The inside of the Carpe Diem’s office had become deathly quiet in an instant. It was as if time had come to a standstill. Everyone stopped moving and stared at one person.
From disbelief to suspicion, from suspicion to glares…
The atmosphere in the room continued to grow colder and colder.
Seol Jihu felt his heart become heavier from the unspoken pressure emanating from this uncomfortable silence. He had expected there would be some sort of a response, but he didn't know it would be this bad.
Suddenly, Hugo started laughing his head off.
“Hiya~. I didn’t know you had such a sense of humor! I guess I should change how I look at you now, eh?”
He cackled and lightly patted Seol on the shoulder. However, everyone present here could see from his exaggerated laughter and movements that the big guy was trying to somehow defuse this dangerous situation and treat it as a tactless joke of a rookie.
Her voice sounded threatening.
Chohong slowly corrected her posture. She locked her hands, her legs parted slightly, and her back bent forward a little.
“Hey, let me tell you something. You showing up here today, that's not a problem, in all honesty.”
It was as if she was trying not to sound angry, but the tone was really too low for a woman's voice. And the pitch remained chillingly flat as well.
“Job posting. Yeah, you could have seen that and came to talk to us. Just like Dylan said, there are no restrictions, after all. That's all fine and good.”
Her eyes, visible behind her flowing black hair, gleamed coldly.
“The thing is…”
Her eyes, seemingly fixed to the floor, emitted a chilling light so scary that it made people avert their gazes instinctively.
“If you showed up here, the office of Carpe Diem, just to throw around unfunny jokes, then…. Then, as a person who has to listen to you, my position will have to change somewhat, get my drift?”
“Shut up, Hugo.”
Chohong replied sharply, pulled the cigarette out from her lips, and slowly breathed out the blue smoke. She then stared straight at Seol Jihu and spoke.
“I'll give you another chance. Right now, I'm willing to overlook this matter as a rookie who wants to join us cracking a cute little lie and nothing more.”
Hugo sighed out in relief.
“So. This time, don't utter bullshit and speak the truth.”
Chohong stopped there and remained silent. Seol Jihu nodded his head as his response and opened his mouth to speak.
“Excluding the points I received as the starting bonus as well as the multiplier, the original points tally I had at the end of the Tutorial was 2,150.”
Hugo's complexion hardened.
“The highest difficulty missions in the Neutral Zone that I cleared with my own skills were rated 'Very Hard'. I did succeed in clearing the Impossible, but that was just due to luck, not my own skill.”
Chohong's brows began quivering.
“Ohhh. So, you saying that you really did have 26,500 points, and somehow did clear the Impossible mission, is that it?”
A strange smile formed on her face as she lifted her butt off the couch ever so slightly.
“Ahh, really now?”
It was right then.
As soon as he blinked, Seol Jihu saw the back of Dylan's hand that was as big as a pot's lid right in front of his nose. Not only that, Chohong's fist blocked by that hand, too.
He failed to even notice her throwing a punch, never mind her arm moving before that. He felt the chill run down his back, not from the fact that he nearly got hit by her, but the fact that he couldn't even see it coming.
“Violence isn't the answer, Chohong. The old man repeatedly told you to curb that temper of yours, didn't he?”
“But, this bastard….!”
Dylan succeeded in placating Chohong for the time being and called out to Seol Jihu. No, the youth thought that he was being called, but that turned out to be false.
“Seol. Seol… Ah.”
Dylan was actually muttering that name out while trying to remember something. He then lightly slapped his own closely-cropped head.
“I was wondering why that name sounded so familiar…. Hao Win… Right. So, that was you.”
“What are you talking about?”
This time, it was Hugo who asked.
“Hao Win was talking about a certain guy. Apparently, among those summoned for this year's March selection, a 'Super Rookie' appeared. I've heard the name in passing, but I think it might have been Seol. Damn it, why couldn't I have thought about that as soon as I saw him?”
Chohong's head swiveled, and she looked at Dylan.
She then began laughing nervously, her neck trembling slightly. Her face remained disbelieving as she raised her voice.
“D, Dylan? What are you saying? If you come out like that, it's like this whole thing is true, so stop it.”
She must have been really freaked out because her voice was quivering noticeably now.
“I understand. I also thought it was a bunch of baloney when I heard it the first time, too.”
