Chapter 32: Female President (8)
After the unsettling commotion, Chi-Woo and the rest of the group soon left the main base camp. It was a nerve-wracking ordeal to investigate an unknown area, and a strange atmosphere had been haunting the group since the earlier incident. Hawa had a despondent, frail look on her face as she guided the group, and Ru Hiana relentlessly tried to comfort her. Ru Amuh occupied himself by surveying his surroundings on high alert, while Chi-Woo was lost in thought.
Giant Fist appeared to be a completely different person. Chi-Woo knew that he had a reckless side to him, but Chi-Woo never thought that Giant Fist was a bad person. Since Chi-Woo reunited with him, however, Giant Fist had been engaging in one incomprehensible action after another. Of course, Chi-Woo might have simply misjudged his character, but…
‘Shahnaz Hawa…’ Chi-Woo looked at the back of the girl scrambling in front of him. There was something suspicious about this silver-haired girl. Besides, why didn’t Shakira tell Eshnunna that Chi-Woo had freed Hawa from a vengeful spirit?
‘Why did she try to hide it?’ Was it because the camp’s situation was so dire that they wanted to monopolize Chi-Woo’s ability? No. That couldn’t be. One of the main reasons why the camps existed was to gather the hero recruits. There must be some other reason why they decided to hide such valuable information in this manner.
‘But that’s not all.’ When Shakira brought Hawa, she had simply asked Eshnunna to take care of her and handed her over. ‘Why did she want Hawa to go?’ Now that he thought about it, there were too many things that were strange. Questions led to more questions, and Chi-Woo couldn’t take his eyes off Hawa’s back.
Sometime later, Hawa stopped. “From here on, we’ll be entering an area that even I have never set foot in.” She turned around and asked, “What are you guys going to do?”
Ru Hiana tilted her head, and Ru Amuh glanced sideways at Chi-Woo. Having waited for a chance this whole time, Chi-Woo stepped forward and turned to his companions. “What about separating into two groups for a short time? We each have a flower, and I think it will be more effective to travel in pairs than a group of four. Besides, there are still recruits we haven’t found yet.”
“But isn’t it still better to travel all together?”
“It’s not like the effect of the flower is stronger because we are gathered together. Also, I am not saying that we should completely part ways, but rather separate far enough to look around the area. I think it’s best to explore as many places as we can before the flowers wilt. We should be close enough that we can hear each other’s screams if something happens.” Chi-Woo responded politely to Ru Hiana’s argument.
“Ah, well, I’m sure Senior can handle…”
“We will do as you say,” Ru Amuh quickly answered when it seemed that Ru Hiana was coming around.
“Okay. Once there is only one petal…” Chi-Woo began, but when he saw Hawa slightly shake her head, he corrected himself and said, “No, considering the time it took for us to come here, we should leave one more petal intact.” Hawa didn’t show any response this time.
“Why don’t we meet at this spot again after two petals wilt?”
“Yes. I’ll pair up with Ru Hiana, and…” Ru Amuh trailed off, unwilling to say Chi-Woo’s full fake name. “Okay, then.” He bowed and quickly got moving while taking Ru Hiana with him, leaving Chi-Woo alone with Shahnaz Hawa as he had intended.
“Is there a place around here that we can look around?” Chi-Woo asked. Understanding the meaning behind his question, Hawa nodded and moved. She silently walked for longer than Chi-Woo expected her to, which made his heart grow heavy. He suddenly began to wonder if she was leading him into a trap, and if she had received a secret order from her camp to lure him somewhere unsafe.
“I just realized that there’s something I forgot to tell you,” Chi-Woo spoke up. He needed to do something. “I wanted to apologize to you.”
Hawa stopped. She turned around half-way and asked, “Why are you apologizing?”
They commenced walking again, and Chi-Woo said weakly, “She was your older sister.”
“The vengeful spirit who possessed you. Ah, should I say that broken and eaten one?” Chi-Woo continued, “I wanted to send her away peacefully, but she wouldn’t listen to me.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Surprisingly, Hawa answered instantly. “My sister had hated me since I was young. She hated me so much that she wanted to kill me before she died and even after she was cursed.”
“In the first place, there’s no one around me who likes me. Things like family don’t have much meaning to me.”
“I don’t think that’s the case.”
Hawa was about to say that there was no need for Chi-Woo to concern himself about such matters when she heard this response. She stopped walking again and turned her head slightly, s.h.i.+fting her eyes to the side to stare at Chi-Woo.
“I should have told you sooner, but…you were in a dangerous state,” Chi-Woo said. “You were so weakened that it could have been a hopeless cause. If it wasn’t for your guardian spirit, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
“Guardian spirit? Who…?”
“I don’t know, either.” Chi-Woo shrugged. “It could be your ancestor, family, people around you, or even an animal. But I can say for sure that there’s someone who treasures you, Ms. Hawa.”
“If they didn’t care for you, they wouldn’t have tried so hard to fight for you. Thanks to them, you were able to endure until the end, and I was able to clutch onto the opportunity.”
