<Chapter 21. Inherited Hope – 3>
[We’re finally outside!]
[Kek. Look at that mist; it was formed from the curse clumping together… The outside world has gotten worse.]
[If you feel like you can’t handle it, you have to get close and grab onto Paul Zero immediately!]
[Ahhh, we can’t even find traces of our mothers anymore…]
The Dryads seemed elated at first when they got outside, but they soon became depressed upon realizing how appalling the situation was, as the Underground Empire was covered in the curse.
Even though the forest was a lot cleaner than the other areas as undead couldn’t trespass deep into the forest!
[Eww, this wasn’t the world I was looking forward to.]
[It’s so unfortunate. You can’t call it a world when all the living beings are dead.]
[Is there nothing we can do for this world…?]
[Paul Zero, let’s hurry up and go.]
Sinea spoke as the representative of the drooping Dryads. It was difficult to even say anything right now, so Lee Shin Woo silently nodded his head.
“Yeah. Follow me quickly.”
[I want to hurry and see living trees.]
They ran silently. As Dryads couldn’t live without trees, the strength they could exert was diminished, yet they were able to follow behind Jin who ran at full speed. He was thinking about whether he needed to slow down or not, but both Lee Shin Woo and Jin were shocked.
[This horse is really fast!]
[I didn’t think it’d be able to run as fast as a spirit!]
Even depressed, they marveled at Jin’s speed. Jin didn’t show it, but it seemed like he was a bit happy. Some spirits found the conversation about Jin’s speed as their opportunity to speak, and after one or two of them began speaking, they changed the subject of their conversation to Lee Shin Woo.
[Why is Paul Zero special?]
[What did you do before you died?]
“I was just a wandering knight.”
[You’re an Elementalist too, right? Right?]
“Actually, I’m not an Elementalist.”
Lee Shin Woo explained himself to the Dryads using the Paul Zero profile he’d set up. They were in disbelief and shock when he explained that he could use the elements themselves, but they eventually came to this conclusion.
[Is Paul Zero actually a spirit?]
[A skeleton spirit…!]
[How cool! I knew he didn’t feel like a stranger!]
Because it was gradually becoming troublesome to reply, he decided to let them think what they wanted. He would’ve preferred if some undead monster appeared, but because he was moving with a force of level 5 Dryads, it seemed like the undead instinctively sensed the danger and avoided them.
How many hours had they run? When they were close to the vineyard, Lee Shin Woo performed a final check on the Dryads for the curse. Since it would be best if they were completely clean before entering.
“If you feel uneasy from the curse, come over here.”
[Ok. Excuse me.]
Sinea, who hadn’t been corrupted thus far, seemed like she wasn’t immune to the curse once coming outside, and as soon as she heard Lee Shin Woo, immediately approached him. But when he actually checked Sinea’s condition, he couldn’t help but be surprised.
“You seem pretty clean to me…”
[…Really? That’s a relief.]
‘Was Sinea special amongst her people?’ Lee Shin Woo thought, as he completely sucked out what little curse she was afflicted with.
Perhaps Sinea knew what he was thinking about; she tightly gripped his hand and just gazed into Lee Shin Woo’s skeletal face.
[This is it? I don’t feel anything though.]
[You idiot. There’s no way living trees would be above ground.]
[Oh, I see!]
Lee Shin Woo arrived at the exit that he and Erian had used to leave the vineyard. It was quite far from the winery.
[It was a dungeon!]
With a bit of control, Lee Shin Woo opened the dungeon’s entrance; the Dryads cheered and scrambled to get inside the dungeon. As more than 300 Dryads entered instantaneously, Sinea turned around to look at Lee Shin Woo and tilted her head.
[Paul Zero, you’re not going in?]
“I’ll go in after setting up the safety device.”
As soon as all the Dryads went into the dungeon, Lee Shin Woo crouched down and tinkered with the entrance. The threads of mana that came from his hand cut off the branches, and Jin asked.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing much. I’m just trying to copy the winery’s safety device.”