Dylan chuckled as if he found this whole thing rather interesting and got up from his seat.
“I guess I'll just confirm it for myself, then.”
He leisurely went off somewhere and when he returned, he was carrying a large, clear crystal ball. He placed it on the coffee table and placed his hand on top – and then, the crystal began emitting light.
Seol Jihu's curiosity perked up at seeing an object he had not seen before.
A short while later, the crystal's entire surface was enveloped in a soft glow. And at the same time….
—Oh? For Dylan to give me a call first, isn't this a pleasant surprise?”
….A voice of a person flowed out from it. That uniquely haughty, mezzo-soprano tone of voice sounded rather familiar to the Seol Jihu's ears.
“I heard that you returned to Haramark recently. I'm calling you to congratulate you on successfully concluding the Neutral Zone.”
—Congratulating me, huh. Indeed, that's a nice notion. You have any idea how much I missed the air of Paradise?
“I was also shocked after learning that you were being put in charge of the Neutral Zone, Cinzia.”
—Other than being bored out of my mind, it wasn't so bad. A couple of interesting things happened too, and that kept me entertained in the meantime.
“Interesting things, you say?”
—…Oh? Did you call me because you were also curious about that?
Cackling laughter came out from the crystal ball.
Seol Jihu dazedly stared at the crystal. Ever since his arrival in Haramark, one thing or another managed to surprise him constantly.
That was Cinzia on the other side. She sure looked like someone pretty powerful when he first saw her in the Neutral Zone. But after seeing Dylan chatting so easily to someone even Kim Hannah referred to as a big shot in Paradise, Seol Jihu had no choice but to view Dylan in a new light.
—You’re not the only one to have asked me about this. I've been repeating the same shit over and over again like a damn parrot. By this point, I think I've probably memorized a script. It's like I've become a call center employee.
“I'd also like to hear the story, if you don't mind.”
—Well, it's not like I mind. It's something that's bound to spread around, anyways. And I do owe a few debts to Carpe Diem too.
Chohong got up and sidled up right next to the crystal ball.
—Oh? Chohong? Is that you?
“Hey. Been a while.”
—It really has. Feels like I haven't seen you in ages.
“Okay, fine. I know, so please hurry up with the story!”
Chohong urged Cinzia to move on.
—Fine, fine. Took first place with a points tally of 26,500. Solo cleared the Neutral Zone's missions up to Hard difficulty. Formed a team with five others afterwards and successfully cleared all of the Very Hard difficulty missions. And relying on a truly out-there method, solo cleared the Impossible mission, too. Finally, one of only two Gold Marks in history. Are you happy now?
When the Gold Mark was mentioned, the sounds of saliva being swallowed could be heard in the office.
“….Thank you for telling us that. I'll return the favor soon.”
—It's not a problem. Lots of people already know this, anyways. Oh, we might be seeing each other pretty soon too. I'll be sending someone over there not too long from now.
The crystal ball stopped glowing after that.
The manager of the Neutral Zone for the March selection confirmed the story.
It'd be hard for anyone to suggest that a leader of an organization, Cinzia, was spewing nonsense for fun. Even more so, if one knew what her personality was like.
No matter how deeply they thought about it, it was impossible.
Yet, the impossibility had become a reality.
“Son of a….”
Chohong finally began to breathe again and plopped down on the couch with an expression of someone who saw a true monster.
Meanwhile, Hugo could only mutter to himself, “Woah, woah” with a small voice.
“A Gold Mark… is it?”
Dylan sipped on the tea and organized his thoughts for a while, before slowly opening his mouth.
“Looks like I'll have to change how we go about things.”
Dylan put the teacup down and spoke with a serious face.
“I now know what kind of person you are. There are many things we're curious about, and what with this being such an unbelievable story to begin with, please do try to understand where we're coming from, okay?”
Dylan's calm voice seemed to possess this mystifying ability to calm all those listening to him.
“Thanks. Mm, right. About the job posting.”
Dylan stopped there and wordlessly stared at Seol. The youth stiffened slightly in nervousness as the big guy studied every square inch of his face.
A short moment of silence later, Dylan continued on.
“I'd like to hear your honest answer to my question.”
“Alright. What was your reason for choosing us?”
This question took Seol by surprise.
“With that kind of a record, you could have chosen any of the powerful organizations in Paradise and they would have welcomed you with open arms. I'm wondering why you chose to come to Haramark and knock on Carpe Diem's door instead of theirs.
