The village of Ramman was a fragrant little settlement kissed by warm rays of the sun.
Although it was smaller in size compared to the village of Zahrah, in return, the place was surrounded by a picturesque landscape straight out of an oil painting with fences running through the carpets of endless yellowish-green fields. And in the distance, precipitous mountains that looked as if they had wrapped themselves up in mother nature like a veil serving as the unforgettable backdrop.
Seol Jihu paid the balance to the two carriage drivers, and slowly closed his eyes as the gentle breeze tickled him by. The gentle winds stroking his cheeks brightened his mood up greatly.
'We got lucky.'
They didn't encounter any ambushes during their travel and arrived at their destination before nightfall. Although it might have been nothing to fret over, for some reason, he couldn't help but feel good about this.
It was as if the heavens were blessing his first outing as the….
His peace was shattered by the sudden noise of someone vomiting on the side. And then, that was followed by the disgusting noise of something falling on the ground.
He broke out of his reverie and opened his eyes, a deep frown forming on his face. Not too far from him, a girl with a slightly wavy blonde hair was bent over, busy emptying out the contents of her stomach.
The superbly green fields were instantly soiled by the thick mess of reddish-brown liquid.
Was she trying to scream or vomit? Which one was it?
After successfully vomiting out a rather terrifyingly large chunk of something, Maria maintained that deep grimace while she shoved her index finger back inside her throat. And then – began vomiting one more time.
“That's why I told you to drink in moderation.”
Seol Jihu walked over to her and patted her back.
It was understandable, though. She drank that much yesterday and then had to ride a carriage non-stop for the past twelve hours, so it'd have been a miracle if her innards were still intact and functioning properly.
Maria barely managed to lift her head back up and began breathlessly grumbling out in her usual manner.
“Pant, pant… Argh, this god-fucking motion sickness….”
Seol Jihu took out a clean rag and began wiping Maria's cherry-red lips all dirtied from the puke. She looked unimpressed but had no energy left to resist him, so she remained docile for the time being.
“Our little Maria is going through a lot, isn't she~?”
Chohong giggled and approached the duo before handing over a bottle of vodka. Seol Jihu gasped in disbelief but Maria seized upon this chance to snatch the bottle away and took a mouthful of the hard liquor.
She used that as a mouthwash; her cheeks ballooned up as she sloshed the alcohol around in her mouth before spitting them back all out. And then, she tilted the bottle a little to take a small sip.
“Keu-heuh… Urgh! Now I feel alive.”
Seol Jihu suddenly thought that alcohol must be circulating in her veins, rather than b lood. It became somewhat torturous to watch anymore, so he turned around to leave. Even Veronika looked away as if she was fed up.
She saw the depressed look on the youth's face. She sighed and lightly patted him on his shoulders. Somehow, that helped in consoling him a little.
“Looks like we'll have to rest for the day.”
Mikhail shook his head in helplessness. Seol Jihu agreed with that assessment. It wasn't just for Maria's sake though. Riding carriages for half a day straight was never easy. Besides, they weren't pressed for time, like how it was with the Arden Fortress back then.
The six of them agreed to search for a suitable place to get some rest and entered the village's entrance. And that's when this happened.
“I saw it! I swear, I did!”
Out of the blue, a hoarse voice greeted them from the side. An old woman standing in front of the thatched-roof mud hut was staring at the group with unblinking eyes. She seemed to be a Paradisian.
“It was a white ship! A white ship lowered its anchor!!”
'A white ship? Anchor??'
Seol Jihu tilted his head.
The old woman grabbed the handrail, hard. She looked as if she'd rush out at any second now. It was at this moment that a man hurriedly ran in from a distance.
“Mother! Why are you doing this again?”
“I saw it! I'm telling you, I saw it!”
“I understand. I understand, mother, so please go back inside. These people are Earthlings.”
“I'm telling you, a white ship lowered dozens of anchors!!”
The old woman continued to shout out even as she was pushed back inside the hut. The man sighed helplessly and urgently lowered his head to the group.
“I-I'm truly sorry! My mother has a small problem with her mind and….”
“No, it's fine. Don't worry about it.”
Seol Jihu's calm voice caused the man to blink his eyes in a bit of daze. His previous nervous demeanor had softened just a tad.
“Are you here because of the subjugation request?”
“Yes. Are you the one who issued it?”
