I stare at the wooden fence, which closed with a loud bang.
Next, I look at Myong Myong, who had his head down for some reason.
After that, as the last thing, I looked at the portal that appeared below me.
Is this saying that I should get on the portal or not?
Even after I cleared the 18th Floor, there were things happening such as suspicious people visiting the island.
However, I think this is a little different from that.
What is happening now didn’t happen until well after the stage was cleared like how it happened at the 18th Floor. Unlike the 18th Floor, this new development is happening as result of me bringing Myong Myong to the village as directed by the instructions. Also, is happening immediately afterwards.
I have not seen any stages in Hell Difficulty so far with such a progression.
I have not heard about stages like this in other difficulties either.
We successfully got out of the forest and brought Myong Myong to the village. Myong Myong safely arrived at the village.
Also, the clear message and portal appeared.
The story ends here.
That’s how it should be.
However, in front of Myong Myong’s eyes, the village’s gate is firmly shut. Myong Myong’s mouth is firmly closed with his head drooped.
Even though the stage was cleared, I cannot leave. My heart is not at ease.
From beyond the closed wooden fence, there is no response.
There is no voice refusing our entry or telling us to go away.
The fence is shut. That is all.
I tried to take a knee to level my eyes at Myong Myong’s.
However, Myong Myong’s face is directed at the ground. I cannot see it at all.
I bring my hand at his cheek so I could lift his head. However, Myong Myong suddenly turned around and started to run.
He is scurrying away to the forest. I quietly watched Myong Myong’s back from a distance.
I cannot chase after him right away.
I briefly saw his face. His face was covered in tears.
I got up and looked at the village’s fence for a moment.
I could see that there is a face above the fence.
Red fox ears.
It is a face of a woman in her 20s.
Could she have closed and locked the fence?
I wanted to voice my complaint, asking what the hell is this for. However, I decided to chase after Myong Myong first.
Chasing after Myong Myong, I enter the forest again.
As I expected, Myong Myong is hiding behind a large tree, crunching down.
Myong Myong didn’t answer.
He only cried quietly.
I want to have him stand up somehow and talk with him. However, it seems that he was not able to hear me properly.
He cried and muttered something.
I could not understand it.
The articulation of his words was not clear enough. So, the knowledge before the time of Babel was not able to translate it.
However, I have heard Myong Myong muttering words like these before a few times.
Based on my memories from those instances, Myong Myong must be mumbling about one of the two.
I am sorry, or I am scared.
It is one of the two.
Regardless of which, I don’t like either of them.
I took a moment to brush Myong Myong’s back. He is still unable to calm down. I left him be and got up.
[Soul collect count: 211659]
I summoned all of over two hundred thousand souls.
The area was filled with finger-sized souls of ghosts.
“Protect Myong Myong.”
As I saw once last time, the souls tightly surrounded Myong Myong.
With so many, I am sure they will buy me time until I return.
I turned around and walked.
I brought out two Transmutable Thousand Arms from the inventory.
I form one into a long sword and the other into a sheath.
I place the long sword inside the sheath and wear it on my waist.
I had promised before.
If anything happened to Myong Myong while I went through this stage, then I’ll definitely resolve it.
I will keep my promise.
It is a promise that I must keep.
I left the forest and headed back to Myong Myong’s home village again.
The wooden fence, which was firmly shut earlier, is open wide again.
Seeing it turned my insides upside down.
I take a deep breath.
I do not know what’s going on yet.
So, I am trying hard to be calm, but I cannot help the anger surging up inside.
The fence which closed in front of Myong Myong, and all the traces of abuse that were left on Myong Myong’s body…
There must be a connection between the two.
If the perpetrator is inside this village….
As I approached the village’s entrance, I could see the fox-like human walking toward me.
It is the female beastman who I saw earlier. She was on top of the fence back then.
If she shows even a little bit of hostility toward me, or if she didn’t have eyes full of tears, I may not be able to suppress my anger anymore. I might draw my sword.
