Chapter 102. The Threads of Bonds Coming Together (4)

Koong. Another tiny earthquake swept past Chohong’s feet. Judging by its mild intensity, it wasn’t anything worth worrying about. However, Chohong’s sharp senses noticed that the faint rumblings weren’t from the office being struck directly but rather it being impacted indirectly. This meant that the aftershock of a separate impact force was causing this huge building to shake.

‘What’s going on?’

Chohong looked around hurriedly before peeking her head out of the window. Immediately….

KOONG! The sound became clearer, and she could even hear other sounds mixed in.

“Aaack-!”

Chohong frowned as she covered her ears with her hands.

‘Fuck, is someone blowing up grenades around here?’

She looked down while grumbling and her annoyed eyes instantly widened in surprise.

“Are you okay!?”

She saw a familiar youth cusping his hands together and apologizing.

‘Seol?’

In front of him….

“Who are you worried about!? I’m fine, so go back to throwing!”

…Was an old man carrying a huge shield, shouting with a husky voice. When Chohong saw his familiar navy blue coat, her jaw dropped. He must have heard her approaching as he turned his head slightly to the side. Immediately, his gaze softened.

“Is that you, Chohong?”

*

“Should I get you some warm tea?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Then I’ll go buy something cool for you to drink.”

“Mn, thanks.”

“No problem. Do you want anything, Chohong?”

An admirable grandson asking with a bright smile and a grandfather replying with a serious face — seeing her comrade who had turned into the old man’s errand boy, Chohong belatedly replied, “Whatever’s fine.”

As soon as Seol Jihu left saying he would be back in a moment, the old man let out a small groan and rubbed his hand.

“Damn it, that hurt.”

Chohong let out an empty chuckle.

“You’re the one who yelled at him to throw it fast.”

“Give me a break. I heard he was a Level 2! Why is he so strong?”

“Just tell him to go easier then. Think about your age. I know more than a few people who left this world trying to act like they were still in their prime.”

“What did you say?”

Thwack! His cane cleanly struck Chohong’s head, and she immediately wrapped her hands around it and screamed.

“Ah, why’d you hit me!? I was just worried about you!”

“Worried? That’s the tone of someone who’s worried? You were ready to make offerings to send me off!”

“Oh please, making offerings? I already tried that and it was useless!”

Hearing Chohong’s confession, the old man scowled.

“Right, now that I think about it, that did happen.”

It was a story from a long time ago. Tired of suffering from the old man’s Spartan training method, Chohong and Hugo gritted their teeth and scrounged up some money. Not knowing what they were really up to, the old man proudly went, “Hoho, you two stopped going to bar? You must have finally sobered up.”

He even tried to buy them better equipment and went with them to an armor shop, but to his surprise, neither Chohong nor Hugo had a penny to their name. He tried to find out what happened, and it turned out that they went to the Temple of Luxuria and offered everything to a Priest to have a Ceremony done.

It wasn’t long until he found out that they begged for something to happen to the old man. Right, they had actually made offerings to wish him death.

“You treacherous fools. I was wondering why flower pots kept falling on my head and why I kept tripping. It was all you idiots’ fault.”

When the old man growled, Chohong snickered.

“No, no, we were tricked too! That dumbass Maria lied with a straight face and said she was a Chief Priest.”

“Is that something to be proud of!? Are you bragging!? Huh!?”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Isn’t that obvious? Geez, your high and mighty attitude hasn’t gone anywhere, huh.”

Thwack! Thwack! Quick tapping sounds rang out. Chohong moaned “Auuuu!” before falling forward and rubbing her head against the couch.

“Come on, think of how desperate we were! Wouldn’t you do the same if you were being beaten day and night!?”

“You idiot! If you were half as smart and earnest as Dylan, I wouldn’t have needed to work you so hard! Since your birdbrain couldn’t understand a thing even after I explained it to you a hundred times, I had to make your body learn it on its own!”

“But Dylan-!”

Chohong shut her mouth abruptly. The old man pointing his wooden cane at her also collected his breath and sat back down. While Chohong was panting, he gently opened his mouth.

“I heard what happened. Looks like you’ve been through a lot.”

“…You should have visited earlier. Do you have any idea how much Dylan wanted to see you?”

Chohong retorted in a softer voice.

