Chapter 187. An Unexpected Change of Pace (2)

“…I should have banned this topic too.”

Phi Sora murmured with a bitter smile. She then heaved out a long sigh before nodding her head.

“Alright, go ahead.”

She agreed, much to Seol Jihu’s surprise.

How should he start? It was a fairly sensitive topic, so Seol Jihu had some hesitations. In the end, he decided to reaffirm her future plans first.

Her thoughts might have changed since the last time they talked. After all, some pretty significant incidents had taken place since then, and it had also been a while back since they had their talk. If this were the case, there was a chance Seol Jihu was worrying about nothing.

He asked blatantly.

“What’s the reason?”

“?”

“The reason that you’re staying with Carpe Diem.”

Phi Sora retorted with a glum look.

“Even though I never spelled it out, I thought I showed you more than a few times through my actions.”

This likely meant her plans had not changed.

“I just can’t understand why. Someone like you should easily be able to enter a bigger organization than Carpe Diem.”

“That’s true.”

Phi Sora agreed without sounding arrogant in any way.

“But it will be hard to find a place with the same atmosphere as Carpe Diem. And to be honest, I think Carpe Diem is a good match for me.”

“Good match?”

“It’s not my style to enter an already established team and put my spoon in the utensil box. Dear, did you know that I entered Paradise as a Red Mark?”

Seol Jihu nodded his head, remembering seeing this info in her Status Window.

“You know how men are like, right? They always go on about how hard it was for them being in the army, but they also say it wasn’t so bad. I kind of understand what they mean. It was really hard when I first entered Paradise. Working like a dog, being scorned at like a slave…”

Phi Sora smirked before putting her pinky in her glass and swirling it around.

“I risked my life countless times and, in the end, I got everyone to shut up with my skills alone. That was surprisingly fun.”

The word fun got on Seol Jihu’s nerves slightly, but he didn’t really pick a problem with it. After all, in a gaming environment there were people who enjoyed the process of reaching the max level rather than starting out at the max level and sweeping through everything.

That was probably what she meant.

“And in a way, I think I grabbed the perfect time to join the team.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you get it? With you around, Carpe Diem’s potential for growth is infinite. There’s a chance it will become a massive organization that people wouldn’t be able to get in even if they wanted to.”

Phi Sora took her pinky out and sucked on it.

“I don’t know what you think about this, but I think I can offer a lot to the current Carpe Diem. And if I play a pivotal role in a team that’s just now starting out, I might be treated as a founding contributor in the future.”

“Founding contributor?”

“Yep. Unless I’m mistaken in my judgment of your character, you wouldn’t mistreat me when you eventually become the head of an organization that acts as one of the pillars of Paradise.”

Phi Sora smiled as if just thinking about this made her happy.

Seol Jihu couldn’t help but laugh at her honest confession.

“Isn’t it too early to be dreaming of a rosy future?”

“One can dream. I’m confident.”

Well, her confidence was justified, given that she was the core member who grew the White Rose guild.

Taking Phi Sora’s skills into account, Seol Jihu should be welcoming her with open arms. But there were a few things that stopped him from happily grabbing her hand.

To be frank, Phi Sora, in Seol Jihu’s opinion, was an Earthling who was more suited to being a leader than an officer.

“Can’t you just form your own team, Miss Phi Sora? With your experience, you have more competent—”

“No.”

But before he could even finish his sentence, Phi Sora waved her hand and denied it.

“It’s not like I hate compliments, but I think you’re overestimating me. I know me. I’m not fit to be a leader.”

She shook her head and continued.

“Moreover, I won’t be leading anyone in that place ever again. Why? Because I don’t want to. Ever.”

She reaffirmed her decision, emphasizing her point and even repeating the word ever twice.

While Seol Jihu was taken aback by her unexpectedly intense denial, a hint of sorrow flit past Phi Sora’s face.

Although it only lasted a split second, Seol Jihu did not miss this show of emotion and finally guessed what she was really feeling.