Seol Jihu became speechless, then. What Kim Hannah told him wasn't something he'd walk around telling everyone he met, and also, he couldn't come out and say, “I activated my Nine Eyes in front of the noticeboard, and the parchment you placed there was glowing in gold color signifying the Golden Commandment.”
Seol Jihu hesitated for a long time, before replying with an awkward smile on his face.
“Well, I like your training facility….”
Dylan slowly closed his eyes.
Seol Jihu returned to 'Eat, Drink And Enjoy', found a place to sit, and began grandly sighing out.
The pub remained as noisy as before. But he didn't care about that at the moment. His head was filled with the recollections of the moment he got rejected to notice his surroundings.
[My bad, but looks like we can't work together.]
[And if I were to give you advice, you should leave Haramark as soon as possible. You will find many good teams in other cities. Starting in those places might be a better choice for you.]
Seol Jihu couldn't say anything to this simple yet resolute and firm rejection.
In the end, he could only return to the pub and mournfully sip on the alcoholic beverage.
He came to Haramark full of dreams, yet his current situation, having nowhere else to go, seemed too pitiful even to his own eyes.
Seol Jihu rested his chin on his hand and pouted with a worried expression etched on his face. If only it weren't for Sinyoung…. He might have joined up with a good team in Scheherazade by now and be away on an adventure already.
'Maybe, I should've just joined Sinyoung in the first place?'
If he did, then he would have received an incredible amount of support, and just as importantly, along with Yun Seo-Rah who said she'd do her best….
Seol Jihu licked his lips and took a swig out of the bottle. He was so happy and content while in the Neutral Zone, but now that he was outside, he sure felt like a fool now.
Also, he knew that he couldn't continue to do nothing and suck on his thumbs forever, even though he had a bit of money on him.
'I wanna do something.'
The issue was with his low level.
He was a Level 1. More importantly, there was no team stupid enough to let a novice Warrior join them when there were so many of them out there to begin with.
'There's nothing I can do, I guess. I gotta start from the bottom as a porter and work my way up….'
Just as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it up while feeling a bit uneasy….
There was a loud noise of someone hitting the table, and then….
“Everyone, your attention, please!”
A man's loud shout brought silence into the once-noisy establishment.
Seol Jihu took a glance and saw a man standing there with a hand raised up in the air. He was built quite lean, and his long hair extended down to his waist.
“Is there a skilled Warrior or a Priest among you? Ah, I'm also searching for a porter as well, so it does not matter if your level is low.”
“What are you talking about, Samuel?”
A guy sitting on the table next to the man, Samuel, asked while chewing on a snack. Samuel lowered his hand and answered.
“It's a mission issued by the royal family. We'll be scouting the Forest of Denial.”
“Eii, fuck that. Why would I go to that godforsaken place?”
The guy mouthed some snide remarks and went back to mind his own business. Others displayed roughly a similar attitude. Some shook their heads, while a few others began smirking derisively.
However, Seol Jihu was different. He activated Nine Eyes as soon as hearing that a porter would be hired, and the result was – Samuel had no colors on him.
At least, there were no colors related to danger. Also, he was not really in a situation to be picky.
He should try to grasp every opportunity that had presented itself. Seol moved, thinking that at the bare minimum, he should listen to what the other party had to say before deciding.
Samuel showed complete disregard towards the reactions of his fellow pub-goers, but when he saw Seol Jihu's approach, a bright smile lit up on his face.
“Oho! Our first lucky person arrives.”
“I heard that you're looking for a porter.”
“Indeed. You have any prior experience?”
“No, this will be my first time.”
Samuel looked a bit troubled, then.
'Will this be a no, too?'
It was then, Seol Jihu heard a rather familiar voice. Samuel turned around to look.
“You know this guy, Alex?”
“Yup. And I'm completely on board with this idea. And I guarantee that you won't regret it.”
Seol Jihu blinked his eyes after hearing the name Alex. There was a familiar young man wearing a Priest outfit sitting around Samuel's table waving his hand at him.
“If Alex guarantees it, then I guess it's not so bad. Alright, then! Come join us here!”
Samuel nodded his head and pulled Seol Jihu into one of the empty seats.
“Good to see you again. I had no idea that we'd run into each other so quickly.”
