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I reached out to Boss. My crude hand touched her cheek, and I could feel the softness of her skin on my calluses. Seeing the calluses I got while c.o.c.king the crossbow, bitterness rose up within me.
I had gotten more used to this world than I imagined.
With that, the urge within me disappeared, replaced by an unknown stuffiness.
But this time, Boss moved. Her cold yet warm hand grasped mine and kept it from shaking.
We looked at each other with our hand held together. Neither of us said a word, surrounding us in a strange atmosphere.
I slowly approached her, close enough to touch her completely.
My heart beat loudly. I could also hear the beats that didn't belong to me. Was she just as nervous as I was? I felt a little embarra.s.sed and happy at the same time.
Just as our breath mixed together and our lips were about to touch…
An intentional cough rang out.
The romantic mood disappeared, and we widened our eyes in surprise.
Gulp— I swallowed hard and stared at the corner of the tent. Harin was taking up two people's worth of s.p.a.ce. It was only then that I realized how close Boss and I were.
I scooched away with a bitter smile. Boss was still expressionless, but she glared at Harin somewhat aggressively.
I murmured loudly and lied down. I stretched my arms out and stared at the ceiling of the tent. My heart was still thumping, and a smile lingered on my face. Nothing really happened, but I was in a good mood.
I quickly decided to fall asleep while this feeling lasted. With the end not far away, I wanted to enjoy every moment I could.
I closed my eyes.
But soon afterward, I felt something pressing down my arm. I opened my eyes curiously and saw Boss's head over my arm. She was using my arm as a pillow.
I couldn't tell whether she was really asleep or just pretending. Regardless, I turned back to the ceiling with a smirk.
It was a bit uncomfortable, but I didn't mind. Boss's head was so small that it was barely heavy anyways.
Climbing past the second peak, 'Lokio', we arrived at the third peak, 'Kilata'.
Kilata's environment was that of a jungle. All sorts of threats, from monsters like giant mosquitos, elemental snakes, crimson monkeys, and king alligators to quicksand swamps and magic-eating plants, filled the mountain.
But with Boss's strength and my eyesight, the h.e.l.lish mountain was manageable. I found out that Boss didn't lose too much of her strength because her background was set as an a.s.sa.s.sin.
“Kilata really is more difficult than the previous mountains. It's worse than I imagined.” Harin murmured.
We were currently at the midpoint of the mountain. It had taken us five days to get to the 3500-meter mark. In comparison, Ploriun and Lokio had taken us only two and four days to climb, respectively.
“Just finding a place to stay the night is annoying here.”
Kilata didn't have caves, and with the sheer number of monsters inhabiting it, sleeping on the ground was impossible. We had to sleep in the sky or not sleep at all.
As my stats recovered to an extent this past week, I could build a shack even with my eyes closed. With plenty of wood around us, I easily built treehouses with a little bit of Stigma's magic power.
“I've already seen it multiple times, but… your craftsmanship really is inhuman…”
Harin muttered as she looked around the shack I built. I laughed inwardly. This one was my best work yet.
“I'm a descendant of the dwarves.”
“Yep, I'm not kidding either.”
Harin blinked her eyes in a daze. I wasn't sure whether she was in disbelief or trying to come to terms with what she just heard, but it seemed she had heard of dwarves as well.
At that moment, Boss arrived with a strong gust of wind. She was in charge of procuring food, and she arrived with bird meat and berries in her hands.
“Do these look edible?”
According to Observation and Reading, the bird meat was a delicacy named [Licor], and the berries were simply labeled [Delicious Tropical Fruit].
I seasoned the bird meat and put up a campfire. Once the fire was going, I skewered the bird meat and put it over the fire.
Six skewers finished in the blink of an eye. I gave two to each person and presented the berries as dessert.
We finished the meal in just 15 minutes.
“It's getting dark.”
Darkness descended early in the swampland. Although it was only five in the afternoon, we were enshrouded in darkness.
“Thanks for the meal. Should we rest a bit now?”
Harin leaned against the wooden wall as she rubbed her belly.
I spread out the bedding I made with soft leaves I found in the jungle. Harin lied down immediately, I lied down across from her, and Boss lied down next to me. Boss then turned to me and stared at me fixedly. It seemed she was asking to use my arm as a pillow again.
But Harin suddenly opened her mouth. Boss and I flinched subconsciously.
“You said you believed that devils exist, right?”
Harin sounded serious, so I strained my ears. I could tell instnctively that this was an important piece of information.
“Then do you remember the incident from a month ago?”
“The Loren n.o.ble clan was destroyed for committing treason. You know, for spreading that the prince was an incarnation body of a devil.”
This was the first time I was hearing about this, but I nodded my head.
“Yes, I have.”
“…It's hard not to have heard anything.”
Harin paused and let out a deep sigh.
“…It's not a lie.” She continued more seriously than before. “Arunheim's prince, Krisbell, houses the devil, Baal, in his body.”
I listened to Harin quietly and reflected on what she said. Then, something she said caught my attention.
Arunheim's prince, Krisbell.
Baal's incarnation body.
Krisbell and Baal.
I turned to Boss with my eyes wide open. Boss seemed to have realized something too as she had a shocked expression.
[Arunheim's Palace – 'Arun']
Arunheim Kingdom was a major superpower in the continent along with the Republic of Leores. Although it advocated a clear caste system, it had something called the Common Promotion System, which allowed talented commoners to rise in status. Some called it 'the kingdom where the shackles of slaves were the most beautiful'.
Jin Sahyuk stepped into the heart of Arunheim Kingdom – the palace, Arun. She walked through the ostentatious halls of the palace and reached the most decorated place of the palace, the king's quarters.