‘A trauma.’

Because of a single wrong choice, she had indirectly caused the deaths of the comrades she had shared joys and sorrows with. This must have changed her outlook somehow.

Seol Jihu had mixed feelings, but he soon shook them off by shaking his head.

He wanted to draw a strict line between his public and private life.

Though it was hard to say he was making a good effort at that, he decided to tell Phi Sora the truth as well.

“I know you told me not to talk about this topic, but let me say this. Thank you so much for participating in the war. I’m sincerely grateful.”

“Thank you for saying that. I was worried you’d make fun of me since I was knocked out in one blow after boasting so much.”

Seol Jihu shook his head. That was the furthest thing from his mind.

The appearance of the Seven Armies was something no one had expected, and an Army Commander wasn’t any ordinary being.

Seol Jihu had also heard that Phi Sora refused to rat him out until the very end, even though Undying Diligence promised not to kill her if she complied.

In other words, she had been loyal as a comrade. Just like the saying, someone’s true nature can only be seen in extreme situations, Seol Jihu now saw Phi Sora in a different light.

At the very least, she was a thousand times better than the bastard who shot his hand up and shouted to try and reveal his identity.

“You ignored me at the Huge Stone Rocky Mountain too. Looks like it was worth risking my life.”

…Well, her temper seemed to be the same though.

Seol Jihu clicked his tongue inwardly, then spoke up.

“The reason I wasn’t pleased with you then was due to Seol-Ah and Sungjin. As you can guess, the two of them don’t feel comfortable around you. They even fear you to a certain extent. I’m sure you know why.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Of course, considering Bok Jungsik and Miss Phi Sora’s relationship, I understand why you acted like that at the time. But only the reason, and nothing more.”

At that moment, the shrugging Phi Sora’s eyebrows twitched slightly.

“What’s important now is that this past political relationship can no longer affect the siblings. Because Carpe Diem doesn’t have factions.”

“….”

“I’d love it if Miss Phi Sora can get along with the Yi siblings, but… I know that isn’t something I can enforce. But I’m hoping the relationship will improve so that it won’t affect our future missions….”

Seol Jihu examined Phi Sora’s facial expression as he talked. Up until this point, her face was a little stiff, but he didn’t catch any glaring changes.

It was a rather positive reaction given her nickname, so Seol Jihu slowly continued what he was saying.

“Since we’re talking about this….”

He poured soju into his empty glass and continued.

“What do you think about apologizing to them? In my opinion, Seol-Ah and Sungjin will accept your apology if you’re sincere about atoning for your actions.”

Because he was preoccupied with something else, he couldn’t see Phi Sora’s eyes twisting into a frown momentarily.

“If you’re worried about it, I can help too. They’re kind, so once I talk to them, I’m sure they’ll be—”

Tak! The clang of a utensil being slammed down rang out.

Seol Jihu, who was in the middle of tilting his glass of soju, looked up with blinking eyes.

Phi Sora was staring at him with an enraged expression.

“Miss Phi Sora?”

“I just don’t understand it—”

She complained immediately.

“I mean, don’t fight, don’t argue, don’t purposely make them uncomfortable. I would have accepted those, but what? Apologize? Atone?”

She suddenly began to bitch. Seol Jihu stared at Phi Sora with a dumbfounded look.

“Fine, I’m the sinner. I committed a grave sin.”

Seol Jihu narrowed his eyes.

“…What did you say?”

His tone got a notch deeper.

“I said I committed a grave sin!”

When Phi Sora yelled sharply, several gazes fell on her. Seol Jihu’s mood sank.

“You’re talking like you don’t think you did anything wrong.”

“No? When did I say that? All I’m asking is why I should be the one walking on eggshells!”

“Funny. If you don’t like walking on eggshells, why did you make the Yi siblings do the same thing?”

“Because they deserved it!”

Phi Sora shot her eyes open and shouted defiantly.

“Miss Phi Sora.”

Seol Jihu furrowed his brows.

