“…What are you doing?”
“Keeping a night watch.”
Maria replied with a lethargic voice.
“I had a nightmare about the expedition’s rewards vanishing… I was worried they would disappear again…”
She muttered while yawning. Seol Jihu blinked in a daze before bursting into laughter.
As expected, reality was different from a dream.
He had a sudden urge to jokingly ask, ‘Wanna take the bags and run?’ But he held himself back.
He knew that would be rude, even to Maria.
“Thanks. I’ll stand watch now, so get some sleep.”
“Uun, it’s okay~”
Maria shook her head.
“Just looking at these bags gets me brimming with energy….”
She chuckled like an addict, who just took a hearty dose of drugs.
This looked dangerous on its own.
Maria, who was staring blankly for a while, suddenly tapped on Seol Jihu’s shoulder and nodded.
“Right, I gotta thank you. You did really well this time. I believed in you, you know? I believed you would strike it big one day, Oppa! That’s right! This is the power of long-term investment!”
“…I feel like you’re treating me like I’m some stock.”
Maria shut her mouth. She quickly waved her hands and chuckled.
“Eii, don’t say that! I’m just grateful!”
“Of course! You see, I actually agreed with Kazuki and Princess Teresa fully. I mean, you really did everything, Oppa! Shouldn’t we give you an even greater share?”
A light flickered on in Seol Jihu’s eyes.
“These people. They’re too busy trying to take care of themselves… tsk, tsk. I felt so bad that I was about to give you a cut of my share.”
Maria blabbered on about things she didn’t mean, just to resolve any misunderstanding. The corners of Seol Jihu’s mouth curled up.
“Great! Then let’s do that.”
“I didn’t know you cared about me so much, Miss Maria… I’m touched. Really, I’m touched.”
“Thank you! I’ll request to re-distribute the loot after breakfast. Just your share, of course.”
The drowsiness vanished from Maria’s face. She became sullen, and her beady eyes quickly welled up with tears.
Seol Jihu laughed inwardly and asked.
“That’s fine with you, right? You didn’t lie just to please me, right?”
Maria clenched her fists. Trembling, she moved her tiny lips.
“Ofv, ofv cwoursh… I mwean… whad I swaid….”
Finding the way she eked out those words too adorable, Seol Jihu grabbed onto his belly and burst out laughing.
When he waved his hand and revealed that he was just joking, Maria’s eyes widened.
Maria laughed and cried, charging at Seol Jihu.
“Hmph! I hate you, Oppa!”
Maria thumped Seol Jihu’s chest with her small baby hands. No, her fists had quite a bit of strength behind them to say she was ‘thumping’.
“…What are you two doing?”
The commotion must have woken Chohong up as she asked with a swamped voice.
“Argh, my head. I drank too much last night….”
Groaning, she staggered up from her sleeping bag. Then, she trudged over with a frown.
“…You’re doing that on purpose, right?”
“Don’t say, ‘Hey, Seol’. It sounds weird.”
“What are you on about all of a sudden?”
Chohong grumbled, then sighed. Her breath, which reeked with alcohol, brushed past Seol Jihu’s nose.
“Anyway, I was wondering…”
Her face suddenly turned serious, and she asked gravely.
“About the dream’s curse. Didn’t we first get it from those Foxmen children? You know, the curse is contagious.”
“Yes. What about that?”
“And we managed to get the curse lifted thanks to being quick on our feet.”
“Then what about those guys?”
Seol Jihu’s eyebrows perked up at her sudden question.
“You know, the guys who chased after Haeryeo.”
The moment he heard this—
“Weren’t those guys holding onto Haeya?”
Seol Jihu’s breath paused stiff.
“Then what’s gonna happen to them?”
His excitement instantly sank.
“And what if they enter the city…?”
Seol Jihu muttered with a stiff expression.
“Wake everyone up.”
The campsite bustled for a moment before getting quiet. Seol Jihu and several others tried to communicate back home.
Teresa was the first to connect. She explained the situation and asked whether anything happened in Eva, but the reply that came back was an unexpected ‘Nothing’.
There was no news of a curse anywhere. Not in Eva or any other city.
