TL Note: Tigerman has been changed to Foxman (previously mistranslated). Tiger and Fox have the same character in Korean (I didn't double-check the Hanja that was given since tiger is a lot more commonly used). Now it makes more sense with how they're called Vulpes! Sorry about that.
The Foxman child, Haeryeo, told her story.
This morning, the Sky Fairies held a ritual at a place called the Pagoda of Dreams. Haeryeo was curious about the ritual and wanted to go spectate, but the area around the Pagoda of Dreams was an extreme danger zone that the Federation had designated as a forbidden ground.
Without their explicit permission, no one from the Federation was allowed to enter.
However, curiosity had gotten the better of Haeryeo, and she had secretly followed the Sky Fairies with her younger sister and then got lost.
She wandered around holding her younger sister’s hand until she eventually came across unfamiliar land. While she was stamping her feet, not knowing what to do, she was discovered by a group of people.
The poachers chased after them as though they were a gift sent from the gods and captured the younger sister. Haeryeo narrowly escaped and was on the run. As she was in a hurry, she didn’t care which direction she was going in, and it was then that she ran into Seol Jihu’s expedition team.
“I was following the Sky Fairies well… I don’t know how we got lost…”
Thinking about her younger sister must have stung her conscience with guilt as she began to tear up again.
Apprehension fogged up Seol Jihu’s face. He hoped this wasn’t the case, but Kazuki’s concern had come to reality.
So what was the best course of action?
‘There’s some hope if we rescue Haeryeo’s younger sister and return both of them to the Federation….’
Seol Jihu turned to Teresa, who was likewise filled with worry.
“Haeryeo’s younger sister must be alive, right?”
“Most likely. Those guys should be after money rather than revenge…”
Teresa looked down at the crying Haeryeo and spoke quietly.
“There’s a chance they’re nearby. They might be coming here following this child’s trail. If so, we—”
Kazuki’s voice shot out before Teresa could finish.
“Twenty, thirty, forty… two. Forty-two! There’s a big group of poachers heading this way!”
Haeryeo began to panic, speaking of the devil.
Seol Jihu stared at Teresa, and they immediately came to a tacit understanding. Teresa held the trembling Haeryeo up.
“Ah, fuck! Why is a fucking kid so fast?”
“I think we lost her.”
“I told you we won’t catch her once she escapes our encircling net.”
“But we can still hunt her down. If we keep going, I’m sure we’ll find her exhausted and sleeping somewhere. We’ll just go for the long-haul.”
Following several murmurs, a group appeared from the tall reeds.
An Archer, who was walking with his back bent and his eyes on the ground, suddenly looked up and let out a yelp.
It was the same for the others. Being too focused on chasing their target’s trail, they were surprised to run into the expedition team.
“Who the hell are these guys? Are they… one of us?”
“Hey! Have you guys…?”
One man stopped his sentence short, his voice trailing up into a question. This was because they saw that the man at the head of the group was glaring at them and a pink-haired woman was holding a Foxman child in her embrace.
One of the men spat out a curse. They didn’t even need to ask what happened. This situation was something people in their line of work ran into every once in a while. This group was most likely taking a break here and fortunately ran into the child.
The man misunderstood the situation on his own and then scratched his head.
“God damn it!”
“What should we do?”
Seol Jihu clenched his teeth. Humanity’s complex relationship with the Federation was driving him crazy, so seeing a group of fools who only knew how to fill their greedy bellies filled him with disgust.
“What, why did we suddenly stop? Hah?”
At that moment, a sonorous voice rang out from the back of the group. The men who were smacking their lips quickly looked behind.
“Leader! You see…”
“What? Someone snatched her up?”
A short, corpulent man walked forward. Not only was his belly protruding out, but his neck fat also covered up his jawline.
Next, Seol Jihu’s gaze became fixed in one place. Behind the man who called himself the leader was a Foxman child who looked similar to Haeryeo.
She was properly clothed and didn’t seem to be suffering from any kind of hardship; however, a white cloth was tightly wrapped around her mouth.
Judging by Haeryeo’s affectionate scream, she had to be her younger sister.
The bound Foxman child let out aspirated sounds and struggled.
Just like Kazuki said, there were a total of 42 men in the group. It didn’t look like they would hand her over so easily. Sensing that a battle was brewing, Seol Jihu tightened his grip on his spear.
‘Hmm. He’s a new face…’
The leader rubbed his chubby neck. He figured the situation out, but he couldn’t understand why they were revealing such hostility.
‘He doesn’t look all that special…’
He knew not to judge a book by its cover, but the man’s equipment was commonly found store-goods. He didn’t look all that skilled.
