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Haroon experienced the strange sensation of his body being disintegrated into tiny particles. A moment later, he found himself in front of the fountain in the middle of a square. He was back in Baron Thaust Castle. The sensation of being shifted through dimensions using a Teleportation Scroll was indescribable, which made him worry about the aftereffect. He felt a bit dizzy, but fortunately that was all.
The square was flooded with users and NPCs, way more than before when he departed the castle with Ko-M guild's advance party. The crowd of users, knights, and merchants trying to sell their stuff blocked Haroon from maneuvering through.
'I can see why they call this a Jewel Rush,' Haroon thought.
When he finally escaped the main road, he walked into the back alley markets where the residents were the main customers. There were far less people there. The back alleys were not as well maintained or as clean as the main roads. They were full of noises and foul smells coming from several workshops. This made Haroon feel more connected to the place.
'I think I want to be a resident of Beyond,' He thought.
He wasn't interested in levelling up, items, gaining power nor earning money like the other users. Lightly thinking about his ident.i.ty for a bit, he looked at a group of kids playing. It seemed that the boys were playing knights, and the girls were playing some kind of skipping game, throwing stones on drawings on the ground.
He went closer to the kids.
"You're hit so you're dead now. Go back and wait for the next round."
"I'm not dead! I'm Jur the Knight of Twilight. That attack was nothing to me!"
"My divine sword is from Narbos the mighty hero, so it would kill you!"
"Jokes on you, The dragon armor of Jur the Knight of Twilight doesn't get damaged by a mere divine sword!"
Haroon smiled seeing the kids role-playing. Seeing their innocent and unpretentious life of playing with their friends without any worries or concerns made him feel warm, but also pained him.
It reminded him of his childhood, his child self was not able to play with the others only watch them from a distance because of his naturally weak body.
There was a girl that caught Haroon's eye. She was rather small and thin. Leaning on the wall of a workshop, she was looking at her friends playing with sad but clear eyes. Feeling a strong sense of kinship with the girl, he walked next to her. She looked up at him for a moment, then turned back to the girls giggling and playing.
Haroon crouched down beside her. Leaning against the dirt wall warmed up by the sunlight made him feel rather comfortable.
"Do you know what the game is called?"
"It’s called Squid Path."
The girl's voice was light and bright. It would be normal for kids to be afraid of strangers, but the girl seemed happy that someone asked her a question. Was she feeling lonely like him when he was a kid?
"Well, how do you play it?"
"You throw a stone inside that squid drawing, and then you skip to the stone, pick it up, and skip back to the starting point."
She was looking at the girl with twin tail hair lightly skipping over lines on the ground.
"Why don't you play with them?"
The girl bit her lip instead of finishing her sentence. Tears started welling up in her eyes. Haroon realized he'd made a mistake and was perplexed. An awkward moment pa.s.sed with Haroon doing nothing as he didn't know what to say.
"Namirae can’t use her left foot. The other foot is weak too, so she can't skip. We play sitting games together, but……."
It was the twin-tail girl.
She was catching her breathe. Her cheeks were flushed red, and she looked rather healthy and bright. But her eyes were full of sadness watching her friend.
"I hope Namirae can play with us."
"I can! I will! My grandpa told me that a hero went to the Huk'ran Mountains to get the medicine for me!" said Namirae as she wiped away her tears with her sleeve. Her voice was rather hopeful.
"Pfft. Nice joke. Even the Knight of Twilight or the Hero Bordos¹ can't do that. The Huk'ran Mountains are full of devil orcs and monsters!"
It was the boy who was role-playing Jur the Knight of Twilight. He insisted that he didn't get killed but apparently it seemed like the other kids kicked him out of the game.
"Bebere, That’s not nice! Grandpa Kaltz doesn’t talk lightly."
The twin-tail girl went to bat for Namirae. Namirae was looking down, hopelessly as she heard Bebere comment, large teardrops were wetting the ground.
"But Nenemi, the grown-ups said those outlanders and knights got wiped out in the Huk'ran Mountains."
"Cut it out, already! You’re making her cry!"
"I didn’t mean to. Namirae, I’m sorry."
Bebere seemed to be the younger brother of Nenemi. He apologized with a sour-face as Nenemi talked sharply to him. But it was clear that he wasn’t trying to be mean to Namirae.
"Namirae, don’t cry. You know he didn’t really mean it"
"It-it’s al-alright. Bebere’s right about the Huk'ran Mountains. Many people got hurt or died there. My grandpa got hurt, and your father……."
Namirae looked up. Tears rolled down her face. There was fear in her eyes looking at the Huk'ran Mountains.
"But when my illness gets cured, I'll run with the wind. I will play the Squid Path, and gather herbs with my grandpa, and dance wearing dresses in the festival… and… and…"
Namirae listed out her little dreams, but her voice was fading out. No matter how young she was, it seemed that she was understanding the reality – that some things are impossible.
"So… Is Kaltz your grandpa?"
"Huh? Yes, he is. Do you know my grandpa?"
