Chapter 12: Chapter 12
With a face filled with aging pigmentations and droopy eyes, he was a gentle-looking old man. He didn’t look like anyone to be cautious of.
“I heard that you were looking for me. What is it?” The village chief was wary of Su-hyeun, just like the rest of the villagers.
“I was just passing by and saw a village here. I would like to stay for a few days. Is it possible?”
“…You don’t have any other motives?”
“There’s nothing to take from us. Not even a speck of dust, so leave.”
Su-hyeun seemed to be regarded as an uninvited guest who was here to loot the village. Persuasion was required.
“No. I don’t want anything; I just hope for a place to sleep. I brought rations with me.”
The village chief’s eyes brightened at the word rations.
Su-hyeun nodded, answering, “Yes, of course. I’m willing to share my rations, too. Even if the monsters are here…”
“The monsters don’t come to our village!” a child screamed.
Su-hyeun turned his head immediately. The child’s mother hugged him close to her chest. Then, the village chief spoke. “If so, alright. There are a few empty houses, so you can use one of them. As for the food…”
“I’ll give it to you.”
He was greeted with thanks. Do they have problems with food, too?
There were a few severe issues in the destroyed world, and one of them was food. In a world where neither rice nor wheat could be grown again, food became scarce to the point when cannibalism began. This village had yet to arrive at that stage, but it might arrive there soon due to limited food resources.
But… Su-hyeun looked at the child who screamed earlier. The monsters don’t come.
As Su-hyeun went deep into his thoughts, the village chief turned around and spoke, “Follow me. I’ll show you an empty house.”
“Ah, thank you.” Su-hyeun bowed and followed the village chief. His worries did not end.
* * *
The empty house that the village chief brought him to was a shabby tent that could not even keep the wind out. Its shabbiness was worse than his semi-basement apartment. One had to wonder: how could this be called a house?
I didn’t know our house could feel so luxurious. Su-hyeun left his bags in the tent. Su-hyeun took out bread, nuts, beef jerky, water, and more rations that filled his small pouch.
As Su-hyeun stepped out, the child from earlier was waiting for him. It was a little girl, about six or seven years old. She looked at Su-hyeun with her filthy face.
“Were you waiting?” Su-hyeun bent down.
She looked at the bundle in Su-hyeun’s hand as she nodded. “You want to eat this?”
Su-hyeun offered a piece of bread from the bundle.
It was when the girl reached out. “What are you doing now?!” The village chief roared.
It was an unbelievably loud and high-pitched voice coming from such a small build. “Didn’t you promise me?! If I provide you with a bed, you’ll hand me your rations!”
“Isn’t she from your village?” Su-hyeun asked, dumbfounded.
The village chief’s gentle expression was suddenly replaced by an intimidating look.
“What does she know?! She only knows to fill her stomach, and that’s it. You might not know this, but food is equivalent to our lives here.”
It wasn’t an incomprehensible remark. But…
Su-hyeun looked back at the little girl. “Don’t cry.”
He patted the little girl’s head as she silently sobbed and held the bundle out towards the village chief.
“Take it. The food that I promised to give you is here.”
“Hmm. Don’t be too upset over this. It’s all for the villagers.”
The village chief came up to Su-hyeun and took it. His eyes went huge as he verified the contents. Su-hyeun hated the sight of him, and not just because of the gatekeeper’s words. He seemed indifferent, at least to the feelings of others.
“Uh-hmm. Hmm.” The village chief left, making a few exaggerated coughs. The little girl soon burst into tears.
That moment, her mother walked up quickly. “Don’t hate the village chief.”
She seemed to have overheard their conversation earlier while looking for her daughter. The mother looked in the direction where the village chief left and said.
“It’s quite tiring on him. He worked hard for this village his whole life…. And I believe he has something else on his mind.”
“You mean he is so preoccupied that he can’t share a piece of bread?”
“Yes. I — no, we — believe so.” Her voice wavered at the end. There might have been something else that made her hesitate while she said that.