Otherwise, I might just charge at her.
My head is full of blood, and it is not rolling properly. However, seeing the sadness in her face calmed my head a little.
Again, I slowly breathe out.
Perhaps because of my heated inside, I feel like even my breath is warm.
“Are you the one who brought Myong Myong?”
After that, I decided.
I decided to make the move after having a clear understanding of what is happening.
I cannot resolve issues while being so heated up in my head.
Also, this is not my problem. It concerns Myong Myong.
Even if I have something to be angry about, I should put it aside for now.
“Are you also the one who defeated the giant ghost that appeared in the forest?”
I nodded again.
“I see… Myong Myong… Where is he?”
“He is crying inside the forest.”
The ears of the female beastman are fully drooped.
It does not look like she harbors ill feeling towards Myong Myong?
“… I understand. I think the conversation will take long. Would you like to come in for a moment?”
Seeing that she is attempting to have me enter the village, it looks like they locked the fence because of Myong Myong. I’m sure of it now.
I want to understand this situation quickly, so I agreed to enter as she suggested.
After that, she led the way, and I followed her into the village.
The village is neatly organized as I saw from the outside the fence.
However, I barely feel any presence of others.
I tried spreading the mana.
I could feel a few, but in comparison to the size of the village, there are just too few of them.
Could it be that they all went to other places?
As I walked through the village, I saw a gentle mound in the distance.
It is not visible from the forest’s direction.
I feel a powerful presence there.
It is an excessively huge concentration of mana.
* * *
As I tried to sit at the reception area, and a few beastmen approached me.
I instinctively became alert and wary of them.
They pulled a chair behind me and placed a cushion on it. They also prepared fruits and tea for me before going away.
Without making any sound, as if they were sliding away, they left the room. Watching them creeped me out a little.
Of the beastmen who just left the room, I am sure not one of them has stealth skill level that is lower than mine.
To see that such skilled practitioners practicing common labors such as pulling chairs and setting up tables while wearing maid uniforms…
They really are gentle house spirits.
“Let’s start the conversation.”
Anyway, that’s that, and I should ask what I want to ask.
I say to the female beastman who is sitting in front of me.
I could properly observe her appearance only after sitting at the reception room.
Unlike round, puppy-like cute face that Myong Myong had, the woman is an archetypically beautiful fox woman.
“My name is Lalalila. I’m in charge of managing the village. First, I would like to express my gratitude for protecting Myong Myong. By any chance, do you know about our tribe?”
“I didn’t know anything before meeting Myong Myong. I have not heard much from Myong Myong either.”
I told her that I did hear a brief summary from Myong Myong about the special characteristics of the tribe.
“I see… I don’t know where to start…”
It seems Lalalila is not the kind who is confident with explaining things.
“Start with explaining why you locked the fence.”
I think it would be better to ask each issue individually and resolve my curiosities one after the other.
“If Myong Myong entered the village, then the ghosts will start to attack the villagers. It cannot be helped.”
“Aren’t the ghosts supposed to appear in the forest?”
“Ah… So you didn’t know about that either. The ghosts appear around Myong Myong. To be precise, they chase after others who come close to Myong Myong.”
The ghosts do not appear naturally at the forest? Instead, they appear around Myong Myong?
Let’s go over my memories of what has happened so far.
When the message explained the stage, it said the forest was rumored to spawn ghosts.
The ghosts definitely came to find me and Myong Myong.
It didn’t look like they just wandered around the forest and found me by coincidence.
Even when we left the area, they actively pursued us.
Myong Myong was not afraid of white ghosts.
He said he was used to them because he had seen them many times.
The ones Myong Myong was afraid of were the dark ghosts, and they made their first appearances only after I destroyed the white ghosts for a few days.
Considering what has happened, what Lalalila explained made pretty good sense.
“So, why are there ghosts appearing around Myong Myong?”
“It is a curse.”