"Well, yes. I'm Haroon, the leader of The Gusts of Wind. I just came back from the Huk'ran Mountains at the request of your grandpa Kaltz."
Namirae’s eyes widened. Nenemi's eyes too.
"Yeah. And I was lucky enough to bring back the material for your medicine, the one your grandpa asked for."
It was an expression of disbelief, but soon it changed to hope and happiness.
"You……. You really brought the medicine for me?"
"Yes I did. And I was on the way to your grandpa's so he can make the medicines for you"
Haroon smiled to rea.s.sure her, and patted the magic bag on his back.
"He's back! He's back with the medicine to cure my legs!" Namirae screamed with joy.
Namirae sprung up to her feet with excitement. Well, she tried. She almost lost balance and fell to the ground, but Nenemi caught her.
'Ah, poor girl…….'
Haroon clicked his tongue inside his mind. Namirae was wearing a full-length skirt, and the left ankle that he happened to see just seemed like a bone covered in skin. It couldn't support her at all.
"Take your time. I’ll be heading to the herb shop."
"N-no! I’m going with you! I want to go with you!"
Namirae grabbed Haroon's clothes with a desperate look on her face. She wouldn't let go as if Haroon would disappear if she did. He couldn't say no to those hands.
"Will you? But do you think you can keep up the pace?"
"I’ll help her. No, I’ll carry her on my back."
Even Nenemi was desperate to help.
"You know what, there's no need for that. I'll put you two on my shoulders."
Haroon lowered his body to carry the two girls on his shoulders. He felt almost no weight as they were small girls under the age of ten. Haroon walked to Kaltz's herb shop.
The kids left behind didn't know what was going on looked at him, thinking that it might be fun, but soon they went back playing their games.
When they arrived at the shop, Namirae hurried into the shop with Nenemi's help.
"Woah, careful, my girl! You might trip over something. Grandpa’s here."
Kaltz was cutting dried herbs just like the time when Haroon was leaving the shop a month ago. His wrinkled face was full of smiles watching his granddaughter, the apple of his eyes.
"He’s here! He’s here!"
Kaltz stood up, with his joints cracking, as he heard Namirae almost shouting with all her might, excitement shown on her face.
Kaltzit’ss eyes lit up for a bit seeing Haroon over the shelves, then hugged Namirae throwing herself into his arms. She was crying as if she found guiding Haroon to the shop quite tiring.
"What is it? Why are you here already? Were you not confident and gave up in the middle?"
Kaltz, seeing her tears, became disappointed and angrily shouted at him.
Kaltz knew very well it was an impossible task, but he still expected Haroon to do something as he found him trustworthy. A moment later, Kaltz's eyes were filled with sadness rather than anger.
"I know. It's the forbidden land. You mustn't have been able to even locate the place. The monsters would have attacked you day and night."
Kaltz tried three times.
He'd hired a skillful mercenary guild and secretly encouraged a marquis to send two orders of knights. Even the Blue Brain Magic Tower, who had failed once, sent a larger group to kill an ironsnake of the Huk'ran Mountains. Of course, they all failed, and n.o.body survived.
"Well, at least you're back alive. Well done."
Saying that, Kaltz sadly patted Namirae's back. It was easy for him to give up on his last hope, as he knew it was impossible, and knew he was expecting too much from Haroon. His dangling left arm was showing how disappointed he was.
"He brought it! He brought the medicine for me and mama!"
"I heard them too!"
Namirae and Nenemi excitedly screamed. Kaltz finally realized that her tears were not for her but for her happiness.
"D-d-did you really?"
Surprised, Kaltz looked up at Haroon. He saw Haroon's deep smile and nod. He was so surprised that he felt like he was having a heart attack.
"You serious? h.e.l.l if you're lying to this old man."
"Well, all I can say is that you'll be able to cure Namirae's legs so she can play with her friends."
"So it's true! Thank you! Thank you!"
Kaltz jumped, shaking Haroon's hands. His face was shaking with ineffable joy, and his thin, small body, that was usually slouched because of guilt toward his family, was shaking noticeably.
"Where is it?" Kaltz asked.
Haroon pointed to the magic bag with his fingers. Then he reached into the bag to pull out the tail of the ironsnake.
"I don't think I can pull it out here. It's too big."
Kaltz' eyes were shining seeing it. His intense gaze, that couldn't be from a weak old man, was full of mixed feelings of joy, sadness, and guilt.
"You killed it yourself! I can't believe it! You really weren't just an ordinary mercenary. That's why I had to ask you even when we'd just met. I couldn't feel more uneasy after sending you knowing that I might have sent you to your death."
Tears began to form in Kaltz's eyes.
"Namirae, Nenemi, go tell grandpa Majoron about this good news."
Namire and Nenemi put their arms around each others' shoulders and hurried out of the shop.
"Well then, come this way. Ah, wait. I've gotta close the shop."
Kaltz quickly went to the door and flipped the sign to 'CLOSED'. Haroon couldn't believe an old man could move that fast. Kaltz's face was bright, filled with excitement and expectations, and his movements were light and swift just like him in his younger days.
