly. Alex quickly pulled his hand back, but Clara looked back at the youth with an unimpressed expression on her face and picked the necklace up without further hesitation. Immediately, the chamber became washed in the color of blood.
“Argh, what?! Can't I just take a look….?”
When Alex belatedly tried to stop her, Clara displayed her annoyance before her expression became dazed by what happened next. Seol Jihu wordlessly sprinted towards her and snatched the necklace away. He quickly placed the necklace back on the lid, prompting Clara to spit out a grunt. She then began chuckling in disbelief.
“What the hell do you think you're doing?”
“That's what I want to ask you.”
Seol Jihu's tone of voice was not friendly at all. Sure, he still spoke in a courteous manner as before, but his voice definitely contained a trace of anger.
“Did you not see the contents of that paper just now?”
“I did. So what?”
“I saw it, and what about it?”
Clara retorted back. Seol Jihu's eyes narrowed to a slit.
“Hey, you. Don't you think you're getting too full of yourself?”
Clara crossed her arms and a mocking grin formed on her lips.
“Looks like you're mistaken about something here. Samuel said that, even if the result of the ceremony wasn't good, you should follow his suggestion. He said nothing about following what's on the paper even if the results were good. Same story for me, as well for the others.”
“….You want to die that badly, huh.”
“Get the fuck out of here. How can you be so sure? How the fuck do you know whether the bitch buried below that lid is strong or not?”
Clara's sharp tone of voice caused Seol Jihu to glare back at her.
“So you aren’t satisfied with what's on the walls. Is that it?”
“Right. I'm not. If you got nothing else to say, get out of my way. Oh, and here's an advice for you. Knowing your place will be good for your health in the future.”
She too didn't lose and shot a glare back before taking large strides towards him. She shoved him away and walked right past.
“What a loser. Do you have any idea how much you can make by selling that thing? An item from the Empire will fetch….”
Just as she reached her right hand out towards the necklace again, Seol Jihu grabbed and yanked her wrist away.
“….You better let me go.”
Clara's greed-filled eyes turned towards him.
“You want to have a go? Is that it?”
“Do not touch it.”
Seol Jihu's own voice became icy.
Hmph, Clara snorted and her left hand reached out to the necklace. In that moment, Seol Jihu's eyes began to gleam quite dangerously.
“I said, don't touch it!”
His angry roar reverberated in the burial chamber, and at the same time…
Clara was flung away with force, and she crash-landed on the ground.
Clara's shoulder and lower back clattered hard against the ground and she frowned deeply, but then, she shot back up right away in indignation.
“What are you two doing? Stop, Seol, Clara!”
Alex panicked grandly and tried to intervene.
“What's going on here?”
Other members of the expedition turned their focus here now. But, regardless of all that….
“D-did you lose your damn mind?! How dare you touch me!”
“Shut your mouth.”
“What… You really wanna have a go at me?! Fine!”
Clara spat those words out in pure anger, then reached behind her back to pull her bow out and nocked an arrow.
“Calm down, Clara!”
Freaking out now, Alex helplessly flailed his arms about. And, just as Clara took aim at Seol Jihu and pulled the string back…
The burial chamber that remained still suddenly began trembling noisily. The surrounding view as seen through 'Nine Eyes' began flickering in four colors of yellow, orange, red and black. There had never been a time like this before where several colors showed up at once.
“What's this? Where is this sound coming from?”
Dylan was about to intervene between the two people, but he stopped in his tracks to take a cautious look around. Seol Jihu looked behind him, and he paled from fright right away. He could see that the left sarcophagus was vibrating like a smartphone.
At that moment, for some inexplicable reason…. Seol Jihu gently placed his hand on the lid unconsciously.
Perhaps, he was sympathizing with this woman's circumstances. Of course, the experiences the two went through, the experiences they had to be subjected to, were completely different. However, they still shared a similar fate, and that would be them being cast out by their respective families, whether through one's own actions or through others’.
Seol Jihu had felt that he no longer had a place to stay back on Earth, and perhaps because of that, he could empathize with this woman's state of mind, even if it was just a little. More importantly, she had calmed her anger and showed her goodwill just because he held a pathetic little excuse of an appeasement ceremony, so there was no way he would betray her expectations.
