<Chapter 21. Inherited Hope – 1>
“Now, shall we go find out what the Dryads were hiding?”
“You know, I don’t hate that part of you; that fickle side of yours.”
“Thanks. I like that part of myself too.”
The moment Lee Shin Woo fulfilled his objective of raising his Acid Resistance to the high rank level, which was something he seemed willing to stake his life on before, he decided on a new goal. He spent only 3 minutes at best reveling in his accomplishment.
“I wonder what the Dryads wanted from the Spirit General?”
“They wanted us to tell her about this place, so the answer’s probably inside somewhere. It’s easy to find, too.”
Lee Shin Woo began searching and quickly found the secret the Dryads had left behind… in other words, the entrance to a dungeon. Even though he was watching Lee Shin Woo’s every move, Jin didn’t understand why Lee Shin Woo was so sure.
“The traces the golem left behind are too thick, so I can’t really tell.”
“But it’s a lot easier to sense than the winery? If you can grasp the Dryads’ mana, then it should be easy to find.”
There was an even easier way: find the ground that wasn’t very damaged, despite the fierce battle! Lee Shin Woo suddenly drew his mana at the place the golem was guarded. With just that, the ground softly vibrated and dirt stairs appeared leading down.
[Level 5 dungeon – You have acquired the permit for Mellonia’s Laboratory. All stats increase by 10 within the dungeon. The dungeon’s information is added to your minimap. All actions are buffed within the dungeon.]
There was no way of knowing who Mellonia was, but he was sure that the Dryads were using this facility differently than the way it was intended upon creation.
Because the entrance was so tiny, they (especially the large Jin) had to hunch their shoulders to enter the dungeon. Soon, the entrance closed, and hundreds of stairs appeared. It was a relief that it was wide enough for Jin to go down.
“Hoo, we’ll reach the bottom soon.”
“It’s too quiet…”
“No, there’s breathing. You can tell if you sense the mana.”
The moment Lee Shin Woo spoke decisively, he felt something recoiling in fear from within the darkness of the dungeon. He chuckled, and stepped onto the floor at the end of the stairs.
However, before they went deeper into the darkness, they heard a voice which caused them to stop.
[Who… Who are you!?]
It was a pure and young lady’s voice… It was different from a human’s voice, as it had a peculiar echo to it, and contained magic in it as well. Lee Shin Woo suddenly realized that this was an uncorrupted Dryad’s voice.
‘As expected, the thing that the Corrupted Dryads wanted to protect the most above all were the Dryads who weren’t corrupted…’
That was the moment that their hidden ‘treasure’ was revealed. It was obvious when he thought about it. The Corrupted Dryads’ appearance had been so shocking that Lee Shin Woo had erroneously assumed that there weren’t any normal Dryads left.
‘If that’s the case, then what the Corrupted Dryads wanted from the Spirit General was probably…’
When he acquired the final puzzle piece, the Dryads, the answer became quite obvious. They were probably hoping that the Spirit General would protect the remaining Dryads that hadn’t been corrupted.
Giving him the key fragment that allows passage to the Spirit Springs was also likely an extension of that as well. They probably wanted the uncorrupted Dryads to leave this dangerous world and live in the Spirit Springs instead, or something similar. Though Lee Shin Woo got in the middle of it and made everything a mess.
‘Alright, Lee Shin Woo. Calm down. If I can talk to them, then I have to give it a try.’
Just blindly killing them all was the dumbest idea ever. There was probably something else he could get from this scarce spirit species. If that’s the case, then there was only one thing of importance: acting.
“I’m Paul Zero.”
For Lee Shin Woo, switching to acting was easier than even breathing; he spoke in an extremely peaceful and attentive voice.
“I’d like to talk with you.”
Lee Shin Woo’s voice was extremely calm. The representative Dryad seemed to be confused, as Lee Shin Woo’s appearance didn’t match that of a high ranking skeleton at all; however, while hesitating, the other Dryads began to speak by the ones or twos.
[A trespasser! It’s a trespasser!]
[How can a skeleton…?]
[How can a mere skeleton be talking with us…?]
The Dryads’ young, beautiful voices were pleasant to his ear, but it felt like the voices that came after the first were a bit older. Soon, the noise spread uncontrollably.
[You idiot, don’t you feel that overflowing elemental power? He’s not a normal skeleton.]
[Now that you mention it, you’re right. Is he an Elementalist?]
[A skeleton’s an Elementalist?]
The commotion was gradually increasing! The once dark dungeon began brightening up, allowing him to see within. They were spirits that looked like beautiful women of various ages… he saw both these Dryads, as well as the trees that they were protecting.
Lee Shin Woo muttered subconsciously, and one of the Dryads couldn’t help but respond. That meant he’d hit the mark! The trees within the dungeon were rotting. Naturally, that meant that those withering trees were having an effect on the Dryads as well.
Lee Shin Woo, who’d noticed the withered trees, looked inside the premises, and found several Dryads who looked quite old. They could feel his blazing goblin fire, and they shrank at his seemingly piercing gaze; immediately after, they became angry.
[What have you come for, Skeleton!? You’re not much better off than we are!]
[She’s right. You’ve come to laugh at us, haven’t you!? Even though you’re a skeleton with power over nature, you’re still a skeleton!]
The Dryads’ voices of resentment increased. The youngest looking Dryad (in other words, the one that seemed least corrupted) sported a fierce expression and stepped forward. This was the Dryad who had first yelled ‘who are you?’.
[We don’t want to talk with you! If you have any kind of respect, then leave before you spread the curse onto us!]
Of course, Lee Shin Woo had no intention of powerlessly leaving after finding the dungeon, as well as discovering the mystery. He had two choices: either kill all of them, or fool all of them. Fortunately for them, Lee Shin Woo had decided upon the latter.
