Chapter 82: Finally a Tutorial (24)
After they pa.s.sed the entrance, Chi-Woo and Hawa arrived at a long pa.s.sageway that looked like a tunnel. It wasn’t dark inside because there were stalact.i.tes protruding from the ceilings illuminating the s.p.a.ce. Chi-Woo walked for a while until he abruptly smelled a faint smoke.
‘What is that?’ It appeared to be steam or a haze. Like white fog people breathed out on a winter day, the steam-like substance poured out from ahead of them. And Chi-Woo began to see more patches of green mosses and gra.s.ses in his surroundings; the farther he went, the more noticeable they became. Furthermore, he felt cool and refreshed just like he would while walking in a forest at early sunrise. When they finally reached the end of the pa.s.sageway, Chi-Woo and Hawa stopped. It was a dead end, and they couldn’t see any other paths. Yet they weren’t concerned about that in the slightest, too mesmerized by the fantastical sight before them.
They saw a vast pasture that blanketed every inch of this s.p.a.ce. Although they were inside a cave, the soft gra.s.s swayed from a breeze, and they found themselves in a forest made up of large trees. There was a small spring pool that usually would only be found deep inside a mountain, streaming water down in all directions. They had just crossed one pa.s.sageway, but the scenery had gone through a 180-degree change. It was astonis.h.i.+ng and truly unbelievable that a pasture of this size could exist inside a cave. On top of that, there was white smoke flowing across the area like clouds, which made the place look even more mystical. It truly looked like a G.o.d’s residence.
Splas.h.!.+ A fish jumped out of the pond like it was welcoming Chi-Woo. Huff, huff. Chi-Woo heard someone breathing roughly. It was Hawa, who was staring ahead with eager eyes. She ran to where the spring pool was. Chi-Woo followed her, and as expected, he couldn’t see the water. However, he could clearly hear water running and saw fishes swimming inside; and above all, there was an unmoving marble at the center of the pool that was especially noticeable. Floating on top of the water, the gleaming marble was the size of a fist and looked like a white pearl. Chi-Woo and Hawa simultaneously reached out to the marble. The edges of their fingers were about to touch it, but they ended up meeting each other’s hands first, and Hawa quickly withdrew her hand.
“I don’t think we should touch it.” Hawa shook her head. “I feel a strong sense of resistance like we shouldn’t touch it thoughtlessly…”
“A resistance?” Chi-Woo was confused. He hadn’t felt the slightest of resistance, and instead felt something pull him closer. Drawn by the force, Chi-Woo gently wrapped his hand around the pearl and gingerly took it out of the water. Hawa looked slightly surprised, but nothing else happened. Chi-Woo brought the pearl to his face and carefully observed it.
‘It’s a G.o.dly item.’ He concluded. It felt similar to the club he so treasured. How should he describe it? It was as if an unfathomable amount of beliefs had been transformed into divinity and compressed into an item. He also had a sense that he shouldn’t use the item for the wrong reasons. The resistance that Hawa felt from it was probably something like that.
“Are you all right?” Hawa asked doubtfully.
Chi-Woo shrugged and placed the pearl back into the spring pool again. For some reason, he got the feeling that he had to place it back for now. All the experiences he had gained so far told him that he should act upon his feelings and intuitions in situations such as these. Then, Chi-Woo looked around and finally saw a tall statue standing at the center of this s.p.a.cious grove. Mesmerized, the pair walked towards the statue.
The statue was bigger than they expected it to be, only a little shorter than Chi-Woo. ‘Huh?’ But for some reason, he had a weird sense of déjà vu. The statue was wearing something resembling a robe with her face almost entirely covered by the hood. Soft, luscious curls flowed down her shoulder. And then there was the balance scale that she was holding in her left hand. They all gave him a sense of familiarity.
‘In my dream…’ Chi-Woo clutched his head and scrunched up his forehead. He couldn’t remember the dream well. He only recalled a soft and warm sensation tugging his clothes and waiting for him to follow so that he wouldn’t go to the other side.
