Chapter 207. Slave Hunt (1)

Ayase Kazuki and Teresa Hussey readily agreed to participate in the expedition. With a skilled High Ranker Archer and a Warrior joining in, Seol Jihu felt much more confident in succeeding.

That night, Seol Jihu revealed the expedition plan to his teammates. He told them about the information he gathered at the library and surprised them by mentioning Kazuki and Teresa would be coming along.

Of course, it was normal procedure to first tell one’s teammates about an expedition before recruiting any additional help, but it didn’t matter all that much, because Chohong and Hugo were already heated up and impatient.

Their reactions were pretty much what Seol Jihu expected.

“Agree, agree, I super agree!”

“Kyaa! We’ll finally get our hands on some money!”

Chohong shot her hands up and danced, while Hugo laughed with a big grin.

Meanwhile, Marcel Ghionea looked at these two strangely.

Normally, explorations and expeditions were more likely to fail than succeed. In terms of pure numbers, failure to success ratio was about 7:3.

But the way Chohong and Hugo were acting, it was as if they had already finished the expedition in success. They seemed sure that there was a ruin there.

Jang Maldong, who was silently staring at the map, muttered in a low voice.

“The border region…”

Seol Jihu raised his eyebrows.

“Is there a problem?”

“You should be careful, obviously, but just going there shouldn’t pose any problems. After all, it’s just the border region. But you should be careful not to go too deep since this place practically has a foot in the Federation’s territory.”

“Does the Federation hate humans intruding on their territory?”

“It depends. Some races are more generous and understanding of humans, but others are hostile. They may let you go without causing trouble if they know you’re just passing by, or they might continue to chase after you, thinking that you’re invading.”

“But we have a tacit alliance, don’t we? Shouldn’t it be okay as long as we don’t attack them first?”

Seol Jihu spoke optimistically, but Jang Maldong shook his head immediately.

“It’s a tacit relationship for a reason. It isn’t as if humans have never warred with the Federation. In the first place, the Federation is a huge assembly of nations made up of countless races. Although their members are largely categorized into five groups, that’s only for convenience’s sake. If you go into detail, just the Beastmen Alliance has….”

Jang Maldong looked up at the ceiling, starting to fold his fingers one by one, before ultimately shaking his head.

“Anyways, you best not do anything stupid. Different races have different values and views toward humanity. It’s important to handle the situation on a case by case basis.”

Seol Jihu nodded his head at Jang Maldong’s advice.

“In that sense, asking Miss Teresa to accompany you was an excellent choice, since the Haramark Royal Family is in constant contact with the Federation…. Also…”

Jang Maldong then glanced at the brother and sister who were quietly sitting on the side.

“What are you going to do about them?”

Seol Jihu looked at them nervously. Yi Sungjin seemed keen on following them, while he couldn’t really get a read on anything from Yi Seol-Ah’s expression.

Seol Jihu spoke.

“I think it’s still too early. It would be a different story if we were going to the human territory, but this expedition will be to the border region of the three powers. Even though the Parasites are biding their time right now, if something goes wrong….”

Seol Jihu blurred the end of his speech, as a glint of disappointment flickered in Yi Sungjin’s eyes and Yi Seol-Ah let out a furtive sigh.

For some reason, he could hear Phi Sora snorting from the side.

“Anyways, it’s too dangerous. They need to be Level 4 at the very least. This isn’t a place where a Level 1 or 2 can go.”

Hearing this…

“Hugo, I know a person who insisted on going to the border region of the three powers when he was only a Level 1. You remember him?”

Chohong asked.

“Ah! I know him. That guy, didn’t he join the war and volunteered himself to bait the Parasites all on his own? When he was Level 1.”

And Hugo replied right away.

Seol Jihu ignored them and continued.

“It’s good to get experience points, but like you said, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We won’t be able to look after them in the worst-case scenario.”

“Alright. I’ll train them some more while you’re away, then.”

