The sky was overcast and gloomy. Dark clouds shrouded the path left by the sun, making the atmosphere hazy.
The evening air that touched the skin felt damp and humid, making it feel like it was going to snow or rain at any moment.
Hao Win lit a cigarette in his mouth before raising his collar up and hunching his shoulders.
"It’s almost winter now in Paradise.”
Winter. Seol Jihu looked up at the sky again.
He had never thought about there being a winter in Paradise. Every time he entered, he had assumed it would always be clear and sunny.
It was a ridiculous notion once he thought about it.
"There will only be long days of suffering if one doesn’t prepare for winter.”
Strictly speaking, Paradise was an actual planet, a real world. It had seasons, a sun and a moon, oxygen and oceans, and even multitudes of people living together on it.
Seol Jihu gave a small smile at a sudden thought.
He would have probably experienced something similar if he had been a celebrity on Earth. It didn’t take much thought to connect the two.
If he went back to Earth and looked up any celebrity or political news articles, he would find countless similar cases. And for this reason, the two worlds were the same.
While there were differences in lifestyle and culture, the way of living was still the same.
Both Paradise and Earth.
"That’s why we’re trying to move our base of operation. A preparation for winter, of sorts.”
Hao Win, who had a scarf wrapped warmly around his neck, started to walk, taking the lead. Seol Jihu stared at his back for a moment before taking a step as well.
"Honestly, I used to think there was a sliver of hope in the past. The possibility of regaining our former glory, that is.”
It was a story Seol Jihu had heard a bit about before.
In the past, the Triads were an organization that fiercely competed against Sicilia over Haramark. However, they were pushed out of the game due to internal conflicts that spread over to Earth.
“But in this war, Cinzia revealed the fact that she is an Executor. Hah! A Magician and the Star of Sloth. We don’t even have anyone as powerful as Claire Agnes. So, no matter how I thought about it, there just wasn’t a way for us to overtake Sicilia.”
Hao Win spoke self-mockingly.
"So we decided to cleanly give up. Taciana Cinzia is a figure comparable to a ‘king’ in Haramark. The time and effort she invested in Haramark allowed her to successfully gain control of both the sunny and shady places of the city. Unless we go under their umbrella, there’s pretty much nothing we can do.”
Hao Win grumbled about how it was too much for them, who used to exercise hegemony in the past, to just sit there sucking their thumbs.
Seol Jihu, who had quietly listened without saying a word, thought of what Cinzia had said in the past.
[Here’s the main point. If the Triads really meant what they said, then their method of making a profit shouldn’t conflict with ours.]
[They have a reserve force, too. Since we entered Paradise and have been given the same duty, Sicilia is willing to cheer for them if they won’t go against us. You understand all that?]
'So that’s what she meant.'
Perhaps Hao Win had planned on moving their base a long time ago. And Cinzia’s secret that was revealed in the war became the trigger that finalized this decision.
As he thought about this, Seol Jihu felt envious of Hao Win, though only a little.
He must have been in a difficult spot, being burdened with the responsibility of reviving the Triads with no easy answers. And in this situation, Hao Win had made a bold decision to abandon the base they had settled down in for a long time.
Just by believing in the strength of the group he led.
Seol Jihu, too, was currently in a helpless situation. What decision would he have to make here?
"Well, I’ll be leaving like this, but…”
White smoke spilled out of Hao Win’s mouth along with his breath.
"It’ll be better if you stay in the city.”
Seol Jihu came back to his senses hearing those words.
"To you, Haramark is pretty much the safest place that you can be in.”
He wasn’t wrong, but he suddenly felt an unexplainable burst of defiance shoot up.
"So what you’re saying is… "
Seol Jihu spoke with more strength.
"That if something like this happens again, I should do nothing and just be protected?”
Hao Win paused his step at the sharp outburst before slowly putting his foot down.
"Frankly speaking, yes. You’ll have to do that for the time being.”
He continued in a quiet voice.
"Don’t take it personally. There’s no other choice. It’s just how this world works.”
"No. No, it’s not.”
Hao Win broke into a peal of low laughter at Seol Jihu’s immediate denial.
"My my, did I sound a bit bossy?”
"That’s not what I meant.”
Seol Jihu shook his head and proceeded to tell him about the records he had read.
Hao Win silently listened before speaking.
"It’s definitely an interesting theory. I remember hearing that things weren’t like this before.”
And before Seol Jihu got to ask ‘what?’, Hao Win cut him off.
"But no matter how much I chatter about how it was like in the past with those records, it’s nothing but reminiscing about the romance of a past era. Why?”
"Because we just need to change one word. It’s not ‘before’ anymore, but ‘now.’”
No matter what things were like before, the world was how it was right now. The reality that Paradise was facing today did not change a bit.
Hao Win didn’t stop walking and clicked his tongue.
"A world where one only pursues their own freedom and success, throwing aside all morals and responsibilities. A world poisoned by self-indulgence.”
Just as Seol Jihu was at a loss for words…
He suddenly felt a cold sensation on his nose. Wiping his nose on reflex, he saw the water droplet on his hand and tilted his head up.
It was snowing.
Powdered snow was falling from the sky.
Seol Jihu murmured, looking at the snow that was fluttering down like ripped pieces of paper.
"I vowed never to run again…”
But in the end, he was running away, once again. Just how much did he have to run for his endless escape to end?
Hao Win stopped in his steps.
Hao Win let loose a deep sigh and spit out his cigarette.
“I’m sorry to say this, but— I’m slowly finding this conversation with you a waste of time.”
He turned around to face Seol Jihu.
"Talking with you reminded me of the story of Cao Cao.”
"Mister Hao Win?”