Now then, it was time to start in earnest. Lee Shin Woo’s goblin fire blazed immensely.
“It seems like you’ve been infected by the curse since a long time ago. No… you guys weren’t born in the dungeon, were you? Weren’t you originally affected by the curse?”
Lee Shin Woo painted a perfect picture in his head. The Dryads had realized the severity of the curse which uprooted the Empire, and had pushed their uninfected kin and trees into the dungeon.
But the problem was with the trees. Because the tree seeds were corrupted, the Dryads inside the dungeon couldn’t avoid being cursed. They were able to prevent themselves from becoming like the Dryads on the outside, as they entered the dungeon before it was too late, but they would eventually become just like them…
“How is it? My assessment is spot on, right?”
The Dryads couldn’t object. Though it wasn’t 100% accurate, they couldn’t disagree that the resulting situation was as he said.
Seeing that, Lee Shin Woo sported a satisfied expression while Jin looked at him speechless. Then, at that moment, Lee Shin Woo, who had shut all the Dryads up, spoke, as if he were giving them medicine.
“I’ll help you. That’s why we came.”
Lee Shin Woo lied through his teeth, and the Dryads’ sported vacant expressions. The youngest Dryad acted as their representative and asked, her tone urgent.
“Considering how you’re already asking how must mean it’s quite urgent.”
The sight of the angry, beautiful girl stamping her feet on the ground was cute. So this is what it felt like to make fun of a little kid!
However, Jin hit Lee Shin Woo’s back with his head, so Lee Shin Woo decided to just go on to the main point. Honestly, it was something he started thinking about once seeing the withered trees.
“I know a place filled with living trees. Also, it’s a lot safer than this place. I’ll take you there.”
At that moment, the Dryads were seized with both shock and terror. The Dryad was so shocked that she left her mouth open. Of course, that wasn’t any different with the other Dryads.
A place with living trees in this Empire filled with the curse! The Dryads froze, as if they couldn’t understand what he was saying, yet soon thawed out. No, they were actually seething.
[Filled to the brim! What kind of trees are they? How many?]
It seemed as though they couldn’t just leave it to one representative anymore as the Dryads all began to speak. This was the kind of response he expected from spirits that lived together with trees! With one glance, Lee Shin Woo could tell their minds were elsewhere, and he ended up just laughing.
“They’re grapevines. There’re hundreds of them.”
[We’re really thankful. If we look over these grapevines, they can thrive.]
[I want to see living trees. It’s too difficult for these children to endure for much longer.]
He’d never heard of Dryads tending to grapevines before, so Lee Shin Woo had been somewhat doubtful, but their response was quite nice. It was likely because their situation was just that bad!
“You’re thinking of taking them there? To the underground orchard?”
“Yeah. It’s a safe and healthy place.”
There was no way it wouldn’t be healthy, as an elf had been tending to it just a short while ago. Though he’d taken most of the grapes, if the Dryads were to tend to the orchard, the grapevines should grow well and survive. Of course, it was for security reasons as well.
[Take us there!]
[Take me there! Please, Skeleton!]
[When I felt your power over nature, I knew you were a good person… a good skeleton!]
Several Dryads suddenly changed their attitude towards him and latched onto Lee Shin Woo! Even five year old children wouldn’t be so honest with their desires!
[I’ll do whatever you want if you bring me there!]
[What do you want me to do? Should I bear your child? Ah, you’re a skeleton.]
[What would make a skeleton happy?]
[Hurry. Tell us what you want!]
Lee Shin Woo had been preparing all sorts of lies in order to fool them, yet the Dryads acted as though they would offer him anything; seeing that, Lee Shin Woo felt a bit skeptical. But then…
[So you just came to find us and help us? That’s too suspicious. What’s your goal here? And how did you find us?]
There was actually someone who still didn’t trust him! It was none other than the representative Dryad! Was her mind still clear because she wasn’t corrupted at all? It was such an obvious response that Lee Shin Woo actually felt happy.
It was a relief that he was able to use the lines that he’d prepared for this very moment! He unhesitatingly and firmly spoke in an honest tone.
“I met the Dryads on the outside that were too corrupted to be saved. They gave me a request. To help you guys before you became like them.”
Lee Shin Woo was even twisting around their request to the Spirit General, Dana Von Etliber however he wished!
When he took out the Spirit Spring Key Fragment and showed it to her, the suspicious Dryad shed a tear. No matter how suspicious she was, she was still a kid.
[Our mothers… made that request for us…!]
“…You’ve done well.”
[Don’t cry, Sinea…]
The Dryad (it seemed like her name was Sinea) began to cry, and the other Dryads approached her and hugged her tightly. It was such a touching scene that Lee Shin Woo applauded, and Jin, like always, came over and rammed into his back. They were still connected through Assimilation.
‘What are you thinking?’
‘They’re just like the Pauls. Wouldn’t it become interesting if I add another variable? It’d be a much more fun result than killing them at least.’
Lee Shin Woo replied unimportantly, and Jin had nothing else to say. Only Jin could hear Lee Shin Woo chuckling like a Joker.
‘How about it? Should we go look for other spirits too?’
Jin couldn’t offer up any suggestions. He had no idea what sort of chaos Lee Shin Woo would stir up if he found more spirits.
“Alright. So everyone’s accepting my offer, right?”
[Yeah… Yeah! Of course!]
[Thanks, Skeleton! No, Paul Zero!]
[Thanks a lot! You’re our savior!]
And so, Lee Shin Woo had ended up saving the Dryads in the Spirit General’s stead (he didn’t even know where she was). To them, this was the best method.
However, the Dryads would someday regret their choice. The fact that they hadn’t asked the price for their salvation!