“You want to... join our party?”
When she answered, she looked very nervous as if she were an applicant in a job interview. Sungyoon had wondered what she wanted to ask of them, but he could've never thought she would want to join their party.
Sungyoon decided to think about it in earnest.
‘It wouldn’t be too bad, right?’
If she were to join, they would have to protect her alongside Emily. That was the truth. It would add more burden to the frontline fighters, Sungyoon and Tim.
‘However, if I think about the firepower she displayed before....’
In reality, he had long thought that his party was lacking a big damage dealer that could inflict that one decisive blow. Although Sungyoon had magic spells, the ranks of his Magic Gems were too low for them to be used as his main power.
‘Moreover, she was able to use that much power in her diminished state.’
She had overclocked her Gems, and most of her Gems had been destroyed. Despite this, she was able to generate a massive amount of power.
Of course, he didn’t know how many destroyed Gems she would be able to replenish, but at the very least, she would be an asset if she could replicate what she had done in the previous battle.
‘The most important point is that her Jewel rank Gems didn’t break.’
The better quality Gems were capable of lasting longer in their overclocked state.
Sungyoon felt his heart tilting toward accepting Grace. However, he couldn’t just accept her on the spot.
“May I know why you want to enter our party? I know you lost your party members, Ms. Taylor. However, I’m sure you can join any party without much problem.”
When Sungyoon showed a sober face, Grace took a deep breath before speaking.
“You are right. If it is me, I can easily enter any party I want. However, I don’t like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I had a realization when I lost my party. Do you know that I don’t like to be treated like a princess, Mr. Woo?”
“I do. You are pretty famous for it. We haven’t known each other for long, but from what I saw from your actions, the rumors were true.”
“My mother and father refused to receive special treatment that came along with being part of the royal family. I also did that and worked hard toward achieving my goals through my own merit. However, I had been under a delusion.”
Grace thought about what had happened right before her party was wiped out.
“The monsters had suddenly appeared and ambushed my party. In the course of the fight, my party members chose death in order to save me. Of course, I feel unending gratitude toward them. It is to be expected. There is nothing nobler than sacrificing one’s life for another. However, I wasn’t saved because I had the best chance of surviving in our party.”
“Is it because you are ‘Princess Grace’?”
“Yes. At the time, I had tried to save my other party members. I am hyper-specialized toward using magic. So unlike me, my other party members would have had a greater chance of surviving within the labyrinth. However, I was unable to save them. They slapped my cheek, and cried to me to run away. At that moment, I had a realization.”
Grace’s eyes shook.
“Those women would never run away. Even if I acted stubbornly, they would never run away without me. They prioritized guarding the ‘Princess’ above all else.”
When she had realized this fact, she felt as if her heart would burst. However, she had pressed down on her emotions and turned her back on her party.
“So you want someone capable of treating you as ‘Ms. Taylor’ instead of ‘Princess Grace’?”
‘This is an important point.’
Sungyoon knew he would not prioritize looking after the ‘beloved princess’ when it came to carrying out his plan in a critical moment. He would never do that. He wouldn’t do it even if she was a Connector possessing great firepower.
He glanced at Russell, who was sitting beside Grace. Russell had set up all of this, yet he kept drinking his black tea as if this had nothing to do with him.
‘I’m not naive enough to think that he has zero interest in this matter.’
Russell felt Sungyoon’s gaze, and stared back.
“Why are you looking at me? I’m strictly a third party in all of this.”
‘Basically, he had no problem with Ms. Taylor's words.’
Sungyoon was like a chick that had been just born from his egg. He didn’t have too much experience. It seemed Russell expected him to understand and sympathize with what Princess Grace was going through. That was Sungyoon’s understanding of the situation.
So he once again refocused his attention on Grace.
“Were you able to replenish your expired Gems?”
“Most of my main spells survived. The problem was the destruction of the support Gems that amplified the power of my spells and cut down on the casting time. However, I replenished them by bringing out my reserve Gems, and I was able to save some of them too. I had spent most of the money I earned in order to acquire them.”
Grace brushed her hands as if to say she had no more money.
“My power is clearly inferior compared to my past self, but I won’t be a hindrance in battle.”