“…You can do that?”
Jin’s expression became dazed. Though Lee Shin Woo went beyond his expectations all the time, he felt as though Lee Shin Woo had gone to a place he couldn’t even begin to comprehend after undergoing various experiences with him.
“You said you didn’t know how to use magic.”
“It’s simple once you learn the trick to it. You can’t even call this magic. It’s more like intuition.”
Jin had his own hunch the moment he heard that. The ‘intuition’ Lee Shin Woo was talking about was definitely different from the intuition he knew about!
“I’m finished… Now most people won’t be able to harm the spirits inside. Good, let’s go inside.”
“I have no idea what you did to finish up, though…”
As soon as Lee Shin Woo and Jin entered, the entrance softly shut and was camouflaged with the surrounding landscape.
It would be impossible to discover it unless someone like the 12 generals was involved. Even Lee Shin Woo wasn’t aware of it, but his mana abilities were growing at a considerably fast rate.
[They’re really grapevines!]
[It’s filled with trees! It’s overflowing with life!]
By the time they went down, the spirits had already sensed overflowing life energy and found the orchard filled to the brim with grapevines.
The two sources of such refreshing energy met, permeating the room with brightness. To be more specific, the Dryads’ voices prickled his ears, to the point that it was unbearable.
[They’re really alive…!]
[Ah, there really were living trees left…!]
The girls, upon discovering the lines of trees emitting such vigorous energy within the vast, underground orchard, each cradled one of the trees and expressed joy with their entire bodies. The grapevines selected by these Dryads emitted an even greater vigor than before.
[These children are so healthy!]
[How could they be so pure again when they were dirtied by human hands? This is…]
[An elf. It’s an elf!]
As expected, these Dryads, as tree specialists, quickly figured out what had happened to these trees. Then, upon discovering Lee Shin Woo, who had just come down, the Dryads latched onto him and asked.
[Paul Zero, were you an elf before you died?]
[I had that feeling about you!]
“Nope, this place was already like this by the time I found it.”
[There might be an elf still living in the Empire.]
[I want to meet that elf!]
But that elf wasn’t born in the Empire… Lee Shin Woo smiled bitterly and approached them. He was trying to suck out any remaining curse within them just in case.
The Dryads obediently allowed Lee Shin Woo to do so and eventually, he purified them completely.
“Now we’re finished.”
[We’re all done?]
“Yeah. You guys can just keep living here now.”
Lee Shin Woo had safely moved them to their new home, and just like he promised, had provided them with living trees. He’d also blocked off the entrance so that not just anyone could enter, and had absorbed the curse from them in its entirety, so they were planning on doing whatever he wished in return.
[Thank you so much for helping us, Paul Zero.]
[But we don’t know what we can do for you.]
[We could’ve been a lot more helpful back when there was much more of our kind.]
This was after Lee Shin Woo had explained to them just what he did outside (while lying about a considerable number of things). His (seemingly) noble intent of purifying the Empire and destroying the undead had impressed them. Only Jin gazed at him as if he were a swindler, but that didn’t concern him.
Then, Sinea stepped forward. She had picked the toughest and most vigorous grapevine as her own, and perhaps because of that, the grapevine was already starting to emit a brilliant energy.
[You’re our savior. We can never fully repay you for that, but we want to repay you in any way possible. We must.]
They would probably look favorably upon him if he said that he didn’t do it seeking a reward, but Lee Shin Woo didn’t respond like that. Because if he lied too much, then there was a chance that the Dryads would get suspicious of him.
“To be honest… there is something I wanted from you.”
[Just tell us. We’ll do anything in our power to help you.]
Sinea was actually happy that he told her he wanted something from them. They truly were gullible, as it seemed like they would be fooled by anyone. But even now, Lee Shin Woo couldn’t complain as he was fooling them while receiving high praise.
“I told you that I was trying to purify the Empire, right?”
