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After the discussion with his teammates, Dylan decided to escort Ian to the rendezvous point.
The Forest of Denial was located in the Southernmost border of human territory. It was also an area where the territories of mankind, the Federation, as well as the Parasite overlapped with one another.
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, the rendezvous point lay somewhere in the way back home to Haramark. And quite obviously, they couldn’t let Ian return all on his own, when he didn’t possess a lick of close-quarter combat skills to speak of.
There was the slight inconvenience having to take a bit of a detour, but regardless, an escort mission was a still mission, just like any other. Since they were promised suitable compensation, the members of Carpe Diem didn’t complain. Much.
Seol Ji-Hu also decided to accompany them on this trip to escort Ian, precisely because of those reasons, too.
While Dylan was negotiating with the two porters, Seol Ji-Hu went to speak to Cho Hong. She was still in the midst of trying to cool her head, but her crumpled facial expression displayed how incensed she still was, while she intermittently spat out several choice words like ‘F*ck this’, and ‘What dogsh*t c**p is this’, etc, etc. Obviously, she was not successful with her goal at the moment.
And then, upon sensing his gaze on her, she spun her head towards him abruptly and formed a tearful face.
“You were planning to ask me something again, weren’t you?” (Cho Hong)
“How is it possible for a guy to be this curious about everything??” (Cho Hong)
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“….Okay, okay. Fine. I will never ask you a question ever again.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
While feigning a look of dejection, Seol Ji-Hu turned around to leave. But, when he did that….
“No, waaaait!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong hurriedly ran up to him and grabbed his arms.
“Hey, hey! That’s not what I’m trying to say!” (Cho Hong)
“No, I know. It’s my fault for being so tactless.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Hey, will you just listen till the end?! Whenever you are curious about something, you always ask me! But, compared to me, Dylan is….” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong was about to point at Dylan, but then, stopped midway. He was still busy with negotiating a new contract with the porters.
“No, hang on. Well, there’s Master Ian….” (Cho Hong)
Ian had his eyes closed, his expression one of pain and deep contemplation. And then….
After spotting Hugo rolling around on the grass field for fun like the thoughtless idiot he was, Cho Hong’s head slowly dropped to the ground.
“……….Go ahead and ask me.” (Cho Hong)
“It’s fine. It wasn’t that important anyway.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Wait, are you sulking right now? A man is sulking like a little girl?!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong glared at him in exasperation, but Seol Ji-Hu was smiling to himself.
‘I knew it. She’s still a big softie in her heart.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Of course, he made sure that the smile would not be noticed by her.
“Just what is this Arden fortress?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Cho Hong slowly facepalmed as if she knew he’d ask about that.
“It’s a fortress located in a certain canyon, on the border against the Parasites. It’s still under construction, I think.” (Cho Hong)
“Why were you so incensed back then, though?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Well, that….” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong looked a bit troubled, then.
“Well, it’s complicated.” (Cho Hong)
“Is it related to the rebellion?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Oh? Where did you hear about that?” (Cho Hong)
He just threw that out there hoping, but Cho Hong’s complexion brightened up considerably.
“Okay, come and take a seat over here.” (Cho Hong)
He came to ask her a question, but instead, he ended up getting caught by her. Even before anyone had time to notice it, she was no longer annoyed by his questions anymore. Cho Hong began unfolding her tale with some relish.
“Remember what you said earlier? The one about the war between the Federation and the Parasites intensifying?” (Cho Hong)
“Yeah.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Okay now. Think about it for a sec. Those two are preoccupied with ripping each other apart, so is there a reason for us to jump in the fray? I mean, we’re the weakest of the lot too, you know?” (Cho Hong)
“I…. uh, guess so?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“D*mn right it is! I mean, it’s not even enough for us to keep our heads down and shore up our strengths. Yet, we’re busy building a fortress in the border, so what would the Parasites take that as?” (Cho Hong)
“They would take that as a provocation.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Cho Hong slapped her knee.
