Should they continue on, or go back to Zahrah?
Alex and Hugo debated for a long time regarding this crucial matter. Because the incident had taken place smack bang in the middle of the way, it was hard for them to come to a quick decision.
Seol Jihu didn't say anything. He knew he had little experience when it came to things like this and left the decision to the two veterans.
The duo talked for a while and in the end, the decision was made to go forward.
They agreed that rather than going back and waiting for another Archer and wagon, and therefore waste even more time and money, it'd be simpler to just walk the rest of the way to their destination.
Seol Jihu also agreed. He was slightly worried about walking that much distance, but he decided to trust his overall endurance, something he took great pains to train back in the Neutral Zone.
“Alright. We leave, but before that, let's take what we can.”
After the agreement was reached, Hugo suddenly spoke up about a different matter.
“I'm going to look at the Archer woman, so you two go rummage what you can.”
Hugo whistled to himself as he turned around to walk away.
“I'm going to pick up the daggers the Moles dropped, so Seol, please take care of Maktan's end.”
Alex, too, quickly made his move. Seol Jihu wondered what that guy was doing, only to see him bend down to pick up the daggers the dead Moles had dropped. Meanwhile, Hugo was dragging the corpse of the Archer woman out of the wreckage of the wagon. Only then did the youth understand what was going on here.
They were looting the dead. Indeed, they were 'stealing' the personal artifacts from the dead.
Maktan's body was lying in front of the broken wagon, with a needle stuck in his forehead, and his eyes still wide open. Seol Jihu found it hard to reach out with his hands. Rather than him feeling disgusted or scared by the human corpse, he was simply feeling apologetic.
But, he was someone Seol met only yesterday. The youth didn't really harbor any particular feelings toward the dead man, neither bad nor good.
However, this man carried out his given role right until the end. He trusted the Earthlings riding on his wagon to do theirs, too. Seol was supposed to guard him, but in the end, he couldn't protect the man.
“Mm? What's the matter? Why are you hesitating?”
Hugo walked up to Seol with a beaming face.
“Damn. That girl was loaded, man. She had so much stuff on her beside that longbow! Come, take a look!”
The big Warrior pushed forward a handful of mixed items. Seol Jihu received them almost out of reflex and then ended up frowning a little. The bow and arrows were a given, but then, he saw not only the defensive equipment, but even a ladies' underwear among the loot.
Thinking, ‘There's no way’, he turned his head to look, and sure enough, he saw the completely naked back of the Archer lying face-down in the dirt.
It was the same story for Maktan. Rigor mortis must have made moving the body difficult, yet Hugo was expertly stripping the dead driver's unmoving body.
“Mm? Oh, it's you, Seol? What's up?”
“Is there a need to strip him off his clothes, and for that matter, his underwear, too?”
“Of course. Sure, they won't sell that high, but every cent counts.”
Hugo replied straightforwardly as if he didn't understand why anyone would ask this question.
“Still this and still that. You worried that a dead body might catch a cold or something?”
Hugo laughed out at his own joke before his expression calmed down. He spoke to Seol in a serious voice.
“Look, man. You gotta be decked out in proper armor if you wanna be acknowledged as a Warrior. And when you level up, you need to buy new equipment, but the price increases exponentially that they actually physically hurt you. Money don't fall from trees, my man. We save up every cent like this until we can afford the stuff we need.”
Now that Seol heard this, this notion also made some sense. Still, some hesitation remained in his heart. Hugo cackled after sensing the youth's moods.
“There ain't nobody here to praise you for being a noble person, Seol. What do you think will happen if you leave the corpses untouched here? The stuff will either get damaged as the wild beasts snack on the bodies, or some other lucky sobs would stumble by and loot them, anyways.”
“If you still feel guilty, then think this way. You sell these and get yourself a better weapon. And then, when you encounter Moles next time, kill every single motherfucker you see. That is the best way to appease the souls of the departed. Okay?”
Hugo eventually located the money purse and grinned brightly. Among the mixture of copper and nickel coins, there was a single silver coin.
“Here, take it.”
Hugo extracted the silver coin and, after taking a look at his side, gave the coin to Seol.
