Chapter 101: Because of Fear (2)
Like how an area overflowed with water when a dam’s hole was left exposed again, many problems had flooded the fortress after Chi-Woo’s disappearance. One such problem was the broken beings running havoc again. Ru Amuh had run around trying to quell the most urgent problems when he encountered an ent.i.ty by coincidence.
“I don’t really know…how I ended up meeting her…” Ru Amuh didn’t remember. Something had led him to her when she appeared.
“You could’ve been bewitched,” Chi-Woo said quietly. “It could’ve been a vengeful spirit or an evil spirit. Spirits are generally like that. They drive people to them for a purpose.”
“It’s exactly as you say, sir. Although she was dead, she seemed skilled in controlling and ruling over spirits of the dead.”
“Who was it?”
“Do you remember the skeleton we saw on our way to this fortress?”
Chi-Woo’s eyes narrowed. ‘Could it be?’
“The skeleton hanging on the pole…”
“Yes, the one who swept away the entire army of mutants.”
“Why did that skeleton want to meet you, Mr. Ru Amuh?” Chi-Woo asked. “What did she say to you?”
“She first asked me about you.”
“Yes, she asked where you were.”
Ru Amuh hadn’t answered the skeleton’s question willingly; and rather than giving everything she wished for, he had tried to decipher the skeleton’s reasons for asking such questions. Thus, when she asked him about Chi-Woo, he had mixed in white lies.
“I told her that you left for a while to do something…”
[…He’s not here.]
Ru Amuh’s trick didn’t work on her, and as if she had managed to read his mind, the skeleton reached the correct answer and turned her away, like there was nothing more she wanted from Ru Amuh. Yet, Ru Amuh had a feeling that he couldn’t just let her go. He didn’t know why, but when he saw the skull leaving without turning back, he felt a strong sense to do something. Thus, he kept shouting at her that his teacher wasn’t dead, that he was still alive and would surely make his return. His outcries seemed to have some effect, and the skeleton stopped and stared at Ru Amuh for a while.
“So, what happened after that?” Chi-Woo interjected.
“She made me an offer.”
“An offer? The skeleton did?”
“Yes, she told me all the remaining recruits, including me, should come under her authority.”
Not having expected such a response from the skeleton, Chi-Woo looked taken aback.
“The skeleton said she would take everyone under her care?”
“Rather than taking care of us…it sounded more like she was saying that she would make use of us.”
“She said she would take us in and use us. And when you come back, she will talk to us again and return things to how they were.”
‘Use’—the word made Chi-Woo recall the range and groaned.
“Did you accept the offer?”
“No, I didn’t,” Ru Amuh shook his head immediately. “I refused at that time, but as time pa.s.sed, and the situation worsened…I sometimes wondered if I should’ve accepted the offer. Still…” Ru Amuh hesitated to say the following sentences, seemingly finding them too embarra.s.sing to say. However, Chi-Woo completely understood what Ru Amuh had gone through.
“It was right for you to refuse. At least with the way things turned out,” Chi-Woo said, and Ru Amuh managed to respond to Chi-Woo’s encouragement with a faint smile.
Although the skeleton had told them to come under her authority, in reality, they would’ve become nothing more than experiments; this was evident by the fifth and sixth recruits. They would’ve gone through tremendous pain until they died and became vengeful spirits; and then they would be used as sacrifices for some evil sorcery. Of course, the skeleton could not have been the one to do such things to the fifth and sixth recruits, but it was clear she was from the same faction as the ones who did. And there was no way they could believe someone who belonged to a group that would commit such heinous acts.
“What happened after you turned her down?”
“She forced me to take a condition.” In other words, instead of impeding him, she forced him to take action.
“We had to block the mutated monsters from coming into her force’s territory.”
Chi-Woo let out a tiny yelp. He was finally now able to understand what had happened in their first encounter when the skeleton hanging on the pole had swept away the army of mutants somewhat. Although the skull could clearly attack them, she had refrained from carrying it out; there were two reasons she had done this.
[…It could be a bit dangerous.]
First, there was Chi-Woo. Secondly, she had expected the recruits to be the s.h.i.+eld for whatever bothersome trick the Demon Empire had planned for them. The second reason was only valid to her when the first reason remained true; once Chi-Woo disappeared, she could no longer be certain that the heroes could be a proper s.h.i.+eld. Still, the skull decided to give the recruits a chance.
[Then show me. Prove me your worth. Give me a good enough reason to spare good ingredients like you all, the Celestial heroes, alone.]