It was something to be glad about for sure, but Seol Jihu tilted his head.
For better or for worse, the expedition team found out why less than a day later. It was because they came across a large number of corpses on their way back home.
Over twenty corpses were sprawled around a campsite. The team checked the site from a distance and confirmed the men to be the poachers they met a few days ago.
“There were over forty people last time… so about half of them died.”
Kazuki muttered after examining the scene with his thousand-mile eyes. Seol Jihu asked.
“How is it?”
“I don’t see any signs of foul play. The nightmares must have devoured them.”
“So it’s as we thought…”
“Frankly, I don’t think we need to worry about it.”
Kazuki explained why.
“What the poachers want is obvious. I doubt whatever they fear will impact Paradise greatly.”
Seol Jihu nodded his head as this logically made sense.
“Then what happened to the other twenty poachers?”
“I don’t see the leader’s corpse.”
Kazuki continued with a monotonous voice.
“This is just what I think, but the leader must have noticed.”
Right, with his subordinates suddenly collapsing to death, it would be weird if he didn’t notice that a mysterious phenomenon was afflicting them.
“He might not know about the true identity of the curse… but he should have at least realized that falling asleep would mean death. I suspect he went back to Eva without falling asleep and got himself treated by a Priest of Invidia.”
Seol Jihu made a dumbfounded expression.
“…Isn’t that a terribly convenient hypothesis?”
“It is. But if it’s that guy, it’s definitely possible.”
Kazuki sounded strangely confident.
“If you meet him again in the future, don’t underestimate him. He made the top ranking in the Tutorial solely with his ability to read the air, and in the Neutral Zone, he even turned selling points into a profitable business.”
Seol Jihu doubted his ears. He did business in the Neutral Zone?
‘How is that possible?’
“No matter how good he is at reading the air, how could he…”
“Well, we’ll know once we go back. But let’s thoroughly search this area just to be sure.”
The expedition team re-commenced their march, taking a roundabout path from where the corpses laid.
After a few days, Seol Jihu found out that Kazuki perfectly hit the mark. It was because they ran into a group of Priests from Invidia’s temple.
They explained that a group of merchants had come to see them with a heavy curse on them and that they were now tracing the path they took to make sure the road was clear.
The merchants apparently paid a large sum as compensation.
“It’s a good thing we met them outside the city. If they had entered with that curse…”
Seeing the Priest shaking his head, Seol Jihu also breathed a sigh of relief.
The expedition team resumed the march with lightened steps, then arrived at Eva shortly after. Nothing was wrong with the city, as reported.
It would make sense for them to want to rest after finally arriving at a major city, but the team immediately got on a carriage ride back to Haramark.
They didn’t feel like they could sleep in peace until they entrusted their loot to Haramark’s temple storage.
The long expedition was finally coming to an end. Under the pressure from the expedition team, the coachman drove his carriage through the wilderness day and night.
As a result, it looked like they would arrive at Haramark the next morning.
Seol Jihu took out the red egg while keeping the night watch. He had finished reading the two books on his way over.
Righteous Heart seemed to be a mana cultivation method, while Crescent Blade Spear Technique was exactly what it sounded like. He guessed it had something to do with wielding the Spear of Purity.
Although he couldn’t measure their value just yet, they definitely looked vital to his future success. He planned to show them to Jang Maldong as soon as he got back.
‘The problem is this.’
The spear and the egg.
According to Flone, the Phoenix that was said to be the Rothschear House’s guardian spirit was the same as the Rainbow Spirit named ‘Arcus’. Furthermore, he would need the guardian spirit’s acknowledgment to be able to bring out the Spear of Purity’s true power.
To explain in more detail, the guardian spirit lived out its life with the person it acknowledged as its master. And when the master died, it would return to its egg form and wait for a new master.
In other words, the spirit served as both a partner and an overseer.
Seol Jihu wasn’t the only one to be treated differently. Hundreds of past heads of the Rothschear House had to take the same test, and there were apparently many cases where they were not acknowledged by the guardian spirit.
In those cases, they were only able to use a part of the Spear of Purity’s power or were forced to step down as the head.