“Hmph, you and your mannerless way of talking.”

The old man replied curtly, then let out a sigh. The aged wrinkles on his face made him look like he lost weight.

“But well done. It sounds like the Parasites came up with a frightening plan, but not only did you save Dylan, you even managed to stop them. You performed outstandingly.”

“I didn’t do much. If anything, it’s that guy who should be praised. He’s the one who did everything.”

“That guy?”

“Seol. You know, Seol, the guy you were training before. Speaking of which, what was up with that? I thought you retired.”

The old man didn’t hear what happened in detail, so hearing that the youth ‘did everything’ came as a surprise.

“Well… he pleaded desperately and I found it hard to say no. But I couldn’t bear to just watch him, so I figured I’d do it as a pastime until you guys were back.”

“Oh? Is this really the old man who’s twisted to his bone marrow? The past you would have turned back without even considering…. Ah! What, I can’t even say what’s on my mind!?”

When the old man raised his wooden cane, Chohong backed off with a terrified face. The old man clicked his tongue and looked up at the ceiling.

“What a hassle. I left in peace knowing I could entrust Carpe Diem to Dylan, but now that he’s gone, it’ll only be a matter of time until Carpe Diem disbands.”

His worries were justified since the leader and nucleus of the team had died. Chohong pouted.

“Don’t ignore us. I’m a High Ranker now, too.”

The old man looked as if he just received a culture shock.

“W-What? Someone like you, a… High Ranker!?”

“That’s right. I’m a Templar now.”

When Chohong strutted her chest proudly, the old man asked again.

“Really? How?”

“Well… I’m a Warrior. I amassed more than enough experience points while I was stuck at Level 4, and as for Enlightenment….”

When Chohong hesitated to talk about this ‘Enlightenment’, the old man said tactfully.

“Enlightenment isn’t necessary. Plus, weren’t you trying to pass expediently using your technical starting class as a Priest? Rather than that, what about the mission from the royal family?”

“How is Manifestation an expedient method? It’s my Class Ability.”

Chohong protested and continued as if she had just suffered a wrong.

“As for the mission from the royal family, they wrote it off since I participated in the rescue mission. I risked my life for that mission, so they wouldn’t send me off on another one unless they’re the worst sons of bitches.”

To become a High Ranker, an Earthling had to pass the formality of completing a mission issued by any of the royal families. One thing of note was that this mission was always related to the Parasites. Since it boasted a terrifying level of difficulty, there were countless Earthlings who were unhappy with it.

But that couldn’t be helped. After all, just by becoming a Level 5, one would gain both the status and the authority needed to spread their voice in Paradise.

In the first place, the reason the royal families intervened in the Earthlings’ High Rank promotions was to ‘prevent giving authority and power to those who did not contribute for the betterment of Paradise’. The seven gods agreed with the seven kingdoms as well.

Ever since this change happened, the number of new High Rankers decreased dramatically. This was because more and more Earthlings chose to stay at Level 4, realizing the risk needed to overcome the wall blocking their path.

In a way, it was quite a depressing reality. It was well-known how powerful High Rankers truly were. For the royal families who detested the Parasites to put such a restriction on their own allies, it could be seen just how deplorable the Earthlings were.

“I see, that makes sense.”

The old man agreed readily.

“I’m glad. Since you’re now a High Ranker, you have the qualifications to take on the mantle of the leader.”

“Eh? Me? Leader? No thanks, I can’t do something like that. I don’t want to either.”

Chohong waved her hand with a scowl. Being a leader of a team wasn’t something anyone could do. Not only did you need power, but you also needed the brain to make sound judgments in critical moments.

Dylan was an ideal leader from this perspective, but Chohong was an idiot who only knew how to fight. This was something the old man knew as well.

“Right…. If you wanted to become a leader, you would have chosen to become a Crusader, not a Templar.”

The old man said regrettably.

“Anyways, I’m never going to become the leader. I know my personality. If I become the leader, this team is done for.”

The old man nodded his head in complete agreement but still spoke with sincerity.

“There’s no other choice. A High Ranker needs to be the leader for a team to have any face. Besides, you’re at least better than Hugo.”

“Fuck. You’re right about that, but why does that make me angry?”

Seeing Chohong’s annoyed expression, the old man shook his head side to side.