“Ah, no. I'm actually in charge of the security of this village. My name is Brice. The issuing of the request is always taken up by the village head, actually.”
'The village head is in charge of it all the time, is it….'
Seol Jihu began chewing on those words, causing Brice to cautiously ask him again.
“Is there anything that I can help you with?”
“Ah, yes. We need a place to rest for a while.”
“We'll definitely provide you with a place like that. Let me guide you to the inn.”
Seol Jihu felt someone touching him on the arm, He turned to look, and found Maria shaking her head.
“I don't want to breathe indoor air right now. It's a bit of a bother, too. I'll be fine if I just get some air for an hour or so.”
“Well, that's what she said. Looks like we'll be fine with an outdoor area.”
“Please, follow me. I know of a place that fits your criteria.”
Brice guided the team to an open area with a log table seemingly carved out from the trunk of a huge tree, surrounded by several aged wooden chairs. He continued to sneak glances behind him, perhaps worried about the team making other demands from him.
Just as Maria planted her forehead on the smooth surface of the log table, Mikhail opened his mouth.
“Hey, leader. If it's okay with you, can I ask him a couple of questions? I came here before so I just wanted to confirm a few things, you see.”
“Really? It's fine.”
Seol Jihu replied with an expression that asked back, “Why are you asking my permission for that?”
Mikhail grinned refreshingly at the youth's attitude.
Since he wasn't a header, he should refrain from stepping up too much, but most leaders wouldn't mind this little bit of insubordination unless they were of persnickety nature.
“Hey, you said your name was Brice, right?”
“It's nothing much, actually. I was just curious if anything has changed since the last time. The contents of the request, that is.”
“No, not at all. There aren't any changes, as far as I can tell.”
“In that case, it means we can scoot over to the night fog zone to kill them before they come out, right? Like the last time?”
“Yes, that's correct.”
Mikhail nodded his head. Brice asked if he was curious about anything else, and after hearing the reply of “No, not anymore”, hurriedly departed from there.
“Looks like it won't be that difficult again. We can conclude our first goal by going to the night fog zone.”
Veronika spoke up, yawned, and stretched her limbs grandly. Rather than asking his teammates what this night fog zone was, Seol Jihu recalled it from the records he read before coming here.
“The night fog zone is where the variants respawn every four months, yes?”
“Yeah. It's a bit of distance away, but if we walk fast, we can get there under two hours, max. The monsters that appear beside the variants aren't all that much to worry about, either. With our team's ability, we'll probably massacre them when they show themselves.”
“We can't let our guards down, though. Our leader did say that the variants could have gotten stronger, after all. Don't forget that Moles appeared near Haramark recently, and Lioners showed up in the Forest of Denial, too.”
Gierszal finally broke his weighty silence and voiced his opinion. Veronika shrugged her shoulders.
“Hey, let's eat something! I haven't had anything since this morning, and this hunger's driving me insane.”
Chohong sounded really grouchy as she spat those words out. She took her bag from one of the porters and pulled out the dried meat, fruits, and pieces of bread.
The rest of the team were also feeling hungry at this point, so they reached to grab their share.
Seol Jihu fell deeper into his thoughts as he chewed on the dried meat. If he wanted to, they could finish this mission today and go home. Of course, he didn't want to return after doing only that.
'Why couldn't anyone find the colony?'
There was no result without a cause. There had to be a reason why variants kept appearing in this place.
'….Should I just start digging the ground or something??'
He set out to solve this mystery, but he simply didn't have enough information to do that. Even Ian ended up throwing his hands up in defeat, so this task was never going to be easy.
But, he did have his suspicions.
He got up from his wooden chair while taking a couple of things to eat along with him. Seeing him get up, the bread sticking out of Chohong's mouth bobbed up and down.
“Bare bah byu goong?”
“I'm going to take a look around the village for a bit.”
Seol Jihu turned around to leave after activating 'Nine Eyes'. He originally planned to use it when he got to the night fog zone, but he figured that activating it within the village wouldn't be such a bad idea as well.
Well, having more information was better than not having any, after all. And if he got lucky and stumbled onto a jackpot, then even better.
And so, after he'd been walking a while….
'Green…. Another green….'
He walked around, looking to his left and right. He then suddenly sensed someone tugging at his hand. He looked down to find an unfamiliar little girl tugging at the bread held in his left hand with her small, cute fingers.
Seol Jihu had to stop walking as the girl was barely keeping up with her hurried trot.
