༺ Bitterness and Joy (2) ༻
“This is quite a big problem.”
Upon their arrival at the foot of the Latifundium, the gorge of the Spirit Mountain, the only thing they could see were the remains of the devastated trees and plants that had been thoroughly demolished by a powerful destructive force.
Nearly half of the old and majestic trees were either broken or damaged beyond any repair.
Just by looking at it was enough to make one give up on calculating the extent of the damage.
Though the crops itself hadn’t suffered greatly due to the incident happening during the holiday, the trees that were supposed to be used for cultivating mushrooms were in this state…
“We’ll have to uproot the trees that have already lost their production capability and bring new ones from the Spirit Mountain.”
“Will Duchess Keter make a fuss about this?”
“Who knows. Would that noblewoman care about such a small matter?”
Despite witnessing the devastating state of the place, Albireo and Deneb remained calm.
Although the magic tool company, the foundation of the Gemini Corporation, would suffer some losses from this, compared to the total wealth of the Gemini Household, the loss was pretty much negligible as they could recuperate from it in just a week.
That was why, there was no way the two witches would ever come over here to risk their lives to save a single gold coin.
They didn’t come here to check the extent of the damage.
“How is it? Do you feel any mana distortion?”
“Nothing yet. I’ll keep on looking.”
Instead, they came to investigate the cause of the recent mana distortion phenomenon that they found in the Spirit Mountain.
Mana distortion, a phenomenon that disrupted the mana flow in the surrounding environment, causing a variety of anomalies, was typically caused by two factors.
The first cause was nature itself, similar to how tornadoes would appear out there in the ocean.
And the other cause was when a spatial interference spell had been casted or the space itself was distorted.
“This place reeks, yet there isn’t a single ‘kernel1커널, literally meant kernel, as in the kernel inside of an operating system of a computer’ to be seen.”
Deneb, who didn’t even bat an eye at the sight of the devastated farm, scrunched up her nose.
The barrier that separated Gehenna from the otherworld was nearly perfect.
It was the pinnacle of a fully autonomous barrier formation, capable of adjusting and evolving in response to any kind of external variables.
The enormous barrier was designed and overseen by Duchess Keter herself, not just by any regular witch.
In the 600-years history of Gehenna, there had never been a single breach caused by an error in the barrier itself.
So, what could be the reason for a breach to appear now?
“I don’t have the time to deal with this, it’s bothersome. This is why I hate these exiles.”
The reason was the ‘exiles,’ those who had their citizenship revoked and tried to illegally enter into Gehenna by tunneling through the ‘kernel.’
Gehenne guaranteed all kinds of freedom and rights to its witches, but there was always an exception. That was the case with the so-called ‘exiles.’
In order to raise their ranks in the hierarchy, those ‘exiles’ would go as far as killing three-digit numbers of humans in their experiments or stealing the stigma possessed by other witches. And for those acts, under the Gehenna’s laws of citizenship, they were barred from entering or leaving the city.
As a result, those exiles would intentionally utilize the Homunculi, which had the ability to traverse to the otherworld, to tunnel a hole through the barrier.
And so, one of the Homunculi they used almost ended up killing Odile and Odette.
Facing this situation, even the calmest of the Counts wouldn’t be able to restrain their anger.
“We should catch them and kill them.”
Not only did they dare to cause trouble in Count Gemini’s territory, they also threatened their apprentice witches’ lives.
There was simply no way that the Count would forgive them so easily.
But before that, they had to repair the kernel before more exiles or possibly lost civilians crossed over the barrier. The idea to punish the ones responsible for this would be postponed for the time being.
Anyway, once the kernel was closed, any exiles who had crossed the barrier would be like mice trapped in a jar.
“Is the breach located in the Spirit Mountain instead of the Latifundium?”
“How could they keep it hidden so well?”
Albireo grumpily said to Deneb as she extended her magical senses in all directions.
“Anyway, Deneb, what are we going to do about our cuties? I told you that we should have gotten things under control much earlier.”
“You think they’d listen to us?”