“The balance scale…” Hawa said and took a deep breath. “Maybe, just maybe…but it can’t be, can it…?”
For some reason, Hawa had appeared extremely excited ever since they found the translucent water.
“The forgotten G.o.d…” After staring at the statue with her mouth hanging open, Hawa looked around her while licking her lips. “The lost paradise… Can it be…”
“What is it?” Chi-Woo asked, and Hawa looked back at him.
“La Bella,” she said before quickly going into a more detailed explanation. “A G.o.d who appeared in mythical times. In modern times, she is a forgotten G.o.ddess who is mentioned only briefly in the records…” Hawa trailed off and frowned. It seemed she had read about the G.o.d before, but didn’t remember the content clearly.
[La Bella. She is the G.o.ddess of scales and is known to be the guardian of balance.]
Chi-Woo suddenly heard Mimi’s voice.
“The G.o.ddess of scales? A guardian of balance?” Chi-Woo repeated Mimi’s words exactly.
“Ah, that’s right.” Hawa looked up at Chi-Woo in surprise.
Chi-Woo was about to tell Hawa the rest of what Mimi was telling him before suddenly shutting his mouth. Then he opened his eyes and tilted his chin while straightening his posture, looking down at Hawa as he continued in a hollow voice.
“La Bella isn’t…a forgotten G.o.d…” Chi-Woo said, seemingly with difficulty. “But a G.o.d that was forced to be forgotten…”
“As the one who oversaw balance…and kept watch as a neutral party…La Bellla ignited anger…”
“What? Why are you suddenly acting like this?”
“In those days…there were those who didn’t want balance…without a care for good or evil… They tried to erase La Bella out of people’s minds forcefully…” Chi-Woo continued as if he was possessed. Although she had looked at him with suspicions and confusion at first, Hawa’s eyes widened as she heard more. The history Chi-Woo spoke of now was that a hero from another world would have no way of knowing. Even Hawa, who was well versed in mythical legends, had read only a couple of lines about La Bella. How could Chi-Woo talk as if he knew everything? Perhaps…?
“How wonderful.” Chi-Woo looked down at Hawa and curled the corners of his mouth slightly upwards. “That there’s a child who still remembers me…”
Hawa’s jaw dropped slowly. She clearly couldn’t believe this was happening.
It was then a short snicker escaped Chi-Woo’s mouth, and he bowed his head low. It wasn’t long before Chi-Woo’s head and shoulders began to shake, and he burst into laughter he could no longer keep down. Hawa looked up at Chi-Woo blankly as he continued to chortle.
“What…” Like she couldn’t understand what was going on, her mouth opened and closed.
“Ah.” Chi-Woo barely managed to stop laughing and meet her gaze. “I was lying.” He smiled and added quite unnecessarily, “You’re quite easy to trick, Ms. Hawa.”
Confusion gave way to stern disapproval. Hawa stalked up to him while grinding her teeth together and kicked Chi-Woo in his s.h.i.+n as he continued to snicker, hard enough to make an audible thud.
“Ack!” Chi-Woo screamed and clutched his s.h.i.+n while jumping up and down.
Was it a trick of light, or did the G.o.ddess’ statue just sigh while looking at them?
* * *
After that short skit, Chi-Woo and Hawa began wandering around the area. And the conclusion they made was that they wouldn’t have any difficulty surviving for at least a short while. First, they had an abundant source of water, and it was not ordinary water, but holy water. There were even things to eat. The stream alone contained a great number of fish, clams, and seaweed. There were many mushrooms growing in the forest, and the trees bore a great deal of fruit.
Of course, they had no intentions to live here. The problem wasn’t how long they would stay here, but how they were going to leave. Even if they found a way out, there were terrifying and mysterious monsters wandering around.