"Cao Cao, who attended the banquet by the invitation of Minister Wang, mocked the retainers that were weeping because of Dong Zhou’s tyrannical rule. He mocked them, asking whether crying or raging will make someone kill Dong Zhou for them. Whether it will change anything at all.”
Seol Jihu blankly blinked his eyes.
"And when he finally received the Seven Star Precious Sword, he attempted an assassination. Although he failed, Cao Cao didn’t give up and went back to his base before raising up an army.”
"Seol… no, Seol Jihu. My friend.”
Hao Win slowly approached him.
"It’s good to be angry at your losses. It’s not bad to scorn yourself and reflect on your actions. That’s all good, but—”
Hao Win’s voice began to rise.
"But… is that all?”
Seol Jihu stood in place and stared at Hao Win who was drawing closer.
"The bastards who provoked you at the bar. Don’t you want to find the mastermind behind them and force them to their knees?”
"The bastards who ambushed the Daughter of Luxuria. Don’t you want to track down those sons of bitches and destroy them?”
He wanted to.
"The bastards who threw away their duty and didn’t even participate in the war. Doesn’t seeing them hold their heads up high fill you with disgust?”
He wanted to grab their heads and smash them into the ground.
"The sons of bitches who secretly scheme to undermine anyone who threatens their self-interest. Don’t you want to gather them up and kill them all?”
Of course, he did. But, he wanted to do it personally with his own hands without anyone’s help.
Hao Win stopped in front of Seol Jihu. He took off his black sunglasses and put them inside his coat pocket. A pair of burning eyes under a sleek forehead observed Seol Jihu.
"So what I’m saying is…"
And Hao Win asked.
"Don’t you have any thoughts about becoming a King?”
Hao Win described Taciana Cinzia as a King. And in reality, Earthlings trembled and ran away at the mere mention of her name.
Thinking about the tremendous weight behind just a single word, Seol Jihu closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again, letting loose a sigh.
"Do you think I—"
Hao Win interrupted him.
"…Do I think you can do it? Don’t even ask. Don’t even doubt it.”
"There is no way someone who pulled off what nobody has ever done before— annihilating the Parasites’ First Army Commander— isn’t qualified. It’s only a matter of whether you will do it or not.”
Whether he will do it or not. Seol Jihu became dazed.
[You cannot stop at just thinking about it. You must say it and put it into action. Only then can you cover your team with your scent and add flesh to it.]
[A leader is not someone who is placed in that position by someone else. A leader is someone who wishes to become a leader himself.]
Seol Jihu stared at Hao Win with a vacant look. He saw his face overlapping with Ian’s.
Hao Win tilted his head.
"So, do you want to?"
His words were clear. He would be disappointed if he asked what he meant.
Raise a force.
Become a leader himself, gather teammates that shared his goals, and create an organization.
Then join hands with other organizations to settle down in a city.
A city that he could become the King of.
That would be the starting point of a wave of change in Paradise.
A silence, where even the sound of breathing could not be heard, dragged on.
The snow was quietly falling down around them. Without them noticing, it had slowly piled up, causing patches of white to be seen all over the garden. If it steadily piled up at this pace without pause, then the whole area would be transformed into a snowfield one day.
Looking at the snow, Seol Jihu suddenly spoke up.
"At the Banquet… I had a talk with the Seven Gods. When they heard what I said, they laughed.”
Then again, it wasn’t surprising for them to have laughed their heads off.
He now understood. Just how arrogant must he have looked blabbering away without knowing anything about the world?
"I didn’t know what kind of a place the world was when I talked to them…”
The Banquet was a place outside the influence of the laws of causality— a permitted execution ground. He didn’t want to admit it, but it was the truth. Even Seol Jihu who loved Paradise was sick of the things he saw there in just two days.
But, he had no thoughts of running away like this. He didn’t harbor any desire to escape either.
The Golden Rule was telling him.
To not restrain himself.
To return the same treatment he received.
And to do so, he needed power. He needed to acquire a far greater authority and military force than what he had now.
The moment he thought this, strength suddenly entered Seol Jihu’s pupils.
It was his first time using this ability after his innate ability had evolved.
The color that his Nine Eyes showed Hao Win in… was indigo.
And Seol Jihu could see clearly.
The future that the Nine Eyes were showing him.
It wasn’t only Hao Win in his vision. He could see himself and a massive crowd cheering on.
A leader who leads and governs a nation.
A monarch who stands at the pinnacle, commanding a fearsome army and receiving the worship of all people.
What did Seol Jihu think after seeing such a scene?
The young man kept silent. He only looked up at the sky with profound eyes before slowly closing them.
He had definitely seen a future. The issue now was whether he had the determination to achieve that future.
He had the motivation. To be more precise, he now had enough motivation.
If he could avoid being swayed by the will of those he didn’t even know the faces of…
If he could praise things done well and punish things done wrong…
If he could return Paradise to what it was before, to a world where people reaped what they sowed according to the Golden Commandment…
If he could make such a world…
Seol Jihu opened his eyes after a long silence. Between the fluttering snowflakes, a pair of pupils filled with mana could be seen reflecting the moonlight and shining with a dream-like quality.
A smile formed on his lips.
"It sounds nice."
And so, just like how Hao Win revealed his inner thoughts—
"To become King."
Seol Jihu, too, declared his firm resolve.
Hao Win grinned, revealing his bright teeth.
And simultaneously, the indigo color that wavered around him gradually changed into a new color, a dazzling golden-yellow.
Hao Win raised his arm that was emitting a brilliant golden light and placed his hand on Seol Jihu’s shoulder.
“That’s what I wanted to hear.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter