Sungchul changed locations from the ruins and was led to a checkpoint within the Lizardmen border that was not too far away according to Murohk’s request. The reason they gave was that the golem that patrolled the area around the ruins could appear at any moment.
Murohk told Sungchul to ask for anything he needed after arriving at this fairly wide checkpoint, and Sungchul immediately asked whether he would be able to obtain a Vortex Soul. He didn’t have much expectations, but luck was on his side. Murohk ordered Barmui to send his fastest soldier to the Kingdom to bring back a Vortex Soul.
Naturally, there was some time before the soldier would arrive during which Sungchul was able to hear some stories of the past from Murohk.
“Sajators… no, the Seven Heroes were known to have saved the world, but in reality, they were another form of Calamity to us.”
Murohk told this not-so-well-known story that occurred thousands of years ago. The Seven Heroes that felled the King of Demons rose in fame as well as authority. All the Kings and Sovereigns happily handed them seats of honor, and they spared nothing within their limits, and they gradually grew arrogant steeped in passionate praise and blind worship.
They triumphantly entered the battlefield when another Calamity, the Calamity from the Deep Sea, began. But the Merfolk from the Deep Sea proved to be much more of a cunning and tricky foe compared to the Demons. The Seven Heroes often failed to protect those they were meant to protect which led to a steep decline in their reputation over time.
It was at that moment that the Seven Heroes changed. They were no longer heroes, but tyrants. They demanded great sacrifice from the common folks that lived in the era of Calamity, under the justification of stopping the Calamity.
It was no different within the Great Jungle. Murohk spoke further with a groan.
“Sajators invaded our kingdom leading a great number of golems to kill our king and massacre countless ancestors, all with the excuse that we didn’t comply with his request. And then he ordered the surviving ancestors to build this accursed ruin.”
Murohk pointed over to the collapsed ruin with his finger.
“My God… Lizardmen made that…”
Bertelgia spoke apologetically with a weak voice.
“Countless ancestors died under that cruel labor, and Sajators who committed such unspeakable brutality felt not an inkling of shame.”
Murohk’s eyes burned with anger.
“To stop the Calamity. Sajators justified his cruelty with this single phrase.”
It was then that Sungchul knew the old Lizardman’s words had substance behind them as Murohk’s phrasing was hinting at Sungchul as well apart from Sajators. More than anything, his piercing gaze revealed his insinuations.
Sungchul spoke in a calm voice.
“I am different than those people.”
“We hope that is so.”
From afar, a Lizardman soldier ran over in their direction like a streak. It was the soldier sent to retrieve that Vortex Soul. Sungchul bid farewell to the Lizardmen after receiving the Vortex Soul.
“Ah, I have one more thing to say.”
Murohk began to speak as Sungchul was about to leave, and when he turned back, Murohk continued without hurry.
“The City above the River. Do you know who founded the city that the humans call Panchuria?”
Sungchul shook his head.
“Sajators,” said the Lizardman.
Murohk continued with a voice filled with fear and unease. “There is something beneath its waters. Even we don’t know what it is, but one thing that we can say is that it’s something great and immeasurably dangerous. That is all.”
He then rose to leave after handing Sungchul a single flute.
“Seek us out any time you have a question. The sound of that flute will lead you to our Kingdom.”
Sungchul held the Vortex Soul and looked toward the retreating figures of the Lizardmen without expression.
It was around the time when Sungchul was observing the rear of the small golem in the area around the ruins. There was a deathly silence surrounding Clarise and Kruut’s boat. Clarise was looking at the Magician slumped beside her foot. She gripped the menacing axe within her hand.
Kruut called his granddaughter over with concern in his voice. Clarise slowly nodded and raised the axe.
She clenched her eyes shut and brought down her axe with a shout.
She could feel something being cleaved.
‘I… killed someone…!’
Guilt and a thick sense of futility pierced the hole in her heart and poured out like floodwater, but it couldn’t be helped. It was to kill or be killed. Clarise gasped heavily as she mentally justified her actions.
Kruut’s voice could be heard from behind her.
Clarise felt irritation rise from the sound of her grandfather’s voice. Wasn’t it because of her grandfather that she had to commit this murder? Every single act was because of him.
“What do you want?”
She turned back with irritation. Kruut was pointing in front of him; the direction that she didn’t want to see where her axe would be buried into the corpse.
“What? What? Just what do you want to say!?”
“No, just look at the front! The front!”
Kruut was pointing forward with a pale face. Something was wrong. Clarise swallowed hard and turned her head as unnaturally as a clockwork doll to face the pointed direction.
Her axe hadn’t landed on Sajators, instead, a small girl had appeared out of nowhere in his place.
The moment Clarise was about to begin screaming, the expressionless girl pushed the axe out of her shoulders where it was embedded. Clarise lost her grip on the axe, falling backwards and landing on her behind after she witnessed such an unbelievable and surreal sight.
“I’ll warn you now, but if you do something like this again, I’ll kill you all.”
The girl with a pale skin spoke with a frosty tone. Kruut and Clarise immediately froze.
The girl then approached the fallen Sajators. One of the Soul Gems strung within Sajators’ mantle was giving off a light. She held the Soul Gem and spoke while stroking it tenderly.
“Thank you, Carbungbung. If not for you, your stupid owner would’ve already died to some nameless woman.”
The girl looked toward Clarise again after her speech. The moment their eyes locked, Clarise’s party felt enough pressure to cause their breaths to be stuck in their throats.
“This is an order. Look after this man with utmost care until his body is recovered. If the man is dead by the time I return…, I’ll make you regret that you survived.”
