The minority faction was about 30 percent of the remaining participants, and they consisted of two types - those who entered the Banquet alone, and those who entered as a team and were now left alone.
Although they were treated like weaklings in the Banquet, looking from an objective standpoint, they weren’t so weak as to be treated like dregs. Just the fact they managed to enter was proof of their abilities. After all, they would have had to fend off dozens and dozens of competitors.
In reality, it wouldn’t have been strange for some of the strong teams to try to recruit some of them for the Stage.
But the problem was that the first recruitment targets became sacrificial lambs. And when the same incident occurred a few hours later, the Rubicon had been crossed.
Rather than going into a strong team and fearing for their lives, they chose to remain with people in the same situation. Of course, the problem was that nowhere was safe.
After arriving at the minority faction’s camping ground, Seol Jihu felt several stinging gazes sticking on him like bullets. They were so full of hostility and wariness that simply describing them as ‘unwelcoming’ wasn’t enough.
‘It would be easier if I could talk to someone I knew….’
Seol Jihu slowly looked around the camp before spotting the white headband girl and her older brother in the distance. The giant still looked intimidating, but it seemed his injuries had been healed, as his complexion looked better.
When the girl waved her hand, Seol Jihu greeted them back. Meanwhile, the giant was staring at him without a single reaction. He must remember being helped, as he revealed no sign of hostility. However, his gaze wasn’t so friendly either.
“Ah.” At that moment, someone muttered as if they knew Seol Jihu.
Seol Jihu turned to the direction of the sound and instantly spotted a girl with a bob cut. It was Lara Wolff, the female Archer he met during Stage 1.
“Hello,” Seol Jihu bent his waist and greeted her, “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Oh, um…. I couldn’t find my comrades when I entered Stage 2,” Lara spoke as she scratched her short hair. Then, when she saw Seol Jihu going ‘Ah,’ she quickly put on a smile. “It’s fine. They might have been eliminated instead…. Anyways, why are you here?”
Thanking her for changing the subject, Seol Jihu got down to business. “There’s something I need to say.”
“Ah, then I’ll come with you….”
Lara tried to walk closer. After thinking for a moment, Seol Jihu shook his head.
After the traitors died, the minority faction lacked someone to call a representative. Lara clearly couldn’t be the spokesperson for the group.
“I’ll… say it here.”
Lara paused, and her facial muscles froze stiff. Declaring that he would speak here, when everyone was watching, meant that he had come to see everyone, not just her.
“…Okay. Go ahead.”
It wasn’t as if she had any authority to decide the matter, but she gave her consent anyways. Although the situation had turned out like this, she still remembered the act of kindness he showed during Stage 1.
To be completely honest, a part of her was hoping he would come save her like he did in Stage 1. It might appear as if she was being shameless, but she wasn’t the only one hoping.
People from the minority side weren’t antagonistic towards Seol Jihu. It was partly because he had saved the brother and sister not too long ago, but at the same time, it was also because they were hoping for someone to come save them.
Feeling the atmosphere, Seol Jihu felt his heart sink in. He never thought having expectations on his shoulders would be so heavy and compelling.
How should he put it? Seol Jihu hesitated for a long time before realizing that it was meaningless.
They should know the situation they were in better than anyone else.
“I won’t beat around the bush.” He cut to the chase. “I need everyone’s cooperation.”
“I know it will be tough… but I’d like you to participate in conquering the Plaza of Sacrifice.”
As soon as he raised the main point, sighs rang out from his surroundings.
Lara Wolff smiled bitterly. Neither she nor anybody else here were fools. They knew that was the only way.
“I know, but….”
Lara Wolff raised both hands, twiddling her fingers as if she had something to say. However, seeming unable to find the right words, she put them back down.
Kazuki had called them the ‘people without a choice’. Just like his words suggested, their fate was to enter the Plaza of Sacrifice and become meat shields, or to become sacrificial lambs without anyone’s knowledge.
No matter which path they chose, death was the only thing waiting for them. They were truly driven to a corner with nowhere to go. At first, they were forced by people. Now, they were forced by the circumstance.
“I will become your shield.”
Lara tilted her head. He wasn’t asking them to become shields but saying he would become one himself?
Next, Seol Jihu explained his thoughts loud and clear for everyone to hear.
“I understand what you’re saying, but…”
Even after the explanation ended, Lara didn’t seem all that moved.
“I mean, you’re right, but….”
She kept blurring the end of her speech. Almost as if she didn’t want to anger the youth, she picked out each word with utmost care.
Seol Jihu patiently waited for her.
“…Can we trust you?”
In the end, they came back to the problem of principle.
It was something they had to address. However, trust wasn’t something that could be seen, and the chasm of mistrust had become too deep for words to do any good.
But it was human nature to want to listen, even if the words were empty. Lara Wolff must have asked for precisely this reason.
