Chapter 139. He Who Wishes to Wear the Crown (3)

Hugo was off in his own world, not responding to anything he said. Unless it was about Seo Yuhui.

‘It can’t be helped.’

It was selfish to expect his teammates to unconditionally follow and support him. Chohong and Hugo were humans after all, and not machines.

‘It really can’t be helped, I guess.’

“Wow… just wow. How can a person be so beautiful?”

“Yeah, seriously.”

Seol Jihu organized his thoughts and decided to accompany Hugo in his world to cool off his head.

Seo Yuhui was in the middle of welcoming visitors. Several priests could be seen panting for dear life as they wearily carried massive bags into her house.

A sudden question popped up in his mind. Thinking back, he had seen those priests carrying humongous bags back and forth quite a few times.

‘What on earth are they carrying inside?’

Seo Yuhui disappeared into her house after relieving the luggage of a young priest. A sigh broke out from Hugo’s mouth.

Then turning around, his eyes widened.

“Seol. What’s that?”

"?"

"That necklace. It’s my first time seeing it… but why are you wearing it like that?

As Seol Jihu looked down towards his chest, the pendant was nowhere to be seen. He was positive he had worn it properly.

“Ah.”

Tracing the lace up his shoulders, he finally saw the jewel. The pendant had been behind his back as if it was hiding.

‘Huh?’

As he was just about to adjust the necklace properly, Hugo shifted his attention back to the window.

Quietly moving away to a corner, Seol Jihu asked in a small voice.

“Flone, what’s wrong?”

[I don’t like him!]

The sound of clattering teeth rang in his head.

[I hate that human!]

It was unusual for Flone to express an outright dislike towards someone, so Seol Jihu was astonished.

“Why are you suddenly like this? Did Hugo do something wrong?”

As he soothed her while gently petting the pendant, the barely calmed-down Flone replied with a shaking voice.

[While I was roaming around the building this morning, I heard a voice… it was a terrible scream.]

“A scream?”

[Yeah. Not a human scream but that of a spirit.]

“Are you saying that there’s a ghost in the building?”

[No. I was surprised too, so I went and checked and found that the scream was from a weapon. It was a very beautiful axe.]

She must have meant the battle axe that Hugo got after exchanging with Oh Rahee.

[It was a spirit with completely opposite attributes from me, but it was really, really pure. I could feel the presence of a pure soul filled with sacred light… but…]

From Flone’s voice which was hesitating, Seol Jihu a felt trace of sadness and despair.

[He was licking it.]

Seol Jihu doubted his ears.

“Excuse me?”

[That bastard was licking that axe containing that sacred soul! He licked it up and down, asking how it tasted, and told it to stop acting hard to get before he bit on it and started sucking! And he slurped it with that filthy tongue of his!]

Flone’s tone was filled with extreme disgust as she ratted out all of Hugo’s perverted deeds.

[It’s just too heartbreaking. That spirit must have been someone strong and virtuous who amassed great feats in the past…]

Flone’s voice quivered slightly.

After escaping from Hugo, Seol Jihu decided to consult the team advisor. Coincidently, Jang Maldong was sitting on the office sofa as if he had been waiting for him.

“So I heard you want to be the team leader?”

Seol Jihu stared at him with a dumbfounded expression after Jang Maldong spoke up. Jang Maldong’s face reddened, realizing he had gone ahead himself.

“Chohong told me.”

Seol Jihu let out an empty laugh. It was a marvel how she managed to already snitch on him in that short span of time.

“What’s so funny? So, what did you come to see me for?”

Sitting properly, Seol Jihu went straight to the point.

“I wanted to know how the recruitment of our Archer is going.”

Jang Maldong’s eyebrows flinched.

Recruiting a new Archer was the number one priority of Carpe Diem. Until now, Jang Maldong had been solely in charge of this task.

But for Seol Jihu to suddenly interfere at this point; Jang Maldong wasn’t stupid enough to not know what this meant.

“Hmm…”

A pair of wrinkled eyes searched through Seol Jihu’s face.

Honestly, he was more than a bit worried when Seol Jihu had returned from the Banquet. Seol Jihu hadn’t looked too good then.

But when he came back from the Forest of Denial, things suddenly changed. He looked as if he had a change of personality, and the self-doubt he seemed to have disappeared.

The change was clear in his face.

