Chapter 208. Slave Hunt (2)

After narrowing her eyes open, Maria looked extremely confused.

Like a child who just woke up from a horrible nightmare, she looked around her room anxiously.

“Don’t tell me… Did I do it again…?”

Her gaze remained on the shattered pieces of glass before she started to sob.

No tears came out of her eyes.

But Maria cried sorrowfully in Seol Jihu’s embrace. Meanwhile, she never let go of his left hand, which held the crucifix artifact.

“Miss Maria….”

Patting her back, Seol Jihu’s expression sank.

Suddenly convulsing, getting calm, and now crying.

He was half in doubt when he heard she had gone crazy, but now it really looked like something was wrong with her head. She must have developed a trauma after suffering a near-death experience during the war.

Misunderstanding her situation on his own, Seol Jihu became even sorrier than before.

Soon, Maria stopped crying and wiped her eyes with her palm.

Once again, not even a single drop of tear had come out of her eyes.

“Sorry… I didn’t know it was you, Oppa…”

“What happened? Were you having a nightmare?”

Hearing how worried he was, Maria shook her head with difficulty.

“I don’t know… Maybe I’m dreaming… Or seeing a hallucination…”

‘Dear god!’

Seol Jihu’s jaw dropped. She couldn’t tell a dream from reality. This wasn’t a joking matter.

“I can’t let you be. Maria, stand up. We need to get you treated…!”

“No! You can’t!”

Maria jumped in a startle before twisting her body and resisting. Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

“What’s wrong?”

“I, I already tried getting treatment.”

“It wasn’t effective?”

“No. What I’m experiencing right now isn’t a physical problem but a mental one. It’s not something that a healing spell can fix.”

Maria said all this very fast. It was hard to fix mental injuries with healing spells. Knowing this as a matter of fact, Seol Jihu bit his lip.

“Then what about on Earth!?”

“I already went. I tried to forget everything and rest, but my condition didn’t show any sign of improvement. In the end, I…”

Maria couldn’t finish her sentence. Seeing the sniffling blonde girl, Seol Jihu’s eyes waned.

Just how difficult must it have been for her? Her once flushed, chubby cheeks were now pale.

In truth, this was the result of her spending every day drunk on booze, but having no way of knowing this, Seol Jihu hugged Maria tight.

“It must have been hard for you.”

“…Yeah!”

Maria nodded while burying her face in Seol Jihu’s chest as though she had been waiting for this moment the entire time.

“I really mustered up my courage to participate in the war….”

‘You said you’d protect me, you son of a bitch.’

“The Army Commander was so scary….”

‘You’re the bastard that fucker was asking for, right? Fuck, I didn’t think he’d come my way immediately!’

“But… But I tried my best to save Oppa…”

‘My artifaaaaaact!’

“I was having such a hard time, but no one was helping me…!”

‘Screw everything else. If you woke up, shouldn’t you have visited me at least once? Fuck, are you even a human? You wipe your mouth and call it a day just because the war ended? You fucking son of a bitch!’

On the inside, Maria was cursing to her heart’s content.

Of course, with no way of reading her mind, Seol Jihu continuously patted her back, thinking she was talking gibberish from the trauma.

“Yes, yes, you did well, Maria. I should have come to see you earlier….”

“Yeah, you fucker.”

Maria inadvertently spoke her mind, then quickly shut her mouth.

“…Excuse me?”

“N-Nothing, sorry. You suddenly looked like the Army Commander…”

She blocked her mouth and smiled faintly. She then looked at the crucifix artifact, her eyes shining.

“So, what’s this?”

“Ah, I brought this to give you.”

‘Good! That’s what I thought.’

Maria clenched her fists. Restraining her anger and putting on an act seemed to be worth the trouble.

“I heard that you dealt an awesome blow to Undying Diligence. Even going so far as to perform a Ceremony to summon Mjolnir.”

“Who did you hear that from? How embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing? I think it’s amazing! Here, don’t say no. This is yours, Miss Maria.”

“No… I can’t accept this… I didn’t even do anything….”

Unlike her mouth, her body was honest, not being even a bit modest.