“Still, it was a close call this time. If that heroic slave wasn’t there, we might have suffered through a terrible fate by now.”
“Hmm… True. We can’t keep raising them like greenhouse plants forever. They need to experience more danger to gain more experience. That’s the reason why you turned a blind eye when they secretly went to Tarot Town, no?”
“Yeah, I think we should give them some useful combat artifacts as a gift.”
“That’s a good idea.”
As the conversation about the twins passed, Siwoo’s issue came up naturally.
“What are you going to do about his reward?”
“He doesn’t know about it, does he?”
“There’s no way a slave would know about it.”
Although the twins were immature and didn’t know much about the world, Albireo and Deneb were proud to have raised them to be more upright than anybody else.
Hence, the fact that the twins were following him obediently made it obvious that he was unlikely to be a bad person.
That was why, despite his status as a slave, there was a big chance that he was a ‘missing person.’
“…What a predicament.”
Albireo fell silent at Deneb’s words.
“What if we propose a different form of reward for him instead? If he doesn’t like the idea of being a slave, we could take him in as a family chef or something.”
“Certainly. If he misses the modern world so much, it should be okay to make him accompany our little cuties as a guide when they go out to play in that world later.”
“Still, his opinion is the most important thing.”
Even if they were to send him back to the modern world, there was a chance that he wouldn’t be able to return to the life he missed so much. But, it wasn’t like they could force him to stay if he didn’t want to stay.
“Let’s ask him about it again.”
“Regardless, we still need to prepare some materials to persuade Baron Marigold. If he still insists on going back to the modern world even after we explain the situation to him, we could at least help him to settle down there in the future.”
“Sounds great. We need to do at least that much to keep up our appearance. I wonder if ten million dollars is enough?”
While exchanging various words, Albiero and Deneb continued to fly, covering a wide area to look for the kernel.
How sweet of a word was it?
Siwoo, who got off the twins’ carriage and returned home, could hardly contain his excitement.
He only needed to wait for a little longer to enjoy the rights that he should have as a man living in modern times, not as a slave.
“Fuck Gehenna! Fuck witches! A city for the witches? All bullshit!”
Siwoo hummed a rap he made on the spot.
But, in the midst of his excitement, he suddenly felt a sense of emptiness.
For five years, living in slavery, he had only thought of escaping this place and nothing else.
However, after finding himself in this situation…
He felt like the exhausting, difficult military life that he’d thought would go on longer had suddenly been shortened as he was discharged overnight by the new superior who had just taken his office.
It felt as though he had lost his way.
While freedom brought joy, it also brought the emptiness that existed alongside it.
Siwoo researched magic, something that he had never encountered before. Sitting up late at night, copying magic formulas on paper while being enthralled by the beauty and the mystery that only magic could bring.
He could already start to beautify all his suffering in this place.
“What the fuck, I’m already feeling nostalgic.”
This was a serious predicament for him.
If he kept this up, later he might end up thinking things like, ‘Although Amelia is grumpy like an old man, she still has a cute side.’
“But, will Amelia let go of me?”
Being seized by that sudden anxiety, Siwoo shook his head.
He realized that he had been overly self-conscious.
Amelia was a witch who had lived for 150 years while he was just a lowly slave.
Besides, it had already been confirmed that she bore no feelings for him.
Since Count Gemini was personally involved in the negotiation, Amelia would probably give them her approval under certain conditions.
As he looked up at the sky, he noticed that the sun had already starting to fade into the distance.
The first person he went to find was Takasho, who was loitering near the caretaker’s quarter, smoking.
“Oh, you’re back in one piece it seems.”
As soon as Takasho saw Siwoo, he put his hands together, bent his waist and ran over.
Seeing his funny appearance, Siwoo let out a chuckle.
“Let’s have a drink, Takasho. It’s been a while since we had one/”
“What’s the occasion? Finally hooked up with someone?”
Siwoo then brought Takasho, who showed the reaction that he expected, into his lodgings.
“…Anyway, that’s how it turned out.”
With cheap alcohol and some dried fish.