The eyes that met Jang Maldong’s gaze were as calm as a lake, without a ripple. When they had first met, Seol Jihu’s eyes were unstable like fluttering feathers, but now, there was a new heaviness to his gaze.

But the gaze didn’t lose any of its previous gentleness, so it was like looking at a ball of cotton drenched in water.

‘This kid…’

He didn’t know exactly what, but he could tell that Seol Jihu had overcome many hardships before and after the Banquet.

But as the ground settled after a rain, all was good since it seemed like he had overcome his burdens.

‘I did well to send him.’

Jang Maldong slowly scratched his head. It was a habit of his that came out whenever he was in a good mood.

‘It’s time, I suppose.’

Jang Maldong’s role was the team advisor. Since he vowed not to act on the frontlines after returning to Paradise, it seemed that he could finally focus on his role as the advisor.

…Yes. As long as Seol Jihu didn’t stray from his current vision, Jang Maldong would always be behind as his reliable supporter.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

And with this, he refreshingly accepted the interference.

“It’s not that there is a shortage of applicants. I don’t know how many interview requests I’ve received each day. And as soon as the number started to dwindle, it shot back up immediately after the Banquet.”

It meant that Carpe Diem’s intended purpose of attending the banquet was achieved.

“Weren’t there any Archers that satisfied you?”

“There were a couple that passed the basic qualifications. If there weren’t any, I wouldn’t be having such a hard time deciding.”

Jang Maldong crossed his arms and tapped his fingers.

“There was an offer that did interest me… I told you that I went around several cities, right?”

“Yes. You said you preferred personally meeting them.”

“I think it was when I went to Scheherazade. A guy I knew asked to meet me there, so I dropped by the White Rose Guild on the way.”

“The White Rose?”

“Their official name is ‘White and Rose’, and their main operation is mercenary work. Not only do they have a lot of people from Area 1, there are even a few members holding Bronze stamps, so just think of it as a somewhat large organization.”

Explaining in detail, Jang Maldong continued.

“I received a quite interesting offer there.”

“What kind of offer?”

“Do you know the Yi Seol-Ah, Yi Sungjin siblings?”

Shocked at the unexpected mention of these names, Seol Jihu barely replied back.

“Y-Yes. Of course I do.”

“The White Rose asked whether we’d like to recruit the Yi siblings.”

“What!?”

“They were the ones to bring up this proposal first. Not as a contract of lease but under the condition of a full transfer.”

Seol Jihu gulped. He had been thinking of recruiting a pair of siblings but it had been the Heaven-Slaughtering Star and the white headband girl; he had completely forgotten about the Yi siblings until now.

“Sir, I’m sorry but how does this recruitment process work?”

“You’re sorry for quite a big thing.”

Jang Maldong snorted.

“There’d be no end if I were to explain in depth but… you said you watched sports before, right?”

“I’ve only watched a few games when I was bored.”

“It’s nothing too complicated. Think of it like the transfer markets of domestic baseball or the overseas soccer teams.”

“Transfer markets… You’re talking about the FA or buyouts, right?”

“That’s it.”

Jang Maldong continued to speak calmly.

“I’ve heard that they both have Bronze marks.

“Yes.”

“Considering that it’s their first contract, their contract periods should have been around 2 years.”

“Is that in Paradise time?”

“Of course. Why?”

Seol Jihu tilted his head in confusion.

“I’ve heard that it takes an average of 2 years for Earthlings to pay off the company’s initial investment.”

“Hmm.”

“But to think that they’ll get released right after the 2 years…”

Seol Jihu became silent.

The invitation stamps, even if they were red or bronze, required an extremely large amount of achievement points to get.

Not to mention the effort that they spent in raising them for 2 years, why did the White Rose suddenly decide to transfer them when they were just starting to become useful?

He couldn’t understand their actions.

“Well, there are cases where the initial contract duration is longer, like for those with Silver marks. People with Red marks are exceptions since they’re already bound to a contract before entering.”

Jang Maldong continued speaking.

“Either way, bringing an Earthling with a stamp is like slowly scratching off a lottery ticket over the course of 2 years.”

Swinging his cane back and forth, he suddenly asked.

“What do you think is the most important thing when raising a complete newbie?”

“Training.”

“Uhh. That’s very like you but…”

Jang Maldong rubbed his thumb and index finger in a circle while flaring his nostrils.