However, the atmosphere was a bit strange. They had more than forty people in their group, but the others only had ten. Excluding the coachmen, the number further reduced to eight.
The problem was that they didn’t look nervous in any way. In fact, they seemed to be looking down on them.
‘Are they poachers who work as a small group of elites? Or… hm?”
When the leader saw the pink-haired woman holding the female Foxman child, strength entered his pupils. Next, his jaw dropped when he saw Kazuki’s chilling gaze.
That wasn’t all.
A woman wearing a white Priest-robe but holding a frightening battle-mace.
A bald black man holding a beautiful halberd that didn’t match his appearance.
And an ash-grey haired Archer who resembled a snow-wolf.
‘Don’t tell me.’
When his eyes landed on the red-haired woman yawning widely and smacking her lips, a single thought struck his brain like a bolt of lightning.
His breath immediately stopped.
“Give her back.”
Just as the leader thought ‘why are they here?’, Seol Jihu spoke. The poachers exchanged glances with each other.
“What? Give her back?”
“Ha! That’s what we should be saying.”
Boisterous laughter burst out. One of the men then shouted loudly.
“It looks like you’re in the same line of work. Don’t you have any conscience?”
Seol Jihu’s pupils sank in. He had asked just to be sure before displaying his strength, but it was just as he expected.
“Oi, you see that kid?”
The man standing on the opposite side of Seol Jihu held up the female Foxman child and shook her lightly.
“We were chasing after the Beastman brat you luckily captured. Why don’t you hand her over?”
“Seol, there’s no need to hear them out any further. Let’s…”
Kazuki whispered from the back.
“You’re one of us, so you should know the rules. We’ll acknowledge that you captured her for us, aight? You know what to do.”
Kazuki was right. There was no use talking to these people.
Seol Jihu lowered his center of gravity. Putting strength into his legs, he roused his mana.
“Hand her over quickly, so we can talk about how to distribute—”
Pang, pang, pang!
Festina Earring activated thrice. Seol Jihu kicked off the ground, feeling a powerful wind enveloping his body.
In that split second, Seol Jihu’s eyes widened. It was because the leader cut in front of him, as though his movement had been seen through.
The leader wasn’t aiming for him. His palm smacked the back of the shouting man. Seol Jihu quickly paused his steps.
His heels dug into the ground, leaving a long trail behind, and Seol Jihu barely stopped his charge.
“You cheeky bastard!”
The leader screamed with a flushed face. The man who was abruptly struck down raised his head in a daze. He was shocked to see Seol Jihu right in front of him, but he was even more confused that he was hit.
“What? Hand her over? Distribute? Who do you think you are!? You wanna be the leader, huh!?”
Now, the leader was pointing his finger at him and yelling. He must have felt Seol Jihu’s gaze as he quickly turned.
His panting subsided, and a warm smile spread across his plump face.
“Aigoo~ My apologies, my apologies. I didn’t educate my underling properly… haha.”
He rubbed his hands together and smiled grovelingly. Seol Jihu blinked his eyes.
“Ah! Hold on just a moment. Oi! Hand her over now! Don’t hold her like that! I told you to treat her with dignity and respect!”
“Shut it! What are you doing, not returning her to this gentleman!!?”
The leader practically snatched the Foxman girl out of her captor’s hands.
“Aigooo~ You see~ I didn’t do this on purpose~”
He took off the cloth wrapping around the girl’s mouth. Then—
“You evil… uup!”
He wrapped the cloth again when the Foxman girl tried to talk.
The leader glanced at Seol Jihu before quickly tying a knot and respectfully handing her over with both hands.
“Here she is! We really didn’t do anything. She’s safe and sound, with not a scratch on her! We didn’t even touch a single strand of her hair!”
“Please, she’s all yours! Hehe!”
Seol Jihu was clearly taken aback. As things would get tiring if they used Haeryeo’s little sister as a hostage, he had planned to take her back before doing anything else.
He expected to hear things like ‘What bullshit are you spouting?’ or ‘Give her back? Are you fucking mad? Oi, kill them all!’
He never expected them to hand her over so easily. To be completely honest, he was dumbfounded.
Seol Jihu stared at the leader fixedly without saying anything.
The leader’s eyes moved rapidly. The members behind the youth all had their arms crossed, watching them amusingly.
The leader trembled from fear internally. That was when his eyes met the youth’s.
He immediately kowtowed.
Thud. He slammed his forehead on the ground.
“I’ve committed a grave sin! I was blinded by money… Please forgive me once!”
The leader’s subordinates grew louder.
Phi Sora then burst into laughter.
“Iyaa~! This old man! He sure knows how to read the atmosphere. He probably won’t get himself killed so easily, no matter where he goes!”
