He weakly replied, "You do anything else? I might end up considering going..."
"I am also a part time tour guide during the festival. I give tours of the more interesting parts of the Dead City. Quick tours that last only an hour or so, but very informative of the history of Yeonog," Nari replied looking at the little blue wristwatch she wore on her right arm. "Well, I best better to finishing my rounds before the festival begins. See you tonight?"
'Dead City tour...' Romeo thought to himself, and without thinking he replied, "...Sure, I'll be here..."
"Dress accordingly too, helps fit in with the culture. See you!"
As she turned and walked away, Romeo found himself watching her, not realizing how lucky he was to have talked to her for even a short while without breaking down.
Eight o'clock rolled around and after a few hours of brushing up on his history, Romeo began to get ready for the festival.
Of course, figuring out what to wear was not a problem whatsoever for him. He wore a black t-shirt that had the picture of a wolf on the front colored light blue and his usual black get up. It was appropriate he dressed in black to go to the Dead City. The black trench coat he wore completed the ensemble.
A night with Nari was ahead and he was looking forward to it, even if it wasn't a date in the truest sense of the word, she was going to be with him the entire time and so it felt like he was going on one.
After making sure he was okay in his reflection, not to mention his hair was smoothed over, Romeo left the house and began the long walk to the festival. He noted that Jeung had not spoken to him in quite some time, but decided not to ask him. If he needed to speak he didn't need to ask permission to do so.
So the walk took about twenty minutes or so and when he arrived the city was alive with activity. Countless people all dressed in appropriate attire known as hanbok, a traditional Korean dress usually worn during festivals. Most of the time men wore hanbok colored green or blue and were dark in hue, while women wore white or pink or bright blue to complement their partners. Since everyone around him wore such formal clothing in comparison to what he was wearing Romeo couldn't help but feel a little out of place in his black leather trench coat. Not really his fault either, as he had never gone to a festival before today and he was unable to afford a hanbok.
And so the questioning looks and whispers were abound but since he didn't care deep down Romeo just shrugged them off and went about his way to the Parting Path.
There was already a good sized crowd of about twenty people waiting at the split and Romeo couldn't see if Nari was around or not.
Taking a deep breath he made his way to the front of the crowd and when he got close to the front he saw her. Dressed in a white top long blue skirt hanbok with her hair braided into one long tail Nari was more beautiful than ever to Romeo who was staring all dumbfounded with his mouth slightly open.
"Alright then, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me on this tour of the Dead City of Yeonog Island. If you look at this map beside me..."
Nari motioned to a large map on a board that Hyuk had brought up, proving he was useful for something after all, and she pointed to a spot on it that read 'YOU ARE HERE'.
"We'll start here at the Gates before going north to the shrines that will take the spirits to paradise or the underworld before visiting the entrances to the afterlife. I know it looks long but we will be taking a bus to make the tour more appealing and not take as long. Any questions before we begin?"
There was a little whisper here and there but no one asked a question, but Romeo was more interested in just watching Nari the whole time.
Appearing satisfied with the result, Nari motioned her hand towards the bus down the path, "Single file and please be polite to everyone."
Hyuk put the map down next to a statue and stuck around Nari, not moving until the crowd moved onto the bus before following them, and Romeo lagged behind them getting on the bus last.
The City of the Dead began at the Gates where the dead passed through the moment they died. Legend goes that once a spirit entered the city it was impossible to leave though Jeung proved to be an exception to that rule.
The Gates consisted of four large wooden doors with intricate designs, all of which were in the northern sector of the island. One was at the northern tip of the island, another at the eastern shore and western cliffs, and finally the southern gate was in the woods a few miles north of Danku.
The southern gate was where the tour began and once it went over a series of hills and past the woods the city came into view. Once over the hill, thousands upon thousands of gravestones and markers as well as burial mounds could be seen for miles, with a few stone buildings here and there. As long as the island had been inhabited by people, the dead had been buried here which made gave its near two thousand year history a lot of clout. There was no telling how many people were buried on the island, yet that mystery was part of the island's appeal.
The bus went north past the first area of graves, all the while Nari sat near the front with Hyuk and Romeo was close to her. In fact he sat in the seat behind her, next to an older woman dressed in a blue hanbok. He was hoping she'd notice him before too long, he'd hate to be the one to try and get her attention.
The ride was bumpy, especially after it left the paved road, and some of the other people on the bus looked like they were going to be sick. Hyuk was one of those people, he looked as pale as paper and was hunched over, looking like he was going to let it rip any second. Nari kept her distance in case that were to happen, scooting to sit against the wall with the window.
"I see you made it, Romeo."