"It’s money."

Jang Malong strongly emphasized once more that as long as one had the money, one could raise a group of idiots to Level 4 under 2 years.

“It’s not just required for feeding, housing, and clothing them. All resources necessary for an Earthling’s growth is directly connected to finances. Everything boils down to money.”

As Seol Jihu had experienced his own share of struggles with money, he could strongly relate to what Jang Maldong was saying.

“But money is a finite resource. Not to mention that the money required increases exponentially for each level.”

Seol Jihu could finally understand.

“They decide the results of the investment at the end of the 2 years.”

“Correct. It’s better to focus their investment on someone with potential than to try and support someone with none.”

“Then Seol-Ah and Sungjin are…”

“They’re being expelled.”

Though Jang Maldong bluntly stated the fact, Seol Jihu had an uncertain expression.

Yi Seol-Ah’s potential for growth hadn’t been low at all when he had checked her status with his Nine Eyes. Instead, he remembered it to be very high.

Frankly, while he wasn’t sure about Yi Sungjin, he was confident that it wasn’t Yi Seol-Ah’s ability that got her expelled.

“I told them I’d think more about it when they told me you were friends with them… but it’s a bit strange. The story just doesn’t add up.”

Jang Maldong stroked his chin.

“That Yi Seol-Ah. I’ve heard she reached Level 2 after coming out from the Neutral Zone not too long ago.”

Jang Maldong took a glance at Seol Jihu, finding him not at all surprised by the news. It was because Seol Jihu had already heard from Yun Seora.

[I’ve occasionally heard some news about her. They say her talent as an Archer is extremely high, and that she’ll probably reach Level 2 in just a few more months.]

“Just in case you don’t already know, don’t judge others with your standards. Even if she had support from the White Rose Guild, hitting Level 2 in just 3 months is seen as fast.”

"Right."

“Anyway, now that you’ve heard the situation. What do you think?”

“They’re good kids.”

It was an immediate answer.

“I’ve been with them since the Tutorial. They’re kind souls, and I have no doubts about their ability.”

“But if their personality was good and their skills decent, wouldn’t the White Rose have not let them go?”

“I’m not too sure about that. While I don’t know much about Yi Sungjin, I can vouch for Yi Seol-Ah. I’m sure that it’s only because she’s too young right now. She has an innate talent as an Archer, not to mention that her learning speed is also extremely fast.”

“You’re praising her unceasingly. But can you say the same if you hadn’t known her?”

“Yes. And Seol-Ah’s evaluation was done by Agnes, not me. She personally trained her on my request, and she mentioned that while she didn’t know who invited her, they struck gold. She told me Seol-Ah had the potential to be a High Ranker.”

“What did you say?”

Jang Maldong narrowed his eyes.

“Miss Agnes said this personally…? Is this true?”

“It’s not a lie. You can ask her yourself.”

Jang Maldong fell into thought, his hand rubbing his chin.

While he couldn’t just take Seol Jihu’s words for it, it was a different story if it was Agnes out of all people to evaluate her like so.

He now had to personally see Yi Seol-Ah. It was highly likely that she was the real deal.

“Hmm… Abandoning a child of such caliber… This is truly strange.”

Seol Jihu also felt that something was off, but he couldn’t give up the chance of recruiting the siblings.

He had been set on recruiting an Archer would listen to him well in the first place. And Yi Seol-Ah was close to the image of the ideal Archer he was hoping for.

After having experienced multiple conflicts with the header during the expedition, Seol Jihu didn’t want to miss this chance.

“I want to recruit them.”

“Hmm. If your words are true, then this is definitely a chance that won’t come twice.”

A High Ranker wasn’t a title given to some random pet dog, so Jang Maldong didn’t disagree.

“Good. I’ll arrange a meeting for you.”

“Thank you.”

“Since they were the ones that proposed, the meeting time will probably be finalized by tomorrow at the latest.”

“How much should we prepare?”

Seol Jihu carefully asked. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the money. It was rather because it was his first transaction, and he couldn’t figure out just how much they’d call.

“Well. If your words are true, then she’d be considered as the highest level…”

After thinking for a while, Jang Maldong shook his head.

“Let’s listen to what they have to say first. Nothing’s confirmed yet anyways, so don’t be hasty. Go to the temple by the end of today.”

