Chapter 263: Chapter 30, Episode 4: I Should Gain the Rewards of Labor
He inhaled, desperate for air. His lungs, which had shrunk, began to pump madly once fresh air entered. Blood flowed through his blood vessels at a speed of 20 meters per second. Air started rushing in like a waterfall, creating cells. His relaxed muscles regained its tension, and his skinny body parts stretched.
Recognition was quicker through scent than sight. All kinds of smell that had mixed with the air rushed at him—the smell of trees, dirt, and humans’ feces. Abstract concepts appeared as real images. It was a lake on the ground. He’d finally reached the surface.
A roar loaded with joy rang. The water’s surface rippled. Black Mamba raised both of his arms and stretched his thoracic cage as much as he could. The sweet smell of water felt like heaven. How long had it been since he breathed in the fresh air! How could it be so different from the underground lake? Tears poured out unknowingly.
Yes. Hope didn’t exist separately. The heart that never gave up was hope in itself. Black Mamba’s true strength was his mentality and not his body.
The slender new moon hanging around the western skies was cold. Light fluttered with the wind. A flock of unknown seasonal birds passed by the new moon as they flew through the night. The frogs that came out for a walk jumped in the silence. The white noise wavered. That was the view on the ground.
“I should thank the gods!”
He exhaled a deep sigh. He could feel the power of nature and the great passage of time. He’d been confident, but he was nothing but a small creature living like a parasite on Earth. How nervous had he been trying to escape the water’s surface! Too preoccupied with distinguishing between underground and ground, the depth of the lake didn’t even cross his mind.
A fog slowly drifted across the lake water. Dawn wasn’t far. Anywhere on the ground was okay with him. No one would understand the pressure of a dark enclosed space. Only those who had suffered from the absence of both light and space would recognize the importance of freedom.
Places such as prisons wouldn’t exist if humans never desired freedom. A prison was ideal for humans who lived like pigs, after all.
How long had it been since he felt a sense of freedom! He crossed the lake water leisurely and headed to the shore. Like a genie that had just crawled out of a lake, he was a sorry sight. One side of his balls flashed between his pants, which had long turned into tight underwear.
He clicked his tongue. The creature’s hide he had wrapped around his waist had long entered his stomach. He didn’t have any clothes or weapons. All he had was the Kukri in his left chest holster, the Boss-saurus’ tendons wrapped around his waist, a piece of diamond, some strange metal in his mouth, and the Gorgon.
“Wait, the Gorgon?”
The Gorgon, which he had wrapped around his waist, disappeared. It seemed as though the knot had loosened when he escaped the blocked underground ceiling. He couldn’t simply dismiss it as an object. There hadn’t been a more reliable weapon than the Gorgon during the Ruman plan. Aside from the fact that it was a little too light for his taste, it was the best medium-range weapon.
He looked down at his hands. There were no traces of the billion’s water armor. He’d been told that with a loss, there would be another gain, and he’d lost the Gorgon and gained the billion’s water armor instead. If the Gorgon was a regular item, the billion’s water armor was a unique item.
“I should ask Bonipas to create another one. I have the right material for it too. Should I call it Dragon if it’s made out of a dinosaur’s tendons?”
He tapped the Boss-saurus’ tendons that were wrapped around his waist. It was regretful, but the Gorgon could always be recreated. Instead of rejoicing over the gain of a unique item, he’d be called a miser if he mourned the loss of a regular item. A dinosaur’s tendons were more pleasing to look at than a whale’s tendons.
His stomach protested.
“Brat, don’t rush me. I’ll fill you up.”
He pulled out a slim tendon from the bunch of Boss-saurus’ tendons. It was 12 millimeters thick and eight meters long for something considered slim. It was heavy too, enough to prove that the Boss-saurus’ was the strongest in the underground world.
He used both of his hands to pull it. The tendon stretched three times its length. When he released it, it returned to its original length, just like a rubber band. It had amazing elasticity and tensile strength. No matter how amazing it was, the tendon was nothing but a fishing line to Black Mamba.
He stretched the tendon and wrapped it around the Kukri’s handle. As lacking as it was, he was going to use it as a substitute for the Gorgon.
The Kukri broke through the water’s surface like rain. The Sakala fish, which had been swimming peacefully in the lake, met with misfortune. A Sakala fish was from the carp family and ranged from 60 to 70 centimeters in length.
The Sakala fish, which was pierced by the Kukri, headed straight into Black Mamba’s stomach. He didn’t even remove its fins or scales. He only pulled out its intestines using his fingernails and shoved it into his mouth.