The girl disappeared within a magical formation after leaving such an unbreakable command. Kruut and Clarise had no other alternative, and it was after this moment that the Asaam family began their unusual cohabitation. Clarise suddenly had to invite two people, who she never wanted to let in, into her small cozy home floating above the water. She wiped away Sajators’ blood and wet his lips with wet cotton, and went as far as traveling large distances by boat to find medicine to smear onto his affected areas. Kruut was no help throughout this entire process, and it was a miracle that he didn’t get drunk and cause a mess.
Sajators recovered his consciousness after a day. He opened his eyes and looked around the bed and saw her; the brunette woman dozing off with shut eyes sitting by his bedside in an unfamiliar room.
“What is all this…”
Sajators felt unease rising from his chest as he lifted his body. It was at this moment that he felt pain jolting throughout his entire body causing him to let out a brief scream. A clear sound of a bell rang out as he suffered. It was the chilling sound that reverberated from within the abyss. Sajators’ pupils shrunk.
‘That’s right… I…!’
The back of the unforgettable man rose up in front of his eyes like a nightmare. The mere memory was enough to cause his entire body to lose strength and his breath to be caught. Clarise opened her eyes at that moment. Seeing Sajators awake, she soon became nervous and flustered, eventually calming down to ask.
“A-are you alive?”
“Are you stupid? Can’t you tell by looking?”
Sajators winced as he brushed the loose hair from his eyes. He was haggard and in terrible condition, but it could not conceal his naturally attractive features.
“Have you nursed me to health?”
Sajators asked. He could never dream of the fact that she had actually tried to swing an axe in his direction, and it was because of this that the toxicity behind his gaze and voice were fairly subdued. Sajators waved his hands towards Clarise’s direction as if he was annoyed.
“Leave my sight, wretched woman. I think all of the food I’ve eaten for the last 3 days will come back up if I keep looking at your ugly face.”
She felt like blood was rushing to her head because a man who looked younger than her kept calling her ugly, but Clarise knew just how powerful this man was.
‘Hold it in. Hold it in.’
She just barely managed to hold herself back with her fists trembling as she left to head outside. Sajators sat on the bed dazed without any expression before burying his head in his hands once she left.
There was physical pain, but the endless sound of the bell ate away at his sanity. He felt that it would end up completely destroying his mind at this rate; leaving him in a fate worse than death.
‘Is there no other way but to ask for help?’
Sadly, his pride didn’t allow that option. He especially didn’t want this information to fall to his nemesis Vestiare or Ga Xi Ong, whom he treated like an insect, and cause him endless shame. He would rather die.
‘Damn it. If Eckheart was still around!’
Unfortunately, Eckheart no longer existed. Of the Seven Heroes, he could trust only the Leader, Desfort, and Daltanius who was friendly with everyone, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask for help first. His lifelong lifestyle of living according to his whims while ignoring everyone else had caught up to him in this critical moment. He might have been able to come up with a plan with calm contemplation, but the endless ringing of the bell made that impossible.
Sajators felt himself being forced deeper into a corner and increasingly pathetic as time passed, and it was within this feeling of despair that a fourth of the day had passed. It was then that a sound of an argument beyond the door shook him awake.
“That man told us not to use the gold bars carelessly! Didn’t you hear him warning us to melt it down before using it because it’s dangerous?”
It was a female’s voice. An old man with his arm in a brace opposed her.
“It’s just one. Do you really think something will happen? Do you think those friends thousands of miles away will come here just because of a single bar?
The fight didn’t last long. It was because they couldn’t ignore the fact that Sajators was residing with them. He heard a single slam of a door and nothing more could be heard.
Sajators felt thirsty as he chugged the water bottle left on a table by his bed. It didn’t sate his migraine.
‘Shit. I’m going to have to ask Daltanius for help. Fuck my pride. It’ll be hard to keep my life at this rate.’
It was when he finally made the decision and attempted to calm his mind that he heard a song that he had never heard before drift in from the outside. It was a sound that was tittering in the boundary between enjoyable music and noise pollution, like walking on thin ice.
At first he felt the headache he was suppressing grow worse and wanted to immediately put an end to the sound, but the song reached a part where the delicate and yearning melody on the other side of the thin sheet of ice which slowly settled his emotions became longer, and he felt the sound of bell which was tormenting him disappear for a moment.
‘Hm? This is?!’
Strictly speaking, the sound of the bell didn’t disappear, but the lonesome and mournful song that could be heard from beyond the door carried the power to allow him to forget the rhythmless ringing that made him shudder. Holding his breath, Sajators listened closely to the song.
Only once the song ended did Clarise remember that a fearsome and unwelcome guest was staying in her home. She had forgotten it momentarily. Anger consumed her mind at the thought of her grandfather whose actions were still so careless even as the situation deteriorated to this point that she started to sing to calm herself without realizing. It had been her habit to sing whether she was angry or sad. It was through singing that she was able to resolutely withstand the continuous waves of misfortune that followed after her brief happiness in her childhood.
‘He probably wouldn’t kill me because of a single song right?’
A breeze flowed from behind her rustling her hair and clothes. The door to the unwelcomed guest’s room had become opened. She made an awkward smile before slowly turning her head. She had to rack her brain for an excuse to appease this small, yet savage man, but the response that greeted her wasn’t anger nor chastisement. It was the forgotten sound of praise that she hadn’t heard in so long.
The appearance of an unexpected audience. Clarise simply lifted her eyes and observed as the strange man praised her; unable to discern how she should respond to this situation.
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