Chapter 67

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“Slap!”

The cheek is a mysterious organ that can both awaken and lose a person’s mind. (Generally, the latter was the main application.)

Ivan, being a highly skilled agent, successfully awakened Elpheira’s mind.

“Uh… Why…?”

“Snap out of it.”

“Snap out of it? What are you talking about? I’ve never lost my mind! I was contemplating how to share that with you, considering your thoughts, but this rude human… No, ‘rudeness’ and ‘human’ are the same thing.”

Elpheira, while babbling nonsense, still glanced at the pile of combs.

“What does that look like?”

“Huh? That’s a treasure trove! I’m a merciful elf, so I’ll split it with you. Oh, but Lorein is not included. That has a purpose. It’s not something you can eat as it is; I’ll infuse it. It’s a very tricky ingredient….”

“It looks like combs to my eyes.”

Ivan casually remarked to Elpheira, who started murmuring Elvish again.

“What? Combs? What’s that sudden talk about?”

“Literally combs for combing hair.”

Ivan pulled Elpheira’s arm and slowly stepped back.

“That’s a trap.”

“A trap… Oh… really? It looks like combs? But what kind of trap…?”

“A trap that shows what you desire most from the observer’s perspective. Probably a dreamlike trap, similar to when you first arrived at this temple.”

“Does that make sense? What kind of life does a human live that combs are what they desire most…? Especially when there’s an elf next to them, not to mention their insignificance?”

A dreadful trap indeed. To destroy an elf’s mind like this.

But Ivan was not surprised. Inherent lack of character in elves is common knowledge; it naturally implies that elves are a mentally weak race. Those with a healthy mind do not belittle other races.

Ivan still coldly gazed at the sparkling hills of combs.

If it’s a trap, there must be an intention behind it.

He narrowed his eyes, scanning from end to end of the room. Temptation always has a purpose.

There can be no trap without intent.

The treasure pile lures in victims, like lanterns hanging from a predator’s head. Now it was time to find the fangs of that predator.

‘The scent felt when opening the entrance.’

So, it’s a trap that disturbs both vision and smell, leading victims to the desired treasure pile by dismantling their subconscious defenses.

“Elpheira.”

“Yes?”

“Still no magical aura?”

“Well, no. If there was, I would have immediately recognized it as a trap, but there’s no sign of it at all.”

“Hmm.”

If it’s not a magical mechanism, let’s assume it’s a trap based on physical actions.

Ivan closed his eyes, blocked his sense of smell, and slowly leaned his ear.

-Thud, thud, thud…

The sound reverberates beyond closed eyes, bouncing back with echoes. Sounds colliding with terrain and objects return with distinct refractions, slowly taking shape.

It’s a fundamental use of echolocation.

In this spacious room, there’s a ‘pile of something’ and ‘something protruding.’

Immobile still life. Therefore, the immediate possibility of it harboring an enemy is low.

“In the treasure pile you see, at the center, do you see something protruding?”

“Protruding?”

“The form doesn’t matter. Just think freely. When you first saw it, was there something you wanted to grab first?”

“Oh, yes. If we have to specify… something is protruding. Probably some grass.”

“I see.”

Ivan opened his eyes. In the middle of the pile of combs, a particularly well-crafted comb was slanted among the other items, precisely located through echolocation.

If the trap was intended to make him want to pull that out.

Ivan cautiously moved, feeling the sensation beneath his feet as the combs crunched beneath him.

He walked gingerly and picked up the comb.

Suddenly, the craftsmanship was so excellent that he felt the urge to take it. Exactly to his taste, a simple yet beautifully functional design, with a small utility clip designed like a dagger for added reliability.

Perhaps he could consider commissioning a custom order later, so he memorized the form. Ivan closed his eyes.

-Sss…

Then, he infused magic into his senses. The flow of air touching his skin, even the subtle waves created by his exhaling breath, felt intricately blurred.

Thump, thump. The sound of his heartbeat. Extracting concentration to the extreme, he projected all his senses onto the touch.

Reaching for that splendid comb stuck in place, slowly and precisely, like a surgeon’s scalpel.

A cold touch. The substantial weight of metal. A grip about 13cm long.

Slightly applying force to the fingertips and sensing the recoil when shaken lightly, he deduced the remaining shape.

With a firm grip, he could finally discern the complete form.

“A blade… it’s a sword.”

“Yes?”