“It seems you really don’t want to receive help from others.”
“I want you to accept me as a party member precisely because of this.”
As she said those words, Grace looked at Russell, who was sitting next to her.
“Still, there’s someone that keeps meddling in my affairs in many ways.”
Russell cleared his throat as he turned his head away. He played innocent.
“I understand how you feel, Ms. Taylor. However, you shouldn’t be so fastidious in avoiding help from other people. Mr. Tim, Ms. Emily, and I, we each received help from others at various points to reach this place. Moreover, Sir Russell isn’t trying to help ‘Princess Grace’. He wants to help ‘Ms. Taylor’.”
“Yes! That’s right! I don’t care if Grace is a princess or not. I did everything for Grace! I really like this guy!”
Russell let out a big laugh as he stood up and moved to pound on Sungyoon’s shoulder. He was hale and strong for an old man. He was using the strength of a Connector, so Sungyoon’s shoulder hurt. It hurt a lot.
“… I guess I can think of it that way.”
Was she too rigid in her stance? Grace felt the need to modify her own views.
On the other hand, Sungyoon was also surprised by his own words. He really had reached this far because he had received help from a lot of people.
The first one to help him was Jimin. Then there were Chelsea, the Ross siblings, Jiyoon, and Hyunwoo, not to mention the woman in front of him. Grace had helped him too.
He would have never spoken those words when he was freshly betrayed by his friend and ex-wife.
It was a direct example that showed Sungyoon was going through psychological change. It revealed how far he had progressed.
The change directly involved Sungyoon, yet he himself hadn’t realized how much he had changed until now.
Sungyoon continued his question.
“I'll ask one last question. Why us?”
“Several reasons. I saw your skills, and I also know that you are aiming for the Great Labyrinth like me.”
Now that they thought about it, they did mention that they were aiming for the Great Labyrinth.
“There are very few parties trying to go to the Great Labyrinth. The number is low enough to make me take an interest in your party. However, there is another reason that is above all else for me.”
Grace looked straight at Sungyoon.
“After I told you to call me by ‘Taylor’, you never treated me like a princess.”
He could feel Tim and Emily flinch next to him. They had done their best to treat her as Grace, but they sometimes slipped. The siblings sometimes spoke and acted as if they were talking to a princess. It was inevitable.
“You feel that he’s someone that’ll be able to throw you away if the need arises?”
It didn’t sound like a compliment. It was rude. Grace, who had been listening, let out a thin smile as she acknowledged Russell’s words.
“What are you going to do?”
Russell asked the question. Grace looked nervous as she looked at Sungyoon.
“It really isn’t a bad deal for us.”
Grace’s eyes were full of anticipation.
“I’ll tell you after I discuss this with my comrades.”
Tim and Emily had been listening in on the conversations between Sungyoon, Grace, and Russell with bated breath. They suddenly felt drained at Sungyoon’s words because they knew they would go with whatever decision made by Sungyoon. However, Sungyoon’s action made Russell laugh once again. He spoke.
“Yes. You should talk to your comrades.”
Then he turned to look at the Ross siblings.
“Please look favorably on the decision.”
Tim was a bit dazed as he answered.
The general discussion about the party came to an end. However, Sungyoon didn’t get out of the sofa. Since he was meeting someone with clout in the embassy, he had a question that he wanted to ask.
“So how is this incident going to be dealt with?”
This was beyond simply finding the missing princess of Britain. Something more had occurred.
“I was going to talk to you about that.”
Russell swirled his tea with his teaspoon. It was a simple gesture, but Sungyoon realized there was much thought behind the gesture.
“Did you see the state of the streets while coming here?”
“There are clearly fewer people.”
There were fewer people and it made the city look dreary.
It wouldn’t be serious if they had seen fewer people in the outer region of the city where Sungyoon’s party lived. However, this was the heart of Armstrong, where most of the companies were located.
“It is inevitable. Magical energy leaked out, and the monsters came out of the labyrinth. The idea that areas outside of the labyrinths are safe was shattered.”
“What happened to the labyrinth? I believe it was Ms. Taylor’s Personal labyrinth?”
“It returned back to its normal state. The magical energy outside receded, and the localized Mana Stream couldn’t be detected again.”