“What else can we do? It’s not like we can entrust the position of the leader to that Level 2 newbie.”

Chohong’s complexion sank. Just like the old man said, this problem couldn’t be avoided much longer. Setting aside the emptiness left behind by Dylan’s death, Carpe Diem needed to elect a new leader to elevate the team’s dispirited atmosphere.

Right, she knew this… but there was just one problem.

‘There’s no one suitable for the job.’

Chohong knew her place. Hugo was also out of the question. She saw some potential in Seol, but he was still too inexperienced.

“…Tsk.”

Chohong stole a glance at the old man and smacked her lips. She got up while scratching her neck harshly.

“I’ll consider it. It’s not something I should decide alone anyways.”

“Mm….”

“The three of us will take care of it, so don’t mind it. You’re already retired, so it shouldn’t concern you. Don’t be a nagging mother-in-law, okay?”

The old man chuckled. Chohong was curt, but he wasn’t so dull as to not notice her true feelings.

“Color me surprised.”

“What do you mean?”

“Who would have thought that an immature brat like you could learn to be so considerate? Looks like you’ve tasted Paradise’s waters a bit.”

“I’m a High Ranker, you know.”

“Hmph, but you’re still a Halfie. Don’t be too full of yourself.”

Seeing the old man instantly switch from praising to rebuking, Chohong dropped her head and sighed.

“Anyways, don’t concern yourself with this problem any further, old man. Just meet everyone you came to meet and go back. Don’t go sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“Of course. So, when’s Hugo getting here?”

“It should be soon. Aren’t there other people you have to see?”

“Just Hugo’s enough.”

Hearing this, Chohong smacked her chest uncomfortably.

“Geez, clean up after yourself before you leave. Do you know what we had to go through after you left? Everyone we met asked, ‘When is the old man coming back?’ or ‘Did he really retire?’”

“Alright, alright.”

The old man smiled bitterly as he waved his cane around.

*

Hugo came back to Paradise five days later, and during this time, many people visited Carpe Diem’s office. Without even the slightest bit of exaggeration, almost everyone Seol Jihu met since he came to Haramark came to visit.

“Maldong! My old friend!”

Starting with someone he never met before….

“It’s been a while, Old Boy.”

Cinzia and Agnes came.

“I hope you’ve been well, Sir Jang Maldong.”

Kazuki dropped by.

“I’ve wanted to see you, Master Jang.”

Even Haramark’s king, Prihi Hussey, came to visit. As he witnessed the old man’s terrifying connections for the past five days, he learned a thing or two about this man named ‘Jang Maldong’.

The first was that he was also from Area 1. The second was that he was incredibly famous even though he wasn’t a Magician. Finally, he seemed to be the founder of Carpe Diem.

Of course, that wasn’t all.

“No more worries! It’s the start of happy days!”

Hugo spread his arms out and cheered as he ran. He had been smiling nonstop ever since he returned and found Jang Maldong in the office.

“Uhuhuhu, it’s only a matter of time before we return to being Haramark’s number one team!”

Seeing how confident he was, Seol Jihu approached him like a fish who bit the bait.

“He must be someone incredible.”

“Yes! Incredible doesn’t begin to describe him!”

“Could he be a Unique Ranker? Or perhaps, an Executor?”

Hugo’s bobbing head stopped.

“Uhh… no. He’s a High Ranker.”

Seol Jihu doubted his ears. He certainly wasn’t looking down on Level 5 Earthlings, but he couldn’t help but be surprised.

“Don’t underestimate him just because of his level. Old Man Maldong’s worth can’t be evaluated with Paradise’s system.”

“What do you mean by that?”

When Seol Jihu asked with glittering eyes, Hugo’s lips pursed before he made a troubled expression. It seemed his tiny brain was having trouble coming up with the words to explain the old man. Though quite a bit of time went by, he managed to pull through.

“Remember how there are four classes when you first begin? Archer, Magician, Priest, and Warrior.”

“Yes, and no exceptions.”

“But! That doesn’t mean you have to walk the path of combat.”

Seol Jihu mulled over Hugo’s words before opening his mouth.

“Now that I think about it, I heard there were people who focused on production.”

“Exactly! But production classes aren’t the only non-combat classes.”

“Then what?”