“Intentionally designed to make you want to pull it out, stuck somewhere. A vertically long metal. The center of this trap and its activation condition. This is a sword.”

Ivan slowly opened his eyes.

He stood atop countless skeletons.

With the sword gripped in both hands, thrust into the chest of the black stone statue.

He wasn’t surprised. When he heightened his senses, he had already speculated based on the tactile sensation of the comb he had stepped on.

The crunching sensation, rather than a small comb, was closer to bones.

“The illusion that disassembles upon recognition. Not a physical trap.”

“Yes? But there’s no magic at all…”

“Even without magic, isn’t there one more condition to materialize the illusion into a phenomenon?”

Elpheira still seemed unable to look at the essence of this trap. If that were the case, she wouldn’t be able to react like that.

Holding the scabbard, Ivan looked straight at the stone statue and spoke.

“Sacred. This trap is woven with sacredness.”

In front of him was a black stone statue in the form of someone kneeling and praying.

The material was marble, and a slender steel sword was slanted into the chest. If it’s a trap activated by pulling, this statue is probably the subject of the seal.

Ivan looked at the statue while holding the scabbard.

The black pupil of the statue’s eyes rolled, turning toward Ivan.

[Correct.]

*

In any place in the world, there are places where magic is concentrated and places where it is relatively faint. However, magic permeating everywhere is, strictly speaking, close to the origin of all things.

All objects have a certain amount of magic infused in them. It naturally saturates in the ambient air.

But sacredness is different. Sacredness belongs exclusively to the God of Light, the deity of the heavens (天主).

When priests pray to the deity, it is the radiance of the god that comes into contact with their bodies. It is an unparalleled force without any means or reasons to analyze the origin, something that even the wise and wizards dare not embrace.

Therefore, one cannot say something like ‘Aha, the sacredness of the Divine…!’ because there is no comparative sample for such a force. However, rational inference can be reached by observing the phenomenon and eliminating impossible conditions.

“Alexander was right.”

A sealed god does exist. Even beneath the academy. Is this the second stage? For the restraint of the hero party members? No, the difficulty is too high for such a thing. The difficulty of the first stage was also like that, but this case is entirely different. Perhaps it’s not something hidden that will come out later, but rather a meticulously designed event that was revealed by one’s own actions.

Ivan stared at the stone statue, holding the scabbard. He seemed determined not to turn his gaze away or release his hand from the sword. The unparalleled force had wrapped around his body.

[How great the pain must be for someone born with the qualities to look at true wisdom in a world where only those who awaken to one phenomenon and those sophists who proclaim that it is the only truth remain. Oh child, I know your concerns.]

The statue’s eyes looked at Ivan and twisted in an odd smile, resembling something forcibly mimicking human emotions.

Ivan stared at the statue expressionlessly and slowly tightened his grip on the hilt. The statue remained motionless.

“The church wouldn’t set a trap.”

Ivan was always someone who had to question and deduce even the smallest clues. His entire life forced him into such thinking. There’s nothing as easily deadly on the battlefield as ‘certainty.’

Therefore, Ivan could instantly deduce the trap upon seeing it. If we assume that ‘something’ is sealed in this place, there is no reason to subtly manipulate perception to release the seal.

So the conclusion is simple. Two thousand years ago, there was no such trap on this seal.

Every kind of ‘structure’ has an inevitable lifespan. Ruins that aren’t regularly maintained will inevitably be destroyed. For this reason, if the seal was in some sense ‘weakened,’ then it was also true that this seal did not have such a trap two thousand years ago.

If ‘something’ sealed in the meantime exerts influence and places some kind of trap in this archaeological site.

If it leads to completely dismantling its own seal. Even if it’s not a trap that utilizes magic.

If you can deduce the above conditions, one who cannot grasp the whole story is not an Earthling. All Earthlings know this kind of cliché, or ‘common sense.’

In the 21st century on Earth, this situation would be described as an ‘ancient deity sealed in an underground dungeon.’ It’s a scenario that often appears in hack-and-slash action RPGs.

[Your thoughts are correct.]

The statue spoke with an odd laugh.

[Yes. Your deduction is accurate, and your subsequent thoughts are also correct. I was once praised as a god by you, condemned as a devil, and now you will sing my praises again as your savior. I have many names, but you may call me Salvation. I know the hope you harbor. Pray earnestly, and it shall be fulfilled.]

Ivan stared at the statue with a dry look.

The statue spoke with a voice mixed with laughter.