“That’s right! That’s why, I’m like, why are they poking a b*tch that is minding her own business? When the royals announced this plan, the majority of the rankers active in Haramark all objected, but they went ahead with it anyway, saying it’s something that must be done or some c**p like that!” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong began to properly explode in dissatisfaction now.
“They did whatever the f*ck they pleased, and now they want our help? Did they really think no one’s gonna attack them? Did they expect that hostile-as-hell Parasite Queen would quietly sit around and wait until the fortress was finished?! Gimme a freaking break. What a bunch of morons.” (Cho Hong)
After Cho Hong added “That’s why I’m really p*ssed off. Wouldn’t you be, too?” at the end, Seol Ji-Hu began contemplating quietly. He could understand many parts of her complaints. If he looked at the situation using Kim Hahn-Nah’s logic, then this would be like the game you’ve been playing the way you wanted to until now shoving a difficult quest down your throat.
However, the Paradise was without a doubt, ‘reality’. One had to listen to both sides of the story first. There must be a reason for the Haramark royals to pursue the construction of the fortress in the first place. He kinda became curious about the opinions of the princess named Teresa Hussey were like, too.
Cho Hong had complained to her heart’s content, but when Seol Ji-Hu didn’t side with her immediately, she began pouting a bit.
“Well…. I know. As long as we are in Paradise, we have duties to fulfil and all that. However, there is a limit to being loyal, you know. They wanna go to war whenever there’s a chance, they keep creating troubles for us all the time, and everyday they go, ‘Do this!’ or ‘Do that!’. Don’t you think it’s just too much?” (Cho Hong)
Only after Seol Ji-Hu quietly nodded his head did Cho Hong form a satisfied expression.
The rendezvous point was where the roads merged into one and led to the canyon. It was about two days’ travel away from the Forest of Denial, but the expedition decided to increase their pace after receiving the request to arrive there as soon as possible.
The expedition marched for the whole day, and when the sun dipped below the horizon, they set up camp for the night. Dylan was quite satisfied with their progress, saying that they should arrive at the rendezvous point tomorrow morning, what with them having covered so much ground today.
After dinner, Ian asked if Seol Ji-Hu would let him appraise the earring. The youth was curious about its effects too, so he handed it over without saying anything. When Ian told him that the appraisal process might take a bit of time, Seol Ji-Hu chose to take a smoke break and walked to the edge of the camp. He was still feeling a bit restless.
While he sat on the ground sucking on the cigarette, he suddenly felt a warm air tickle his cheek. Dylan was pushing a tea cup at him.
“Thank you.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Rather than words, it’s the physical things that convey your meaning better.” (Dylan)
Seol Ji-Hu chuckled and pulled out an extra cigarette before handing it over. Dylan lit up and inhaled deeply, a look of rejuvenation forming on his face. He settled down next to the youth.
“What were you thinking about?” (Dylan)
“I was just thinking about Samuel and Alex.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu answered frankly. Dylan stopped tilting the tea cup to his mouth.
“Oh my gosh. I was wrong again.” (Dylan)
“I thought you were thinking about the war.” (Dylan)
“Ah, that. Well, that’s something I’m bound to experience sooner or later, anyway.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu smiled weakly and spoke in a dispirited voice.
“It’s just that…. I still can’t wrap my head around what happened.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“First time seeing someone die?” (Dylan)
Of course not. But, from Seol Ji-Hu’s perspective, both Samuel and Alex were not some random strangers.
“The life in Paradise is like that. The guy you had a nice chat in the morning would return as a corpse in the evening.” (Dylan)
“Dylan, you look okay, considering. Master Ian, too. Cho Hong, Hugo….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
For some reason, Dylan seemed to be at unease, unable to open his mouth. Seol Ji-Hu wondered if he said something he shouldn’t have and decided to change the topic.