It was Seol's coin, given to Maktan as the fee for his ride.
“Hey, hurry up. His back is turned around right now.”
“It's fine, it’s fine.”
Hugo pushed the silver coin down the youth's pocket. He then placed his index finger across his lips and went ‘sh’ with a smile on his face.
“The thing is, I also got back the payment I gave that girl when we were fooling around, you see! Ehehe.”
Hugo giggled and also added that Seol was now an accomplice and that he should keep it a secret from Alex.
Hugo then turned around to leave. Seol Jihu was about to follow after the big man, but he stopped. His expression became complicated after looking at the naked body of Maktan.
'This kind of world…'
The youth slowly reached down and pulled the needle out. Then he closed the dead man's eyes. He heard others calling out to him to hurry up. He increased his pace and caught up with them.
Today, he almost figured out a little bit of what this world, Paradise, was all about.
They eventually escaped from the forest, and continued to march onwards. Walking for the whole day was never going to be an enjoyable or fulfilling experience, though.
When the night descended, Seol Jihu got to experience camping outside in Paradise for the first time. Staying up as a guard during the night was also a first since he left the military, too.
Those were probably the reasons his entire body ached and his head felt like it weighed a ton when he woke up in the morning. He hadn't experienced such stiffness and pain ever since he left the first ranker's quarters in the Neutral Zone.
He told himself that this was something he had to get used to anyways, and continued on with the march without complaining once. Becoming friendly with Hugo along the way was an unexpected bonus. He could be a bit of hot-blooded guy, but when the youth got to know him better, he proved to be as outgoing and friendly as Alex was.
Hugo, too, looked favorably at the youth. He believed in the notion that Warriors had to be tough bastards, and so he found Seol to his liking as the youth never once complained even when the marching speed periodically picked up without a single explanation. Also, when the big guy got bored and began talking about some random crap, the youth listened with great interest, which meant Hugo could only grow even more friendly towards Seol.
In this fashion, days went by, and as the fourth day on the road was coming to a close…
The trio left the rolling hills and came to face a plain that seemed to stretch forever. And at the distant end of the road leading to the city of Haramark, the dying glow of the sunset cast its amber hue on the stone walls, so small and far away in their view.
It was Haramark.
Just as Maktan said, the unlucky trio took four days to get to their destination.
Hugo raised both of his arms up high and shouted out in happiness.
“As soon as I arrive, I'm gonna go straight to 'Eat, Drink And Enjoy'. Oh, right. What about you two?”
Hugo tipped an imaginary cup down his lips and asked his companions. Alex said that he'd like to take a break and refused right away.
“But, why?! Parting ways after sharing a glass or two is manly, don't you think?”
“You might have energy left over since you’re a Warrior, but I’m a Priest. Besides, I have to stop by the temple and make a report.”
“Eh? It's not like we were on an expedition, so why a report?”
“Come on now. Moles appeared in the vicinity of Haramark. This is something I need to alert the others about as soon as possible.”
“Ahh, I forgot. You're right.”
Hugo massaged his forehead and shifted his glance over to Seol.
“Seol, what about….”
“Hey, you said that this is your first time in Haramark, right?”
Even before Hugo could finish his words, Alex butted in first.
“Uh, yes, it is.”
“Of course, having a cold one isn't such a bad idea, but… the 'Eat, Drink And Enjoy' is… Hmm. Yeah, it may not suit you, after all.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, it's just a pub. A multi-purpose pub, if you will.”
Alex added that he'd find out if he went there personally, before smiling awkwardly.
“In any case, if you wish to rest up well, then allow me to recommend you to an inn that I know. People go there to sleep for the night, so it'll be sufficiently quiet for you. It's a bit rundown, but it should be fine for your needs.”
“Ah, thank you.”
“No need to thank me. Well, let's get going.”
Hugo pouted unhappily. Seol couldn't help but chuckle at the antics of the big man who acted like a spoiled little kid – inwardly, of course.
If there was a meeting, then there would also be a parting, too.
When the trio arrived at Haramark, they shared brief farewells and went their separate ways.
Hugo's feelings must've been hurt by this, or maybe he was simply sulking, whatever – he just threw out a cold goodbye and turned around to leave. Alex spat out a lengthy groan and led Seol to the inn he was talking about.
