“You claimed to have no memories before awakening, so how can you be certain about what larks desire?” Eugene inquired.
“I’ve observed larks for a considerable time,” Mara replied. “Just as you pointed out, my roots are lark, allowing me to sense their desires and fears.”
This time, it was Kasser who asked, “So, what is the ultimate wish of the Hwansus?”
Mara, who had been chattering away, fell silent. The rat gazed into the distance as if lost in profound contemplation before twitching his nose and continuing.
“The ultimate wish is to return. To go back to the world from which we originally hailed.”
Eugene realized that Mara’s words mirrored what she had heard from Alber, the very condition set by Sang-je. In many respects, Mara resembled Sang-je, leading Eugene to suspect that these false excuses concealing true intentions were not so far-fetched. However, when Mara spoke of “return,” she felt an inexplicable resonance.
“Does Sang-je also share this desire?” Eugene inquired.
Mara glanced at Kasser and shook his small head.
“It’s like an innate instinct. We don’t truly belong to this world. That’s why we face rejection. I yearn to return to a world where I feel welcomed.”
Eugene countered, “But it seems that larks have already become a part of this world.”
How many individuals genuinely wished for the complete extinction of larks? Lark seeds had evolved into a vital resource for humans. The larks, in turn, relied on humans to fulfill their aspirations of becoming Hwansus, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
“You can view it that way, but I am not a Hwansu,” Mara asserted.
“Why not?” Eugene inquired.
“Because I cannot leave offspring. It signifies that this world does not permit our existence.”
Eugene felt as if she grasped the reason behind this. With their intelligence and formidable bodies, Hwansus, with their nearly limitless lifespans, could absorb human knowledge. If they also reproduced, humans would swiftly lose their dominance and, ultimately, cease to exist.
“So, are you and Sang-je attempting to employ magic to return?” Eugene asked.
“Magic won’t suffice. I’m pursuing it with my own abilities.”
“Do you know the method?” Eugene pressed.
“Not yet. However, I’ll discover it someday. To achieve that, I must endure until then. Larks continue to cycle endlessly unless they meet their end at the King’s hands. But after awakening, death becomes an inevitable part of our existence in some form. Hence, that notion of wanting to become a tree is mere nonsense.”
Eugene contemplated for a moment before posing another question. “So, why does Sang-je seek Anika?”
Mara hesitated briefly, then diverted the conversation, expressing frustration about incurring continuous losses and Eugene’s unceasing stream of questions, and how dealings with humans often ended in deficits.
“Mara, it’s not us who are at a disadvantage; it’s you,” Eugene responded assertively. “Whatever your relationship with Sang-je may be, it matters little to us. From our perspective, whether it’s you or Sang-je, both are larks who obscure the truth with deception. However, if you genuinely aid us without deceit, within the bounds that don’t harm humans, we can extend our assistance to you as well.”
Eugene applied a mixture of pressure and determination in her words to Mara. She secretly hoped that Mara would choose to cooperate. They might not become friends, but as allies sharing the same objective, there was potential for collaboration.
“…Tsk. Dealing with humans invariably results in losses, as I expected,” Mara reluctantly conceded.
A mere sprinkle of words couldn’t unsettle Mara, a being who had traversed the sands of time. Over the years, he had mastered the art of deceiving humans in countless ways—shifting from a High Priest to a cult leader, even masquerading as a deity. He had witnessed firsthand the depths of human depravity, especially among those ensnared by sects. This was why he had developed a deep-seated distrust of humans.
Yet, there was something oddly endearing about Anika, who now stood before him, unflinchingly posing questions despite knowing his true identity. Among all the humans he had encountered apart from the wanderers, she was the first to elicit such sentiment.
Things had not begun this way during their initial encounter. However, given their brief interaction at the time, he hadn’t pondered it much. After all, when he had donned the High Priest’s facade, his appearance had been drastically distinct from his current form.
“After awakening, the natural inclination is to distance oneself from humans. But he was different. There are always exceptions. He ventured into the human world alone,” Mara disclosed.
This was a tale from a distant epoch. The otherworldly beings summoned by ancient tribes through forbidden rituals had been ruthless creatures driven solely by the instinct to attack. They later became known as larks, preying upon their own kind and humanity alike.
Yet, one of them had undergone a startling transformation, marking the first awakening.
“I’m not sure if everything he told me is true, and he may have hidden some things, so I don’t know a lot either. Anyway, he seemed to have lived among humans for a very long time. He even played the role of a certain human’s pet. That human was Anika.”
Eugene’s eyes quivered as memories of what Alber had divulged resurfaced.
“When Anika depletes all of her Ramita and approaches death, her hair turns blonde. He witnessed Anika’s impending demise.”
“However,” Mara went on, “that particular Anika seemed to grapple with mental issues. She mistook him for a deceased pet and mourned him, despite there being no conceivable way Anika could fail to recognize a Hwansu. Yet, whenever she stroked him, he experienced an unusual phenomenon where his vitality surged anew.”
Eugene’s mind rewound to the peculiar sensation she had experienced when encountering Abu prior to their journey across the Anoti Mountains. In that recollection, she vividly recalled Abu’s fervent reactions.
“He had been intrigued by something unusual,” Mara continued. “So, he disguised himself as if he had been seriously injured and appeared in front of that Anika. As I mentioned, that Anika clearly had some mental issues. She poured all of her Ramita onto him.”
“…So, did she meet her demise after depleting her entire Ramita? Did her hair turn blonde?” Eugene inquired.
Mara confirmed, “Indeed. And he pieced it together. Anika’s Ramita possessed the power to either extinguish a Hwansu or renew their vitality.”