“By the way, what will you to do when we get there?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Mm? Ah, that. We are thinking of joining the warfare, as long as the royals don’t ask something ridiculous from us. And, although he hasn’t said anything, it looks like Master Ian also wishes for that, too.” (Dylan)
“Won’t Cho Hong go crazy?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Nope. She may look like that, but she still knows how to separate her duties and her feelings. Of course, I’ll have to convince her first, but a chance to have a Sorcerer in your debt isn’t easy to come by. It’s all worth it.” (Dylan)
Seol Ji-Hu wasn’t sure, but by the look of things, Dylan made his choice in consideration of Ian. Was he trying to buy the Sorcerer’s favour? Although Dylan sounded like he was coldly calculating profits and losses here, Seol Ji-Hu wasn’t put off by that.
Once that discussion came to an end, a bout of silence drifted in between the two men. The only sounds to break it were the tea being gulped down, as well as cigarette smoke being puffed out.
A short while later, Dylan opened his mouth.
“Yes?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“I don’t know if this is too early for you, but…..” (Dylan)
It was then – a voice came calling from behind, looking for the youth. It seemed that Ian was done with the appraisal.
“Oh. Should we go and take a look?” (Dylan)
Even though he was interrupted, Dylan didn’t mind it and stood up from the spot.
‘What was he trying to say to me, I wonder….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
It didn’t sound like he was trying to recruit Seol Ji-Hu; it was as if Dylan had something else in mind. Seol Ji-Hu carried his unsolved curiosity with him and walked back to the tents.
Inside the tent, the smiling Ian was waiting for the youth’s arrival. Meanwhile, both Cho Hong and Hugo were staring at the earring with their eyes sparkling brightly.
As soon as Ian saw Seol Ji-Hu, he congratulated the youth.
“As expected of the Empire. I still fail to understand why the nation capable of producing such goods were destroyed like that.” (Ian)
Ian chuckled jovially and handed the earring back.
“The name of this item is ‘Festina Earring’. That saintess has gifted you with something truly wonderful.” (Ian)
“Is it a good item?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Of course! Now, let’s see. First of all, this Festina Earring will become bound to the very first person putting it on.” (Ian)
“So, you gotta think about it carefully. The moment you put it on and activate it, the earring will become utterly worthless, you know.” (Cho Hong)
When Cho Hong quickly followed up, Hugo snorted loudly.
“What is there to even think about? Of course Seol should use it. That accessory’s been designed for Archers and Warriors, anyway.” (Hugo)
“Now, now. Let’s put aside the unnecessary side broadcasts for the time being.” (Ian)
Ian cleared his throat and continued on.
“When you inject your magical energy into ‘Festina Earring’, the ‘Boost’ function imbued within will activate. Meaning, it’ll increase the speed of the person wearing it. According to the result of my appraisal magic, your overall speed should be enhanced by about 1.5 times the normal, and the effect will last for around one minute.” (Ian)
“On top of this, you can use the Boost up to three times. Whenever you activate the effect, it automatically charges back to full again. The time needed for a full charge is around six hours.” (Ian)
Seol Ji-Hu remained quiet, but it was Hugo who was making all the sound effects. Ian then spoke with an expression that said, “You will definitely react to what I have to say next.”
“But, most importantly, both the number of usages, as well as the activation time, can be stacked on top of one another.” (Ian)
“Oh.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu let out a soft gasp.
“So, if I use the Boost three times in a row….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Your speed will be boosted by up to 3.375 times, lasting for three minutes. Meaning, you will be maintaining the speed fast enough to clear 100 metres in three, four seconds for three minutes straight!” (Ian)
Ian spoke triumphantly, even though the earring didn’t even belong to him.
“As long as the wearer can utilise it properly, he will be able to display fearsome combat prowess.” (Ian)
Seol Ji-Hu looked down at the earring in his hand. Crafted out of silver-coloured material and shaped like the Star of David, there was an ivory-coloured jewel stuck in the middle that scattered gentle light.