“Wheeeew….”

After taking the artifact as if it was obviously hers, she let out a long sigh.

Seol Jihu stared at the girl smiling in relief with a look of awe.

She was acting like she was about to die any time soon. Yet, blood returned to her pale face and her shriveled cheeks became full and chubby again.

Her lips regained their color, and Maria’s pupils were no longer faint. Her calm eyes gazed at Seol Jihu.

Was she grateful for the artifact? No.

‘Not at all!’

This was only breaking even. Monetarily, of course.

Considering all the trouble she went through and almost dying on top of that…

Maria trembled.

There was now only one thing left to do.
To not get involved with this youth any more.

Thankfully, she had just found the perfect excuse. Maria opened her mouth, groaning.

“But… Why did you come…? To give this…?”

“Er, I was going to ask you if you wanted to follow Carpe Diem on an expedition…”

It was just as she thought. Maria showed a sorrowful smile.

“Oh no, I would love to, but my body…”

Seol Jihu smacked his lips.

“Right, I guess there’s no choice. I can’t forcefully drag an injured person with me…”

He unexpectedly backed off.

‘Right, if he doesn’t do at least this much, he’d be a human without conscience! No, he’d be a beast!’

Maria decided to put the nail in the coffin.

“Right, I don’t think I’m going to go even if I die. If you really need a Priest, I’ll introduce you to someone. I know someone who’s really good. You’re pretty famous, Oppa, so I’m sure she’ll agree right away.”

She wasn’t lying. The only thing she left out was that she was on terrible terms with this Priest.

When she thought about this Priest suffering the same fate as her, she already felt a thousand times better.

“I don’t know.”

However, Seol Jihu’s reaction was rather meek.

“Thank you for the offer, but… it would be a waste to share the loot with someone we don’t know….”

He muttered as if he was talking to himself, but Maria’s ears did not miss it.

‘A waste to share the loot with someone he doesn’t know?’

Her ears perked up.

‘No!’

Maria shook her thought off. She refused to get tricked again!

But… she asked, just as a matter of courtesy.

“Why? Did something happen?”

“It’s a really good expedition… Do you think that person would say yes if I gave her a lot of money beforehand in exchange for her not getting any share of the loot?”

“I don’t know. People usually don’t accept an offer like that… How much are you thinking of paying? Let me know, so I can pass the message onto her.”

Seol Jihu put his hand into his pocket.

‘Hmph, I bet it’s nothing…’

Up until this point, Maria had absolutely no desire to participate in this expedition. She had asked purely out of curiosity. She was confident she wouldn’t budge even if he brought out hundreds of silver coins.

But that was only until Seol Jihu placed down an egg on the table.

When Maria saw the yellowish-gold egg, her eyes popped out of their sockets.

Seol Jihu poked the shining golden egg with his finger.

“Would this be enough?”

‘T-This fucker!?’

Maria’s eyes began to spin.

It wasn’t silver.

No matter how many times she wiped her eyes and saw the egg, it was gold. GOLD!

And a fat one at that, one that was equal to two gold coins.

She thought she had steeled her mind, but… saliva trickled down Maria’s wide-open mouth.

“Ssp.”

Wiping the drool with the back of her hand, Maria let out a shrill voice.

“Op-Oppa, are you mad? You’re paying gold in advance?”

“Yes, but she won’t get any share of the loot from the expedition. That’s the condition.”

Buzzzzzzz!

Maria’s internal calculator, made up of pure materialism, operated with haste. There was a simple reason Maria Yeriel was known as one of the Six Crazies.

Money.

It was because she was crazy about money.

She measured the value of everything in the world with money.

People? Fame?
To hell with it.

The only thing she cared about was whether something would be profitable or not.

“…Sniff, sniff.”

Just now, Maria smelled money, the scent of gold that stung her nose. She had never smelled something so intense before.

Gulp. Swallowing hard, Maria stared at Seol Jihu with a complicated look.

‘Fuuucck…’

Maria nibbled on her lips.

‘This feels like averaging down….’

Averaging down. It was a stock trading term.

Only fools would believe that a stock that plummeted would rise again. At least, in Maria’s own opinion.