“I'm worried about Hugo.”
“Don't mind him. He’s narrow-minded and might do whatever he wants, but he isn't the type to harbor grudges or ill feelings. You buy him a drink later on, and I promise you, he's going to smile like a dog munching on a bone.”
After hearing Alex's words, Seol formed a gentle smile.
Now that he had finally arrived in the city, he wanted to take a look around, but well, he was far too exhausted right now. Rather than sightseeing, he dearly wished to hit the bed with a warm blanket wrapped around him.
“Welcome to Haramark, my friend.”
Alex and Seol shared a long, friendly handshake, and the Priest left with the parting words of “Let's meet again in the future.”
Now left alone, Seol Jihu cautiously pushed open the inn's door and entered. An elderly woman taking a nap behind the ground floor counter slowly cracked open an eyelid.
“What brings you here?”
“Oh, someone I know recommended this place, so….”
“A single bedroom will cost ya 10 bronze coins for the night. If you want a better accommodation, we have special rooms. They'll cost ya 20 bronze coins, however.”
“Give me that special room.”
After paying up 20 coins, Seol received a key, and by following the old woman's directions, he went up the stairs to the upper floor.
The so-called special room was narrow, but quite unexpectedly, clean and tidy. He even spotted a small potted plant that aided in one's natural recovery placed on top of a closet next to the bed. He also liked that there was an old wooden desk just below the window and two chairs next to it.
Although it was nowhere near as sophisticated as the accommodations found in the Neutral Zone, he still thought that such an analog-like rustic sensibility wasn't too bad, either.
Seol Jihu put his bag down and laid down on the bed. For a while, he stared at the aged ceiling without making a noise.
He had encountered an incident mid-way, but besides that, he was able to conclude the rest of the trip without running into other distractions.
He fought alongside strangers, befriended them, and went their separate ways.
'However, I'm sure we will meet each other someday.'
He did feel a bit empty, but at the same time, he saw it as yet another part of the adventure that he should enjoy and get used to.
As the bed creaked a little under his weight, his eyes slowly closed. Remembering the cold grass beneath his body when he was camping outside, this bed felt incomparably soft and comfortable.
Soon enough, the youth's entire body slackened like wet cotton, and he drifted into a deep slumber.
Around the time the sun had risen to the middle of the sky.
Seol Jihu also woke up. He thought he'd wake up in the morning, but perhaps due to the fatigue of the forced march, he ended up sleeping for a long time. However, thanks to that, he felt light and ready to go. Beside his empty stomach, that was. Even his heavy head had returned to how it was before.
When he cracked open the window, a gentle breeze blew in. He settled down on the window sill, and while drinking in the fresh air, he looked at the city of Haramark with great interest.
Scheherazade had been filled with countless earth-colored buildings, but here in Haramark, the architecture was varied and colorful, to say the least. White, grey, reddish brown….
'What should I do now?'
Now that he was here, he needed to do something. Seol deliberated for a little while, before closing the window shut. He put the bag down on the desk and sat on the chair.
He opened the mouth of the bag and saw a few different things inside.
'This thing…. He said that I'd get quite a lot of money if I sell this, right?'
The longbow designed to be used in warfare – it was the most valuable item out of the stuff looted from the dead bodies. Hugo wanted it, but Alex offered it to Seol as a way to console the youth as his first-ever trip to Haramark turned into an unbridled disaster.
Besides that, there were five daggers, a leather jacket the Archer wore, as well as a silver coin.
Seol suddenly recalled the bright face of Hugo as he said the seemingly-useless Archer woman had three Silver coins on her. The youth placed that Silver coin he secretly got from the big man along with the rest of his money.
'The Elixirs and the Divine Stigmata…. Now that I think about it, do I need to stop by the temple as well?'
He didn't have a need to go to a temple now if it was just for the Divine Stigmata. It was something he could use only when he was at a higher level.
The Divine Stigmata branded a person with a trace of divinity, allowing one to receive a god's blessing, which would lead to one unlocking special classes and skillsets.
However, one would have to go through the trials and tribulations the god sent down, as well.