“How much would this go for?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Hey, you!” (Hugo)
Hugo cried out in alarm. Ian grinned brightly.
“As much as you want it to be. However, will you really sell it?” (Ian)
“Not at all. I mean, I got this during the expedition, so….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“That’s nonsense.” (Ian)
Ian waved his hand around.
“Both the proof of chastity and the Festina Earring are the rewards you earned through your independent actions. You won’t find any sons of b*tches among us who’d even think about taking a share from your achievements.” (Ian)
Hugo barked out loudly like a dog. When Ian glared at him as if he was a helpless idiot, Hugo whimpered and quickly backed down.
“In my personal opinion, it’d be for the best if you used it. That earring is far too valuable to sell, I believe.” (Ian)
Seol Ji-Hu cautiously equipped the earring. He initially thought that he needed to pierce his ear, but when he brought the earring close to his left earlobe, it just attached itself there like sticky glue.
“Very good. Now, inject some of your Magic Power into it.” (Ian)
This earring would become his the moment he used it. Although he was momentarily taken by indecision, Seol Ji-Hu quickly made his mind up.
‘….It’s not like I’m in need for money, anyway.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
And so… It happened when he closed his eyes and roused his sleeping Magic Power.
His hair suddenly danced around, and at the same time….
A powerful gust of wind swept past him, before disappearing in the blink of an eye.
Seol Ji-Hu quickly scanned his body, utterly mystified. It felt like a certain formless aura had wrapped around him.
“Would you like to run and see for yourself?” (Ian)
Running would be Seol Ji-Hu’s speciality, actually. So, he began running with everything he got.
Soon enough, Seol Ji-Hu had run out of the campsite and found himself running on the grassy plains, completely failing to hide his shock.
‘Holy sh*t.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
He could definitely feel the difference once he started running with all his might. When he sneaked a glance behind him, he spotted the campsite rapidly getting further away. He even thought that this couldn’t have been his own body.
‘I can stack the effect, right?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
While circling around the plains, he roused his Magic Power once more.
Seol Ji-Hu freaked out at the sudden feeling of his entire being entering a strange state. The surrounding objects brushed past him in a streak of blur. The headwinds felt sharp enough to slice his flesh. His chaotic thought process was cleared up in an instant and indeed, it felt like he had entered a brand new world.
Ian was right. Depending on how it was used, this earring would exhibit truly unimaginable effects, be that in the middle of battles, while trying to rush forward, or even when running away, etc., etc. If he could control it properly, then it’d be the same thing as holding an absurdly powerful weapon.
He gradually got closer to the campsite. Seol Ji-Hu thought that now would be a good time to slow down, so that’s what he did. No, that’s what he tried to do.
“Uh…? Uh, uh, uhhhh?!” (Seol Ji-Hu)
His legs didn’t want to listen. As if he was a circus performer, his legs got all tangled up, and eventually, he couldn’t win against the inertia and his limbs began performing a bizarre dance routine.
“Euh?! U-uwaaah?!” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Tumble!! Crash! Smash!!
In the end, as soon as entering the campsite, Seol Ji-Hu fell hard and tumbled on the ground. He rolled forward for a long time before finally coming to a stop.
“Argh, ouch, ouch, ouuuch…” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Cho Hong and Hugo were watching on dazedly until then, before they exploded in a fit of laughter and nearly toppled over. Even Dylan and Ian were laughing out loudly as well.
As the night deepened, the campsite was coming alive with the sounds of laughter.
The expedition arrived at the rendezvous point even before the sun reached halfway mark in the sky. Ian contacted the royal family and then, conveyed the message to the rest of the team that the army should be arriving soon. Seol Ji-Hu suppressed his pounding heart and scanned his surroundings.
The surrounding topography wasn’t that interesting to look at. The road to the canyon itself was rather rugged, though. Boulders could sparsely be seen here and there, but their numbers gradually increased the further his sight shifted towards north-east. Even further away, one could see an imposing mountain range, well beyond the boulders the size of houses.
