“According to the information Dite provided, this is the next experimental course for Awakeners. Our choices and results here would determine the design of the next experiment. It’s probably a high-level proficiency testing site for those who have Awakened. We probably just skipped the second and third course,” Biyeon said.
“Something like a physical examination?” San asked.
“It could be a brainwashing process that synchronizes the body and mind to create a body for the gods. We may be guinea pigs that are providing comparative data for them to solve a problem. It seems we’re being treated fairly well because we’re Awakeners.”
“We can’t avoid this, right?”
“As long as we’re in this world…”
“If we can’t avoid it, we have to fight.”
The two gazed at the view below. All they could see were endless tombstones with a dark, depressing sky as a backdrop.
‘The territory of the dead. A choice for the living…’ San thought.
“In this land, death is life. In Pian, it was a routine for the dead to resurrect and walk around again intact… We claim that we’re alive in this world, but whether we really are alive or not is still uncertain. But…” San reasoned aloud. His uvula silently moved up and down before he continued his words. Biyeon stared at him silently.
“But we’re not playing survival game, right?”
[Then is it a war?] Biyeon asked in their private channel.
[It’s a liberation war.]
[It won’t be easy, right?]
[Won’t it be easy?]
[Just a feeling…]
Choice – Chapter 6
San took a deep breath. It seemed like he was sucking air into every molecular corner of his lungs. The air was damp, and the smell was unpleasant. The rain started drizzling down once more. Faint water vapors rose up and seemed to create fog, which rolled around the hillside and spread out thinly towards the tombs. The dark hour of death was quickly approaching.
They could see men and women of the mercenary corps returning to their villages after their daily training. The top of the high hill overlooked Sirid Square. The two stood tall in the strong wind. San shouted, “Now, let’s start the second round!”
A shockwave of tremendous sound shook the ground at a 2 km radius.
The grass on the hillsides started getting beaten as if typhoon winds were blowing. Slowly, the grass and the soil overturned, creating a landslide of earth and plant matter down the hills.
The mercenaries who had been returning to their homes stopped moving, looked around, and tilted their heads. The misty rain and fog obscured their view, but they couldn’t deny feeling something powerful.
“Come out quickly you son of a bitch! I can see your hair!”
San held a sword in his right hand and pressed the cell phone call button with his left. Biyeon silently watched the landscape below with a sword drawn by her side.
“Come out, assholes. We’ve come,” San growled lowly into the phone-
Over the cellphone, a voice filled with bewilderment could be heard.
“Surprised asshole? Your elder brother is here…”
His way of speaking is… very dirty.
Their voices were neither male nor female. It was a metallic, gender-neutral voice.
“Switch places for a moment. If you were in my situation, would you be nice, asshole?!”
If you are Awakened, you have to act dignified. I don’t think you deserve good treatment.
“Let’s cut the worthless chit-chat. Why did you call us over here?”
Phew- I’ve been waiting with such eagerness because I haven’t had any special guests over for at least twenty-three years. Wait a minute. I must teach you what courtesy is first.”
When the other person hung up the phone, San glanced down the mountain. Biyeon was touching the blade of her sword with an anxious expression.
On the ground they were standing on, intermittent vibrations were felt. An ominous gray vapor rose up from the ground.
The sound of something large, firm, and heavy beating on something could be heard in the distance. An uneasy fluctuation continued to reverberate out. Before long, the earth beneath them began to crack and open up. Thousands of dangerous ‘things’ were popping out from the tombs, creating a sea of black. The ‘things’ had wet purple skin and gray eyes. Their shining eyes looked toward San and Biyeon menacingly.
The Count’s children and the rest of the convoy crew made a decision. They decided to leave the luxurious hotel they were staying in and move to a cheaper hotel, where they could stay longer in the city. Before making their decision, as a habit, the siblings gathered the crew members and asked for their opinions. It was a meeting attended by warriors, musicians, and merchants.
First, they defined the problem.
‘Will we wait or not? If we wait, where shall we wait? How can we ensure our own safety? How will the expenses be covered? What should we prepare if the captains were to return soon? How would they contact them, how should they divide and organize into groups, and in the worst-case situation, how would they return home?’
The list of things they discussed was long. Once the problems were defined, everyone got involved and tried to find possible solutions. Surprisingly, although their captains were gone, the methodology they taught was still being used by the crew members. The captains had taught them to be more ‘effective.’
Captain Biyeon often used to say: “Efficiency is a measure of how well you do things, and effectiveness is a measure of whether you do things ‘right’. It is much more important to do it right, especially when you have to work with multiple people. For example, think of a rowboat. If you paddle fast alone, the boat will not move forward, you’ll go around in circles. However, if you slow down and paddle on both sides, you’ll move forward. This is to be ‘effective.’ This is what teamwork should work, too. If there are two people, they can each paddle on one side, but for the boat to move in the right direction, the paddling must be done evenly. That’s ‘efficiency’.”