“Hehe, yes, yes…”
Seol Jihu sighed. He had felt the same thing during the Banquet, but there were people who understood words and people who didn’t. The man in front of him seemed to be the former.
“You must do this often.”
The leader flinched.
“N-No, not at all… I do it very occasionally… every once in a while…”
“This is the first time I succeeded! Hehe…”
Seol Jihu looked down at the corpulent man with cold eyes. The female Foxman child also let out a curdling noise. Seol Jihu hugged her, then patted her back. The child didn’t resist, seemingly aware that Seol Jihu was trying to help.
Seol Jihu spoke.
“Don’t ever do something like this again.”
The leader shot his head up.
“If I catch you doing this again….”
“O-Of course! I’ll wash my hands clean and never touch this line of work again! I don’t know about the guys behind me, but I swear I’ll never do it again!”
Thud, thud, thud, thud. The leader repeatedly slammed his head down until his forehead began to bleed.
The man’s act erased any thought Seol Jihu had of fighting, and he turned around.
“You can go.”
“Thank you! Thank you for sparing me!”
The leader hurriedly got up.
“Seol, this is your problem. You’re too kind.”
“Exactly. This is the perfect opportunity to make some side-money. We would be more than justified too. Kiyaa~ Just imagine how much we’ll make wiping them out and selling off their equipment…”
Hearing the murmurs coming from the distance, the leader shuddered. He immediately stormed off, leaving his subordinates behind and caring only for his own life.
“Why did he…”
The subordinates’ murmuring only lasted a moment. Once some of the more quick-witted ones ran off, the remaining members of the group were swept away by the atmosphere and began to escape.
“What a waste, what a waste!”
Chohong smacked her lips as she rubbed her Thorn of Steel.
After the poachers all ran off…
The two sisters rejoiced in each other’s arms while Seol Jihu smiled heartwarmingly. He then turned around, hearing muffled laughter coming from the back. The usually cold Kazuki was giggling.
Kazuki glanced in the direction the poachers ran away, while still smiling.
“I was just thinking about how he’s still the same. You know, that leader.”
“You know him?”
“Just his face. We’re from the same Area. The Tutorial was pretty fun with him around.”
“Mm… what kind of a person is he?”
Kazuki tapped on his eyes with his finger.
“He is incredibly good at reading the atmosphere. His instant situational judgment ability is also awe-inspiring. He passed the Tutorial and the Neutral Zone with this ability alone.”
Seol Jihu tilted his head. He didn’t think he gave off that many hints. Of course, he was planning to throw his spear the moment he retrieved Haeryeo’s little sister. Did that man see through this?
Maybe I should have checked his color with my Nine Eyes.
Seol Jihu shook his head. Then, he faced Teresa, who was talking into a communication crystal.
He left the two Foxmen to Teresa’s care. As going into the Federation’s territory thoughtlessly might cause unnecessary misunderstandings, Teresa suggested that they contact them first before crossing the border.
Since Teresa had connections with the Federation, there should be no reason for them to refuse. The only inconvenience was that they had to contact the Federation through the Royal Family.
“Yes, yes, father. Huh…? Sleep?”
At that moment, Teresa’s voice suddenly went up a notch.
“What do you mean by… yes.”
After a short while…
“Got it… Thank you, father.”
Teresa hung up and got up.
“He said he informed the Federation about the situation. Since the Federation said they would contact their border security, we should be able to enter.”
“Did we promise to meet somewhere?”
“No, they said they would find us once we enter their territory. Also….”
Teresa breathed out a long sigh. She hesitated with a puzzled expression before quietly continuing her words.
“He said we must never sleep until we meet them.”
“I don’t know either. That’s apparently what the Federation said. They asked if we made contact with the Foxman children, then told us not to sleep until they found us….”
Teresa shrugged, saying they didn’t exactly explain why.
Seol Jihu nodded.
“Well, I’m sure they’ll tell us once we meet them. We just have to not fall asleep until we meet them, right?”
Teresa’s eyes curled to a crescent shape.
“Yes, no sleep.”
“Never. We must never sleep.”
Once she emphasized it a few times, Seol Jihu paused. He looked back at her, only to see the seriousness of her expression gone and replaced by a strange smile on her face.
I was thinking she’s been too calm lately…
“What? All I’m saying is that we can’t sleep. You didn’t imagine anything weird, right?”
Seol Jihu quietly glared at her, but Teresa continued innocently.
“Anyways, don’t sleep.”
“But if you think you’re falling asleep, tell me. I’ll be nice and help you, okay?”
Teresa closed then opened her hand while smiling with her eyes.
Seol Jihu sighed.
“Yes! Please speak.”
“Please don’t look at me like that.”