[Idiots who think they’re living on the ground floor… will get a look at the basement.]

Remembering a line from a movie she had watched in the past, Maria took in a deep breath.

This was the exact situation Maria was in.

Looking back, nothing good had ever come out of getting involved with Seol Jihu.

In the Neutral Zone, she had to exit early after using up a bunch of her offerings.
At Ramman Village, she suffered a near-death experience and gave up an important artifact as offering.
In the war, she really nearly died and had to offer up the artifact she spent all her savings to purchase.

If she fell any further, it would truly be to the pits of hell.

But it would be a lie if she said she wasn’t hesitating.

‘It’s not that he lacks ability…’

Setting silver coins aside, she could tell just by how easily he gave out gold coins and artifacts. He wasn’t acting pretentious but really had the ability to handle such expenditure.

Thinking so, her greed peeked its head out.

‘I-Isn’t it about time that it goes back on the rise…?’

Her head was saying no, but her body was shouting, ‘Seol Jihu stock has fallen enough! It’s time to blow up!

Purely in terms of fame, the future prospect of the product in front of her was truly infinite. Buying it when it was cheap was the best way to maximize her profits. There truly wasn’t a better time.

‘…Right.’

You killed me once. How can you do it again? It’s time to say goodbye to the bitter days. Murmuring to herself, Maria swallowed her tears and made up her mind.

Then, she spoke in a resolute voice.

“She probably won’t agree.”

“Right?”

“Even if you’re offering gold, a Priest will find it hard to accept your offer because of their pride.”

It was a lie. Any Priest would bark and beg on their knees when they saw the golden egg.

“Well, I guess there’s no choice. Anyways, thank you. Rest well, Maria.”

When Seol Jihu turned around regretfully…

“I guess it can't be helped. I’ll go.”

Maria quickly stopped him.

“Huh? But you’re—”

“I’m just a little tired, that’s all. My Status Window says I’m perfectly fine. You’re not doubting me, are you?”

“But wouldn’t it be better to rest…?”

“Since I already rested for months to no avail, it’s time I look for another method. Who knows? Maybe going out will be better for my health. I’ve been feeling a bit stuffy lately anyways. I think getting a fresh breath of air would make me feel better.”

Maria blabbered on without even putting saliva on her lips.

“Really? Will you be okay?”

“Of course! I’ll be more than okay!”

However, she still seemed to have a sliver of doubt and anxiety, as she glanced at the golden egg and spoke subtly.

“Oppa~ by the way~ I~”

“No.”

For whatever reason, Seol Jihu refused flat out.

“This time, I can’t say yes even if it’s to you, Miss Maria. Of course, it’s a yes if you accept the condition I laid out before. It would be your choice… but I personally don’t think you should.”

Given how serious he was, it seemed pestering him wouldn’t accomplish anything.

“R-Really?”

“Yes. This is gold we’re talking about, not silver…. Don’t worry, both Mister Kazuki and Princess Teresa were offered the same condition.”

‘What?’

That cold Archer and that Princess famous for being meticulous?

Hearing this, she became even more certain.

There had to be a reason the two of them were participating in this expedition. Otherwise, there was no way they would join, when they were so clearly busy with forming a team and dealing with the kingdom’s finances, respectively.

“I see. That’s fine then.”

“Thank you for understanding. Anyways, I have to tell you about the plan and the terms of the contract in detail.”

“I’ll listen! But before that…”

Maria suddenly clung onto Seol Jihu. Sneakily locking her arm onto his, she spoke nasally.

“Oppang~! I’m hungwy.”

“Oh, then should we go out and talk over some food?”

Maria looked up at Seol Jihu before nodding.

“Un, un! Buy me lots of delicious food!”

“Okay, but don’t cling to me too much…”

“Aiing~ it’s because I’m tired~”

Not looking back after crossing a line.

That was Maria’s ironclad rule.

And so, Maria clung onto Seol Jihu like a leech.

*

The expedition gained momentum once they found themselves a Priest. They were done with most of the difficult parts, and now only the finishing touches were needed.