“Now- let’s conclude,” Yuren, the 1st Company Commander, who served as the temporary chairman for the meeting, said.
“We’ve decided to move to a relatively inexpensive place. The place is called ‘Wildflower Inn’, near Goddess Diana’s temple. We will move immediately.”
“I am going to sell all three horses except one, and for the remaining trade items…”
“The waiting period for the captains is one month and…”
“During that period, three groups shall be organized to conduct business and search for our stolen cargo……”
“How to contact each group…”
Once the decisions were made, the three Essen siblings, representative owners of the convoy’s cargo, confirmed the joint decisions. The work proceeded in a flash. Although the most expensive Archon materials were robbed, the remaining one-third of the cargo unexpectedly contained many valuable items.
On one side, there were the gifts from the Marquis of Norian, and on the other, the skins and tendons of Algons and Alchins, the materials from the bodies of unknown beasts, strange scales, teeth, and gems that they had never seen before. There were many unexpected goods wrapped up in the cargo they previously thought possessed little to no value. The cargo was well organized as if it were left on purpose. Also, fortunately, the remaining cargo items looked fairly expensive.
“These items will fetch a very high price by themselves. I don’t believe we’ll have any difficulty paying for the next month and for our travel expenses back to the Essen estate. I thought there was only food in this cargo…” Yekin said with a bright expression.
“I thought so, too,” Yeria agreed quietly.
Her gaze stopped on a corner where she could see various porcelain bottles containing strange medicines and a roll of dark-bluish leather that was rolled up neatly on one side. She tilted her head. There were quite a lot of valuable items in the remaining cargo.
‘That’s… that’s not something we brought from the estate…’
Yeria knew her family’s goods well because she sorted and recorded their numbers down in a ledger.
‘But it seems oddly familiar… Where did I see that before?’
“This has been the greatest harvest in the last ten years. Very good work…”
The man with a white beard and gray hair stood up from his fluffy, beast-fur-lined chair. He was truly happy. He was the leader of the Dark Guilds, ‘Maheim’, a name that struck fear in many people’s hearts. He was welcoming the man in front of him with a smile on his face. The man in front was his most trusted. If the person in front of him were to reach Awakening, he would probably take over as leader of the Dark Guilds.
Sedum, the man in front of Maheim, silently expressed his thanks, then turned right away and instructed his subordinates to put down all the goods they had brought. In the back, two wagons full of goods were being arranged and brought out. There was one wooden box in each wagon. Sedum’s subordinates brought out the two wooden boxes.
The first wooden box opened according to Sedum’s instructions. Everything was properly packaged, and the condition was exceptional. At the top part of the box was a specimen of Archon skin and bones. Maheim’s face filled with satisfaction. He looked at the Archon skin and bones for a while before he started touching and pulling on them.
“I can’t believe it. Real Archon bones and real Archon leather… It’s also packaged and preserved so well that it’s close to a living thing. Two of these… we have two of these? Is the next box the same thing?”
“Let’s open it too!”
The second box was opened.
Maheim’s eyes changed. Sedum flinched his shoulders. In the box, there was something far beyond their expectations. There were lumps of stones and straw inside. Above the straw and stones was a written notice.
‘Provider: Count Essen
Buyer: Whoever is reading this note
Total Invoice: 100,000 Tongbo, however, in the case of unauthorized removal of items in any cargo box, twice the amount shall be charged, 200,000 Tongbo. Payments may be made in installments.
Payment method: Cash or Check
However, checks must be issued and guaranteed by an organization greater than a kingdom.
Delivery: When we meet next… (So, prepare in advance)
Handling Precautions: Do not open the individual packages without permission (Poisons and explosives have been installed)
Penalty Payments in case of damage: The unsealed sample product is 1/10 of the total cargo. If it is damaged due to careless handling, 10,000 Tongbo shall be applied as compensation.’
Maheim’s eyes turned to Sedum. There was a fit of anger glistening in Maheim’s eyes.
“You said you were always with them? How can you explain this situation?”
Sedum shook his head. His expression was surprisingly calm. From the moment it was confirmed that the cargo matter had been swapped, his mind operated surprisingly fast to understand how and why. He recalled the transactions between the convoy and the Akum. The only deal in which he himself was not present was when the captains met with the Akum in their village. The cargo must have been switched at that point.
“Anyway, they said they’d be doing ‘installment billing’ with us. I don’t understand what that means. Right now, I’ve already brought part of the cargo here without their permission, so we’ll have to wait for them to come. Only they know the location of the remaining cargo. We have to be prepared for their eventual arrival,” Sedum said aloud after considering their options.