“Localized Mana Stream?”
It was a term he couldn’t ignore.
“Yes. While you were fighting the Skeleton, which had appeared thanks to the Mana Stream, I was investigating different regions of the labyrinth. The regions I had checked were all calm. The magical energy ran amok only where you guys were at.”
“… Does this phenomenon happen often?”
“This was the first time I saw something like this.”
Russell let out a sigh.
“Currently, Armstrong and all the countries are on edge because of the abnormal events occurring within the labyrinths. A small faction even wants to close down Armstrong.”
“That’ll cause inconvenience to a lot of people.”
“Yes. This opinion is in the minority. However, the problem isn’t the number. It is the fact that such an idea would be suggested at all. It just highlights that things aren’t normal right now.”
“That's why people are leaving.”
“A moonquake erupted not too long ago, and abnormal events are starting to occur in succession within the labyrinths. People are worried.”
He could understand and sympathize with their sentiments, but this didn’t mean it would solve the problem.
“So what is going to happen to Armstrong?”
Emily sounded very worried.
Connectors had a lot of money, but if no one bought what Armstrong sold, the city would be worthless. Armstrong was a place full of high-end services aimed at extracting money from Connectors.
So, if the Connectors disappeared from Armstrong, the city would be financially hurt. Of course, the countries trying to extract money from Connectors in any way possible would be put in a tough spot too.
“We’ll maintain the status quo for now. This specialized anomaly only occurred inside Grace’s labyrinth. We found no other labyrinth that has experienced the same phenomenon. We can’t shut down Armstrong because of it. If we do, it would cause major disruption to our economy and society at large. However, we cannot stop people from leaving. Still, you shouldn’t worry too much about it. The number of people leaving is surprisingly small. Connectors can only make astronomical amounts of money in Armstrong, so of course, they are willing to risk their lives.”
Even if life was more important than money, the amount of risk a person was willing to take increased with money. This was why Armstrong would not collapse in the near future.
“Moreover, it wasn’t as if there was only bad news.”
“There was good news?”
“Do you remember the government employees, the ones who ran away during your battle?”
“Ah. I do remember them. How are they?”
“Fortunately, they are healthy.”
It truly was good news. At the same time, it was a surprising piece of news.
“It really is strange.”
“… Come to think of it, they were exposed to magical energy.”
Sungyoon remembered finding it odd. But he had decided not to think about it at that time because a massive threat named the Skeleton was in front of him.
“It isn’t just that. You guys used the Moon Surface Vehicle to get out of there, right?”
“Now that I realize it….”
Inside the labyrinths, the magical energy stopped any electronics from working. However, despite the magical energy leaking into the surroundings being enough to support the presence of monsters, the Moon Surface Vehicle had functioned. It had allowed them to escape that place.
‘I never thought about that.’
Sungyoon felt a chill run down his back. The power source of the Moon Surface Vehicle was the moonstone, but the main energy moving the vehicle was electricity.
He didn’t want to think about what would have happened if the Moon Surface Vehicle hadn’t started. It was clearly a mistake he had overlooked in his plan.
“I know what you are thinking right now, but don't place too much blame on yourself. No one realized this mistake at the time. However, you should use this as a learning opportunity. This is a mistake that you should never make again.”
“I’ll take your words to heart.”
“Good. It feels good to see a young person grow.”
“Anyway, the magical energy leaked from the labyrinth didn’t cause any harm to the employees, and it didn’t cause any adverse effects to the machines. They have to research more on it, but the magical energy that escapes the labyrinth might cause no harm to regular humans. It had relieved some of the anxiety about the magical energy leaking into Armstrong. People had been worried about the magical energy leaking out of the Great Labyrinth and the Beginner’s Labyrinth, and killing all the regular humans on Armstrong.”
“I pray that it is harmless.”
Sungyoon had heard everything he wanted to hear.
“It seems our business is done here. We’ll be heading out now.”
Sungyoon got up from his seat.
Grace and Russell got up to see them out.
“Please look kindly on me joining your party.”
“We’ll go over our options, and we’ll try to see it in the most positive light.”
After giving an answer to Grace, Sungyoon led the Ross siblings out of the room.Previous Chapter Next Chapter