‘I won’t let anyone touch it.'
It was then that something mysterious happened. Perhaps Seol Jihu's thoughts had been heard because the vibrating coffin lid gradually came to a stop.
He quietly stared at the sarcophagus for a little while longer before turning around. Clara and her somewhat surprised face had been aiming at the sarcophagus until then, but she quickly changed her target back to him.
“What a good timing this is. Hey, kid, stop showing off and get the hell away from there.”
“Don't you have any respect for the dead?”
“Gimme a break. You've been running your slick mouth on and on, but in the end, that was your true reason?”
Clara smirked derisively before her expressions became serious.
“Keep your high and mighty morals away from Paradise. Now get the hell away from there if you don't want to get hit.”
“And what if I don't?”
“In that case, it can't be helped. You started this, so don't blame me if you die.”
As her speech and conduct became worse, Seol Jihu let off a hollow chuckle.
His magic spear might be broken, but he still had another one.
“If you really want it, then try to take it over my dead body.”
He pulled his spear out and took aim at Clara as well. His mana began to surge within him. When the youth slightly lowered his posture as he got ready to really fight her, Clara began gritting her teeth.
It was then.
Samuel quickly jumped in between the two and tried to diffuse the volatile situation.
“Clara, lower your bow.”
“S-Samuel?? But, that bastard started it!”
“It was you and Alex who acted like idiots first. You know now that there is a vengeful spirit here, so who told you to touch whatever you felt like? How were you planning to take care of the aftermath?”
Clara chewed on her lower lip. Shortly afterwards, she lowered her bow, but it was clear to see how indignant she was.
“Seol, please lower your spear as well.”
After confirming that she had lowered her weapon, Samuel asked Seol next. Seol Jihu also lowered his spear but didn't step away from the sarcophagus. Samuel placed his hands on his waist.
He let out a big groan and softly opened his mouth.
“I'll be straight with you. Actually, I agree with Clara.”
“Yes, I know what that lady had to go through was terrible. But, that is all. At the end of the day, we are Earthlings.”
“And she was a Paradisian.”
Samuel quietly studied the coldly-replying youth.
“….Now that I think about it, how long did you say you've been in Paradise for?”
“That has nothing to do with this.”
“Do you by any chance know why this place is called Paradise?”
That was a sudden and unexpected question. Seol Jihu shook his head.
“It's simple. Only a few chosen can come here, and opportunities can be found awaiting pretty much everywhere.”
“Opportunities, is it?”
“I'm talking about the burial goods behind you, the ones on the coffin. If my eyes aren't deceiving me, then they are from the Empire.”
Just as Seol Jihu tried to open his mouth, Samuel raised his hand slightly first.
“I'm sure you wanted to ask me this – if those things are that incredible. Indeed, they are incredible. No, they are beyond incredible. The Empire might have fallen at the hands of the Parasites, but still, the level of magic science they boasted was greatest in all of Paradise. Stuff from the kingdoms can't even compare to them.”
Even still, Seol Jihu didn't show any signs of moving.
“Don't you understand? Let me be straight with you once more. Just one item from there, and we all can become incredibly rich.”
“Don't you think your greed is getting excessive?”
Samuel thought for a brief second, before a bitter smile formed on his lips.
“Greed, is it. If you meant to ask whether I wasn't scared of dying or not, then yes, I am prepared to risk it. I'm not kidding. Forget about bronze or silver, we can get gold coins here. Do you know how much of Earth’s currency you can get from a single gold coin?”
“No, I don't. I'm not interested in knowing, either.”
Samuel smacked his lips after realizing that Seol Jihu wasn't going to be convinced like this.
“Honestly speaking, I'd like to heed your wish if it were any other circumstances. Sure, the things on the walls are very good, but the items on the coffin exceed their value greatly.”
“Meaning, you will take them away no matter what.”
“Listen till the end, please. What you're trying to say here is that, while I'm willing to take the risk and take those items, you don't want to risk it and leave with only what we are allowed to take. I believe we both are not wrong in this situation.”