Furthermore, the founding head seemed to be the only one who managed to bring out the Spear of Purity’s full power.
Because the spear’s Authority was too powerful and dangerous, the Goddess of Chastity supposedly put this restriction on the spear purposely.
‘Anyway, that means I have to hatch this egg somehow.’
Flone said the egg would only awaken through the power of a god. As this likely meant it needed divine power, Seol Jihu planned to drop by the temple once he returned.
Seol Jihu suddenly chuckled in the middle of his deep thought. He had remembered Flone smacking his back when he tried to feed the egg offerings.
“What’s so funny?”
At that moment, the sound of footsteps rang out along with the rustling of leaves. It was Teresa, who was also keeping the night watch with him.
She said she needed to use the lady’s room, but she took longer than he expected.
“Thank you! Whew, I feel refreshed.”
Teresa plopped down next to Seol Jihu and leaned against his shoulder.
“Just the two of us under the night sky. How romantic~”
Seol Jihu tensed up. He couldn’t underestimate Teresa at moments like this.
“Oh yeah, come to think of it— you’re the only one I haven’t asked yet.”
Teresa turned her head and asked.
“What are you going to do first once you get back?”
“I’m going to eat until I’m full and sleep.”
“Eii~ I meant where you’re going to use your money.”
Seol Jihu smiled.
Teresa had been full of smiles the past couple of days. He didn’t know much about it, but the Haramark Royal Family seemed to have been suffering from severe financial difficulties since the war.
He could tell just by how happy Teresa was, saying how she could now finally pay off her debts.
‘From a young age, huh…’
Seol Jihu admired Teresa inwardly while also pitying her slightly. Even though the expedition was a major success, the budget of a kingdom had to be on a different scale than what individual people spent.
Though unlikely, he hoped Teresa would be able to use even a little bit of it for herself.
Seol Jihu calmly opened his mouth.
“I already know where the money will go, though not all of it will be for this.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“It will be funding for forming a new organization.”
Teresa’s voice went up. She was only the fourth person after Hao Win, Jang Maldong, and Kazuki to find out about this, so it was no wonder that she would be surprised.
“Oh wow! Really? You’re going to form an organization?”
“Yep, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.”
“For a long time… right, Carpe Diem has four High Rankers. Now that you have money, it’s no surprise.”
Teresa was overjoyed like it was her own business.
“Hooray! Carpe Diem is finally going to become an organization! I’ve been wanting that to happen since Dylan was the leader!”
She clapped her hands together and smiled beamingly.
“Then you’ll need a bigger building, right~? And a bigger plot of land.”
“Yes, I looked into it already, and land is really expensive nowadays. That’s why I planned this expedition.”
“Ei, then you should have come to me!”
Teresa tapped Seol Jihu’s shoulder and smiled timidly.
“You’re surprisingly a maverick, huh, Mister Seol? Shouldn’t you discuss important things like that with the lady of the house?”
“Never mind. Anyway, don’t worry about it too much. We have a good plot of land in our possession—”
Seol Jihu realized the misunderstanding, seeing Teresa chatting excitedly like a girl singing about her dreams.
“Oh! I have a good idea! Why not take my share of the loot and come to the palace? You can use that money for buying a plot of land and for the construction.”
Seol Jihu was at a loss for what to do and shut his mouth in hesitation.
“I do feel a little sorry for father… but well, it all depends on how you look at it. I’m sure he’d be more than happy once I explain the situation. Mm, fraudster husband-and-wife. I like the sound of that.”
But this was something he eventually had to tell her, whether that be now or later. He couldn’t just leave Haramark without a single word given the relationship they’d built up. Thinking that this was the perfect opportunity, Seol Jihu quietly began to talk.
“I plan to leave Haramark.”
It was just five words. Despite that, Teresa’s chatter stopped completely.
Seol Jihu spoke with a little more force behind his words.
“I plan to go to Eva.”
And when he turned around and saw Teresa—
“And in Eva, I…?”
He couldn’t finish his sentence.
A cool night breeze swept through the campsite.
The atmosphere froze.
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