“Do you not want to talk to me?”

“You call this talking? It’s a one-sided command!”

“What—”

“I was going to hold it in, but I just can’t bear to hear it anymore.”

Pew! Phi Sora spat out a sigh before starting her engine.

“Those kids, they should be thankful all they had to do was walk on eggshells. Well, since you’re on their side, I’m sure you want to go ‘ooh~ my babies~’. But will you be able to act the same way if they’re complete strangers? I mean, have you ever thought about the matter from my perspective?”

The reason Seol Jihu wasn’t saying anything back…

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

…was because of what Jang Maldong had said to him in the past.

“You said you understand why I acted that way? No, not at all. You don’t know a thing.”

Seol Jihu reined in his own temper and crossed his arms.

“Then what’s the reason?”

“Reasonsss. There are too many to count.”

Phi Sora took a short breath, crossed her arms just like Seol Jihu, then tilted her chin up arrogantly.

“First of all, I didn’t like the fact that they were brought in by that Bok bastard.”

“The girl could have come alone, but she insisted on bringing her younger brother along and made us use twice the necessary amount of contribution points.”

“And, becoming a Level 2 in just three months? Aigooo~ With how much Bok Jungsik invested in her as White Rose’s future, only a retard wouldn’t reach Level 2 within that time.”

“And when I merely commented about how we were putting too much of our resources into just one person, he forced an Archer who was under my care into leaving the guild. Don’t you think that’s unfair? Discord inside the guild? That’s not even funny.”

Phi Sora spat out one word after the other as though she had been waiting for this moment, and Seol Jihu only smacked his lips on the side.

He was familiar with how much of a mess White Rose was in. From what Phi Sora was saying, it seemed Bok Jungsik used Yi Seol-Ah to pressure Phi Sora and her group, which was the reason Phi Sora didn’t like Yi Seol-Ah.

“I can’t really say those are Seol-Ah’s faults.”

“See, I knew you would say that. Listen here. I’m not trying to say who’s right and who’s wrong. I’m just explaining why I don’t like her.”

She continued immediately.

“Also, you think that is it?”

The fuming Phi Sora collected her breath for a bit, then opened her mouth again.

“I wouldn’t have cared if she was some flawless goddess, but she’s not. And I criticized her for her flaws. I mean, she should have at least tried to act like she was putting in some effort. She cries every time she receives even a little bit of criticism, then ends up showing people her forced fake smiles.”

“You’re saying Seol-Ah didn’t put in any effort?”

“I’m sure she thinks she did, but in my eyes? No way in hell. You should know by now. That Paradise isn’t such an easygoing place.”

Phi Sora stared at Seol Jihu fixedly.

“Want me to tell you something funny?”

The corner of her mouth twisted up.

“Do you remember the transfer negotiation? That Bok bastard was actually willing to let those siblings transfer if you were willing to cough up a few items from the Banquet.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“One of my kids heard it directly from the man’s mouth. And that bastard, he’s an expert in changing his tune. I’m sure he would have said something like repaying his debts to Grandpa or hoping you’d take care of his precious Seol-Ah and Sungjin to try to rope you into joining his pitfall expedition.”

Seol Jihu’s face stiffened.

“It’s understandable. It’s not like those siblings didn’t have any allies at White Rose. But consoling and comforting them once or twice is all I can really take. Every time something comes up, that girl would say it was like this in the Tutorial~, it was like this in the Neutral Zone~, Seol Orabeo-nim this~, Seol Orabeo-nim that, like geez, do they think they’re on a picnic?”

Phi Sora spat on the ground, then roughly slicked her hair back.

“Alright, fine, let’s forget about all this for a moment. So, did I beat them or something? Or did I curse them out by calling them a son of a bitch and a motherfucker?”

“….”

“I complied with Bok Jungsik bringing them in because that was the guild’s rule, but as the person who gave up her own growth and invested the most amount of contribution points, and as a senior member of the guild, is it such a damning, get-on-my-knees-and-atone kind of sin to chastise them to work harder?”

