Episode 110. Spirit Rush (3)

Seon-Hyeok had felt a strong attraction to Ahn Yoo-Jung and Asha Trail, the individuals Atiya resembled. That was irrefutable. In the case of the princess, though he was not physically attracted to her, he could admit that her cute appearance and strangely stern demeanor was endearing and lovely. As a result, though he was taken aback when the water spirits took on her appearance, he was able to understand why it had happened.

However, this was different. Seon-Hyeok was truly upset.

Why Sir Eisen…

He had never once considered Aria Eisen attractive. How could he? She was an insane mage who spent her entire day holed up in her laboratory, and she walked around with greasy hair and dirtied robes.

He could not understand why the spirits looked exactly like her.

He took a second look at them.

Perhaps because they were of the earth attribute, the spirits were clad in earthen robes and looked dirty, as though they were covered in soil. Even this was just like Aria Eisen, and he found himself getting a headache as he looked at them. It was quite different from his other spirits, as they were transparent and maintained a mysterious aura.

“Why…”

Seon-Hyeok sighed as he looked at the earth spirits with their blank, unfocused eyes.

‘Master.’

‘Why are you only calling on us now?’

‘Call on us more often!’

Once Aria Eisen overcame the effects of the energy drain, she would come to him to improve the efficiency of her arbeiters. Seon-Hyeok grew frustrated, wondering how she would react upon seeing that the spirits resembled her.

‘You’re not going to send us right back, are you?’

The spirits laughed like fools, unable to understand their master’s inner turmoil.

The little dwarves playing around by building small earthen houses and tearing them down made for a peaceful and pleasant sight, but Seon-Hyeok remained unhappy.

Is it because I’m frustrated?

He was worried about his mental state, seeing that the spirits resembled any woman he had any interactions with.

“Would it be better if I dated someone…?”

His thoughts grew complicated. At this rate, he was worried it would come to a point where he would not even want to meet anyone.

‘And so…’

‘Really? Really?’

His migraines worsened even more as the spirits’ incessant conversations filled his head.

“Hurry up and go back now.”

Eventually, he was unable to stand it any longer and released the spirits.

“Ah, before that. About Nudar…”

Before the spirits were sent back, Seon-Hyeok asked them about Nudar. As soon as the spirit’s name came out, the raucous earth spirits shut their mouths at once. It was evident they were terrified of this highest-tier spirit.

“Fine. Just go back.”

After looking at them for a moment, he ultimately just gave up. The world seemed to grow quiet when the spirits ceased playing with the dirt and disappeared. Seon-Hyeok sat in the silent bedroom and summoned Atiya this time.

“Master.”

Atiya, now tangible and clearly visible, appeared and embraced him.

“Hm.”

His heart grew heavier as he looked at the spirit resembling Asha Trail. He felt as though his inner turmoil just now was an insult to the female knight.

However, he had to let this go. Spirits’ transformations were an incomprehensible phenomenon he had no control over.                                                      

“By any chance, do you know of highest-tier spirits?”

The earth spirits might have been silent out of fear of Nudar, but he imagined Atiya would give him a response. His guess proved correct.

“Highest-tier spirits are completely different beings from the rest of us. They’re able to materialize and affect the world at their pleasure, and they don’t require a contract with a human either. As such, they’re neither affectionate towards their contractor, nor are they blindly loyal to them. Generally, highest-tier spirits are arrogant and live as they please.”

Atiya had become much more natural in expressing her inner thoughts after becoming a mid-tier spirit, and she spilled what she knew.

“Why would such a spirit appear in the summoning ritual and cause such a scene?”

Nudar had indisputably been a nuisance. If it was not for that haughty spirit, he would have succeeded in entering contracts with several times as many earth spirits by now. Not only that, the spirit had disappeared after forming a provisional contract – one in which his commands were not absolute. Seon-Hyeok did not have any positive feelings towards Nudar.

“Master, you still don’t know what kind of a person you are.”

Atiya had dug deeper into his embrace, but she raised her head to speak. Seon-Hyeok gulped, taken aback by her actions more than her words. It seemed he was still a bit distracted after having such troubled thoughts throughout the day.

“We spirits see a hazy and undefined world, and you’re particularly noticeable and shining in that unclear space. Even the highest-tier spirits couldn’t pass by you without showing some interest.”

She suggested that summoners with greater affinity to spirits were clearer and brighter to them. She glowed with pride, saying that he had a greater presence than any summoner she had ever seen.

“Provisional contracts are still an expression of interest. The fact that a highest-tier spirit, one with no interest in this world, did so is basically a declaration of keen interest and conviction to keep an eye on you in the future.”

“That’s not particularly appealing. Isn’t the spirit just watching me then?”

So this spirit is going to stay hidden and observe me, without ever answering my call?

“Consider it a compliment. It goes to show how appealing you are to spirits.”

Listening to Atiya’s eloquent words, Seon-Hyeok realized that his spirit had grown a lot since he had first entered a contract with her. Before he knew it, he reached out and stroked her hair.

Atiya closed her eyes and enjoyed her master’s touch.