The Kukri broke through the water’s surface again. This time, it was an Amur catfish. The catfish also disappeared into his stomach instantly.
How long had it been! His stomach cheered. His digestive system, which had shrunk to accommodate the nail-sized insects in the cave, stretched out. Blood started transporting nutrients to his shriveled cells. His blurry vision regained its prime form.
The sight of him sitting naked by the bank and eating fresh fishes from the lake in the dark was both heartbreaking and eerie. If Jin Soon had seen him, she would have cried. Still, he was happy. He was happy to the point of tears. Both humans and creatures found happiness with a full belly.
The smell of decomposing garbage lingered. It was the stench from his body. A pig would even run away from him. The stench, which hadn’t affected him when he wandered around the cave, began to punch at his nose from the moment he landed on the surface.
“I’ve returned from the world of monsters to the world of humans. So I should act more like a human.”
He washed his tangled hair and rinsed his body that was covered with blood, liquids, sweat, and dust. The lake water turned dark. He also washed his pants before shaking it gently. He finally felt human. Someone once referred to humans as homo lavender. It was true. Humans washed up. Humans who didn’t wash weren’t humans.
He wondered for a moment, looking at how his military pants had turned into a rag, no, underwear. It was an Islamic society. If he walked around with just his underwear, he’d be stoned to death. He sliced off a thick bunch of reeds. He weaved them back and forth into a thatch. He wrapped the poorly made skirt around his waist and tied it with the tendon.
“Haha, what the hell!”
He couldn’t have looked more like an African local. He was at a loss for words. He left behind a burst of empty laughter and climbed up the bank.
“How can this be?”
Black Mamba’s eyes widened. The swing by the bank looked familiar. It was the red swing that Wael had often ridden. An elite sniper recollected terrains and obstacles from their photographic memory. He couldn’t have imagined it. He looked around.
The surrounding scenery was familiar. The field with rows of olive trees, the lake that stretched out like a long ribbon, and two fishing boats that swayed with the tides—it was the place where he had first met Bakri Jadir. He saw an empty hill far away, without a single tree in sight. It was the place where he’d fallen from the sky.
“No, Maydanki Lake?”
Black Mamba’s mouth hung open. It had to be fate! He’d crawled out from the underground, only to end up in the place where he’d fallen from the sky. It was like a tale of Sun Wukong running around on Buddha’s palm.
He finally recognized the mountain of skeletons at the bottom of the lake. They were the Kurds and Syrian Orthodox Christians that the Turkish Armed Forces had massacred. It really was the Maydanki Lake. The humans’ wrongdoing had been forgotten over time, the locals around the lake continued fishing for food from the lake to serve on their table. A lake that hid a sad history spread out before him in the dark.
He was sick of water. Violent water explosions, the currents that had carried him underground, and the Jurassic world that was sticky with poison—he had ended up being done in by water this time.
Other places had also been done in. It was the CIA and the Mukhabarat. Manager Matilda of the CIA’s Information Investigations Department had to suffer through director Adam’s onslaught of swears. With a large budget, she had been assigned to all three channels of the KeyHole, including the Blackbird and Dragon Lady.
They had supplied two groups of DIA shadows and 20 first-level intelligence officers to track down Abaddon. No results came up. Abaddon had disappeared like smoke. After poking around Syria’s northern regions for 40 days, Matilda raised both her hands in defeat. This was what she wrote in her report:
[Abbadon is predicted to be a dual haunter created by France. It is believed that the Kaparja dam had exploded due to the earthquake’s shockwave. Abbadon was either erased by the 3,000,000,000 tons of water that poured out all at once or crushed under the collapsed cliffs.]
From start to finish, it was all just speculations. Adam had the right to shout after receiving such a horrible report. Matilda gritted her teeth. The damned Abbadon had left a large dent on her perfect resume.
If she had operated the KeyHole and Blackbird for a little longer, she would have caught Black Mamba jumping out of Maydanki Lake. She was tenacious but had missed the last puzzle. There was a saying that went, humans planned, but the heavens produced the results.
Assad had released 20,000 Mukhabarat around Kaparja Valley and its surrounding 200 kilometers radius. 20,000 people set forth on a low-profile search but found nothing. After all, while they were searching the surface, Black Mamba was searching for an exit underground. Assad couldn’t look for the Iblis anymore. He had to move all the Mukhabarat to put a stop to the violent Wahhabism riots.
It was a blessing in disguise. Black Mamba had suffered, but he was erased from the Syrian and the U.S.’ intelligence networks. Of course, the person himself didn’t realize that.