“Yes, me too.”
“I'm actually a member of Samuel's team, you see. By the way…. I see that you're a man at the end of the day. Hehehehe.”
Alex began grinning in a sly manner.
“Woah, woah. I can see that you two are pretty familiar with each other, so why don't you give us a chance to say hello, too?”
Samuel waved his hand around between the two youths and reached for a handshake.
“Hey, there. Name's Samuel. I’m the leader of this team. I'm a Level 4 Pathfinder.”
“I'm Seol. A level 1 Warrior.”
“Kuheu! I love how polite Asians are!”
Samuel then triumphantly pointed to his left. A brunette woman with curly hair as well as a woman with short, bright platinum blonde hair sat to his side.
“You already know Alex, so I'll exclude him. Firstly, this lady here~ She's Clara, a Level 2 Hunter. And next to her is~ Grace, a Level 3 Shield Swordswoman. In a way, you could say that she's your senior.”
Two women raised her hands at the same time and waved at him. Seol Jihu also raised his head and waved back, prompting the two ladies to giggle among themselves. For some reason, they kept stealing glances at his way.
“Oh, yeah. You said it'll be your first time as a porter?”
“It's not going to be a tough job, actually. We'll be asking you every now and then to take care of some small things, but on the whole, just think of your job as carrying our luggage around for the entire duration of the expedition.”
“Is that all I have to do?”
Seol Jihu tilted his head slightly, thinking this would be too simple if that were the case.
“Mm! Of course, there are a few rules you gotta stick by. First of all, you can't fall behind in the middle of the trip. It'd get troublesome if you end up holding us back, you know what I mean? And then, you shouldn't rashly jump into a fight, too. Things might get complicated, and we aren't expecting a porter to fight for us, either. So, how about it? It's easy, right?”
“Yes, it sounds easy.”
“Good! Now, let's talk about splitting our rewards. First of all, a porter has no right to ask for any artifacts recovered during an expedition. Do you agree?”
Seol Jihu had no idea what this 'artifact' thing could be but still agreed nonetheless. This was a rule every Earthling should be aware of already, but since it would be Seol's first time as a porter, Samuel was actually going out of his way to explain things.
“Good. As for other rewards, we split everything equally.”
Seol was taken back by this proposal. He was thinking that he'd be nothing more than a glorified slave but now that he heard the terms, it was better than he expected.
“You're splitting equally even with a porter?”
“Obviously. A porter is still a member of the team, right?”
Samuel looked befuddled as if he couldn't quite understand why the youth was asking this question, which only led Seol further down the Confusion Avenue. However, the Pathfinder quickly realized what happened here, and a wry smile formed on his face.
“Yeah, I heard that there are some teams out there that treat their porters like slaves, but I'm not one of them. You're an Earthling like me, and you are just trying to earn some experience, after all.”
He was implying that, in Lost Paradise, the relationship between a team and a porter was a mutually beneficial one.
“You help us and let us focus on the expedition, and we will protect you from the danger. Okay?”
“However, don't expect to be treated too nicely, okay? You being a part of the team will make it a bit easier for the rest of us, but if you weren't here, then we'd have carried our own luggage, anyway.”
When considering the fact that most of the Earthlings would start as a porter regardless of whether one was a Contracted or an Invited, Samuel's words were being rather considerate.
“Okay, now. Time to get to the main topic at hand.”
Samuel formed a sly smile and then, he suddenly got very close to Seol's ear in order to whisper something.
“I hope that you didn't think I'd be really going on a recon to the Forest of Denial.”
Hearing that hushed whisper, Seol Jihu's expression became hard to read as well.
“Oh. Of course, we will carry out our mission, no problem. However…. Oopsie. We should finish our chat elsewhere.”
Samuel whispered up to there and pointed to the exit of the pub with his chin.
“Follow us. Let's talk somewhere a bit quieter. When you hear what I have to say, even you'll think that you've stumbled upon a jackpot. I guarantee it.”
Samuel winked and shouted out, “Let's get out of here!” before energetically standing up from his seat.
“Let's go. Decide after hearing us out. If you don't like what you hear, then you can opt to leave afterwards.”
Alex also voiced his opinion. Seol Jihu wondered whether there really was a need to change the venue, but he didn't say anything and got up as well.
Alex stood up with a happy smile on his face and muttered out.
