Chapter 64

[The good thing is that our party may travel relatively safer thanks to the goddess. If the temple takes issue and steps forward, the wandering and smaller groups will easily give up their pursuits. Dite is also likely to be stronger than Suki, so she should have the ability to take over if something were to go wrong. Crucially… Whether we want it or not, she’ll probably follow us wherever we go. There’s no sure way to get rid of her. Such a witch.]

[Hmm- aan Apostle of a god that deals with information and wisdom, she really knows how to see all the angles. You’re pretty wise yourself to get all that from our limited info… So, regardless of the contract, our fates are intertwined at this point, right?]

[That’s right.]

[We can’t just take it on the chin without a fight. Are there any countermeasures we can take?]

[Let me think about it. We’ll have to get back some interest as well.]

[If that’s the case, we’ll do it with compound interest…] 

[Of course. Personal loan interest rates are high for a reason…]

Biyeon raised her head. She saw a river’s rapids ahead. Across the rapids, on the other side, a Marquis of Norian sign was grimly erected.

“We’re almost at his territory. What should we do?” San asked.

“Let’s take a break in the shade and think step by step. This situation… is a bit complex.”

There were thirty-one people in the group. Among that group were six people from the Essen household: Yeria, Yekin and his wife, and three other Essen household members. There were also two bards, six product processing specialists, and four negotiation merchants. The remaining ten crew members made up the 1st Company, led by Yuren. They were all junior warriors classified as second-rate warriors in this world. Though they were second-rate, they were better than nothing. The last person was Dite.

They had meandered across the mountain paths all day. They were only now near the natural border between Count Essen and Marquis Norian’s territories.

The river was fairly shallow, which meant they probably could ford the river. San and Biyeon decided to set camp next to the shallow rapids. Although camping here would mean they’d have to sleep on the uncomfortable and cold ground, everyone agreed with their decision.

For the people of Essen, the Marquis was like a dictator who reigned through violence. The Marquis’s subordinates were also the same.

If they were to seek accommodations in the castle, they shouldn’t expect any hospitality.

The crew members were all doing what they had to do within their assigned groups. Although they were doing menial tasks, their expressions were surprisingly bright.

If a passerby was to see what was happening, he would chuck his head back in surprise.

“Would you please hold this?”

“Here? Like this?”

“Yes! A little to the right. Yes… it’s done. Thank you.”

“Where can I put this?” 

“You can put it over there by the oven.”

“Are we the last?” 

“Please hurry!”

No one would believe that commoners and nobles could converse and work so comfortably together. However, these things happened naturally here.

“The crew members are kinder and simpler than I thought. I’m thankful they’re putting in the effort to change,” San muttered.

“It’s incredible. It was a dangerous idea, but I must say that it’s amazing that your strategy works here too.”

Biyeon smiled.

“That’s how I felt at first while watching the reserve army training. The content determines the format, but the format also determines the content. The content is like water, so it tends to fit the format. Even the guys who wear neckties and are gentlemanly in society take a piss anywhere, lie down everywhere, and release their anger and temper once they put on a military uniform… the opposite is true too.”

Biyeon looked at the crew. What San did was very simple. The crew members were divided into groups and unified with the same colored clothes, which Biyeon prepared in advance.

Group 1 wore green, Group 2 wore black, and Group 3 wore yellow. Of course, it was only a scarf, not a full uniform.

That simple representation of unification and classification of groups created magical teamwork properties. After laying down some additional rules and goals, the groups began to compete with each other. Team members began to cooperate with one another more.

It was as if the standards and barriers of social class had disappeared in this small space.

Biyeon nodded.

She felt that she was observing the implementation of organizational techniques, philosophy, and management through experiential learning, not from a desk.

This simple technique of bonding group members together was something known by the commoners but never outwardly spoken of. It wasn’t known or cared for by the managers, so there was never any progress.

People’s standards of value are subtle. Even under such a strict status-based society, if one is given a standard other than one’s status, with a bit of group-mind thinking and finesse, one adapts to adopt that standard.

The effect becomes clear once the role model, to be emulated and followed, changes.

It was similar to a play. It appears in the playhouse and also in soccer games. The commander only needs to set the rules of the game and create an environment that can be enjoyed by the participants. And when one treats the game fairly and seriously, everything works like magic. The system ‘lives’ and self-regulates. Now, their own budding competition would evolve. It would become a competition to make ‘shared memories’ for a more pleasant life…

Utilizing a ‘survival trick’ that allows everyone to work together to overcome a challenge…

And a ‘community value’ that would be preserved through cooperation…

“Dite?”

Biyeon found Dite and called her.

“Yes?”

“You need to pay for your meals too, right?”

“What are you talking about…?”

“Then, will you be cooking for yourself?”

“Then… how much should I pay?”

“No… we don’t pay for our meals with money. Ah… if I think about the hard times we’ll face because of you, I want to grind my teeth until there’s nothing left. Thanks to you, I think that the price of our meals and your life will be about the same… What do you think?”

“What…”

Dite was getting nervous. Biyeon was already Awakened, so she was very perceptive and shrewd. She was also wise beyond expectation. Maybe she was the person Dite needed to be the wariest of. Regardless, Dite’s intentions seemed to have been seen through. Suddenly her nose tickled.