[Pull it out. Then you shall obtain. Just as you wanderers always have, are you not also wandering, intoxicated by the fragrance between distant stars? I say unto you, you shall obtain what you have sought all your life. Raise your hand and pull it out.]

Clang, the steel sword gripped in Ivan’s hand twitched.

Ah, yes. Temptation.

The temptation to send him back to Earth. The price for that is merely pulling out this sword.

It’s so simple and charming.

Ivan stood still without releasing the grip he had on the hilt.

[Do you resist? Is it foolishness, pity, admiration? Or perhaps… is it fear?]

“No.”

Ivan forcibly suppressed his arm, attempting to rise, and opened his mouth.

“Your words are false.”

[Don’t you have faith? Like those sophists?]

“No.”

Ivan slowly closed his eyes.

Oof, tearing away his sense of hearing.

Oomp, pulling out his sense of smell.

“If you truly read my thoughts and knew about my homeland, there would have been traps better than a comb in this trap. It would have been dangerous.”

If Earthly belongings had piled up like hills, Ivan would never have resisted.

The mere comb, those cheap and meaningless trinkets, determined the limitations of this existence.

He couldn’t recall Earth, and he couldn’t manifest Earthly items.

In other words, it meant the ability to send him back to Earth did not exist.

[Most who faced me began with suspicion, went through certainty, and eventually only praise remained. You will be the same.]

“You are sealed by human hands.”

Ivan nonchalantly spoke, paying no attention to the statue’s nonsense.

[What…?]

“If the remains in this place were traces of people from a distant past.”

The remains Ivan finally saw after dispelling the illusion had the skeletal structure of a human. The shape of the limbs, the structure of the bones, everything was complete.

Therefore, by deduction, this was sealed by human hands.

He knew of beings revered as gods who lived. He had even faced some of them directly.

It is the Seven Dragon Lords and the Demon King.

Great warlords who ruled solely with the power each individual possessed, surpassing even the lords of each race, and eventually the Demon King, praised as the Emperor of the Seven Races by subjugating the seven warlords.

They were all gods in their own right, incomprehensible beings.

Countless armies prostrated before the Seven Dragon Lords. More than half of the kingdoms among the over twenty vanished into history, and the number of deceased humans surpassed counting.

It was a dreadful era, and no one could resist. It was a time when wielding weapons was not for victory but for survival.

In that time when everyone whispered in despair, a hero appeared.

*

Ivan understood the unfathomable power suppressing his fist.

This was ‘bliss’. An instinctive happiness that could not even imagine anything else aside from drawing the sword to break the seal. It was a primal happiness that made it impossible to fathom anything else, like the whispering of hell, akin to the melodies of heaven.

Yet, Ivan’s hand remained unmoving.

Slowly, fingers dropped one by one. The fingers that had tightly grasped the hilt, laboriously but firmly, as if it were glued.

He remembered the hero.

*

The hero did not wield the sword for his own happiness.

When the hero first cut down the Seven Dragon Lords, what he brought was not merely a single achievement. It was hope.

He swung the sword for hope. Like gazing at a morning star through thick clouds in the dark night.

If we dare to guess the hope he wished for, it might not have been peace for everyone.

Ivan is a selfish person. Therefore, he cannot harbor hope like the hero. His hope is merely for his own.

The desire to return to Earth.

That is what it simultaneously means. In this world, in this undeveloped pre-modern fantasy world, there is no happiness.

[What…? Who are you…?! How can a human think like this…!]

The left hand finally gained freedom.

It raises. Ignoring the cries of muscles and nerves screaming for rest, shouting that it’s enough.

Ignoring the pleas whispering how sweet a brief rest from exhaustion would be.

[Stop, stop…! Listen to me!!]

“No.”

The right hand gained freedom.

There is no happiness in this land, only obligations.

He only has tasks to fulfill. Anything beyond that, any joy he could personally contemplate, has all died over the past thirty years.

His hands slowly rose, gripping the head of the statue.

[Stop, stop!! You cannot kill me! I am your god!]

“I’ve met those who believe themselves to be gods.”

The tendons in Ivan’s grip writhed like snakes.

“They died.”

*

He knew beings revered as gods who lived. Some he even personally faced.

The Demon King and the Seven Dragon Lords.

And one of them died under his hand.

Therefore, killing someone who unquestionably believes themselves to be a god is not new for him.

As Ivan is an efficient person, he doesn’t find difficulty in doing things twice.

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