"The temple?"

“For your level.”

Jang Maldong tapped his cane.

“Don’t put off leveling up if you’re going to have to do it anyway. And there’s nothing to lose in having a higher level for social activities.”

Since Jang Maldong hadn’t said anything wrong, Seol Jihu quietly accepted his advice, but he still felt uneasy. Only harsh training earned him the ability fit for his level, but lately he hadn’t been able to even go for a run because of work.

“It’s always hard the first time.”

Jang Maldong said as if he understood what Seol Jihu was thinking.

“Building a stable foundation now will make things easier later. For now, just work while thinking that you’re dead.”

Seol Jihu sighed in his mind, assuming that Jang Maldong meant he shouldn’t even think of training.

‘If this is just the start, then how heavy is the crown…’

His chest felt heavy, but he shook his head.

He couldn’t whine when he had only just taken the first step.

“I understand.”

*

Seol Jihu didn’t delay and went straight to Gula’s temple. While he had a ton of questions concerning the newly awakened direction, the ‘Destiny Selection’, he decided to only drop by for the sake of leveling up.

It was because Gula would often stray off topic, and when cornered into talking about a specific subject, she would just avoid the question altogether.

His head already felt like exploding, so instead of asking to receive more stress, he chose to not bother asking.

[You did well.]

Or so he resolved, but Gula talking away at her own initiative was completely unexpected.

[You dealing with the man-eating monsters. You did well. Things got hard when Evangeline Rose died in vain, but with this, the hole has mended.]

'?'

[Hehe. You definitely don’t have a normal fate. To think that a butterfly effect this big would happen from such a simple action.]

He didn’t know why, but Gula seemed really happy for some reason, so Seol Jihu stood there, blinking his eyes.

‘Gula-nim. My level….’

[Oh! Yes, yes. Since you’ve fought in the Plaza of Sacrifice 20 times, and cleared the Banquet, Level 4 would be… Huh?]

Gula who was about to answer positively suddenly let out a surprised voice.

[That necklace…]

‘Necklace?’

Seol Jihu reflexively looked down at his pendant. The originally clear blue jewel had become black after Flone entered it.

'It looks a bit familiar now that you mentioned it…’

[A fragment of the Seven Virtues. You did well to find that.]

'A fragment of the Seven Virtues?’

Seol Jihu asked, unable to stop his curiosity.

[There’s something like that.]

…Was she joking? Seol Jihu barely stopped himself from spitting on the statue.

At this point, it was suspicious whether she was doing it on purpose, but he let it go since it wasn’t as if she had done it once or twice.

But there was one thing Seol Jihu could not yield.

[Anyways. By the name of Gula—]

As soon as Gula’s signature murmur echoed out, swish.

[I hereby declare…?]

Seol Jihu flipped his head up as if he was struck by lightning.

Gula paused. Seol Jihu’s face was so full of expectation that it was even twinkling with light.

[Seol Jihu as…]

Twinkle, twinkle.

[L-Level 4…]

Twinkle, twinkle.

[Ma—]

At that moment, Gula could clearly see.

The sight of the bright light being immediately extinguished at the sound of ‘Ma’ in mana.

[Ma…]

His eyes grew bigger as if someone had hit him in the back of his head. His desperate expression was that of a person who was hopelessly clinging onto a twig while being swept up in a terrible flood.

[….]

She could tell even without reading his thoughts. His face screamed ‘Anything but that! Please reconsider once more!’

Gula continued in a noticeably smaller voice.

[…Mana Pro Lancer. I look forward to your accomplishments befitting your unique class.]

Seol Jihu’s face blackened as if he had received a death sentence. His mouth slowly gaped open and his shoulders drooped down.

It wasn’t just simple disappointment. It was the face of a crying child looking at the bean sprout soup in front of him when he was expecting a scrumptious meat dish.

Seol Jihu opened his mouth while dazed.

“Ever since a while back… I’ve been wondering…”

[What is it?]

“The class names… were you the one making them?”

[Of course. And?]

"…Oh…"

[?]

Seol Jihu who had been standing there like a stone statue slowly tilted his chin up and looked towards the ceiling. And he stopped moving.

Gula began to feel awkward at the end of the long silence.

[What is it?]

An empty sigh that expressed the loss of all hope to live sounded out.

[What? What is it?]

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