Hawa turned to Chi-Woo. She no longer looked like the fearful girl, scared after getting hit by Giant Fist; her face looked as emotionless as they had looked when Chi-Woo first saw her, and he couldn’t tell what she was thinking behind her deep eyes.
“…Then.” In the awkward silence, Hawa opened her mouth. “Mr. Chichibbong, I guess that also means you defeated two broken and eaten ones—even when one of them was a mad one, who had mutated.” She was changing the topic of conversation now. Chi-Woo felt grat.i.tude and respect to Hawa for not smiling even slightly as she said his name.
“Those who became insane from the curse sometimes mutate, but there are some who mutate due to other factors. One such example is something you’re already aware of: Where a broken being attaches themself onto a cursed one and uses them as a host.”
Chi-Woo was slightly surprised. Truthfully, he’d only used terms like vengeful spirits and jukgwis for semantic purposes. However, Hawa was talking about these beings on her own terms and telling him new information.
“But even if we exclude my sister from the equation, it’s clear that you didn’t defeat the broken beings by coincidence.”
“What are you trying to say?” Chi-Woo was now sure that Hawa knew something he didn’t.
“You told me, ‘stop for signal and alone’,” Chi-Woo confronted Hawa and crossed his arms. When Chi-Woo helped Hawa get up, she had secretly whispered these words to him. Chi-Woo had interpreted them to mean that Hawa would give him a signal later, and he should create an opportunity for the two of them to be alone. That was why Chi-Woo suggested for them to separate into two groups.
“I don’t think I’ve misheard you,” Chi-Woo said and pushed her to speak.
“Thank you for believing me. I’ve requested a separate meeting because I have something to tell and show you privately,” Hawa responded calmly.
‘Something she wants to tell me privately? But other than that…what is the thing she wants to show me?’
Hawa cleared her throat and said, “First, I hope you don’t blame him too much.”
“I’m talking about Sir Gripping Giant Fist and Rising.”
Chi-Woo’s expression darkened. “Why? Ms. Hawa, you were definitely—”
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“It’s what I requested him to do.”
“I can’t do it here. We have to go a little further.” Hawa was firm in her reply. “Even though it’s a bit far from the main camp, it’s a short distance from here.”
Chi-Woo looked troubled. “Would we be able to make it on time?”
“We’ll be able to make it before two of the flower petals fall. It’s close.”
“Ah.” That’s why she had purposely led them here. She had lied about not knowing her way around. “…Let’s go.” Chi-Woo made a decision after a short contemplation.
Hawa immediately turned around and hurried her steps. As she said, the destination was not far from where they had conversed. When they arrived, Hawa asked him to wait a bit, and after going into a place full of dense, overgrown bush that grew like vines, she crouched down and dug into the ground. Chi-Woo was startled by what Hawa soon presented to him with both hands.
It was a hand that had its fingers and wrist cut off.
“That’s…!” Chi-Woo scrunched his face and covered his nose and mouth at the putrid smell of rotten flesh.
Hawa quietly said, “It’s the hand of a hero from the fifth recruits.”
“The fifth recruits?”
“This hero was the only sorcerer among the recruits and had spiritual abilities.”
Chi-Woo recalled hearing something about a hero who was the first to see a broken one. “But I heard that they suddenly disappeared one day?”
“After seeing a broken one, their mind became strange. However, on the day before they went missing, they regained their sanity and called me out separately. The sorcerer then cut their own hand off, and while giving it to me, they said,” Hawa looked straight at Chi-Woo and continued, “That they had already been bewitched. They had tried to resist as hard as they could, but they couldn’t do anything but just watch. However, the sorcerer told me to pa.s.s this hand to a hero who can see the broken ones and defeat them.”
Chi-Woo frowned deeper. “I understand what you’re saying, but they told you that while giving you their hand?”
Hawa tilted her head towards him. “Yes, they definitely told me that…ah.” It seemed as if she had forgotten something. “Now that I think about it, they said that they had fully opened access to the information…”
‘Open access to the information?’ At Hawa’s words, Chi-Woo recalled what he had learned from Mua Janya.
[I don’t know that much yet, but I’ll give you all the information we’ve collected so far. Anyway, I will always keep it open, so you can download it whenever you want.]
[Yes, but of course, it only works if we’re close together, and I need to set it up separately.]
‘The device.’ The sorcerer’s hand might still have the device from the Celestial Realm implanted. Chi-Woo immediately tapped his left hand, but realized that he was in a location outside the shrine’s influence. In order to get information from the hand, he needed to go back to the main camp.
‘What?’ While he was pondering how to hide the rotten hand once he returned to the main camp, the hologram turned on without much trouble. With doubt and hope warring in his head, Chi-Woo tried using the hologram, and it worked properly. ‘Is it because of the divinity I possess? Shouldn’t the hologram’s function be limited by location?’
Before Chi-Woo could find the answer to his question, a message popped up in front of him.
[Accessible doc.u.ment found.]
[Will you download the released doc.u.ment?]
Chi-Woo clicked ‘yes’ without hesitation.
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