“…This is your past?”
Jewels and ornaments adorned the room. Selling just the king's quarter seemed enough to buy a castle.
“Foolish and arrogant.”
Jin Sahyuk muttered as she looked around the palace. Although she couldn't protect her country as a king, she had never once let herself loose in luxury.
“Yep, this is me.”
Bell answered, sitting on the corner of his bed. His outfit was different from what he wore on Earth. He had a gown engraved with gold with enchanted bracelets around his wrists and enchanted rings on his fingers. Bell called them the 'greatest treasures in the kingdom'.
“Royalty from a ruined world and the incarnation body of Baal. That's who I am. A bit complicated, right?”
Jin Sahyuk stared at Bell and let out a heavy sigh.
“…So I have to kill you here?”
“No, not yet.” Bell shook his head. But looking forward to his death, he was full of smiles.
“There are two months left, so you don't have to rush it. Baal will descend the moment you kill me. I'm sure you need time to prepare.”
Jin Sahyuk looked around the room again. Although countless treasure and jewels filled the room, none looked used.
Jin Sahyuk turned to Bell once again.
“…I'm curious about something.”
“Hm? Oh, go ahead. I'm about to die. As long as I don't have to repeat the past, I can answer any question you have.”
Bell truly looked relieved.
Jin Sahyuk asked in a small voice, “How did you become Baal's incarnation body?”
Hearing her question, Bell's face stiffened a bit. However, his smile quickly returned.
“…There was someone I wanted to see one more time, even if I had to sell my soul to a devil.”
“Sell your soul?” Jin Sahyuk frowned.
“Yeah. Humans all have something they want. For you, it would be returning in time.”
Jin Sahyuk's eyes widened. Returning in time was a phenomenon that transcended miracles. To go back while maintaining one's memories, the only person to have done such a thing was Earth's Shin Myungchul.
“…Returning in time?”
“That's right, I'm a Returner. In exchange for going back in time once, I gave my soul to Baal.”
Jin Sahyuk found it hard to understand. She furrowed her brows and glared at Bell. Meeting her gaze, Bell smiled thinly.
It was then. Kiik— The door opened and another man walked in.
“…So you're Jin Sahyuk.”
Jin Sahyuk turned to the direction of the voice. Standing there was a man with a sharp expression. Jin Sahyuk knew he had to be 'Yi Yeonjun'.
“That's right. And you're what… his boyfriend?” Jin Sahyuk smirked and pointed to Bell. Yi Yeonjun frowned, and, unlike himself, Bell shot up with a fl.u.s.tered look.
“No, no, of course not. That's not even funny.”
Bell pulled on Jin Sahyuk's shoulders. Until then, Yi Yeonjun kept glaring at Jin Sahyuk and Jin Sahyuk glared back.
“Calm down, both of you. This meeting is so that we can peacefully discuss how to achieve what each of us wants.”
Bell seated Yi Yeonjun and Jin Sahyuk and began something akin to a 'meeting'.
Same time, in the house of a n.o.ble family, 'Pritun', located some distance away from Arunheim's capital, Shin Jonghak and Chae Nayun were together.
“So this Loren Clan spread the false rumor that the prince was a devil?”
“Yes, now you understand.”
Seeing that Chae Nayun finally understood, Shin Jonghak clapped and nodded his head. In this world, Shin Jonghak was a successor of the Pritun Clan, and Chae Nayun was his knight.
“Hm… but why would the Loren Clan spread such a rumor? It's obvious what would happen to them.”
Shin Jonghak answered with confidence, “Probably because they were housing a devil. They were about to be found out, so they spread that rumor in a futile attempt to draw the attention away from them. Our clan received orders to kill the devil that escaped from their clan.”
“Our clan? Really?”
“Who cares? It's nice being a n.o.ble.” Shin Jonghak grinned.
Chae Nayun made a vomiting gesture and then asked again, “So… we have to catch the devil that escaped?”
“Right, catching and killing that devil is the first trial of the Demon Realm Gate.”
“Hm… it's surprisingly simple.”
…Although they were far from the truth, Chae Nayun and Shin Jonghak looked at each other seriously and nodded their heads. From a third-party perspective, their a.n.a.lysis was truly cute.
“Alright, well, now that I know the ultimate goal, I'm going to go train.”
“Huh? Oh… How much power have you recovered?”
Shin Jonghak grabbed Chae Nayun as she was about to leave. He didn't want to let her go. Now that she was a member of his clan, he wanted her to be with him as long as possible.
“I'll be back to normal in a month.” Chae Nayun answered nonchalantly.
“Then what's your quest?”
“Recovering my strength is my quest.”
“And the reward?”
“My weapon, Balmung. …Why are you asking me all this?”
“Huh? Oh, well… because you're my knight.”
“I think you're too into this. Snap out of it.” Chae Nayun got up with a scowl.
Shin Jonghak wanted her to stay, so he asked another question, “Wait. Have you thought of ways to contact others?”
“How would I do that? This world doesn't even have a phone….”
But at that moment, Chae Nayun remembered the 8-star card, [Infinite Communication]. She couldn't help but wonder if it worked in this world.
“No, wait, maybe I do have a way.”
Chae Nayun closed her eyes. Then, she focused on sending a telepathic message to the person she was most familiar with – 'Extra7'.
—Hey, can you hear me? It's me, Chae Nayun. Reply if you can hear me.
5 seconds… 10 seconds… 15 seconds… 20 seconds… 1 minute… 3 minutes…
Time pa.s.sed, and no answer returned.
“…Guess it doesn't work.” Chae Nayun smacked her lips and turned back. “Looks like we'll have to go look for them directly.”
At that moment…
[Chae Nayun? Is it really you?]