Chapter 111. The Reason She is Here (2)

By the time Seol Jihu got hold of himself, Kim Hannah and Jang Maldong were talking merrily.

—Sometimes, I even wake up at night, worrying if he’s eating or wearing clothes properly.

“I understand. Participating in the rescue mission without telling you was that brat’s fault, 100 percent.”

—It’s the same with the Banquet. He can go after he gains more experience and strength. It hasn’t even been a year since he entered Paradise, yet he’s always dying to go to places filled with life-threatening danger…. Am I worrying about him too much?

“Of course not. He is your contract partner. I agree with you fully. But, as someone who’s instructed him for the past month, there’s something I’d like to say.

—Oh?

Kim Hannah shrunk back a bit, cosplaying as a surprised, innocent girl when she was really a sly fox.

—You instructed him personally, Master Jang? Then, could you have been… at the Huge Stone Rocky Mountain?

“You knew?”

—So that’s why his face was…. Ah, of course, I do! It’s the home mountain of High Rankers!

“Haha, home mountain, is it? That’s very flattering.”

—No, no, I’m being serious.

Kim Hannah smiled modestly. Seol Jihu followed his instincts and brought a paper bag up to his mouth.

While the youth barfed quietly in the background, Jang Maldong convinced her with a calm voice. When he told her his initial plan of making him an Archer who would support the team from the back, and have him leave during Stage 2, Kim Hannah nodded her head in agreement.

“But this brat stubbornly refused to take on the role of an Archer. He said he wanted to be a Warrior no matter what.”

—Oh, my, my. So you just let him be?

“I was angry at first. So I took him to the Huge Stone Rocky Mountain under two conditions.”

—Conditions?

“I told him I’d kick him out of the team if he couldn’t keep up with my training, and even if he passed, I said he would be banned from participating in the Banquet if he didn’t meet my expectations.”

Kim Hannah narrowed her eyes and glanced to the side. She saw Seol Jihu with his face shoved into a paper bag filled with vomit.

‘He actually threw up? That bastard!’

Kim Hannah was just about to grit her teeth but quickly went back to managing her expression.

“I wanted to teach him a lesson, but I actually ended up taking a blow. He kept up like a madman with an unwavering spirit.”

A contemplating look flashed on Kim Hannah’s face. Jang Maldong cleared his throat. “This old man’s talked too much. Sorry for bothering you.”

He maintained a polite and courteous tone the entire time. He might be a tiger during training sessions, but he always maintained a level of respect with those he wasn’t familiar with.

—N-No, not at all.

Kim Hannah didn’t know what to do when an old man dozens of years older than her treated her with such respect. Seol Jihu studied Jang Maldong carefully, and it didn’t seem like he was lying even a tiny bit.

Soon, Jang Maldong tapped on Seol Jihu’s shoulders before walking out of the door.

—Whew.

Kim Hannah exhaled as if the meeting just now took ten years off her life. Seol Jihu stared fixedly into the crystal.

—I guess I don’t have a choice. He’s not someone who would say something like that without a reason…. You can go. Just be careful, okay?

She gave her consent, but when the youth continued to stare at her, her neck flushed red.

—Don’t stare at me so much. He’s my grandfather’s age. Plus, it’s not like I’m always irritated and itching for an argument.

“…Right.” Seol Jihu responded with a wry smile.

—But throwing up wasn’t called for.

Kim Hannah revealed a bitter smile, and then loosened the buttons around her collars.

—Anyways, thanks.

“For what?”

—Miss Seo Yuhui and now Master Jang. I got to meet two of Paradise’s legends, thanks to you. You never know what new connections someone might bring, huh.

“Is that something to thank me for?”

—Of course! There’s a huge difference between being complete strangers and being strangers who’ve talked with each other once or twice.

Since she put it that way, it did seem to be the case. Seol Jihu regained his calm and smiled.

“If you’re grateful, then buy me dinner.”

—Dinner?

“Lunch works too. You see, I’ll be dropping by Scheherazade tomorrow.”

—Why?

“I need to buy new equipment. I hear Scheherazade has the best quality goods, and they also have the biggest auction house.”

—That’s true, but…. Hm, wait. You said you’re a Level 3 now, right?”

When Seol Jihu replied, ‘Yes’, Kim Hannah rolled her eyes as if she was mulling over an important matter. Soon, she murmured, “I guess it’s okay”, before opening her mouth.

—Fine. I benefited thanks to you, and it can also serve as a celebration. I’ll be generous. Stay there and wait.

“Stay here?”

When Seol Jihu asked for a clarification, Kim Hannah winked.

—You’ll find out in two days.

*

Two days later.