Whatever the case may be, he couldn't stay idle for long. Kim Hannah told him to take this whole thing as a game. If Paradise was indeed a game, then what would he have done?
Picking up his bag, Seol Jihu went downstairs to the ground floor. Before leaving, he returned the key and asked the old woman the direction to the plaza. She simply pointed to her left.
“When you exit the inn, go left. Soon you will find a big road. Follow that and you'll arrive at the main plaza.”
He followed her directions. As soon as exiting the inn, he went left and found that big road.
If his first step was taken in Scheherazade, then it was time to take yet another one here.
The youth felt his heart palpitate faster as he thought about what kind of adventure he'd find in Haramark and who he'd end up meeting.
On the other hand, he was fully aware of the fact that the world operated in a certain way and things wouldn't work out in the fashion he expected them to.
The appearance of Haramark was the exact opposite of Scheherazade in certain areas. If the Capital seemed lively and energetic, then Haramark felt chaotic and on edge at the same time. If he were to explain the reason for this mood, then it might have something to do with the unrestricted freedom afforded to the residents here.
There were plenty of structures found in the city, but they were arranged in such a chaotic and disorderly fashion, they almost managed to make him feel dizzy. It was to the point where Seol Jihu found it hard to tell where he was. The roads were uneven and pockmarked. They were dirty too, with wet straws liberally strewn about and muddy puddles found everywhere.
'I will probably have a hard time trying to remember the directions in this place.'
Most importantly, the atmosphere in the city was different. Perhaps because he heard that it was called the city of crime, every passerby seemed to possess a shady countenance.
A short while later, he went past a cracked and damaged wall adorned with graffiti that he couldn't decipher and arrived at an open space.
The wide, circular area was teeming with people, and their noisy calls to others only seemed to further add to the chaos and confusion.
Seol's eyes sparkled when he discovered the noticeboard in the middle of the plaza.
'There's one here, too.'
He couldn't understand why there was a noticeboard with missions attached to it back in the Neutral Zone, but maybe it was to prepare the survivors for this arrangement.
He walked closer to the noticeboard while feeling happy for no reason, and almost out of reflex, took a look at the mission parchment located right at the top.
—Appearances of Moles near Haramark confirmed.
Below that single line of text, there was an identifying branding and a name. It said, 'the Temple of Luxuria, from Investigative Priest Alex'.
And when he saw the parchment below that one, Seol hurriedly took a second look at it with disbelieving eyes.
—Reconnaissance of the Forest of Denial
—A mission issued by the Royal Family
—Reward, details of negotiation by mutual agreement
'So, Miss Cinzia is also in Haramark.'
He lowered his gaze further down. From here onwards, no matter what he chose to do, he had to do it in a team. Trying to act alone like back in the Neutral Zone would be tantamount to committing suicide.
It wasn't hard to locate the advertisements for hiring helpers, but Seol Jihu's eyes narrowed to a slit. There were so many parchments here that they were basically overlapping one another, and some were even completely covered up by other parchments.
'Requesting for a Priest Level 2 or higher…. Recruiting Warriors level 3 or higher…. So, it's requesting for Priests, but recruiting for Warriors, huh. Hiring porters…. There was a job for porters, too?'
There were so many here that trying to read them only gave him a case of migraine. Finding a mission that suited his condition was also going to be a challenge.
In the end, he had to activate Nine Eyes. It was okay to manually read each one, but there was no reason for him to not to use an ability he already possessed.
The noticeboard changed into various colors. One thing that caught his attention was the fact that most of the board were in the shades related to alerting him to the potential dangers. The color yellow was the most dominant one, and orange could be seen here and there as well. Hell, there was even a single red parchment, too.
'This one's even telling me to run away, too…. Mm?'
Seol Jihu licked his lips and continued to rummage through the parchments before his hands came to an abrupt halt.
His hands stopped by at one of the slips that was hidden underneath the others. He nearly went past it while thinking it was yellow color, but the blinding light coming from it attracted his gaze.
Indeed, the paper was gleaming attractively.
The Golden Commandment.
He didn't expect to see a gold color here.
Seol Jihu's eyes grew wider as he took a closer look at the parchment.Previous Chapter Next Chapter