“Yes. We do not know the details either, but it seems that Myong Myong was subjected to extreme torture by someone while he was working in a foreign land.”
I thought about the scars on Myong Myong’s body.
However, what does that have to do with the curse?
“The curse is probably directed at the one who inflicted them on Myong Myong.”
“Can you explain it a bit more detail? I do not understand it at all.”
“Our tribe members usually work in foreign lands. You know about this much, right?”
I nodded to affirm her assumption.
“When we first started working in outside places, we were subjected to a lot of harassment by other races.”
I have been thinking that all along.
They liked helping others, and they took on life-long professions on such tasks.
I don’t think all employers who hired and used them would be kind to them.
Usually, people were cruel to others under them. Also, they were crueler when the others who worked under them were gentle-spirited.
“So, we asked for help from our Great Mother.”
“Yes, to our guardian goddess.”
It seemed Lalalila thought I obviously knew who this goddess was. Lalalila didn’t add more to her explanation about the goddess.
I also have a guess when it came to who the Great Mother would be.
The gentle mound that I saw while walking through the village…
The huge existence who is asleep under it must be the Great Mother.
“The Great Mother cursed the ones who hurt our tribe members. The curse consisted of having ghosts coming to visit the ones responsible for hurting our tribe members.”
“In that case, the one who hurt Myong Myong is…”
“Yes, that one was probably killed by the ghosts.”
Although the white ghosts’ combat abilities are low, from an ordinary person’s perspective, they are definitely existences to be feared.
They appear out of nowhere. Only few would manage to hold back a nervous breakdown and remain calm.
Also, even if one overcame the white ghosts, after that, the dark ghosts who can deal physical attacks will come.
Since their numbers increase continuously, I saw no possibility that the bastard who hurt Myong Myong would still be alive.
It felt great inside, but I was also disappointed.
If given the chance, I wanted to beat the shit out of that bastard and kill that piece of scum myself.
I could relax a little now.
It is not like the one who hurt Myong Myong was in this place. Also, it is not like Myong Myong is being rejected by the village.
All of this was going to be handled once the curse was resolved.
“In that case, why are there ghosts appearing around Myong Myong still when the one responsible for hurting Myong Myong is dead?”
“The Great Mother punishes those who hurt our tribe members. Also, as a warning, the Great Mother curses areas where the atrocity had occurred, and it lasts until she removes the curse.”
“In the area? Isn’t the curse in effect with Myong Myong’s body as the medium?”
“Actually, the curse is cast with… the corpse as the medium. The curses appear after our tribe members are killed.”
“Now what are you talking…”
“Yes. Of course, Myong Myong is alive. We think that Myong Myong was on the verge of death but miraculously survived. He was injured so critically that the curse which appears only after death activated. Regardless, he recovered and returned to the village. Actually, this has never happened before, so we are not sure either.”
Although Lalalira said that she was not confident in her theory, even I thought her theory was in line with the situation.
I should be able to confirm this if I hear from Myong Myong.
“In that case, is the curse going to continue for the rest of his life? To all who come near Myong Myong?”
“No. Since Myong Myong appeared in front of the village two weeks ago for the first time, we have been performing a ceremony to awaken the Great Mother every time there is the full moon. Once the Great Mother wakes up from her sleep, we should be able to undo the curse as well.”
“When is this Great Mother going to wake up?”
“T… That is… It depends on how deep of a sleep she is in. If she wakes up early, it could be in a few days. However, if it takes long, it might be after few years.”
I cannot help but to sigh.
She is saying that there is no limit to her sleep.
“So, excuse me… I have a request… request to make. While we awaken the Great Mother, can you please look after Myong Myong?”
Lalalila said it may take several years. However, it won’t take that long.
I have no intention of waiting for this being called Great Mother to wake up through the ceremony.
When it comes to bastards who cannot wake up from the sounds of alarm clocks, you need to give them a good smack on the back to wake them up.