Jang Maldong wished them good luck, then headed out to Huge Stone Rocky Mountain with the Yi siblings.

After carefully checking the items needed for the expedition, Seol Jihu went to the stable. Although their destination was the border region, it wasn’t too difficult to find a ride since it was closer to the Federation’s side.

By adding a little bit of extra money, Seol Jihu signed a contract for two carriages for a trip to the entrance of the border region.

Finally, he bought a common set of spear and armor, thinking they would only be for a one time use. He knew he would be able to buy better equipment once he found the inheritance, so he didn’t want to make any unnecessary expenditure.

Time flew, and the day of the expedition arrived.

Haramark’s southern gate was quiet, perhaps because it was daybreak.

“Ah, here he comes.”

“Seooool!”

Kazuki and Teresa had already arrived and were chatting, and Maria arrived on time as well.

Eight people, five High Rankers and three Level 4s.

It was a formidable team with an average level of 4.6.

After extending a brief greeting, Seol Jihu looked around with a new feeling. He felt like it was just yesterday that he came to Haramark with nothing but a backpack, but now he was leading an expedition of high caliber with such a force.

Once everyone arrived, the group split into two groups of four and got on to the carriages.

The two Archers, Kazuki and Marcel Ghionea, were first split, and the rest decided which carriage they wanted to take.

Seol Jihu debated which carriage to ride before seeing Phi Sora hop on Kazuki’s carriage and following her. This was because he felt he wouldn’t get bored on his way there.

Then, as soon as he sat down inside, Teresa hurried in and closed the door.

—Fuck!

Maria yelped angrily, being a step late.

“We’re full~”

Teresa spoke brightly before sitting down next to Seol Jihu and humming.

“Why are you in such a good mood?”

Phi Sora started a conversation with her.

Teresa gave an odd smile.

“Because I received a good gift.”

“Gift?”

“Ah, maybe I should say it’s a slightly lewd gift.”

Speaking coquettishly, Teresa glanced at Seol Jihu and giggled.

One of Phi Sora’s eyebrows perked up. After looking at Teresa indifferently, she stealthily pulled on her collar and looked down.

She then glanced at Teresa.

“By any chance…”

Phi Sora glanced down her collar again and asked.

“Did you also…?”

Teresa blinked.

“?”

“You wore them?”

“Huh?”

“I have them on too.”

Gesturing at the inside of her clothes with her chin, Phi Sora let go and nodded.

“It felt like a waste to just throw them away, so I tried them on. They were pretty good. Not to mention they fit perfectly.”

Teresa became dazed. Soon, her eyes narrowed to slits and she shot her head to the side.

However, Seol Jihu was distracted by something else. To be more precise, he had opened the door slightly and was absorbed in watching Haramark’s castle walls.

This expedition could very well be his last mission in Haramark.

Although he was leaving to climb to a higher place, it would be a lie to say he wasn’t attached, given that this was where he grew up in Paradise.

He finally understood why Phi Sora couldn’t abandon White Rose so easily.

Soon, the coachman shouted something loudly.

When it looked like the carriage was starting to move, Seol Jihu shut the door right away. He clenched his teeth, as an indescribable emotion surged up inside him.

Clunk!

‘Finally!’

The departure signal finally sounded…

Of the first and last expedition Seol Jihu planned and carried out in Haramark.

**

After leaving Haramark, the group headed southeast. As Eva was the closest city to the Federation, just going there took a good amount of time.

‘It’s not a safe zone.’

Because the road wasn’t as well-kept as the Zahra Road, which connected Scheherazade and Haramark, he had already braced himself for whatever may happen.

The carriages ran at full speed after departing from Haramark. Except for the times they camped outside or stopped to let the Horuses rest, they did not stop even once.

Rather than being lucky, it was thanks to Kazuki.

As expected of the elite amongst elites, who was the Archer the people of Haramark first thought of, he easily detected any presence nearing the carriages and changed the course accordingly.

Just once, a group of starving beasts attacked the carriages, but they were wiped out by Kazuki and Marcel Ghionea’s arrows without getting anywhere near them.

Even Chohong complained about coming out and having nothing to do.