Teresa flinched slightly, her eyes opening wide.
“And please don’t ask me strange questions.”
“You’re pretty good!”
“What do you mean?”
Seol Jihu ‘hmphed’ before turning around and heading to the carriage.
On the other hand.
One of the poachers was jumping in shock from the leader’s explanation.
“Say what? That was Carpe Diem?”
The panting leader frowned and shouted.
“Yes! How many times do I need to tell you!?”
“Why is Carpe Diem….”
“How should I know!? I was only half-sure when I saw Kazuki, but that was Carpe Diem for sure!”
He then pointed his fingers at his subordinates, who were all making the same expression.
“You goddamn morons! How did you not know? What was that? Huh? You said I was mad? Ya bastards! If it weren’t for me, we would all be dead by now! You know that!?”
“Ehew. My heart’s still racing. Kazuki and the Archer of Steel, Scumbag and even Crazy Bitch….”
Murmuring to himself, the leader breathed a sigh of relief before frowning.
“Hold on, why is Kazuki with Carpe Diem? And that pink-haired woman has to be…”
“But man, what a shame. We had more people. If we held someone hostage, we might have been able to get away with taking one of them back…”
When one of the subordinates muttered regrettably, the leader flipped out.
“You fucking idiot! You’re still saying that!?”
He beat his chest and spat out angrily.
“You dunce! Shit-for-brains! Use your goddamn head for once! Do you not know who that man was?”
“The one with the spear?”
“Yes! If they’re Carpe Diem, who do you think he can be?”
The man’s face instantly stiffened. He then stammered, as if he finally realized something.
“D-Don’t tell me…”
“Haramark’s War Hero! Seol Jihu! Who else can it be!?”
Hard gulps suddenly rang out from the crowd.
“He’s the one who killed Undying Diligence, who’s known as the second strongest Army Commander! Holding someone hostage? Yeah, I’m sure that would have gone swimmingly!”
“And that pink-haired woman has to be Haramark’s princess, Teresa Hussey. One wrong move and we would have all gone on the Red Notice! Even if we somehow managed to escape with our lives, we would have had to live as homeless rogues for the rest of our lives!”
Once he let out his pent-up fear, the leader began to run again. He wanted to get away from the danger zone as fast as possible. He felt like he wouldn’t be able to calm down unless he made it to Eva.
The subordinate followed the leader and asked.
“So what are we going to do now?”
“What do you mean, what?”
“Are you really going to wash your hands clean? You were just kidding, right?”
“Of course I’m washing my hands clean!”
The leader shouted without a single shred of hesitation.
“Yeah. Judging by that brief exchange, his fame isn’t unwarranted. People say he ran around on the battlefield like a demon. I have a feeling the moment I do something like this again, he’ll chase me down like a demon.”
The leader shook his head as if to shake off his fear.
“Anyways, I’m done with this! You guys do whatever you want! Don’t blame me if you get yourselves killed!”
After shouting that, the leader dusted his hands and ran off.
The demon that the leader was talking about was busy playing with two children.
Screams and giggles endlessly rang out from the head carriage.
“Do that! Do that!”
“That? The bubble you mean?”
“Un! Puuuuu— That!”
Haeryeo’s younger sister, Haeya, chirped while clapping her hands together.
Seol Jihu took out a piece of gum from his pocket and plopped it into his mouth. Haeya was much more affable than her older sister.
Rather, she was more active. Even though she only just escaped the poachers’ clutches, she wasn’t discouraged, and perhaps because she knew they had saved her, she didn’t act reserved.
As a result, she quickly got close to Seol Jihu.
Once Seol Jihu blew a bubble, the tails of the two Foxman children wagged gently. They waited patiently for the bubble to get bigger before poking it with their index finger once it reached a certain size.
Boom! The bubble burst and splattered on Seol Jihu’s face.
“Ack, it popped again!”
When Seol Jihu fumbled around his face, the two children cackled as if they were on their last breath.
“Fuheehee! You’re stupid!”
“Stupid! Stupid monster!”
“What? A Stupid monster?”
Seol Jihu raised his voice on purpose and twiddled his fingers.
“Fine, I’m a Stupid Monster!”
He then went ‘rawr!’ and pounced on the two children, tickling their sides and armpits. Haeryeo and Haeya cackled while tossing and turning.
Seol Jihu and the two Foxmen sisters wrestled with each other in the carriage.
Teresa, who had her seat stolen by the sisters, couldn’t hide her shock as she watched the three of them play.
“How can he be so good with children…?”
Phi Sora snorted.
“It’s just a big kid playing with two little kids. Don’t you know kids have no problem playing together?”
Teresa smiled bitterly, unable to think of a comeback.Previous Chapter Next Chapter