Hugo became speechless once again. He wrapped his hands around his head, then suddenly yelled, “Ah!”

“Miss Foxy!!”

“Kim Hannah!!”

Seol Jihu also shouted, feeling like he had to play along with Hugo.

“Yes! The person who you’re contracted to!”

Hugo spoke excitedly as if he finally thought of a good example.

“She’s the same. She started out as an Archer, but she became a High Ranker some other way.”

What did that mean?

“Kim Hannah was an Archer?”

“You didn’t know?”

Hugo must have thought Seol Jihu would know this as a look of surprise appeared on his face.

“This is the first time I’m hearing about it. What exactly is that other way?”

Hugo became silent. Rather than being unable to say his thoughts, he seemed to be choosing his words carefully.

“Mm…. To put it in a good way, her abilities are excellent.”

“And if you put it in a bad way?”

“….”

“I won’t tell anyone else.”

“I-If you say so….”

Hugo made Seol Jihu promise three times before he finally said it.

“She’s a con artist.”

Seol Jihu was about to ask why, but he remembered the early parts of his dream and shut his mouth. Hugo let out a dry cough before continuing with his words.

“Coming back to my point, I think everyone has some sort of talent. But that doesn’t mean that their talent has to be battle-oriented.”

“So what you’re saying is that if you’re skilled at lying or cheating, the gods will develop your talent and guide you in that direction?”

“Exactly. Kim Hannah might be one of the most famous brokers in Paradise, but Old Man Jang is indisputably the best trainer in Paradise. The Daughter of Luxuria is famous in her own right, but she doesn’t hold a candle to our old man.”

Hugo gave a thumbs up. Suddenly, Seol Jihu remembered the old man yelling at him.

[You absolute fool! You have such a powerful engine, so why aren’t you using it properly!? What a waste of mana!]

Just thinking about it sent shivers down his spine. As someone who had received Jang Maldong’s mana training, he couldn’t help but agree with Hugo one hundred percent.

In truth, Seol Jihu had only spent five days training with Jang Maldong. But during these five days, not only was he able to evolve his Spear Throw skill, but he was also able to learn a new ability.

What was even more frightening was that he awakened this new ability while training to evolve ‘Spear Throw’ to ‘Mana Spear’. Since he even got to raise the proficiency of Mana Circulation, it was no wonder he was so shocked.

‘All I did was follow his instructions….’

Having experienced Jang Maldong’s magic personally, Seol Jihu fully agreed with Hugo’s assessment.

“That’s not all. He has incredible eyes for discerning the talent and nature of people.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Just wait a few days. I’m sure he’ll find us a skilled Archer. He might even train one up himself.”

Hugo laughed cheerfully before going “Ah!” and clapping his hands.

“Hey! This is a good opportunity. Why don’t you ask the old man to train you too?”

That was what Seol Jihu wanted too. If he got this far by training under him for five days, how strong would he get if he trained under him for a long time?

Just thinking about it made him excited.

“Well, to be honest, the training is going to be su~~per hard. You might want to kill yourself even. But if you endure his hellish training….”

“Then what?”

Seol Jihu swallowed hard, his eyes sparkling. Hugo opened his mouth with a serious face.

It was then.

“No.”

A firm voice cut between the two men. They turned around simultaneously.

“Hugo, don’t tell him useless things and get him excited for nothing.”

Chohong was doing sit-ups on a workout machine but got up to glare at Hugo.

“What do you mean, useless?”

Hugo retorted coldly, seemingly bothered by Chohong raining on his parade.

“You don’t know?”

“Hey, all I’m saying is that-”

“I don’t know about Seol, but you’re not qualified to ask him for help, just like me and Dylan.”

Hearing her blunt statement, Hugo flinched and shrunk back.

“He barely managed to retire after leaving behind his lingering attachments. You want to stop him because of your greed?”

“You don’t have to put it like that.”

“Let’s just send him off quietly, and be happy he’s coming to see us from time to time. You know how easily he gets attached to people. If you cling to him desperately, he’s going to hesitate for sure.”

“But look at the situation we’re in!”

Hugo tried to argue until the end.

“Keep. Your. Promise.”

But Chohong gave him her unique, chilly glare, and Hugo froze up on the spot.

“Do you want to see him be disappointed again?”