While sitting on the floor, sharing a cup of alcohol, Siwoo spent about an hour explaining everything that had happened until now.
From his pursuit of escape, delving into the world of magic.
To his incident with the twins. He told him everything, though he left out the 19+ details.
And lastly, he mentioned that he had received a guarantee that he’d be sent back to the modern world from Count Gemini.
Takasho, who had been listening attentively to his words with folded arms, suddenly jumped up and put him in a headlock.
“Ow, ow! What the hell are you doing?!”
“You fucker, you hid so much things from me and yet you called yourself my friend?”
“That’s why I’m telling you everything right now! Let me go! How the fuck are you this damn strong?!”
Surprisingly, Takasho was a man of great strength.
He released Siwoo, who was almost about to pass out from the pressure on the side of his neck.
Siwoo rubbed his neck and glared at him.
Takasho then down another cup of wine in one gulp before letting out a satisfied sigh.
“So…you’ll be going?”
“It isn’t like I can back down now. I can ask them for a favor for you, by the way. As you’ve heard, I made quite a big achievement, so it’s possible. Unlike me, you aren’t under any kind of exclusive contract, you belong to the City Hall, so your case shouldn’t be more complicated than mine.”
After hearing that, Takasho looked a little sad.
Siwoo wasn’t exactly feeling cheerful either.
After all, they were close friends for the whole five years of their lives as slaves.
They probably wouldn’t see each other ever again.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll stay here.”
“Really? You won’t come with me?”
“Stop talking nonsense, you haven’t even brought up the idea to the Count yet.”
Takasho chuckled before plopping down on the bed.
In truth, Takasho preferred his life here more than back in the modern world.
The reason why Siwoo didn’t bother to mention him in the first place was because he knew that Takasho wouldn’t choose to go back.
“Who’ll I go to the bar with on weekends when you’re gone? Damn it.”
“Just go with the witch that you like.”
The news must be quite shocking for Takasho.
He must have thought that they’d stay together as friends for the rest of their lives, but suddenly Siwoo told him that he’d be going back to the modern world by himself.
Despite his anxiety about being left alone in Gehenna though, Takasho sincerely congratulated Siwoo.
With tears streaming down his face, he hugged Siwoo tightly and patted his back.
“Still, everything turned out well for you. That’s great. You’re smarter than me, you’ll do well even when you get out of this place.
Despite expecting this kind of reaction from him, Siwoo still felt a tingling sensation in his nose.
“Hey man, I know I used to call you ‘cloven-footed2쪽발이, it’s a Korean derogatory term for Japanese’ all the time, but I didn’t really mean it. The truth is that I’m grateful for your presence all this time. Without you, I would’ve been caught from trying to escape since a long time ago and would’ve already been dragged to the dock.”
“I’m just grateful that I have someone to talk to.”
As the passionate embrace between the two men came to an end, with his face still filled with tears, Takasho held back his tears and put on a brave face, though it ended up in his face looking particularly distorted.
“Oi, are you crying?”
After Takasho downed another cup of alcohol and caught his breath, he spoke.
“If someone were to cast a spell on me, turning me into a cute girl and if I were able to become a witch and be able to freely come and go…”
He smiled brightly.
The tears in his eyes glistened.
“I’ll find you and I’ll suck your dick.”
Shivers ran down Siwoo’s spine after hearing Takasho’s joke.
At this moment, he was undoubtedly scarier than the Homunculus from before.
“Stop talking nonsense and drink.”
They needed a lot of alcohol today so that they could share a bunch of stories they’d never be able to share in the future.
Suddenly, Takasho spoke up.
“Ah, something just came to my mind. What if Amelia doesn’t let you go?”
“Then, I’d just have to continue my research.”
“That sounds dangerous.”
“It isn’t a big deal, I’ve been doing it all this time, I’d only need to continue it for a little bit longer.”
The bond between the two men deepened as they watched the sunset together.
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- 1커널, literally meant kernel, as in the kernel inside of an operating system of a computer
- 2쪽발이, it’s a Korean derogatory term for Japanese