What could it be? Just what did the village chief mean to them? That thought did not last long. Su-hyeun took out a piece of bread and handed it to the little girl who wouldn’t seem to stop crying. “Here.”
The child’s mother was startled.
“Is, is this alright? What if the village chief finds out…”
“Don’t worry. I took it out from my own rations, so the village chief can’t say anything about it.”
“If you still feel uneasy, you can take it. The village chief can’t possibly say anything if an adult accepted this, right?”
Whether given to the child or the mother, the little girl would still get to eat it. Su-hyeun forced the piece of bread into her hand. Su-hyeun patted the little girl’s head again and stood up.
As he walked around the village, Su-hyeun looked at the mother who was nagging her daughter. It feels kind of weird.
The villagers had much faith in their chief, but he felt another feeling besides belief from her eyes. It was nothing other than fear. The village chief felt almost like a fishbone stuck in his throat.
I’ll need to verify it.
Protect the village and survive. The trial’s subject was still vague about what he was supposed to protect the village from and what he had to survive.
* * *
There were divided opinions on the village people by those met from the trials.
Some said that it was like a program made for each floor of the trials, much like a Non-Player Character (NPC). The rationale was that when they attempted the trial again after failing it, the people could not remember them.
Some others said they were probably real people living in another world. Their rationale was that the appearances and mindsets did not look like they were made from a program.
Indeed… Su-hyeun thought while looking around the village.
I’m not sure yet.
Were the villagers’ expressions, speaking, lifestyle, and civilization all made up? Or could they be real living humans? Nothing could be confirmed, but Su-hyeun was certain of one thing.
They are, at the very least, reacting based on their thoughts and emotions. So, he would have to treat them the same as humans.
Su-hyeun tried finding out about the village chief — what kind of person he is, how had he lived his life — but everyone’s response to those questions was cold.
“Why do you ask that?”
“You have something up your sleeves, right?”
“Don’t you dare harm our village chief, otherwise I’ll—!”
Full-blown reactions. Nevertheless, Su-hyeun was able to hear a rough story when he approached a mild-looking middle-aged lady.
“Please understand. We react this way because our village got looted by outsiders quite often. Although I do not know what the village chief is thinking, we do feel uneasy accepting outsiders.”
He had expected that. Weak villages would only get looted in this world. But Su-hyeun was curious about something else.
“Why does everyone trust the village chief so much?”
“That is because the village chief is a hero to the villagers.” Su-hyeun’s eyes wiggled at her answer. It was a word so familiar that it felt annoying.
“…Hero?” That old man? Su-hyeun asked about the details. He wanted to know what had happened to make everyone here regard him as a hero.
“Ah, I don’t know. I can only tell you this much.” Even the lady who was less wary about Su-hyeun shook her head and turned away. Su-hyeun’s mind got complicated.
Hero. There were a couple things he was sure of if the village chief was called by that title: the village chief saved the villagers, and it must have been through an extreme method.
…He didn’t seem to be that kind of person. It was something he would come to know without the gatekeeper’s warning. As he went deeper into his thoughts, Su-hyeun’s mind got more complicated.
Either the gatekeeper’s warning was wrong, or the villagers are blind. It was one or the other, and Su-hyeun was betting on the latter.
Su-hyeun had observed the village for a while. It wasn’t long until he started to widen his area of search. There was nothing else he could fish out from the villagers. They were definitely with the village chief. He could only find out new information by himself.
First, I’ll need to find out… From what did he have to protect the village from? He required an answer to that.
But as he left the village’s entrance, a strong smell stimulated Su-hyeun… a familiar smell. “It couldn’t be.”
As soon as he smelt it, Su-hyeun’s face cringed. Su-hyeun looked around him, and the doubt soon became the truth.
Su-hyeun had seen the ugly side of men for a long time. As the world was collapsing, he learned that even good men would turn evil, and their smell was evidence.
“Beware of the village chief.” He needed a little more verification.
Somehow… Su-hyeun’s eyes narrowed at the source of the smell.
I have got to be more assertive than this.