While Seol Jihu was busy reading a book he had borrowed from the library about the Banquet, a package arrived in Carpe Diem’s office. The sender was Kim Hannah, and once Seol Jihu confirmed the contents of the package, he jumped in surprise.

He could see parts of an armor stacked on top of each other. The first thing to catch his attention was a brigandine with a golden lining. It came with a gorget to protect his neck and a cuirass to protect his chest. The design of the armor boasted an easy assembly, and he could tell from it that it was made to be comfortable.

He also saw a small chainmail to wear underneath. It was a bit longer than the one he had bought in the Neutral Zone, and the chains were made out of an unknown white metal rather than steel.

That wasn’t all. There was also a high-quality ivory-colored leather jacket, reddish-brown leather pants, and brown boots with strings.

After seeing the five items, Seol Jihu dropped his jaw in astonishment. Although he wasn’t knowledgeable about equipment, he could tell even at a glance that these items were worth well over dozens of silver coins.

The chainmail and the brigandine looked especially extraordinary. He guessed they must be at least several hundred silver coins.

‘She didn’t need to go this far….’

He might have been thinking so, but he was already putting them on with a happy smile on his face. Since he got high-quality equipment without spending a single silver coin, how could he not be ecstatic?

Of course, he didn’t forget to call her to say thanks.

*

Four days before the spawn of the Banquet’s entrances, Kazuki visited the office.

“I’m terribly sorry.”

There was only one reason Kazuki would be apologizing. He had to have failed in recruiting a Priest.

The existence of a Priest was a life-or-death factor in an expedition. Since the Banquet was especially volatile and unpredictable, having a healing Priest was an absolute must.

The fact that they hadn’t been able to find a Priest meant that they needed to reconsider participating in the Banquet.

“Looks like Tsuji Yuki is serious about this.”

Jang Maldong mumbled. Kazuki neither denied nor confirmed the statement, but his stiff face was laced with cold rage.

“I hit up my contacts in Haramark as well as other cities, but….”

Kazuki was angry to the point that he couldn’t even finish his sentence. Unsurprisingly, an Archer of Kazuki’s caliber had many connections. It didn’t make any sense for him to not know a Priest or two.

If he couldn’t find anyone despite this….

“Other cities too?”

“Yes. Almost as if they matched words beforehand, all of them told me that they were joining another team.”

Then it only made sense to believe that the Japan Business Federation had obstructed them.

“Haa.”

Jang Maldong shook his head with a sigh. It was unfortunate, but it was the unwritten rule of Paradise to not interfere in internal feuds. The Japan Business Federation was likely unhappy with Carpe Diem for forming a team with Kazuki.

In any case, they were left with two choices - to give up on the Banquet or to have Carpe Diem find a Priest.

The Japan Business Federation had no justification to interfere in Carpe Diem’s activities. But the problem was that neither Hugo nor Chohong had any connections with a Priest.

Jang Maldong had retired from Paradise in the past, so he didn’t want to involve himself in outside problems. Of course, he could find someone if he really wanted to, but he wasn’t sure what the other party would request from him.

In the end, everyone’s gaze fell on one person.

“Seol.” Hugo carefully opened his mouth. “Can you ask Maria?”

“Maria Yeriel?”

When Kazuki asked back, Hugo nodded his head.

“Seol recruited her personally for the mission in Ramman Village.”

“I’m fine if it’s her. She’s kind and skilled.” Jang Maldong nodded his head in agreement.

Kazuki’s eyes also gleamed. “Seol, please, I’m ready to clutch at straws.”

‘Maria is… kind?’ Seol Jihu tilted his head before making a troubled expression.

“It’s not hard to ask her, but….” He blurred the end of his sentence, and then shook his head. “I doubt she’ll agree.”

In the previous mission, she had gone through life-threatening danger and lost her precious artifact. The image of Maria crying and declaring she would never follow him again was still vivid in his mind.

Kazuki continued as if that didn’t matter.

“I’m not suggesting that you’re our only hope. I have something I could try out, but I’d still like you to try just in case.”

Just trying wasn’t difficult. He was merely hesitant because he knew how Maria would react. Of course, he knew he wasn’t in a position to just sit back and do nothing, so he reluctantly agreed.

“What’s your other plan?”

Hearing Chohong’s question, Kazuki looked out the window.

“I’ll go see her.”

“Who? …Ah.”

Chohong immediately thought of someone.

“Well, since she raised you, she at least won’t ignore you.”

“It was only for a short time, but she helped me greatly.”

Kazuki looked unwilling but in an anxious kind of way.

“I’ll explain our circumstance to her and ask for help. It might be shameless of me to do so, but we’re in no position to be picky.”