Seol Jihu calmly replied, “I won’t ask you to trust me right here and now.”
Lara blinked her widened eyes. Since she asked a question of principle, she expected to receive an answer of principle. Or, at worst, she expected persuasion adorned with grandiosity.
“I’d like you to give me a chance.” However, the youth’s words were so clean and direct, they seemed like a meat dish that had all of its oil extracted out.
Moreover, the man in front of her belonged to a powerful team that vied for the top position even among the teams of the strong faction. His desperate, grave face strangely pulled on her heartstrings.
It was to the point that—
“I will bet my name on it.”
She wanted to take a chance…
“I would like you to give me a chance to make you trust me.”
And trust him just once.
A conference was held.
It wasn’t just a gathering of the representatives, rather of all the remaining 110 people.
Another noteworthy thing was that the members of the minority faction sat with Carpe Diem and Umi Tsubame’s alliance team. It was a rather strange sight for the majority faction, who had stayed silent and non-aggressive.
The first one to speak up was the man who called for the conference — Kazuki. However, he didn’t say anything special. He only recounted the situation they were in and described a general direction they needed to go in.
Simply put, he was setting the stage for Seol Jihu to speak.
“So,” Oh Rahee, who was listening with an indifferent face, finally opened her mouth. “I think it’s about time you make your point.”
Kazuki must have thought this was enough as he slowly wrapped up his point. As he finished, Seol Jihu exchanged glances with each of his comrades.
Chohong nodded her head slightly, and Hugo gave a thumbs-up in silence. Maria looked unmoved, while the robed Priest… seemed to be looking at him worriedly.
He felt reassured.
Soon, he got up from his seat after exchanging glances with Kazuki. Curious gazes naturally fell on the two men.
Faced with dozens of gazes, Seol Jihu felt a different kind of pressure than before. He could see several High Rankers including Oh Rahee, as well as Snake Eyes, or Audrey Basler. Each of them sat with confidence and leisure. However, this attitude got on his nerves.
Meanwhile, Oh Rahee twiddled the ends of her hair and smiled.
“Can the local news commentator fuck off?” Oh Rahee spat back at someone’s question. The man who spoke up made a sour expression.
“Who the hell…. N-No, ma’am. It’s just that we need to know who he is….”
“Hnng.” Oh Rahee nodded her head and snickered. “You said you were Haramark’s Seol?”
Murmur, murmur. A small commotion broke out. Seol Jihu could hear various versions of, ‘He’s him?’ or ‘Carpe Diem?’
Seeing people’s interest in him grow, Seol Jihu opened his mouth and cut to the chase. “A little while ago, the 32 people from the minority side, who previously refused to participate in the conquering of the Plaza of Sacrifice, expressed their intention to participate.”
The commotion died down. Seol Jihu wasn’t as nervous as he thought. He only thought he was doing what he needed to.
“As such, I suggest we organize several teams out of the 110 people.”
The 70 or so people from the majority side exchanged glances. The minority faction participating was something they had been asking for. But even if the other side made a concession, asking to reorganize new teams was a bit….
“Since there are seven doors inside the Plaza of Sacrifice, we will divide everyone into seven teams.”
Seol Jihu suggested to form teams of 15~16 people to handle each of the seven doors. The problem was with his statement of reforming teams. He said that the members of the teams should be able to move if the situation called for it, and more importantly, the 32 minority members had to be distributed evenly.
In other words, he was telling the majority side to make a concession.
Those from the majority might not approve it in their heads, but they knew it wasn’t a wrong thing to ask logically speaking.
However, knowing something in their heads and accepting it within their hearts were completely different.
“Wow—” Someone voiced their complaint out loud.
“Well, aren’t you spoiled?” The owner of the voice was none other than Audrey Basler.
“Why don’t you be quiet.”
As she was about to butt in, somebody else cut in. Basler turned around with a face that seemed to say, ‘Who dares?’ Then, she saw a burly man glaring at her.
“Who the hell are….” Basler spoke provocatively, but when she saw six men standing tall behind the burly man with their hands behind their backs, she whistled.
“Ooh~ Acting all scary~ So it’s the Triads’ young lord~”
“Alright, alright, I get it. Stop glaring at me like that, mkay? I just—”
“I said, shut up.” Hao Win continued with a condescending look, “Can’t you see he’s still talking?”
“Geez.” Basler shrugged her shoulders and smacked her lips. “How can people without a backing survive in this cruel world?”
After succeeding in making Snake Eyes shut up, Hao Win turned back to the front. Seol Jihu and Oh Rahee were in the middle of a conversation.
“Every time we beat the Plaza of Sacrifice, we need to send six people into the Plaza of the Dissonant Wish. This is a must.”
“As you know, the number of remaining participants will decrease as the fight continues.”
“That’s true.” Oh Rahee agreed for now. She knew it was unrealistic to hope no one would die during the 19 battles.