[Yeah. To be honest… I think it’ll be difficult.]
“There are people who are helping me. They’re fighting someplace else right now. Some of them are undead, and some of them aren’t.”
They already had Lee Shin Woo as an example, so they weren’t surprised. Hearing that, Sinea momentarily stood still and slowly nodded her head.
[You’re saying that there’s still hope in this world… like these living trees that have survived in this seemingly dead world.]
“Yeah. And I want you guys to be a part of that hope.”
He wasn’t asking something from them, but was asking them to stand alongside him. Sinea murmured to herself. It wasn’t an easy decision as the representative of the Dryads. However…
“Just staying here is enough for now. However, there may be a day when I need your help. You just need to help out a bit then.”
Sinea anguished over it, but could ultimately only respond in one way. Plus, it was something that all the Dryads wanted anyway.
[I… as well as everyone else want to purify the Empire.]
“I appreciate you thinking that way.”
[I’m the one… who’s thankful.]
Lee Shin Woo stretched his hand out first, and Sinea stiffly grabbed onto it. It was truly a surreal sight.
“Ah, and now that you mention it.”
After they finished shaking hands, Lee Shin Woo took a step back; he suddenly remembered something and searched his inventory. He took out a stone radiating a turbid green. It was none other than the spirit stone that contained the power of the Dryads.
“I know how you feel, but just wait a sec.”
When he’d first acquired it, he thought he wouldn’t be able to do anything to it, but now that he could suck out the curse with Jin’s ability, it was a different story. As soon as Lee Shin Woo glanced at Jin, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head.
[Does that contain our mothers’ strength…?]
[Look. The light’s gradually becoming clearer.]
It might’ve been difficult for Lee Shin Woo and Jin had the spirit stone been an ordinary item, but because it was an item that contained the power of spirits they’d encountered already, it was much easier than normal to suck out the swirling curse within.
‘Wow, Blessing of Death has increased again! Now I can die five times!’
Though the darkness that permeated the spirit stone was quite strong, once he gained momentum, he was able to vigorously draw out the curse. Ultimately, the spirit stone returned to its perfect, clean state in less than a few minutes.
[Spirit Stone holding the power of the Dryads]
Firstly, the item’s explanation changed. The vividly green spirit stone was filled with so much elemental power that it felt like it would explode at any moment!
Though it felt like he could absorb it himself… it would be better to give it to the person who could absorb it best, rather than absorb it just to increase his magic a bit.
“Here, take it.”
[You’re giving it to me…?]
“Of course. It belongs to your people.”
Sinea accepted it with trembling hands. He’d somewhat expected this to happen, but at that moment, the magic within the spirit stone harmonized with Sinea and emitted an explosive light!
Lee Shin Woo watched closely as Sinea absorbed the magic from the spirit stone and was reborn. The other Dryads also silently approached and watched without saying a word. It seemed like they knew what exactly she was going through.
[Lv6 Dryad Princess – Sinea]
When the spirit stone’s light disappeared and Sinea could be seen once again, the spirit stone no longer remained in her hands.
But the fact remained that her level and her position had changed, as well as her power; the power she emitted was incomparable to before, proving that the spirit stone hadn’t disappeared in vain.
[Thank you so much, Paul Zero.]
There wasn’t much change in her physique, but she possessed much more mana than before, as well as that mana becoming clearer. As she was composed of mana, her dress became more splendid. He supposed that that was proof that she was a higher level spirit than the others.
[We’re… we will keep our promise to you. Always.]
Her voice was trembling with effervescence and happiness. He could tell how she was feeling purely through her voice. As expected, these spirits really were messed up. Lee Shin Woo inwardly muttered.
[Even if we die at the end of it, we will always…]
“No, it’d be pointless if you died, so you don’t have to go that far.”
Sinea declared as she gazed more deeply at Lee Shin Woo, and Lee Shin Woo replied humbly and thought.
‘Everything is going as planned.’