“I've got a good feeling about this expedition.”
“Because we're getting a Level 3 Warrior as a porter. You wouldn't find something so ridiculous in any other teams around these parts.”
“I'm a Level 1 though.”
Alex giggled hoarsely.
In Carpe Diem's office.
After Seol Jihu left, the office remained eerily quiet for some time.
Each of them had a lot to think about. Dylan stared outside and continued to suck hard on his cigarette, while Hugo formed a facial expression that cried out 'I don't understand what happened.'
“Eiii, shit. How fucking embarrassing.”
Chohong laid down on the couch and continued to complain.
“Really? Fuck me. Just how the hell did he clear it?”
While Chohong continued to voice her dissatisfaction, Hugo finally opened his mouth to ask.
“Dylan, I still don't get it.”
Chohong quickly shot him a glare from the corner of her eyes. Hugo waved his hand around to indicate that he knew.
“I'm not saying I'm not gonna follow your decision since you're our leader and all, but I still don't get it. I mean, isn't he good enough for us to accept?”
“Not at all.”
Dylan replied simply.
“If you consider our team's unique nature, you should realize why we can't have him join us.”
“What we need is a Warrior who can boost our combat potential right away. A newbie isn’t suitable.”
Dylan finished there and continued to puff on his cigarette.
“Hugo, that's enough.”
Chohong butted in while scratching her head.
“The current leader of Carpe Diem is Dylan. The old man personally appointed him. Let's not waste time arguing about this anymore.”
“I know that you are right, but man. Ehew.”
Hugo sighed as if he was still ruing the missed opportunity. Dylan eventually killed the cigarette and slowly opened his mouth.
“He had such clear eyes.”
Chohong and Hugo turned their confused faces towards Dylan.
“What are you talking about, all of a sudden? Did some of the old man rub off on you or something?”
“Hehe. Maybe. In any case, that guy named Seol. It is a bit regrettable. I understand where Hugo's coming from.”
“That's right! So, like, let's bring him under our wings! Weren't we newbies once upon a time, too?”
“Seol is a blank canvas.”
Dylan calmly replied.
“He's a huge blank canvas, unsullied by any paint whatsoever. I can't even begin to fathom how big the dimensions of this canvas is, so how can I, or anyone else for that matter, carelessly throw some paint around on it?”
“What the hell. Talk in a way so I can understand what you're on about, will ya?”
Hugo complained bitterly, causing Dylan to form a slight smirk.
“I acknowledge that he's incredible, but he's still a Level 1. He doesn't know a lot, so he's bound to make a few mistakes, too.”
“That, is, why!”
“That is why he can't join teams like ours.”
Hugo was shouting out at the top of voice from sheer frustration, only to fall utterly dazed from those words.
Dylan continued on.
“This is the most important time for Seol. This is the time when his future path is determined and when his unbelievable potential starts to reveal itself.”
“Are you saying we aren't good enough for him?”
“Rather than us not being good enough, it's more to do with who we are. We always fight with our lives on the line. We've experienced all sorts of shit and have also grown cynical in the process. What would a guy like Seol learn from us, then?”
Dylan's calm explanations meant Hugo couldn't come up with anything.
“This is how I see it. Perfectly covering for his mistakes from behind, and leading him from the front while teaching him all he needs to know…. Seol needs to join a team like that. Which means, at the bare minimum, that ain't us.”
“Sure, Chohong and I are no good, but still, we have you and the old man….”
Hugo spoke with a voice clearly less vociferous than before.
“I'm not that confident in making it work. And you know that the old man is about to retire soon.”
Dylan firmly stated his position, and let off a long sigh.
“Alright. Let's stop talking about this matter and move on. We should get going anyways.”
Choi Hong asked this time.
“Work. It's a request from Samuel's team. Hugo, get up, man. Let's go.”
Hugo licked his lips and slowly nodded his head.
“Okay, fine. I think I get it now. Anyway, what work are we talking about here?”
“Looks like we'll have to hear it straight from the horse's mouth. But, he did say it'll be a pretty delicious deal for all of us.”
“Well, if it's that bastard, there's definitely merit in hearing him out. Where are we meeting him?”
“At this inn. Maybe he's got some kind of a plan all worked out. In any case, let's get going.”
Dylan pushed the door of the office open to leave, his other hand in his pocket.Previous Chapter Next Chapter