The little girl suddenly went Hiick! from the sudden yell coming from somewhere and began hiccuping in fright.
“What do you think you're doing?! Come over here, quickly!”
A young boy rushed in a hurry and snatched the little girl's hand away. He must've been around ten years old or somewhere there. He was about a head taller than the girl and looked to be her biological older brother.
“He's an Earthling, an Earthling! I told you not to go near one, didn't I? You want to be spanked?!”
“But, hiiing… the bread….”
Did she want to eat it so badly? The eyes of the complaining, kicking little girl became moist in no time at all.
The boy managed to drag his little sister away, but his actions came to a sudden halt when Seol Jihu knelt down on one knee to match his eyes.
Seol Jihu smiled and pushed forward the lengthy bread. The little girl's eyes sparkled from seeing the food being offered. She then shook off the flustered boy and came running back to the youth. She grabbed the bread, and after opening her mouth wide, she took a healthy bite.
Seol Jihu lightly patted the little girl's head as her small lips busy chewed on her meal.
“Is it good?”
She grinned brightly and continued to bite into the bread. He found her so adorable and couldn't help but smile. She quickly polished the bread off, then her eyes sparkled even more at the sight of the dried meat.
He handed it over to her, and the widest smile imaginable formed on her face as if she just got a present from Santa Claus.
“There, there. Ah, right. Do you want to eat this, too?”
Seol Jihu pushed the fruit to the boy, but the kid hesitated briefly before shaking his head.
“….No, I'm fine….”
“You can take it. You bravely stepped forward to rescue your little sister, so you should be rewarded, right?”
Seol Jihu encouraged the boy to take it. The child hesitated for some more, but eventually, he took the fruit. He hurriedly bit into it, but then, realised Seol Jihu was still there and quickly bowed his head.
“Thank you very much.”
“You're quite mature for your age. You two live in this village?”
The boy nodded before cautiously asking a question of his own.
“What about you, Mister Earthling, sir?”
“You don't have to call me sir or a Mister Earthling, you know. Just call me 'Hyung'. I'll get embarrassed if you keep calling me that.”
“Hyung…. Did you come here because of the request?”
“That's right. Don't worry about it, though. We'll definitely beat them back.”
Seol Jihu's gentle demeanor worked wonders, and the boy's wariness had lessened somewhat. His stiff expression had softened just a tad as well.
“I'm not worried. My sis and I aren't allowed to go near the night fog zone, anyway.”
“But, that's obvious. It's dangerous over there.”
“Well… I don't know.”
Seol Jihu stopped smiling and tilted his head at this unexpected answer from the boy.
“You… don't know?”
“Yes. Grandma Hans did go there once before, but she came back all fine and the like, you see? Well, she speaks funny things now, though.”
The boy must've been unhappy for a while because he was quick to unload what was on his mind. Seol Jihu remembered back to the old lady shouting something by the village's entrance.
“I mean, honestly, I'm not a six or seven-year-old kid anymore, so I can't understand why I'm not allowed to go there.”
Seol Jihu formed a wry smile.
“It's probably because mutants keep appearing there periodically. The grown-ups are just worried about you, that's all.”
“I know. But still, things become safe again once you beat them back, right? But they don't want to let us out, busy coming up with strange excuses and calling them three taboos and all….”
The boy grumbled softly to himself.
“Hng. A monster will kidnap you to another world if you break one of the three taboos? Does anyone think I'll fall for that childish story?”
Seol Jihu's eyes opened very wide.
“Three taboos? Another world?”
“That's right. Hyung, you also think it's just nonsense, right?”
Seol Jihu's eyes were withdrawn deeply now.
“Can you tell me more about those three taboos?”
“U-uhm, that is….”
Mmmm… The boy massaged his temples before carrying on.
“Okay. First, never go towards the voice coming out from the fog. Second, never go where the hand is beckoning you. Third, if you see people wearing grey clothes, don't go near and run away. Those are the three taboos.”
“Who told you about those? Was it your parents?”
“My parents told me, but I think the village head asked them to tell us. I know everything, you see.”
“Can you tell me where the village head lives?”
That question immediately caused the boy to stop answering diligently and signs of hesitation reappeared on his face again.
“I wish to stop by and talk to him about something. I can't?”
“Well, it's not like you can't, but….”
The boy's voice became progressively smaller.
“If you want to ask for more reward money, then….”