Romeo raised his head, realizing that Nari had noticed him, "Uh...yeah, guess I did..." She did invite me...it'd be stupid for me to not accept the invitation, he thought. "Though I couldn't find the appropriate outfit, I still came."
He felt really out of place when compared to the other people on the bus dressed in bright colors festival dress and he wore black leather.
Nari gave him a smile, "But you came at least, that's good enough in my book."
Romeo felt the heat rise on the back of his neck.
Soon after the bus made a turn towards the first destination of the tour: the statue of the judge. The bus was parked on the side of the road and everyone got off, Nari, Hyuk, and even Romeo being the first off. A short walk up a hill through a forested area led the group of a nearly a dozen people to a withered statue of a man sitting on a throne. His arms pointed in different directions, the reason for which Nari explain. She stood at the base of the statue, the top of her head only halfway up the statue's shin.
"This is the Statue of the Judge. In ancient times it was he who decided the fate of the spirits who came to rest on the island. After spending enough time in the Dead City the spirit would ask the Judge where to go, and through his divine hands he would lead the spirit to where he believed they were most worthy: either to the east where the stairway to heaven would lead to paradise, or to the west where they would be thrown down the well to the underworld. Legend tells of a few spirits who tried to defy the judge for various reasons, like to be with a loved one, and the sentence for that was to be confined to the dead city for another millennia."
While he listened to her as closely as possible, there was someone else who was conspicuous by his silence.
'Jeung? You still here?'
'Of course, boy.'
He had secretly been hoping that he was gone but guess life was still going to mess with him. 'You've been quiet for quite a while.'
'I was just gathering my thoughts.'
'This tour bringing back memories for you?' Maybe being around the Dead City was joggling Jeung's mind? He's had to have been around these parts before, being a Jeoseung-saja and all.
'Unfortunately, yes,' said Jeung, and though he couldn't see him Romeo couldn't help but notice a bit of sadness in his voice.
'By the way, that girl is talking to you.'
The sound of Nari's voice brought Romeo back to the world of the living, and Nari was standing before him.
"Oh um, sorry Nari, I got distracted."
Nari giggled, "It's okay. The rest of the group is heading back to the bus for the next part of the trip."
"A place called the Pit."
Instantly after she answered him Romeo felt a sharp pain go through his brain and he groaned.
"Romeo? You alright?"
She put her hand on his shoulder, which he quickly realized but couldn't react to that, he was too occupied with the pain in his head. What was that about?
"Uh yeah, I'm okay, just have a minor migraine," Romeo replied, and then he thought, 'Jeung? Did you have something to do with that?'
He didn't receive an answer.
'Well screw you then.'
And Nari had no clue what was going on, and that was how Romeo preferred to keep it.
"If you say so. We should catch up with the rest of the group," she said before walking on by him.
It was then that Romeo remembered that she had touched his shoulder, and he couldn't help but smirk.
The next stop on the road was the area known as The Pit, and from what Romeo remembered from his history classes The Pit was the place on the western half of the island where the most evil souls were taken after judgement. A separate hell from the underworld where most other souls went to, the Pit was supposedly a large hole in the ground that was filled with lava and the most damned souls were condemned to after committing the most heinous sins in life such as murder.
The bus was able to reach the pit but due to fears of how potentially unstable the ground was around it the bus stayed well away from it. The Pit was in the middle of a barren patch of land and when Romeo got a closer look the hole was bigger than he could have imagined. It had to be a few hundred yards in diameter and in a large circle, but the Pit itself was black, with no evidence of any burning recently.
"Guess the Pit hasn't been used in a long time..."
'No, it's still being used.'
Looking around to check for anyone being too close to listen, Romeo spoke aloud, "What do you mean? From the looks of it this hasn't been used in a very long time."
'Believe me, Romeo, to the eyes of the living this place is inactive but to the dead...the fire still burns as hot as it did when it was first opened...and the screams of the damned can still be heard. Listen closely.'
Wondering how that was possible but deciding to take a chance, Romeo closed his eyes and concentrated his ears.
For the first few seconds he heard nothing but the howl of the wind, but soon enough that singular familiar howl turned into multiple howls that soon sounded like people being burned alive by an inferno. It disturbed him, so much so it sent a shiver up his spine.
Romeo stepped away from the hole, the sounds of what he believed to be screaming would haunt him for days if not the rest of his life. To find such a place actually exists boggled his mind.
'This place is not for mortal eyes,' he heard Jeung whisper as if in thought.
Feeling really uncomfortable Romeo walked away from the area and tried to gather his thoughts which was even harder than normal considering he had a second mind in his skull.
Nari seemed to catch this as she finished handing out pamphlets to the other tourists. "Romeo, you alright?"
Shaking his head, Romeo tried to maintain his composure while not trying to alert her to his hidden discomfort. "What's the next stop on the tour?"