Just when everything seemed to be going perfect, a change occurred. This was on the fifth day.

“Huaaam—”

While the bored Seol Jihu was watching the inside of Phi Sora’s yawning mouth, Phi Sora noticed his glance, shut her mouth, and glared at him.

“What are you looking at?”

“Your uvula.”

“Why are you looking at my uvula?? Are you a pervert?”

“No, I just think it’s interesting how it dangles.”

“You find that interesting? Can’t you have some manners towards a lady?”

Snapping back, Phi Sora quickly looked side to side. She furrowed her brows and asked with a confused look.

“The carriage slowed down a bit… right?”

“We just left the wasteland. If we go too fast on forest trails, the wheels might get damaged or the carriage might flip.”

Seol Jihu answered clearly. Phi Sora tilted her head.

“Really? But isn’t it too slow? I can feel it clearly.”

“Maybe Mister Kazuki is controlling the speed right now. I’m sure he’ll let us know if something happens.”

Seol Jihu pointed at the ceiling and spoke.

“Well, you’re not wrong…”

Phi Sora scratched her head, then snorted after seeing the sleeping Teresa using Seol Jihu’s thighs as a pillow.

“Can she be any more laid back? She looks elegant like a refined lady, but the way she acts… Anyways, how much more do we have to go?”

“We’ll be at the human territory’s border by tomorrow.”

“But we have to walk after that.”

“Not for too long. The carriage is supposed to go to the entrance of the border reg—”

It was then. The Horuses suddenly started to cry.

Next, the carriage shook with clunking noises before slowing down instantly.

Seol Jihu’s expression sank.

‘What? What happened?’

Phi Sora snorted.

“See? I knew something was off.”

“What do you mean by off?”

Just as Seol Jihu questioned back…

Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk! Taps rang out from the ceiling.

Teresa shot up with her eyes half-open.

When Seol Jihu hurriedly opened the door, Kazuki, who was sitting on the roof, swooped down like a swallow and entered the carriage.

“Seol, we need to stop the carriage. Asap.”

Kazuki spoke abruptly. He spoke like it wasn’t a big deal, but he wouldn’t have come down in the first place if that were the case.

Perhaps feeling that something was amiss, Phi Sora unsheathed her sword and the drowsy Teresa searched for her shield.

Seol Jihu raised his store-bought spear and asked.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know exactly. I’ll need to step on the ground to know.”

Something that Kazuki’s searching ability couldn’t catch?

Seol Jihu felt nervous for the first time in a while and let the coachman know of the situation.

When the carriage stopped, the four of them jumped down immediately, and the carriage following behind them also slowed down to a stop.

Chohong and the three others immediately hopped down and walked up.

“Hey, why did you—”

However, she immediately shut her mouth when she saw Kazuki kneeling with his eyes shut, his hands on the ground, and his ear against the ground.

The members of the expedition team quickly formed a circular formation around Kazuki, Maria, and the two coachmen.

The only thing they could see around them was an endless field of grass and reeds.

How much time went by?

A gentle wind blew.

Ssk, ssk.

Feeling like something would pop out of the shaking reeds, Seol Jihu took a spear-throwing stance and put strength into his eyes.

“A-Anything?”

Chohong, who was standing as the rearguard, asked without taking her eyes off the forest.

Kazuki, who was practically lying down at this point, raised his hand. He was telling everyone to be quiet.

“This…”

He furrowed his brows as if it was difficult to get any results.

“This isn’t a vibration… The sound of grass? No… it’s in a rush…”

Hugo looked back with a look that asked, ‘What the hell does that mean?’

At that moment, Kazuki flinched.

“…The sound of wind.”

He sounded positive.

“The sound of wind, you said?”

Chohong asked, but Kazuki didn’t reply. With his eyes still closed, he raised his upper body and slowly shook his head left to right.

It was as if he was following the course of the wind.

Then, suddenly—

“Ghio!”

He suddenly shot his eyes open.

“60 degrees to the left of the head carriage!”

At the same time.

“It’s Ghionea.”

Marcel Ghionea retorted calmly and aimed his crossbow. It was then—

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