Jae Hwan’s surprise showed in his voice.
“You’ve met Myullock before?”
“Well… Strictly speaking I didn't ‘meet’ him…”
Chung Heo hesitated for a second and changed his words.
“I should say we travelled together.”
Chung Heo looked like he was recalling something, and didn't reply to Jae Hwan. From his expression, Jae Hwan could vaguely guess just how old the name ‘Myullock’ meant to him.
“Hu hu. I kind of miss those days.”
The 1000 years he lived could be by no means called idle. Memories of the past came to life and throbbed his hardened heart.
Chung Heo had been young, full of vigor and spirit. He had numerous comrades, and his curiosity for the world was infinite. He had hopes, which now, through the years, had become a subject of derision for him.
Jae Hwan did not interrupt him; he knew what Chung Heo saw. That was the least amount of deference he could observe towards the man who had lived for a millennium.
After an indefinite amount of time, Chung Heo spoke,
“Let's take a walk outside.”
Chung Heo remained silent as they walked down the plaza, inhaling the cool night air.
Jae Hwan waited patiently and regarded the food stalls that gave off an aromatic smell. All the food in the stalls were made from specially preserved meat of the Gaksus, and some of them were garnished with crops that looked like a banana or a corn. Maybe farming was being done in this land.
It was a strange thought. Because according to what Jae Hwan knew, eating was not necessary in Chaos. He had not eaten for three days when he first arrived, but had felt no hunger.
As he continued walking down the street, Jae Hwan noticed the vendors selling these food had gloomy faces. It didn't look like it was from simple weariness people who work at night often displaced. But rather the lack of something essential in their lives, Jae Hwan felt, that created such expression. Chung Heo spoke as if reading his mind.
“Don't you feel that something is off, looking at these people?”
“They don't look alive.”
It was as he said. The ‘scent of life’ was missing in them. Jae Hwan commented,
“Isn't it because they are already dead.”
Chung Heo frowned.
“Humans are not dead until they embrace their death.”
Jae Hwan was once again reminded that the ‘death’ he knew and the ‘death’ of this world were two different things.
As Chung Heo said, the people of <<Chaos>> were not dead. They still had their souls; they had what they called ‘life’. And also by what Mino said, these people have a chance of coming back alive - although the probability was small.
“It wasn't like this before.”
Gorgon Fortress was hardly as dreary when Chung Heo first arrived here few hundred years ago.
“<<Chaos>> was supposed to be a land of the blessed. It was where the tired souls of warriors from the Great Land came to take a sweet rest from their wars.”
The people of Chaos never ages. Neither do they have to eat. Here, they found their life again because they had a chance to gain complete freedom from their lives. Warriors put down their bows and blades, and bards sang of peace not war.
“Soul corruption rates were also incomparably lower.”
The weak joined together to hunt Gaksu, and shared the powdered horns between them. Alliances impossible in the Great lands were formed, and races worked together. Beings of all kind lived satiated in this land.
That is, until ‘that’ happened.
Chung Heo stopped in his tracks. He made his way to a stall nearby and sat down. Jae Hwan sat beside him after a bit of hesitation. Chung Heo said as he was making his orders,
“Kwaa, it must be sad, your shop going to ruins.”
Jae Hwan was wondering who he was talking to, but a voice answered him in tandem with the sharp sound of knife hitting a cutting board.
“Mind your own business old man.”
Coincidently, the owner of the stall was the woman called Claire who was with Mino before. Now that he looked around, this was the street where the commotion from this morning happened.
Chung Heo chuckled.
“You're going with a street stall for a while?”
“I didn't mean to. But it happened. Thanks to someone destroying my shop.”
“Opening a stall after what happened this morning. What a money-crazed women.”
“It happens often when i'm with that wench Mino.”
“Keke. That's true.”
“Shut up and drink old man.”
Claire glanced briefly at Jae Hwan before preparing the food. Soon a gaksu skewer and gaksu horn beer was served to Chung Heo.
“Khaaa. That hit the spot.”
After chugging the whole bottle and letting out a giant blech, Chung Heo spoke,
“Where were we?”
“Chaos was once peaceful.”
He let out a bitter smile.
“It was very peaceful. Back then.”
It didn't make sense.
If it had been a peaceful place, a land where comfort was found, why did <<Chaos>> turn out like this?
“Well, basically the culprit is this guy.”
Chung Heo waved his empty glass. He blew across the mouth of the bottle to create a mellow sound, and started eating the skewer.
“.....What do you mean?”
From the way Chung Heo kept drinking the beer, Jae Hwan made an assumption that the cause had something to do with alcohol. He could hear the bickering and arguing of drunken men nearby. Alcohol… Jae Hwan asked.
“Did everyone fight each other after getting drunk?”
Chung Heo roared in laughter.
“KAHAHA!! We wish that was what happened!”
Claire shouted out profanities at him, calling him a filthy old man.
“So young and ignorant.”
Chung Heo continued as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
“Well, you've only been thrusting for 30 years. What would you know about life?”
“Don't you think it's weird? There's no need for something like food in this place.”
Yes. As Jae Hwan thought, there was no need to eat in Chaos; one can never starve. But despite that, the people persists in eating when it's time to eat. As if that was something obvious.