There was a saying, what goes around, comes around.

Assuming Phi Sora was telling the truth, how would the Golden Commandment have treated the siblings if Seol Jihu was in Phi Sora’s shoes?

What if they constantly said, ‘Sang-Ah Unni this~ Sangmin Oppa that~’ or ‘At White Rose~’?

Seol Jihu closed his eyes.

“Alright, now’s the time you wave your sympathy stick. Oh, they had it rough growing up. Be nice~

“….”

“What? You think I’m going too far? My life has been just as bad as theirs, if not worse. I’ll stay up all night and tell you all about it. Will you have some sympathy for me then?”

Phi Sora laughed as if she found what she was saying to be funny.

“Well, there’s no reason to talk about the past. I’m already having it hard as it is. My guild’s gone, I’m dirt poor, I’m alone without a place to go, I almost died in the last war.”

However, Phi Sora never once asked for any sympathy.

She persevered on her own.

Because she accepted the fact that she arrived here because of her own choices and also the mistakes she made in the past.

It was the same when it came to Yi Seol-Ah. She was saying she had no reason to apologize because Yi Seol-Ah had the wrong attitude.

“Not to mention, my close friend ended up committing suicide recently and I had to go to her funeral—”

In the next moment, Phi Sora hurriedly closed her mouth, and Seol Jihu turned his head toward her.

“Come again?”

Phi Sora didn’t say anything and averted her gaze. Her eyes slightly reddened as she stared at the wall. She shut her eyes, and her throat drew a huge gulp.

After a few minutes of silence…

“…Anyways.”

Phi Sora sniffled a bit, then opened her eyes feebly.

“Why can’t I just apologize…? Please don’t talk like that.”

Her voice was trembling as well.

“That’s how I lived, not only there, but here too.”

It wasn’t as if she had an inferiority complex or a desire to get stronger to fight unfairness.

Just like Seol Jihu, Phi Sora had decided on her own way of living in Paradise. And with this rule, she couldn’t understand Yi Seol-Ah’s attitude.

“That’s how I lived…!”

After muttering begrudgingly, she grabbed the soju bottle and chugged it down.

‘A way of living….’

Seol Jihu became speechless and stared at the red-faced Phi Sora.

If it had been the old days, he might have called Phi Sora crazy, calling her explanations bullshit before stomping out.

But after experiencing different things in Paradise, Seol Jihu’s way of thinking had changed significantly compared to that of the past.

There was something called the underdog effect. It referred to the phenomenon, in which people supported the party they believed to be more disadvantaged and weak.

But this didn’t mean that the strong were always evil and that the weak were always kind.

That was what he learned at the Banquet.

And thinking about it this way, he got curious.

Why did Bok Jungsik, who supposedly adored the Yi siblings so much, suddenly use them as throwaways? Could he be sure that the Yi siblings weren’t at any fault?

As it was difficult to decide who was right or wrong, the matter suddenly felt a lot more complicated.

Nibbling on his lower lip, Seol Jihu finally grabbed his soju bottle. Then, he chugged it down just like Phi Sora.

**

Sunlight knocked on his eyes. Seol Jihu’s eyebrows wiggled as he slowly opened his eyes and groaned.

Before he could even think what the hell happened, an intense hangover swept through his head.

He rolled around in agony for a long time before opening his eyes again when the dizziness subsided. Through his blurry vision, he could see a long, pillow-like thing.

He remembered a silent drinking competition breaking out at the end of the night, but his memories stopped after a certain point.

“Keu….”

Another headache swept over him, making him hug his pillow reflexively.

‘Whatever.’

He burrowed his face deep into the pillow, thinking to himself, ‘Let’s just sleep.’

Perhaps because of his body temperature, the pillow was strangely warm and soft. Just as he let out a pleased moan in response to the squishy touch…

“Ah….”

A sleep-drunk, but clearly annoyed voice flowed into his ears.

“This guy’s at it again….”

Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open.

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