“About the price of your meals… I think we’ll need to write up another contract.”

Dite closed her eyes tightly. ‘Another negotiation…?!’

Episode 2. Book 3: Infiltration – Chapter 1

The crew lit three campfires and sat at the center. The people’s faces were quite bright, perhaps because they just enjoyed a satisfying outdoor meal. However, everyone was tense, as if they should be aware of something possibly happening at any moment.

They were sitting together in groups, organizing their daily routine. Some quietly conversed with each other while others fixed things near the bright lights.

On one side, Cecil the Bard and the young musician, Honbi, quietly plucked the strings of their instruments with an alert attitude. They were both standing on high alert.

They heard a story from Dite. It was a very serious story.

To summarize, there were three main points to her story. There were very powerful and dangerous enemies aiming for their treasure. Second, the journey would put them in harm’s way. And finally, they would directly participate in the upcoming fights in some form.

Fortunately, Dite delivered good news as well. Throughout this adventurous journey, they would be specially protected by the goddess, and at the end of the trip, everyone would be given a very special gift by the temple.

In addition, Dite mentioned that everyone should fully trust Captain San and Biyeon. She would also follow their command unequivocally and asked for everyone else to do the same.

Dite’s story was a declaration of imminent danger, a life and death struggle throughout the journey. However, the innocent crew members who lived in the Count’s rural territories still had no idea what level of danger they would come across.

Meanwhile, the people of Count Essen’s household were having a serious discussion with San and Biyeon.

“No matter what… I must go as a representative of our envoy,” Yekin stated. His expression was dark.

“I’ll go with you. Elder brother, you’re weak in negotiations, right? Norian is a unique and clever person,” Yeria added with a hardened expression.

“That’s nice. What an upstanding household. However, how about I follow along?” San asked with a smile. However, once he turned to Biyeon, he could see her shaking her head.

“If someone must go, I should go. Information-based operations are my area of expertise, right?” Biyeon calmly stated.

San nodded.

“Yeah… be careful… Alright! Now that we’ve talked about tomorrow, let’s start planning for tonight’s operation.”

So, apart from the other crew members, the four discussed what they should do for that evening.

***

“Their plan is to try and stay overnight near the border of the estate? Even though they arrived before sunset?” A man in his late 50’s asked in a low voice.

His voice was dry and creepy, like the desert wind that scratched the walls of an empty water well before blowing out, screeching every so often.

The owner of the voice was Marquis Norian, the owner of this castle and surrounding estate. His body was slim and skinny. His upper body was currently exposed. A sharp energy flowed through his whole body like a well-forged sword.

The Marquis was listening to his Inspector General’s report. His gaze was fixed on the woman who had collapsed and was trembling on the floor.

“I believe they’re planning to pass through the estate tomorrow morning. Their actions were different from what was expected, so I came to hear the Marquis' instructions.”

Inspector General Natin waited for the Marquis’s answer with his head slightly bowed. He was in charge of the Marquis’ armed forces and a great special warrior who had risen to the peak of the Dark Warrior level.

“They’re very timid. The people who were ordered here from the Dark Guilds must be disappointed. It's no fun if they don’t come in themselves…. Is there a way to take their stuff without alerting anyone?”

“Shall I lead the military and bring the stuff here?”

“You?”

Marquis of Norian glanced past Natin. In the Marquis’s smiling eyes, a sense of contempt was being contained.

“You idiot. Think about it. There are already people waiting for them on the outskirts of my territory. I’m not concerned about the toll. This time, the loot is really important.”

“Yes… that, I know it well.”

“They have Archon bones and skins. The last time an Archon appeared was twenty years ago. The local and neighboring Awakened Warriors are all blinded with stars in their eyes. It’s also been mentioned that they have two such Archons. There’s also a rumor that they’re carrying nectar, the legendary water of life. If true, it’s so precious that it can’t be compared to Archons. What if the drug really does grant immortality? It’s like having multiple lives… one can live for hundreds of years.”

“Legendary neck...tar?” Natin’s eyes widened while he stuttered.

“Alright. So, whether it’s a combination of thieves, old clans, or emerging warriors, they’re all deadset on getting their hands on that envoy’s items. I’ve even heard that the Dark Guild’s union leader came out himself. We have a lot of eyes to avoid… It'll also be annoying if the Dong-Myung Clan are later involved because of some mishap. It’ll be a headache for me if they pass through the estate during the day… do you know what I mean?”

“Then how…”

“That’s your job. What’s for sure is that by tomorrow, I must see what they have. I don’t want to see anything else. Also, I need to show that I don’t know anything externally.”

Norian’s indifferent glances landed on Natin.

“…!”

Natin flinched. His legs were trembling, and stale saliva flowed down from the corners of his mouth. The strength of an Awakened Warrior releasing his suppressed aura took Natin’s breath away, making it hard for him to focus.

Find the means and the ways yourself. Whether you kidnap them or kill them all, it doesn’t matter to me. If that doesn’t work, create an argument and compromise by buying their items at dirt cheap prices. Whatever it is, it’s your choice. Whatever the cost or required personnel, spend any amount and use any number of people. Just bring their loot to me…”

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