“And there are these alcohols. You can never get drunk anyways. It just tastes disgusting.”
Jae Hwan tried a sip of the gaksu beer at Chung Heo’s words. Alcoholic smell pierced his nose, but he did not feel that he was getting inebriated. The beer only smelt like alcohol, and had no more similarities. Jae Hwan suddenly asked.
“Then what about those people?”
His gaze landed on a group of drunken men who were fighting across the street.
“What do you think they are?”
“Drunkards? Even though they can't get drunk?”
At that moment, Jae Hwan’s inside felt cold. He observed the group once again, more carefully. They had red faces, ejected steam from their noses, and were wildly excited. However…. Something important was missing from that scene.
The eyes of those ‘drunkards’ were too clear, too alert, and perfectly conscious. They were not the eyes of someone drunk. They were merely acting like someone drunk.
Looking at Chung Heo, who was drinking silently the beer that would never make him inebriated, and looking at the people who continued their scuffle without being drunk, Jae Hwan vaguely understood the answer.
Deathless, warless, peaceful world.
Who had it first been? The one who sincerely yearned for a life with ‘death’?
“They are trying to imitate ‘life’....”
Life. An ephemeral thing followed by death.
It was strange. To covet death after just escaping it. Jae Hwan could almost understand their feelings.
Probably, they yearned to live a ‘real life’ once again. A life where you have a body, can feel the beating heart, able to get drunk, and die when starved. They wanted to be immersed in that life once again.
Chung Heo chuckled,
“Yes, correct. Real life. That was the culprit. Suddenly one day, there were people who desired for the ‘real’.
He ordered another bottle and continued.
“Of course, in reality, people who desired for the real existed since thousands of years back. It was just that they were small in number.”
“....Did those people suddenly increase?”
“They accumulated. Over time.”
Until ‘that time’, people who lived too long either one day silently walked outside the fortress and disappeared forever, or went on a journey they would never return, towards the <<Abyss>> located at the center of Chaos.
However one day people who took a different approach appeared.
Those who were disgusted by the immortality they gained, those who wanted a real life, met together and planned an expedition.
“That was how the Abyss expedition team formed. A crusade to find life. The campaign of those who dream the impossible.”
Chung Heo’s eyes darkened, and Jae Hwan realized: that this old man was in that expedition. He asked,
“It was to find the [fruit].”
“[fruit of resurrection]. Its commonly called just the fruit.”
Finally, Jae Hwan understood what the [fruit] he had been heard constantly through [doubt] was. As Mino had said, there was one way the dead can return to living: by eating the fruit of resurrection hanging at the edge of Abyss, on the branch of the illusion tree. And the Abyss expedition team’s goal was to find it.
“I was young back then. Only 120 years old. I was an awakened. I feared nothing.”
“That was why you joined the Abyss expedition team?”
Jae Hwan tried to imagine a 120 years old Chung Heo. it wasn't easy, but his outer appearance was doubtlessly the same as now. Now that he thought about it, the image of Chung Heo’s younger self was somewhat unclear. This old man seems to have been and old man even when he was young. Jae Hwan suddenly recalled something and said,
“When you said you travelled with Myullock before…”
Chung Heo nodded.
“The ‘Nightmare’ Myullock was in the same expedition team. Or more accurately he was the leader of the team.”
Chung Heo still remembered when he had first joined the team and met Myullock.
-An awakened, how queer.
That was what Myullock had said when he first met Chung Heo.
-And moreover an incomplete awakened that still retains his emotions…. You seemed to have walked a unique road. It must have been hard.
Chung Heo was annoyed. The nightmare had hit where it hurts the most.
All awakened must throw away their humanity, or specifically, the acknowledgment of their humanity. It was the price one had to pay to see the real world.
However Chung Heo had not abandoned his humanity, and thus had fallen behind, resulting in his death.
-I apologize. It was an uncomfortable subject for you, I see.
Uncomfortable? The subject was not the only uncomfortable thing to Chung Heo. He couldn't hide the disgust he felt as soon as he had seem Myullock. As Chung Heo had also been a [product] before, and although he had lived for decades in the Great Lands, he still loathed anything to do with Nightmare towers.
The proof of it lay in his path as he traversed through the Great Lands. The corpses of tortured Demons he met laid abandoned. But Chung Heo had not had a chance to kill a Nightmare yet.
-Why is the likes of you trying to reach Abyss?
And as far as Chung Heo knew, the nightmare in front of him was not even dead.
Myullock had entered Chaos as a living being, using the Nightmares’ treasure, [Narrow Door].
-I see you are maddened over matters regarding [production].
For a moment Mullock thought of something, and said,
-Then unfortunately I have no fitting offering of remorse. It wouldn't be enough for me to apologize on behalf of all Nightmares, after all.
-I believe that that is a weight I must bear in repentance all my life.
At first Chung Heo thought he was mocking him. A nightmare regretting making a tower? There was no such thing.
-I must imagine you would not believe me, but the reason I came to this <<Illusion tree>>, the reason I am about to enter Abyss, is because of that very ‘tower’.
And the next words Myullock said imprinted itself into Chung Heo’s memory, to this day.
-To end all [production]. That is the reason I have joined this expedition.