However, this, in turn, made Seon-Hyeok feel awkward, given her striking resemblance to Asha Trail.

Ah, whatever. I’m sure everything will work out.

It was not as though he had modeled his spirits after them to insult them. There was nothing to gain by agonizing over what had already transpired.

“You’ll have to get used to it.”

Atiya spoke up again. She explained that he was a colorful, shining light in a dull world, and that considering Nudar had expressed interest, the other highest-tier spirits would soon come to know of his existence.

“You’re destined to command many more spirits than you do now.”

Her words felt like prophecy. Seon-Hyeok balked at the thought of dozens, no hundreds, of spirits swarming around him.

***

“We’re going through cattle, pigs, and other livestock too quickly. We’re able to endure right now because of the royal rewards and our existing surplus, but soon, it will be difficult to find cows and pigs within our territory. We’ll have to come up with countermeasures before we’re forced to go far and wide to buy livestock.”

Antoine Montaigne paid him a rare visit to complain about the excessive livestock consumption and the current poor finances of the land.

“Since we’re making money from the mines, can’t we just buy cows and pigs from nearby lands?”

“It’s true that we’re getting significant amounts of iron and silver from the mines, but if we sell it all at once, the market rates will plummet. The only way we don’t lose out from this situation is to stockpile our resources and control our exports.”

After saying as such, the old scholar spoke at length about the extensive expenditures that would be coming up soon.

“Our territory is expanding right now, so there are far too many sources for expenses at the moment. Everywhere you turn, there are people asking for money.”

Seon-Hyeok cleared his throat as the bureaucrat implored him to pay more attention to the territory’s management.

“In addition, the military expenses are too high at the moment. We currently spend almost 125 gold per month for the nearly 50 cavalry riders stationed here, and we also treat our infantry better than other territories do, which requires an additional 20 gold per month in upkeep. Their instructors’ salaries require an additional 10 gold per month, and the servants and maids collectively cost over 5 gold as well. We’re spending the equivalent of 30 percent of an average territory’s income on just labor costs every month.”

He was certain he had been paying close attention at the beginning, but at some point, it went in one ear and out the other. He grew dazed by the onslaught of numbers.

“No matter how much of a fortune the iron and silver mines bring, reckless spending like this will result in our financial resources drying up. There have already been countless cases of nobles squandering their wealth after vainly believing in the wealth promised by newly discovered natural resources.”

“Is the territory’s situation so dire that we have to worry about financial ruin?”

“It’s fine at the moment, but I’m letting you know in advance that something needs to be done.”

Antoine Montaigne suggested that they temporarily cut the soldiers’ pay or bring their excessively good treatment towards them closer to normal levels. His argument was that though nothing could be done about the cavalry given their status as elite soldiers, the support given to the former Drake Cavalry members settling in Rheinperle after being injured in the previous war, as well as the standard infantry, was excessive.

“Generous treatment during times of peace is advance payment for the service they will provide in the future. In addition, if we increase and reduce the rewards for service according to the territory’s financial situation, who would want to put their lives on the line in our future battles?”

Seon-Hyeok respected Antoine Montaigne’s opinion, but he stubbornly drew a line in the sand for the matter at hand. He himself had been a conscripted soldier before coming to this world, and he knew how overworked and poorly treated soldiers could be under the pretext of patriotism and service. As such, he adamantly insisted that no matter the situation, he would not reduce the soldiers’ salaries or his support for the wounded.

“I was being short-sighted. You are indeed correct. I will not bring this matter up again.”

He was not sure if Antoine Montaigne truly understood. After all, the old scholar was a skilled administrator, but he was no soldier.

“In addition, I will try to reduce the number of cows and pigs I personally use.”

“If you can do so, I’m sure the financial situation here will become significantly better.”

Seon-Hyeok tightly shut his eyes. He could already picture those dragon subspecies crying out for food.

Although Antoine Montaigne’s perspective may have been overly pessimistic and extreme, it was true that the quantity and cost of livestock consumed in Rheinperle was significant. The most problematic aspect of this concerned his three creatures.

Though Goldrake had proven itself capable of hunting alone, the still injured Redvern and Bluegon, the sea serpent remaining confined to the narrow river, were the real issue. Redvern’s situation was particularly problematic.

Redvern was incapable of hunting alone at the moment, and it could not even move its body properly given its broken wings. At the same time, the wyvern was the most ravenous of them all. Seon-Hyeok felt like a father struggling to put food on the table whenever Redvern opened its mouth to cry for food.

“This isn’t a dragon species. It’s just a black hole when it comes to food.”

As he signed and threw a chunk of meat towards Redvern, Julian approached. It had been a while since he had last seen her, as his squire had been busy being trained in swordsmanship by Asha Trail.

“Sir Aria Eisen has gotten up.”

It was certainly fortunate that the sole mage in his territory had recovered. However, he could not be unreservedly happy.

“She wants to meet you at once to improve the arbeiters. What should I do?”

He could not be happy because he wanted to put off his meeting with Aria Eisen for last. Instead, it seemed he would have to take care of it first.

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