Jang Maldong clenched his teeth and replied. It looked like he was trying his best to restrain his laughter.

Then, when Seol Jihu glared at the giggling Chohong and Hugo, Hugo held his laughter back and asked.

“Seol, are we not bringing a Priest?”

“Of course, we are. I plan to go see her tomorrow morning.”

“You plan to go see her? Is it… Maria?”

“Yes.”

Seol Jihu nodded his head, and Chohong and Hugo immediately stopped laughing. Then, they put on reluctant looks.

“Uh, mm… I don’t know if that will be okay.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She kinda went crazy after the war ended….”

Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open.

“Miss Maria went crazy?”

Hugo shrugged.

“I still don’t get why. She blabbered on about being crazy for investing in a rising stock and then going broke when the stock delisted….”

Seol Jihu tilted his head. He realized that he had completely forgotten about Maria until now.

“I’ll go see her tomorrow to take a look. If she’s acting strange, then…”

Seol Jihu muttered vaguely as if what he heard was too hard to believe.

“We’ll set out five days from now. I’ll let Princess Teresa and Mister Kazuki know, so please be ready.”

“Roger!”

“Okay~!’

Chohong shot up and shouted, while Phi Sora answered with her interlocked hands stretched up.

Jang Maldong turned to the Yi siblings and spoke.

“You two get ready to leave too.”

“Huh? But we’re not—”

“Not to the expedition, but to Huge Stone Rocky Mountain.”

“Ah!”

Yi Sungjin hiccuped.

Marcel Ghionea clasped his hands and prayed for the siblings.

Seol Jihu did not miss Yi Seol-Ah glancing at the stretching Phi Sora.

Now was a good time to tell her.

“Seol-Ah, can you talk to me for a bit?”

“Huh? Ah, yes!”

Yi Seol-Ah replied before smiling brightly and jumping up.

*

Seol Jihu brought Yi Seol-Ah to the rooftop.

“You want to go with us, right?”

“Ah… haha.”

Yi Seol-Ah neither agreed nor disagreed, only smiling awkwardly.

“It can’t be helped. I would bring you along if I could, but this is the first time I will be on an expedition like this. We have very little information about this place.”

“Isn’t that too dangerous?”

“It is. But we have to go.”

Seol Jihu thought about telling her regarding the move to Eva before deciding otherwise. There was no need to count the chickens before the eggs hatched.

It wouldn’t be too late to tell her after the expedition.

“It’s okay. I know it’s because I’m not skilled enough. I’ll train hard while you’re away.”

“Great. Let’s go together next time for sure.”

Unlike Yi Sungjin, she didn’t look too disappointed. Seol Jihu decided to move on to the main topic.

“Also, it’s about Miss Phi Sora.”

The smiling Yi Seol-Ah immediately froze.

“It looks like we’ll be working together for a while.”

Yi Seol-Ah shut her eyes tight. She had expected as much, but hearing it still made her choke up.

“While it may not be immediate, there’s a chance we’ll recruit her. I wasn’t going to ask for your opinion originally, but I changed my mind after the war. Miss Phi Sora also clearly said what she wanted to.”

Seol Jihu talked about how Carpe Diem wasn’t in a situation to be picky and how even one more powerful Earthling would make a huge difference.

Yi Seol-Ah gave a forced smile.

“Ei, you don’t need to tell us everything down to the last detail. Just do what you want to. I’m totally fine.”

Seol Jihu stared at Yi Seol-Ah fixedly.

“Okay, but don’t worry about it too much. What happened in White Rose won’t happen again. I made sure to tell her.”

“What if she does!? I won’t sit still this time either!”

Yi Seol-Ah clenched her fists and spoke confidently.

Seol Jihu let out a small laugh.

“I know the history between you two, so I won’t tell you to get along. But…”

‘I got to talk to her, and she’s not a bad person. It might take time, but try to improve your relationship.’