Black Mamba collapsed back onto the dry yellow grass after filling his stomach with fish. Now wasn’t the time to worry about people who had been murdered decades ago. Fatigue washed over him. His body relaxed like a doll without its strings.
He stared at the new moon in the sky. It was the same new moon he had seen when he landed in Gobelaka, which was far from the promised landing point at Ain Dara Hills.
“Damn, how many days has it been?”
It was 52 kilometers directly from Maydanki Lake to Kaparja Valley and 83 kilometers by road. From his point of view, it was a short distance. If the crescent moon had turned into a full moon followed by a new moon, it meant that 20 days had passed.
A long time had passed after he had counted up to 15 days underground. From the length of the beard he had grown, he deduced that the moon had revolved once around the Earth. That meant he had spent 49 days underground.
He’d only spent two days in the Jurassic world. That meant he had spent 47 days wandering around Syria’s northern underground. If he traveled 30 kilometers in a day, it meant that he had completed a total distance of 1,410 kilometers in 47 days. He had basically dug around the entire Western Asia plate like a mole.
“A revival after 49 days! Kekeke, it’s like a ghost returning on the 49th day. What about it? I’m alive, aren’t I? Kekeke!”
He laughed while staring at the moon. He had ironically returned after 49 days. His teacher had never accepted a follower’s request to serve a 49-days funeral. His teacher had always sent them back after screaming about how it was a waste of time. He would often tell them to give food and money to the poor instead of offering it to the dead.
The 49-days funeral rite was a rite that entrusted a dead man’s soul to the kings of the underworld. Traditionally, the rite was 10 days long and not 49 days. The soul was judged by 10 kings every seven days. From king Jin Gwang on the seventh day to king Tae San on the 49th day, judgment took place every other seven days. On the 100th day, the soul would meet king Pyung Deng, king Do Si in the first year, and by sucking up to king O-Do Ryun in the third year, the soul would end the three-years rite. The fact that a Confucian supremacist had been on a Buddhist three-years rite was irony in itself.
The accumulated stress overcame him like a waterfall once he relaxed. All he could think of were horrible memories. That all happened because he had played with fire. There was no one else to blame, either.
“Blacky’s biomat was good, though.”
The scent of grass and fresh air blessed his hoop-nose. Black Mamba was the kind of person who could sleep even when he was buried underground. Snores were soon heard.
Dawn broke, moonlight passed, and the sun peeked out. Black Mamba’s eyes flashed open when he sensed a presence. 300 meters away, light footsteps knocked on the ground. It was a child’s.
“Un ciel bleu!”
He let out an exclamation the moment he opened his eyes. It wasn’t ominous darkness. It was the blue sky, which looked as though it’d shatter from a single touch. The cold wind brushed past his cheek. He slowly rubbed his cheek. He found traces of the wind. It had left traces of water on his dry cheek.
His senses returned. The smell from countless living organisms and organic matter on the earth flowed into him. Even the manure left scattered around the olive trees was fragrant.
The chattering of the small birds was a delight to his ears. How uncomfortable it had been to wake up to the Cretaceous world’s dinosaurs’ roars—the loud and deep roars! Warm sunlight tickled his neck instead of the insects that had glowed in blue. He wasn’t around the eerie lake full of monsters anymore. Several unknown water birds flew gently above the lake. It was the peaceful, heartwarming scenery viewed from the surface. It was the blessing of life.
“C’est le plus bon jour de ma vie!”
He pulled out his Kukri. There was rust on the bluish blade. A knife that remained in its holster was bound to rust. That was a non-negotiable fact. Not even his trained Damascus-powered knife could overcome the poison and humidity of the underground world.
He grabbed the surface with his thumb and used his forefinger to wipe it off.
The substances on the surface were wiped away. His face was reflected on the bluish surface. His beard overwhelmed his hollowed face. He was wondering whether to cut his beard when light footsteps approached him. Two red shoes stopped before him.
It was Wael’s tinkling voice.
“Marhaban lam nataka-bal mundu jaman?”
When Black Mamba turned his head, Wael stepped back.
“Wael, it’s ajussi.”
Black Mamba smiled widely. Wael, who was hastily moving backward, widened her eyes in surprise. Two eyes moved rapidly up and down Black Mamba’s body. “Ajussi” was a word that Sir Ddu-bai-buru-pa had taught her.
Wael cried as she jumped with outstretched arms. He lifted her and twirled her around. It was the helicopter game that Wael liked to play.
Her laughter swayed the fog that surrounded Maydanki Lake.
 “Blue sky!”
 “It’s the best day of my life!”
 “Hello, it’s been a long time, right?”
 “Aw, you cute child!”