Her sharp voice caused Hugo to grimace. He gritted his teeth and glared back at Chohong before growling like a tiger and leaving. The heated mood flushed cold in an instant.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Seol Jihu stealthily walked toward Chohong who snorted and went back to working out.

“I told you no, okay?”

But before he could even ask, Chohong warned him. Feeling a bit guilty, he pouted his lower lip.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“It’s pretty obvious what you were trying to… say!”

Chohong raised her upper body with a grunt. After watching her toned abs for a moment, he raised his finger and poked her belly button.

“Ah, that tickles! Stop, are you a pervert?”

“Chohong-.”

“You can act cute all you want, but I won’t change my mind.”

Seol Jihu’s shoulders dropped. There was no hesitation in Chohong’s voice. It was clear she already made up her mind.

“But why not?”

She didn’t answer immediately. She simply continued working out in silence. Soon, she stepped down from the workout machine and put a towel over her shoulder. She didn’t open her mouth until she turned halfway back to grab her water bottle.

“Old Man Maldong… he’s the oldest Earthling in Paradise. Not necessarily by age, but by how long he’s been here.”

“How long?”

“Even I’m not sure.”

Chohong muttered as she twisted the water bottle open.

“But I do know he’s been here longer than anybody else I know. I think he’s one of the first people to have entered Paradise.”

“Oh?”

“Surprising, right? You see, working in Paradise for over 10 years isn’t easy….”

Gulp, gulp. Puha! She emptied half of the bottle in one shot before continuing.

“Unless you’re attached to this world in some way, it’s impossible to last that long.”

Seol Jihu nodded his head.

“Really, no matter how much I think about it, he’s one hell of an old man. He entered Paradise at his old age and scraped up his talent as a trainer to aid Paradise. Who could hate him? If it were up to me, I’d give him a long, standing ovation.”

But after that, Chohong blurred her speech.

“But you know… not everyone is as noble and amazing as Old Man Maldong….”

She sounded like she was prompting him to agree. But rather than nodding his head or verbally agreeing, he chose to ask a question.

“What did you mean when you were talking about him being disappointed?”

Chohong paused. Then, she immediately wiped her face with the towel, almost like she was trying to cover her face.

“When Paradise first opened… I heard things weren’t like this.”

‘Things weren’t like this.’ Seol Jihu had an idea what this meant.

“Apparently, it was a time full of hope, with Earthlings sincerely working to help Paradise and Paradisians working to support Earthlings as much as they can.”

Right, there definitely was a time like that. A time when Earthlings and Paradisians weren’t trying to bite each others’ heads off in secret.

“But it’s not like that anymore. Things changed, and many things happened…. And, well, it must have been shocking for him.”

Seol Jihu wanted to ask what happened but reined in his curiosity. He could tell Chohong didn’t want to talk about it. However, Chohong seemed to have felt his curious gaze as she muttered after hesitating for a long time.

“Just imagine it.”

“?”

“You giving your time and effort to raise disciples, all so that they can aid Paradise in some way, but instead, they fight and kill each other all in the name of profit. Some of them even join hands to cause a revolt, causing countless Paradisians to die in the process.”

He suddenly remembered the internal conflict and war that happened in Haramark.

“How would you feel if that happened to you? Think about it.”

Chohong left those words behind and left the training ground. However, Seol Jihu wasn’t able to move for a long time.

“….”

He suddenly thought the old man was similar to Alfred Nobel. Although Nobel became famous for inventing the dynamite, he saw his invention being used to take the lives of millions and regretted it.

Although the circumstances were different, Old Man Jang Maldong must have felt something similar.

Once his thoughts reached here, Seol Jihu raised his arms. When he concentrated on bringing out his mana, blue energy began to gather on his hands.

Wiiiing!

The progress he made in the past few days was simply too incredible. He had already learned the Level 3 skill, Aura, which was the materialization of his mana.

But now that he knew the old man’s history, he couldn’t bring himself to pester him any further.

‘It’s regrettable, but…’

I guess this is it.

He managed to overcome the wall. Although he was told he still had a long ways to go, he was satisfied with the results. At the very least, he had kept the promise he made to himself.

After making the energy dissipate, Seol Jihu turned around to head to the temple. He was hoping he could fully unlock his Nine Eyes.

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