Kazuki took out a crystal ball from his pocket.

“Tell me how it goes with Maria, Seol.”

“Yes, I’ll let you know right away.”

Seol Jihu got up from his seat and took the crystal.

*

Same time, different place.

“Achoo!”

Maria sneezed loudly in her temple room.

“Fucking hell…. Why is it so cold?”

She sniffled as she held her body close at the sudden chilliness.

*

Seol Jihu went to the temple of Luxuria and visited Maria.

“I refuse.”

Meeting her wasn’t hard, but neither was her answer.

“Because I, Maria, care more about my life than money. What’s money worth if you die and can’t use it? Right?”

She put her hands on her hips and declared commandingly. Seol Jihu reined in his desire to poke her baby fat puffed cheeks and opened his mouth.

“Miss Maria.”

“Shut up. Leave before I call someone. Shoo!”

Maria shooed him away as if she wanted nothing more to do with him. Of course, Seol Jihu didn’t come without a plan. He had brought the crucifix artifact he’d gotten from the royal family’s storage to use as bait. However, an unexpected problem came up.

The same crucifix artifact was hanging on Maria’s neck. It seemed that she somehow found an identical one.

Seeing that Seol Jihu had no plans to leave, Maria dropped her head.

“…Well, I acknowledge that your team is very strong. Since two of the best teams in Haramark joined hands, it really can’t be anything but strong.”

“Then why?”

“Do you even need to ask? The Japan Business Federation. The Triads. I hate getting involved in complicated relationships. I’m more than happy to watch a fire burn from the other side of the river, but I would never jump in myself.”

Seol Jihu didn’t know what to say since she was being so adamant.

‘I guess I don’t have any other choice.’

In the end, he decided to give up on persuading her. The Maria he knew was a Priest who moved solely based on profit. It seemed he needed to change his strategy.

Seol Jihu put his hand into his pocket.

“Anyways, that’s enough from you.”

Clang! The sound of clashing metallic objects rang out. Maria paused and glanced up. When she saw Seol Jihu placing a pouch on the table, she smirked.

“Wow~ You’re funny…. Fine, I’ll take a look since you insist.”

She opened the pouch slightly, and one corner of her mouth twisted up.

“Ten silver coins? You’re kidding, right?”

She tilted her head up and crossed her arms and legs.

“I followed you to Ramman Village for 15 silver coins, though I ended up getting tricked. Anyways, this is not even close to get me to follow you to the—”

Clang! Before she could even finish her speech, a second pouch was placed on the table. Maria narrowed her eyes.

“20…. Haa, just leave while I’m still being nice.”

Clang!

“You know…. Here’s some vodka. Drink this and get your mind working straight. I’m not trying to bargain with you. I really don’t want to—”

Clang!

40 silver coins. Maria bit her cherry-like lips.

Clang!

Another attack came in. Maria lifted her butt half-way before quickly putting it back down. She pressed down on her temples and groaned.

“Keuk. If only I didn’t blow all my money to get this artifact…. Ah, n-no, don’t be tempted!”

She took several breaths before resolving herself with firm determination.

“It’s obvious how this will play out. I’m going to end up rolling in the mud again. I’d be a fool if I got tricked a second time!”

Seeing Maria’s eyes tremble, Seol Jihu snorted and threw another pouch.

Clang!

Maria screamed in shock, “S-Stop! What are you doing!?”

“….”

“Are you crazy!? How can you spend dozens of silver coins to hire a Priest who’s not even a High Ranker!!?”

Clang!

“Y-You devil! You’re a devil!”

“….”

“Do what you want! You think I’ll give in with just this?”

Clang!

“AH!”

Maria yelped before shooting up with an angry look. Then….

“Oppa~!”

She scurried up close and grabbed all eight pouches before holding them close in her embrace.

“How can you throw money like this? Poor babies!”

From an unwelcome guest to a devil, then from a devil to an oppa, all it took was 80 silver coins.

“I’m looking forward to working with you.”

“Hmph! I hate you, Oppa!”

She even began to talk with a nasally voice. Seol Jihu happily watched the crazed Maria rubbing her cheeks on the pouches.

‘Money is nice, huh.’

Although he had to use 80 silver coins, he hardly considered it a loss. He had well over 900 ‘silver’ coins and even had many priceless items like a piece of gold and the Proof of Castitas. Plus, he ended up saving the crucifix.

After successfully recruiting Maria, Seol Jihu left the temple and took out the communication crystal he got from Kazuki.

—Seol?

“Mister Kazuki.”

As soon as he picked up, Seol Jihu drew a V-sign with his hands.

“I recruited her.”

—I recruited someone.

The youth and the man both wore dazed expressions.

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