"We'll be going to the Stairway. It's the last major stop on the tour, though we might take a detour and look at the shrines along the way..." she looked around and when she stopped moving she looked like she had seen a ghost. Her complexion changed slightly, looking paler than before and her expression was less than bright. Wondering what could have caused this Romeo looked around, but saw only Hyuk standing near the bus holding a bag in his hand.
Nothing else happened before everyone returned to the bus.
The final stop of the tour was a few miles down the road, but as Nari had suspected the tour took a slight detour as it went towards a forested area that had small shrines dating back to the Joseon Period. Small wooden and stone shrines as well as grave markers were strewn about, all worn from centuries of deterioration. The forests of the eastern half of Yeonog were chilling and not a good place to go at night. They frightened even the bravest in Danku, and kids believed all the stories of ghosts and monsters living in them. Hiding during the day but leaving their homes at night in search of human souls...and even human flesh on which to feast. The only saving grace were the blessed paths on which visitors were told to travel in case they needed to traverse the forest. Romeo as a kid had never believed the legends but after having Jeung with him for as long as he had he was willing to believe anything at this point.
As soon as he got off the bus he went to the end of it and tried to talk to Jeung once more.
'You've been awfully quiet tonight. Any of this bring back bad memories?'
As usual, Jeung remained quiet. So Romeo left it that way for the time being.
But there was one thing he noticed as he returned to the front of the bus.
Usually he heard it as soon as they got off the bus, but he didn't hear it now.
'Oh so now you talk?'
'That girl you like is missing. She should be your top priority.'
"Like I need you to tell me that," Romeo said aloud, forgetting the fact that he had addressed Jeung out loud. "Where could she have gone?"
He didn't see her around the immediate area, and there wasn't many places for people to go around here.
'Suppose I should look a bit deeper-' Romeo thought before a small sting pierced his brain. Similar to what happened at the Pit but smaller yet no less alarming. 'That hurt...'
Putting the pain aside for the moment Romeo went ahead and started scanning for Nari. He couldn't see her anywhere. "I don't think she'd go far from the bus. Best start with the trails."
Thinking it'd be best to start with the trails, Romeo began to walk on the closest one. It lead him deeper into the woods past many grave markers and crooked trees. A thin veil of fog had started to form giving the woods the creepy vibe everyone associated them with but Romeo kept going.
'If she did come through here I don't think she would have gone far.'
'The dead are restless right now…'
Hearing Jeung's voice made Romeo jump a bit and he stopped walking, 'What do you mean?'
'These shrines have spirits in them, those that have yet to pass on, and they are speaking to me.'
Finding that interesting Romeo suddenly got an idea from that, "Think they know where Nari went?"
'They're all trying to tell me at the same time, but I believe the majority of them share the same story. A woman passed through here. She was chasing after someone, a tall young man, they were headed towards the large shrine on the hill top.'
Without thinking Romeo began to run up the hillside, hoping that the spirits were telling the truth. As he reached the top he began to hear voices.
"How long are you going to beat around the subject?"
"I swear I don't know what you are talking about."
Romeo ducked out of the way, taking cover behind a shrine near the top of the stairs. The first voice he had heard was a male voice, the second female. Peeking around the corner he saw them.
Hyuk and Nari appeared to be arguing about something, and Hyuk held something in his hand though Romeo could not guess as to what it was. Nari looked to be on the verge of a panic attack but Hyuk was unrelenting in his threats.
"You still deny it? I have perfect proof right here in my hand. How many school rules do you think you're breaking by having a weekend job?"
"It was a one-time deal I swear to you! I needed the money!"
"You've been doing this since the beginning of summer, don't think I haven't noticed the dates on these magazines. Seriously though…" Hyuk opened the magazine he was holding, "How would the school react if they were to see you in such a sexy outfit?"
Nari tried to grab the magazine but Hyuk moved it out of her reach, she was much too short to get it from him. She still tried frantically to retrieve it. "Please don't!"
Hyuk tossed the magazine aside and grabbed Nari by the wrist and held her in a tight grip. "If you don't want me to then I have to have something in return."
The magazine had been thrown quite a ways away, in fact it landed close enough to Romeo that he could see the cover. It was a voyeur's magazine, the kind women would pose in to make a lot of money, which were less than ideal for teenagers to do in order to make extra. In most circles such a job was no better than prostitution.
Romeo was shocked. 'She's been doing that since the end of spring…?' Nari, the girl of his dreams and whom he had feelings for, was secretly a model for a sketchy magazine?
Regardless of his thoughts on the matter the moment Romeo saw Hyuk twist Nari's arm behind her back his feet moved him from behind the shrine and full into view of both Nari and Hyuk.
"Hands off her Hyuk!"