Seol Jihu finally figured out why the other villagers were behaving so oddly towards him and his teammates.
“No, that's definitely not it. The amount of reward money is set in stone the moment I accepted the request, you know. So, you don't have to worry about that, okay?”
The boy asked with a pair of bright, innocent eyes. Seol Jihu could only sigh inwardly.
“Of course. I promise it's the truth.”
Soon the boy told him the directions, and Seol Jihu moved towards his next destination. The abode of the village head was a proper house with scale-like tiles added to the walls, quite different from the mud huts of other villagers.
More importantly, though – it didn't have any color in 'Nine Eyes'.
Seol Jihu's eyes narrowed to a slit.
'Man, this is so frustrating.’
If only he knew what this 'no color' thing could mean. That would make his life so much easier. But, what could he do? Gula told him to stop dreaming of unlocking that part so easily, after all.
Regardless, this was the first place that didn't shine in green within this village. He wasn't sure whether this would lead him to anywhere or not, but he'd lose nothing by finding out.
He climbed up the short stairs and knocked on the front door. He heard a soft cough and the door was slowly opened, revealing an old man with a thick head of white hair, his wrinkle-covered eyes growing wider.
“Who might you be, young man?”
“Ah, hello there. I'm the guy who accepted your subjugation request this time.”
The village head let out a soft groan when he heard Seol Jihu's introduction.
“Ah, I see. I beg your pardon. I've been having health issues lately, and I couldn't come personally to receive you.”
“Oh, no. It's fine. Besides that, I'd like to have a word with you about something. I only need a moment.”
“M-mm. If it's about the rewards, we don't have much to discuss here, I believe….”
The village head continued on.
“Truthfully, the majority of the money for the request rewards come from the support funds provided by the kingdom. If you wish for additional rewards, I fear it'd be more productive to speak to the kingdom's officials, instead. Haramark's royals are known to favor the Earthlings, so it could be the best solution for both sides.”
Maybe this wasn't his first time, because the village head recited his words as if he had them memorized to the very last letter.
“Actually, I'm not here for the talk of additional rewards. I'm here to ask you about a couple of things regarding this request, instead.”
“Mm? If you mean the contents of the request, in the night fog zone, you will…..”
“I'm sorry for stopping you there, but I know all about those. What I'd like to ask you about is something else.”
“Y-you want to ask me something? An Earthling wants to ask me?”
The village head looked very, very surprised then.
“Huh… What an odd development this is.”
The village head tilted his head as if he couldn't understand anything and muttered softly to himself after lightly coughing to clear his throat.
“You’re the second one, since that man, Like 'em Titties.”
“….Eh? You like what now?”
Seol Jihu couldn't help but doubt his own hearing.
“Ahh, that. There was another Earthling who came to see me, wanting to talk to me about the request as well. I thought he and I were about the same age, and because his name was so unique that I ended up remembering him.”
“What… what did you say his name was?”
“Like 'em Titties. He said that his surname was Titties and his given name was Like 'em. Well, I let it be since he told me that it was a common name in the world he came from. He sure was a funny man, that guy.”
Seol Jihu thought that the village head might start ripping Ian's beard off after learning the truth. He only regained his wits after seeing the village head turn around.
“In any case, please come in. We're a poor village, so we can't treat you well, but as a client, I can certainly talk to you about the request.”
Finally being let inside, Seol Jihu settled down on a chair the village head pulled out for him. The décor itself was pretty bare-bones, but there were books aplenty in the bookshelf. He did his best not to look around too much, though.
Because, he was acutely aware of how uncomfortable the villagers felt about the Earthlings overall, that was why.
'I should leave right after asking the questions.'
“So, what would you like to ask me?”
Seol Jihu quickly organized his thoughts when the village head settled down in front of him. He had spotted more than a few suspicious points when he went through all the records. If some of his questions could be answered, then he just knew that he'd find that elusive clue, a thread to unravel this mystery once and for all.
“From what I know, there had been around twenty subjugation requests issued so far. And the whole thing started from quite a while ago, as well.”
“That sounds about right.”
“And the request is always been issued by you, the village head.”
At that moment….
“If that's the case,”
Seeing the village head keep agreeing without holding anything back, Seol Jihu's eyes began gleaming elegantly.
“Please take a look at this.”
He pulled out a piece of a document from his inner pocket and presented it before the old man.
…Towards the elderly man with no color coming off of him.Previous Chapter Next Chapter