Although the participants had easily conquered the Plaza of Sacrifice when they had 140 people, expecting the same with 110 people was being too greedy. As the difficulty of the plaza was static, it was obvious that having less people would make beating it more difficult.
“So we’ll need to find a method of reinforcing our fighting power.”
“And that’s going into the Plaza of the Dissonant Wish?”
“Going in and coming back out, to be precise.” Seol Jihu corrected her. “It’s only an assumption, but isn’t everybody here hoping to leave Stage 2?”
Light flickered in Oh Rahee’s eyes. She finally understood what the youth was getting at.
Indeed, the reward of Stage 2 was granting the participants’ wishes, even if they were in a twisted form. It was the reward Earthlings looked forward to the most. The Banquet being a huge biannual event was one reason, but the reward was what enticed them the most.
After all, they would be able to receive a jaw-dropping reward just by clearing Stage 2.
Connecting these two points together, Seol Jihu’s plan made sense. Whether it be a high-quality weapon, armor, potion, or scroll, if even a small number of the 110 participants could obtain the above, their overall strength would undoubtedly go up.
Perhaps they would get lucky and see an explosive rise as well.
“What you say makes sense….” Oh Rahee tapped on her knee with her index finger. “But you know what that entails, right?”
“Good. Then tell me how you’re going to select the six people and how you’re going to ensure they come back without leaving through the portal.”
“The six people will be chosen by the representatives of the seven teams.”
“By team…? No, only six people can go in. Since there are seven teams, picking one from each team should be impossible.”
“We won’t be doing that.” Seol Jihu shook his head. “We’ll follow a strict rule to select them.”
“It’s simple.” Seol Jihu continued, “We will pick four from the 78 and two from the 32.”
There were 78 in the majority side and 32 in the minority side.
“Except, the six chosen must not be related in any way.”
Being a quick thinker, Oh Rahee understood what he meant and went “Ah”. Picking four people with equal strength to keep each other in check. Even if they had a different idea, they would have to come back to Stage 2 where the rest of their comrades were. Otherwise, they would be guilty by association.
Of course, it would be difficult to apply guilty-by-association to members of the minority side. However, they wouldn’t be able to move so easily with four from the majority side watching like hawks.
“Hm….” Oh Rahee dropped her head and fell in thought. The two of them ended up talking about the plan, but everyone else surely must have heard them.
Seol Jihu turned his eyes off Oh Rahee and looked around his surroundings. No one had spoken out in opposition. Knowing that the plan was a good compromise, everyone was thinking about it carefully.
It would be great if everything worked out, but Seol Jihu didn’t expect things to be that easy. After all, Kazuki guaranteed that someone would raise an opposition.
“No, no, no! Listen!”
After all, it was difficult for there to be no crazies among the 78.
“I can’t bear to listen to this farce any longer.”
It was Audrey Basler. As if she found this whole thing unbearably enjoyable, her venomous, serpentine eyes were curled viciously.
“What a joke!” When Seol Jihu stared at her, she pouted her lower lip and murmured, “To be honest, I can’t understand those guys participating at this moment.”
“What can’t you understand?”
“I mean~ Isn’t it obvious?” Basler snickered. “They didn’t do a thing when we were telling them ‘do this’ or ‘do that’. Now that the situation turns to this, they’re clinging onto the prince. Fucking leeches, aren’t they?”
She relentlessly spat out venomous words. “It’s the same with forming teams. Let’s be frank here. Cooperation? You’re just telling us to protect those weaklings! Aren’t you?”
Basler asked for an agreement, but when Seol Jihu opened his mouth, she shook her hand and continued talking.
“Aaah, of course, I know what you mean. You’re telling us not to push them too far because they’re pitiful. Now that things turned out this way, you want us to hold hands and work together, right?”
Seol Jihu laughed, wondering how she could possibly have interpreted his words that way.
“I’ll be honest. If we were to do as you say, each team will have to take on 5 or 6 people…. Sorry, but unlike you, it’s not my hobby to do volunteer work.”
Seol Jihu calmly asked, “What are you trying to say?”
“Aha! I knew you were astute!” Audrey Basler snickered even more. “Well, I’m not as good with words, so I’ll just say it outright.”
She spoke shamelessly while glancing to the side. “There’s nothing we can do about Stage 3….”
“But have those guys give up all 32 Dissonant Wishes.”
It was an absurd request.
“As for how to distribute them amongst us, we can work that out later…. If they agree, I think we’re getting somewhere.”
“No.” Seol Jihu immediately refused. “It’s not like they’re doing nothing. We can’t do that when they are actively participating in conquering this Stage.”
Snake Eyes closed her mouth and blinked her eyes. Her nasty expression really made him want beat her to death.
“That’s what you think, fucking retard.”
She smirked, and with a long sigh, she slicked her bangs up.Previous Chapter Next Chapter