Kaltz took Haroon to the bas.e.m.e.nt of the storeroom behind the shop. Haroon found out why Kaltz took him there when he arrived. The room was full of books, jars of herbs, taxidermied monsters and experiment tools. It showed how hard Kaltz and his friends had tried to cure the poison.
There was a huge work table in the middle of the bas.e.m.e.nt. Thinking that the big ironsnake wouldn't fit in the bas.e.m.e.nt, Haroon took out the ironsnakelet from a magic bag². It was the one that's poison sac hadn't been cut.
"Ooh! It really is an ironsnake! I never thought I’d see one of these again in my life! Oh, my G.o.ddess Gaia, I can't thank you enough for granting this poor old man's wish!"
Tears traced down Kaltz's face watching the dead ironsnake. His wrinkled hands with age spots on were stroking the ironsnake carefully as if he was touching treasures.
'Now this old man will be able to live without the sense of guilt that has been torturing him. Well done, Haroon!'
Haroon felt proud of himself, for the first time while played Beyond.
He could feel how glad old man Kaltz was. He never thought he would feel such pride in the game he decided to play to become more skillful than he was, and he was happy that he could have such an experience.
He used to think he was dead inside, but he was tearing up, moved by the situation.
It was his first time experiencing how rewarding helping others was. Though it wasn't like he was just helping an old man without asking for a reward, he helped an old man relieving stress and getting rid of a feeling of guilt, and it felt like that was already rewarding enough.
"Ho-how did you manage to kill it? Well, that's not important right now. This needs to be dissected before it hardens."
Then for a while, Kaltz treated Haroon as if he wasn't there. But Haroon wasn't annoyed by that, as he was impressed watching a skilled man dissecting an ironsnakes. Haroon took a step forward, and carefully observed Katlz's movements like where he put his hands or how hard he presses his knife.
Haroon, too, learned the butchering skill, but his skill level was too low that he couldn't even skin a monster without using the sharpness of the dagger or the power of mana.
'Will Serinn be able to do this at some point?'
How Kaltz handled his knife was swift, precise and even flexible. To his hands, an ironsnake that was five meters long was easily skinned and had its bones picked clean. The organs were cut out by parts and put into jars. He even stored tendons.
'But how did he skin those solid hard scales?' Haroon thought.
Then he noticed Kaltz's knife. The dragon symbol carved on the yellow blade and the white handle was telling him that it was no ordinary item.
"Well Haroon, you're an amazing pal!" Kaltz exclaimed with joy.
He didn't even take thirty minute to dissect such a big monster perfectly into parts, then looked at Haroon. Unlike his serious face that he had while he was working it went red with joy again, firmly grabbing Haroon's hands.
"I really, really appreciate it! Many lives will be restored thanks to you."
"That'll be awesome. I hope I can see Namirae's smile playing with her friends one day."
As Haroon humbly received Kaltz’s thanks, the window of quest completion appeared before his eyes.
[You have completed the quest Hunt an Ironsnake. As rewards, you have received 50 S.P. 300 Gold and 200 Fame. Now Kaltz will do his best to prepare your antidotes.]
"You have resolved the divine punishment on my family, friends and their families. We will never forget your favor."
Haroon smiled back instead of replying.
"Wait for me a bit. I have a friend who is better at medicines," said Kaltz, jumping up the stairs.
His movements were light as a bird as if his age was reversed.
"It’s good to see him happy. This must be why people do good things."
Proudly, he looked around to see jars stored on shelves. A moment later, four old men jumped down the stairs. They were Kaltz and his friends.
It was easy to tell they were Kaltz's friends as they all had a part of their body that'd shriveled up. Like Kaltz, they made somewhat joyful expression that were hard to explain.
"Would you wait for a moment? We have to make antidotes as soon as possible."
Kaltz asked Haroon with soft tone as if he'd entered his shop and stumbling upon a customer who looked confused by him not being present. Haroon nodded, as he saw that they were in a hurry despite Kaltz's tone.
"We’re in a hurry because one of our grandkids is dying from the poison that spread to his neck," Kaltz explained. That cleared up the circ.u.mstances for Haroon a bit.
"Don't mind me. I’ll read those books if I get bored."
"Help yourself. Those books are me and my friends' precious records of our studies on herbs. But I'm more than glad to let you read them."
Kaltz looked warmly at Haroon for a moment, then joined his friends.
"First, we've got to extract juice from its gallbladder!"
"I'll prepare tapas stems and roots that'll help muscle regeneration."
"Then I'll handle mapacu fruits. That should help nullifying the poison."
"I guess I'll prepare tools for distillation."
Four old men divided the work and moved rapidly.
Translated by Channy_
Edited by Kmatt
¹ Presumably Narbos, not Bordos, but ok.
² Wasn’t this ironsnake stored in the subs.p.a.ce? But oh, whatever.
Kmatt: But wouldn't the big Ironsnake make a better antidote than just one of the little ones?
Channy: I wonder where in the castle he would be able to pull out the 40 meter one though.