Seol Jihu swallowed the above words back down. He felt like saying so would be similar to how he almost forced Phi Sora to apologize.

There was nothing more sensitive than personal relationships, so Seol Jihu decided to back down for now. Rather than stirring the problem, letting it resolve itself seemed to be the best choice. Perhaps, the two of them would work something out.

After organizing his thoughts, Seol Jihu said good night and turned around.

Yi Seol-Ah didn’t leave right away. She stood still and heaved out the breath she had been holding in before smacking her lips and walking down.

When she went back to her room, Yi Sungjin was waiting without sleeping.

“What did you talk about with Hyung?”

“Nothing, just the expedition and such.”

Yi Seol-Ah replied like it wasn’t a big deal, then lied down on her bed.

“We can’t go on the expedition, huh.”

“He said he doesn’t know anything about the place, so it’s too dangerous. He said we could go with him on the next expedition.”

Yi Sungjin nodded his head helplessly.

“Whew, we better get stronger fast. We’re only mooching off of him right now.”

Yi Seol-Ah pouted.

“He also said that Carpe Diem will be with that Unni for a while. He said he hasn’t decided yet, but it looks like he’ll recruit her.”

Unexpectedly, Yi Sungjin wasn’t surprised.

“I thought as much. I heard she performed well during the war.”

“She did? I still don’t like it. Initially he was acting like he wasn’t going to recruit her, and now…”

Yi Sungjin flinched. Yi Seol-Ah rolled to the side and stared at him.

“You agree, right?”

“…Noona.”

Yi Sungjin’s voice dropped a tone.

Yi Seol-Ah stared at him with a ‘why are you staring at me like that?’ kind of look.

“You didn’t say that to Hyung, did you?”

“Huh? What was that?”

“What you just said. That you don’t like it, and how he was acting like he wasn’t going to recruit her.”

“Ei, of course not! Who do you think I am?”

She then asked with the look of an innocent child.

“But why can’t I? Gently, you know, and not nitpicking.”

“Yeah, no. You can’t. Never.”

Yi Sungjin’s firm reply made Yi Seol-Ah tilt her head.

“Why? We’re teammates.”

“We’re in different positions. Let’s be real, we’re just mooching off of him.”

“But—”

“This isn’t our team. It’s Hyung’s.”

Yi Seol-Ah looked as if she was at a loss for words. Then, she raised her upper body indignantly.

“Sungjin, I just don’t like that person. You know this too.”

“I do. I don’t like her either. But Hyung doesn’t need to care about whether we like her or not. These two are separate matters.”

“So you’re saying we just need to agree with whatever he says?”

“We can protest, of course, if we’re treated unfairly.”

Yi Sungjin continued calmly.

“But we’ve never once been treated unfairly since we entered Carpe Diem. And it’s not like Hyung went out of line in any way.”

Yi Seol-Ah looked like she didn’t understand any of this the entire time.

“So what are you trying to say?”

Yi Sungjin sighed.

“…Noona, I like you and all, but sometimes you get a bit jumpy.”

“….”

“I’m just hoping you don’t step over the line.”

Yi Sungjin muttered while slowly averting his eyes.

Yi Seol-Ah stared at Yi Sungjin fixedly for a long time before sprawling back down on the bed. She pulled her blanket all the way up to her head.

“I’m just saying we should hurry up and get stronger. That way, we’ll be able to protect our positions and gain the right to have a say.”

Yi Seol-Ah didn’t answer.

‘Did I go too far?’ Yi Sungjin scratched his head.

“We can’t keep going like this forever. This is Paradise.”

With that, Yi Sungjin let out a long sigh and turned the lights off.

“…I know that.”

Once darkness settled in, a quiet mutter escaped the blankets.

*

Next day.

Seol Jihu left Carpe Diem’s office around noon.

It was to meet Maria.