What was he trying to get at? Seol Jihu didn't let his vigilance down and stared at Samuel.
“So, I propose we do it like this. Let's decide with a vote.”
“Right. Since neither of us are really wrong, we let the majority decide.”
“And what if I don't want to follow the result of the vote?”
“That won't be allowed.”
Samuel gravely shook his head.
“As long as you remain a part of this expedition, we must act as one whether you like it or not. There are times when you'll have to do things that you don't want to, and you'll also have to back down regardless of your principals. If you continue to insist on doing whatever you want, then I can no longer recognize you as a member of the expedition.”
Samuel shifted his gaze away from the youth as if to indicate that he'd not hear Seol's opinions anymore and scanned around him.
“Seol is obviously against, and well, Clara, you are definitely voting 'for', am I right?”
Clara's complexion had brightened considerably by now, and she leaned her head back as if she wanted to gloat.
“One vote yes, and one vote against. Let's get started. I'm for it.”
Samuel immediately voted for yes.
“Uhm… I'm voting for yes, too.”
Alex raised his hand and hurriedly avoided meeting Seol's gaze while mumbling timidly.
“S-Sorry about this, Seol. But, I….”
He then opened and closed his lips a couple of times before lowering his gaze altogether.
“Well, since Samuel wants to, I'm also voting yes.”
Grace shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly.
“Four votes yes, and one vote against.”
Just one more vote for 'yes' would determine the end result of this situation. Samuel looked at the four people who hadn't cast their votes yet.
Seol Jihu closed his eyes as the situation barrelled towards the inevitable conclusion. All sorts of thoughts fleeted in and out of his mind. Should he fight, or escape alone? Should he reveal the truth of 'Nine Eyes' and try changing their minds? Whatever the case may be, he needed to decide quickly.
“I'm against it.”
It was then, a manly voice resounded out. It was Hugo.
“I don't wanna touch that woman's coffin if I can help it. That's all.”
When Clara asked him with a disbelieving tone of voice, Hugo replied curtly. It was a short-enough answer that perfectly suited his personality.
Dylan stroked his chin for a bit before quietly voicing his opinion.
Samuel's brows quivered slightly.
“Dylan, you… are against it?”
“Mm. I understand where you're coming from, but I agree with Seol's deduction he came up with on the outside. When I think about the fate of Kahn's team, it's the right idea not to touch the coffin.”
When Dylan clearly stated his case, Chohong helplessly scratched her head.
“Aooo…. This is so screwed up. Seriously now.”
Her unwilling eyes lingered on the coffin for a bit, before meeting Seol Jihu's. She licked her lips for a while, before grunting out her vote.
“….Eiii, damn it. I vote against, too.”
And so, four votes 'yes', and four votes 'against'. All the members of Carpe Diem had sided with Seol Jihu. Having not anticipated this result, the members of Samuel's team got visibly flustered.
There was only one remaining vote.
Ian remained silent until then, before slowly opening his mouth.
“On the outside, this friend talked about inverse calculation. I can empathize with it to a degree, but it's still based on my hypothesis and thus, it can't be thought of as a confirmed fact.”
Then, he stared at Samuel.
“Were you aware of the fact that several times during this expedition, you revealed how much of a rush you were in?”
Samuel blinked his eyes several times.
“Once, before the battle with the Lioners, and right after. And when the Quill Pen of the Flowing Consciousness was used, and finally, when you were having a heated discussion with this young friend.”
“No, I was just….”
“Rather than you judging yourself, others judging you can be far more accurate more often than not.”
He spoke of truth. Ian's serious, grave tone of voice continued on.
“I pondered a long while, wondering whether I should mention this or not. The reason I kept my mouth shut until now was, firstly, I respected the authority of the leader of the expedition. Secondly, I didn't want to snatch that authority from you, and finally, because I knew of your circumstances.”
When 'circumstances' were mentioned, Samuel became completely lost for words.
“Indeed, what happened was truly a lamentable matter. I do sympathize with your efforts to revitalize your team as it's going through very rough waters. However, from where I stand, it looks like you have not learned anything from 'her' death and are trying to repeat the mistake of the past.”
“I won't bore you any longer. I believe that we can return with what we have managed to achieve so far and be thoroughly pleased with the rewards waiting for us back home. There is no reason to take on any further risk. And therefore, my answer is against.”
“There will be other expeditions in the future. I pray that you don't bet everything on this one.”
That was something Seol Jihu heard Samuel say a little while ago.
Samuel clenched his fist tightly and slowly turned around. Clara looked utterly dismayed, while deep pain was etched on Alex's face. However, Grace didn't seem to care either way.
Samuel held their gazes for a little while before slowly lowering his head.
Only then did Ian form a refreshing grin.
“A trustworthy leader is a leader who knows when to retreat. You made the right choice.”
A weak smile struggled to form on Samuel's lips.
“Let's get out of here. We've collected all the burial goods on the walls, after all.”
Samuel and Ian headed towards the exit with quick steps. Other members of the expedition all turned around one by one to leave, but Seol Jihu remained until the end and guarded his position.
Well, he couldn't be sure that someone might have another idea. He was thinking of leaving last after confirming that everyone had left first.
“You must be really happy now.”
Clara gritted her teeth and sneered at him. Seol Jihu couldn't understand why she was being this angry and this embittered.
“Yeah, you must be really fucking happy now that you can keep that petty principle of yours.”
“Oii. That's enough from you.”
When a mace suddenly came flying at her face, Clara freaked out and quickly took several steps back.
“Ch-Chohong? Even you?”
“The decision's been made already. Stop arguing.”
“Why are you only picking on me?!”
“‘Cuz you keep making problems.”
Chohong began emitting that uniquely cold glare of hers.
Seol Jihu slowly opened his mouth.
“Chohong. Please stop.”
“H,? No, hang on. I was just…”
“I know. I know, but she's not worth your effort.”
After hearing something rather unexpected coming from the youth, Chohong's eyes widened.
“What did you just say?! Hah, you think you won't become like me later?!”
Being on the receiving end of a biting remark, Clara's expression crumpled unsightly and she began to growl in anger.
“You just wait and see. Two years, no, one year, and you will definitely be regretting this day bitterly. Mark my words.”
“If you’re making predictions, then I’ll make one as well.”
Seol Jihu formed a mocking grin.
“You, if you continue to act in this idiotic manner, not knowing what's what, you will die sooner than you think.”
“You should thank Samuel when you have the chance. Right now, I can't really figure out why a guy like that lets a loose cannon like you hang around him.”
After listening to deeply insulting words, Clara began stuttering as if she was greatly shaken to the core.
“S-stop making me laugh! What the hell do you know?! You're just a Level 1 newbie!”
“I wonder about that. I thought that I contributed far more than you in this expedition.”
Seol Jihu's words remained frigid. So much so that even Chohong was taken aback as well. She always thought that the youth was a kind-hearted and well-behaved kid. This was her first time seeing such an expression from Seol.
Almost instantly, Clara's eyes became moist and she angrily ran out of the exit. Seol Jihu slowly let a sigh escape from his mouth.
“Uh, uh, uh, well, I, uh…”
Chohong went, Hmph, at the youth's thanks, and turned around. While slowly walking away, she sneaked a glance and saw his back as he stared at the sarcophagus.
'He had that kind of side to him too?'
Chohong tilted her head this way and that, before wrapping her hands around her neck area. For some reason, that area felt unusually warmer than before.
With this, he had kept his promise with the woman's spirit.
Seol Jihu corrected the necklace that had been misplaced slightly when he had to return it in haste. He even proceeded to carefully pat away the layer of accumulated dust on the lid and turned around to leave.
“I'm sorry about all the commotion. If I find another chance in the future, I'll come to visit again.”
He left with those parting words; he began smiling softly as he sensed that a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
It wasn't as if he couldn't understand what Samuel was saying. But, apart from the assurance given by the color of the chamber as seen through 'Nine Eyes', ending things this way certainly felt much better to him.
Money and fame? Of course, they sounded nice.
However, none of them compared to his own self-worth he had regained after such a struggle.
The sound of something falling came from behind him, but Seol didn't hear it and just closed the exit door.Previous Chapter Next Chapter