Ru Amuh recounted the skeleton’s last words and gritted his teeth. In the end, he had failed to meet the skull’s expectations. He failed to get rid of the monsters wandering everywhere and had difficulty even fighting the monsters trying to invade the fortress. The way some of the heroes became mad was probably a warning from her. Yet, the situation didn’t become any better, and reaching the limit of her patience, the skeleton gathered those under her commands and ordered a full offensive to forcefully fulfill the offer she had made to Ru Amuh before—it was then that Chi-Woo arrived.
“I…wasn’t able to do anything,” Ru Amuh said while clutching both fists. “Nothing at all. Absolutely nothing.” His breathing and voice trembled.
“It’s not your fault, Mr. Ru Amuh,” Chi-Woo comforted him, but Ru Amuh was already caught in a whirl of emotions. Chi-Woo was able to empathize with him. Just like how he had raged at his inability inside the cave, Ru Amuh was angry at his own powerlessness.
“This isn’t the first time I felt this way, but… I can’t be like you, Teacher…. I couldn’t.” It took some time for Ru Amuh to quell his anger. He sighed deeply and said, “Teacher. Will we be able to…save Liber in the end?”
“We can’t…even get ourselves out of our current situation…” Ru Amuh spoke sorrowfully, his empty eyes meeting Chi-Woo’s.
* * *
After Ru Amuh left, Chi-Woo sat on the floor and didn’t move for a while. There was a lot in his mind, and in the end, he had failed to respond to Ru Amuh’s question. It was because even he didn’t think there was an answer. Of course, he could have simply told Ru Amuh, ‘Yes, we can do it. So let’s try harder.’ Yet he had remained silent.
Because they didn’t need false, empty hope built on plat.i.tudes. They needed a kind of hope that everyone could directly see and experience like the time they first arrived at the fortress.
‘There’s no paradise in the place we escaped to…’ Even though they’ve all been full of hopes and dreams when they first arrived at the fortress, their reality hadn’t changed one bit. The hope they had gained while arriving here had all been used up. It was now time to find a new fuel to rekindle a dying fire. Chi-Woo understood this, but recalling how Ru Amuh looked put a bitter smile on his face.
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Chi-Woo realized how long he had been absent after seeing Ru Amuh. He didn’t know how to exactly phrase it, but Ru Amuh had grown weaker. No matter how hopeless the situation was, Ru Amuh had never shown signs of giving up. Even though he didn’t know how exactly Ru Amuh was feeling on the inside, that was the impression Chi-Woo got from him.
The skeleton was about to nod, but tilted her skull again.
—I’m not here to make you my enemy. I’m here to talk to you.
—Then why don’t you move that away.
The skeleton was referring to his club.
“No, I can’t.”
“Because I’m scared.”
—Scared? Who? You? Of me?
The skeleton didn’t seem to understand Chi-Woo’s reaction.
“Isn’t it only natural?” Chi-Woo pointed his club at the skeleton and shook it. “Don’t you think it’s scary to meet not just a skeleton, but a skeleton hanging from a pole so late at night?”
—It didn’t seem like you were very scared of me…
The skeleton moved her skull in confusion.
But she soon reached a conclusion.
—You must be talking about feelings that occur physiologically. Like a phobia.
“…Well, let’s just leave it at that.”
—Yeah, that’s what it is. That’s right. Then…Hmm…Okay, fine. Give me a moment.
As soon as the skeleton said this, the ropes tying her to the pole were slowly released, and she dropped, but not directly to the wall. She accurately landed on her b.u.t.tocks on the square-shaped wall and maintained her posture without falling or collapsing. The skeleton looked as if she was now sitting on the wall.
—Et veni. Tenebrae et extendent desuper…
Her words couldn’t be translated by his device, and her indecipherable chant continued. Chi-Woo tightened his grip on the talisman just in case.
Swissssshhhhh…. His eyes narrowed as he saw the darkness come down from the sky. The night’s darkness surrounded the skeleton, and change happened slowly. Her round protruding talus was now covered with pale-pink flesh like a peach. Then the skin grew and soon covered the skeleton’s calves and thighs with a gentle line, reaching her pelvis and drawing a smooth curve. When the color of a living pa.s.sed her waist, it moved sharply in the opposite direction and drew a thin and soft line. By the time it reached her chest, it became a full mountain, and the thick hair that sprouted from her head s.h.i.+mmered like ebony, going past her waist and covering her b.u.t.t.
After a while, a deep light shone upon a face with gentle features. Like a bleeding flower blooming in the dark, the young woman slowly opened her eyes. Bright red eyes that were like gleaming rose quartz stared at Chi-Woo.
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