“The Lost Paradise is the last refuge created by followers of La Bella.” Hawa seemed to have finally recalled some information., “Honestly, it would be more appropriate to call it a hideout rather than a refuge; they had been persecuted and chased out.”
“Why were they chased out?”
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Hawa still seemed annoyed at Chi-Woo for tricking her, but after shooting him a glare, she continued, “I don’t know too well either since there aren’t detailed records of La Bella and her followers left. However, based on my speculations, since La Bella is the guardian of balance…her followers might have been attacked by opposing forces.” In simpler terms, since they were always neutral and didn’t take sides, there were more people who didn’t look favorably at them. “Since La Bella held immense power at one point, many people must have felt threatened by her followers.”
[G.o.ds in the True Neutral alignment don’t differentiate between good and evil. The only thing that interests them is the balance between good and evil.]
[If the forces of good get too strong, they crush them, and if the forces of evil get too strong, they destroy them. That’s how they maintain the balance between good and evil.]
Chi-Woo let out a small gasp. He finally understood what she meant. The forces of good and evil must have been fighting fiercely since ancient times, and Liber was probably no exception. There were no wars without end. There must have been times when one side had the overwhelming upper hand—maybe even enough to completely obliterate the other side. However, both of these forces had not gone extinct. The two forces had fought an incredibly long and inconclusive war.
That was all because of the G.o.ds in the True Neutral alignment. When the forces of good were in danger of losing, the True Neutral G.o.ds fought against evil. Likewise, when the forces of evil were in danger of losing, they sided with the G.o.ds in the evil alignment and fought against the good. Following the logic, it was understandable why the forces of good and evil would join hands to take G.o.ds of the neutral alignment out of the picture. It would be no exaggeration to say the forces of good and evil had gotten sick of the endless war and decided to first defeat those true neutral b.a.s.t.a.r.ds.
‘Then, is it possible that Liber has ended up like this right because the G.o.ds in the True Neutral alignment were excluded?’
[There are other factors to consider, but fundamentally, it’s not exactly wrong.]
Mimi agreed to Chi-Woo’s speculation and sighed. True Neutral was a very dangerous disposition. Although it was powerful enough to control the forces of good and evil, its values and standards were volatile and hard to predict.
‘If I get chosen by the G.o.ddess of scales…could I become stronger?’
[You’re definitely bound to get stronger.]
Mimi spoke as if she was completely certain.
[To achieve balance, there needs to be enough power to control both sides.]
[In particular, True Neutral is an alignment that seeks balance through ‘force’.]
[Moreover, this place was built to raise La Bella’s apostles.]
Chi-Woo’s eyes widened; this was different from Hawa’s explanation.
[This is not simply a refuge or a hideout.]
[This was where those who lost their homes to the forces of good and evil came to regain and rebuild their utopia.]
Is that why this place was called the lost paradise? Chi-Woo nodded and fell into deep thought. Reading his mind, Mimi couldn’t help getting conflicted. She wanted to stop him, but she couldn’t. Considering the circ.u.mstances here and on Liber at large, there was actually no better choice than La Bella. Liber was currently 99.99% controlled by evil, and the G.o.ds in the good alignment were almost completely wiped out. If a G.o.d from the true neutral alignment joined them as their allies, they would become a reliable ally for the forces of good—at least until their 0.01% fighting chance reached 50%.
Even though what would come afterward was a concern, it would be miraculous to raise the percentage to that level in Liber’s current climate. Considering all those factors, Mimi couldn’t make a good case against the idea. She had to leave it up to Chi-Woo’s decision.
Hawa asked, “What are you going to do?”
Chi-Woo looked around and stared at the stone statue. He had met a new G.o.d that couldn’t be met under ordinary circ.u.mstances, and he was in a place that raised and trained the apostles of La Bella to become stronger. With all that in mind, Chi-Woo had a hunch—perhaps, here in this lost paradise, a tutorial for Chi-Woo alone had just begun.
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