When he requested a visit at the reception desk, the female Priest at the counter revealed a reluctant face. She trudged away like a pig being dragged to the slaughter house, then returned in less than 5 minutes.

One thing to note was that her well-kempt hair was now disheveled.

“I-I let her know.”

“Can I go in?”

“You can… But I really recommend you don’t… But do as you’d like.”

The Priest averted her eyes.

Something seemed off, but Seol Jihu walked inside without hesitation.

In truth, Seol Jihu’s opinion of Maria wasn’t all that bad. Yes, she liked money, but he didn’t think that warranted her being called one of the Six Crazies.

[…Undying Diligence said he’d spare her life if she spilled your identity, but I hear she kept her mouth shut and smacked him with Mjolnir.]

What Chohong told him was more than enough evidence of her loyalty.

‘She’s skilled, loyal, and commits to her principles when it’s serious.’

[Oppa, I may be a money grubber, but I’m a proper woman who has morals.]

[It’s a different story if it’s an expedition or an exploration. But this is a war. It’s an obligation that we all have to keep… Were you planning on making me a shameless bitch?]

Remembering their conversation from that day, Seol Jihu smiled. Taking out the artifact he kept in his pocket, he skipped through the hallway.

“Miss Maria! It’s me!”

When he went to Maria’s room and knocked on the door…

—Kyaaak!

A scream suddenly rang out, followed by something falling and crashing.

“Miss Maria?”

Seol Jihu quickly opened the door. Then, he immediately tilted his head to the side. It was because a bottle of liquor came flying at him at full speed.

Clang! Flying out into the hallway, the bottle struck the wall and shattered into pieces.

Seol Jihu looked inside the room in a daze.

It was just as messy as before. Maria looked like she was in the middle of packing, like someone who got caught while trying to run away.

“W-What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“PIEEEEEEEK!”

When Seol Jihu tried to walk in, Maria threw a fit. She grabbed the liquor bottles lying around and began to throw them at random.

“D-Don’t come!”

Clang!

“Go! Screw off! Please!”

Clang!

“You unlucky demon! You’re trying to make me go broke again!”

Clunk!

It became harder to dodge the bottles as he walked closer, prompting Seol Jihu to activate the Blessing of the Circum to shield himself. Then, he observed Maria, who was wrought in fear and dilemma.

“Mi-Miss Maria?”

“KYAAAAAAAK!”

Maria clutched her head and screamed at the top of her lungs. She then muttered some more incomprehensible words before frantically rummaging the floor.

“Fuck off! I said fuck off!”

She really looked like she had gone mad.

“Just how much more do you need to take until you’re satisfi…?”

As Maria was backing off with her feet flailing, her eyes caught sight of Seol Jihu’s hand. To be precise, her gaze landed on the cross-shaped artifact in Seol Jihu’s left hand.

‘That’s…’

Maria’s pupils trembled, a bottle of liquor in her hand again.

Why did he bring that here?

Buzzzzz!

In an instant, Maria’s brain spun blazingly fast and came to a conclusion.

Her hesitation only lasted a moment. Next, her body followed the same motion as that of the liquor bottle she was spinning in her hand, as she collapsed helplessly. She covered her face, bit her lower lip, and removed blood from her head. She then convulsed, flopping like a speared fish.

This all happened instantaneously, like she had rehearsed it countless times.

“Miss Maria!”

Seol Jihu hurriedly ran forward and supported her. A gasping groan then escaped Maria’s mouth.

“Are you okay?”

Seol Jihu shook her violently, and her blonde hair and limbs flapped helplessly.

“…Ah…”

Like a tragic heroine from a drama, she opened her eyes with difficulty. Her lips with the bite-mark trembled. She blinked a couple of times before looking up at Seol Jihu in confusion.

“Can you understand me?”

Hearing the voice full of worry, Maria grabbed Seol Jihu’s left hand.

Soon… Her cherry-like lips carefully opened.

“Op… pa?”

A weak, shaky voice flowed out.

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