‘So, going into that mountain range, is it….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
No, going there hadn’t been decided yet. Although he had half a mind to return home immediately, but…. Surely, his ‘Nine Eyes’ would help him choose the right option.
“This must be your first time meeting a royalty.” (Ian)
Perhaps finding all that waiting around boring, Ian initiated a conversation. Seol Ji-Hu nodded his head while fidgeting with the Festina Earring.
“Hmm. Not sure what you’re thinking of here, but it’ll be better to lower your expectations.” (Ian)
“Even if one’s a royalty, you’re still a human being, no? There’s no need to be tense.” (Ian)
“Are you implying that the royals have lost their power?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Ian smiled brightly. If he were to ask the very same question to either Cho Hong or Hugo, they would just form an expression that said, “What are you talking about?” But, this young man in front of his eyes seemed to make his reply always after giving it some thought first.
“What comes to your mind when you think of Haramark?” (Ian)
“Uhm…. A castle? A city?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Indeed. Most of the Earthlings would answer in a similar fashion.” (Ian)
Ian spat out a sigh.
“Rather than as an actual kingdom, everyone now sees Haramark as just another city. The extent of the current Haramark royal family’s influence is only around their current address. That’s about it.” (Ian)
“The side effects of the rebellion must’ve been great.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Indeed, you’d be a fool to deny that. However, after the rebellion itself, the king of Haramark willingly cast away the authority of the ruler.” (Ian)
“The king…. did that?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“He didn’t have much of a choice. He learned that neither the king’s authority or the forceful approach worked with us, the Earthlings. So, he had no choice but to change his stance. In order to survive, in other words.” (Ian)
The mention of one trying to survive sounded a bit desperate, then.
Seol Ji-Hu had been quietly mulling over what Ian said, before opening his mouth.
“What kind of a person is the princess, the one coming here?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Teresa Hussey. She’s one hell of a woman.” (Ian)
Ian grinned deeply. His eyes lit up warmly like a grandfather proudly boasting about his own granddaughter.
“Growing up witnessing the invasion of the foreign creatures to this world from a very young age, she did. And also, she’s a rather special case for an original resident.” (Ian)
“Special? How?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“The system of Paradise we use are actually the providence bestowed onto the Earthlings only. However, she is one of the very few original residents who has been blessed with the same providence as us.” (Ian)
That was his first time hearing about such a thing.
“So, that’s how it was. Original residents can, too….” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“From what I hear, they invoked something called ‘royal family’s promise’ and received the providence in return. I understand where she’s coming from, though. As a woman in this world, you’d need great power if you wanted to safeguard your remaining family, especially when there are only two of you left.” (Ian)
“What’s the level of Princess Teresa Hussey?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Ho-oh? Now that I take another look at you, I see that you’re quite interested in that lady!” (Ian)
Ian suddenly formed a lewd expression and then, lightly poked Seol Ji-Hu on the side.
“Very good! Of course, I’ll tell you! First of all, she’s 70D around her chest, and her waistline is like…..” (Ian) (TL: 70D = 32D in US bra size.)
“….Master Ian.” (Seol Ji-Hu)
“Haha, I just just kidding. Just kidding! She’s also a high ranker. Level 5 Princess Knight.” (Ian)
A Princess Knight? Seol Ji-Hu tilted his head after hearing a term he had never heard of before.
“Yes, the name of her Job is kind of funny. However, do not be mistaken. You need to discard the preconceived notion of princess knights being held hostage by the orcs.” (Ian)
“Looks like they are here.” (Dylan)
Just before Seol Ji-Hu could ask for the clarification from Ian, Dylan opened his mouth first.
The youth reflexively shifted his gaze to look, and his sight caught onto something running towards the group while kicking up a mighty dust storm from afar.
< 60. Princess Knight > Fin.