When Seol Jihu woke up, the sun had climbed up to the middle of the sky. Even though he was nominally awake, he didn't open his eyes. For one, he had a headache from his hangover painfully poking his forehead, and two, dreamy drowsiness was still lingering about him.
Several thoughts fleeted in and out of his mind. Back when he volunteered as a porter in the pub; the events of the Forest of Denial, and the vengeful spirit of the tomb; the deaths of Samuel, Alex, and their team; the fortress tucked within the Arden Valley, Princess Teresa Hussey, and Ian. And then…..
Feeling like he had just woken up from a long, long dream, Seol Jihu let a soft sigh escape from his lips. He opened his eyes to see the warm sunlight filling up this unfamiliar room. Everything was foreign, including the white walls with cracks here and there, as well as the bed he was lying on.
His confusion gradually settled down. Seol Jihu and the members of Carpe Diem were celebrating last night, and they made him chug down one tall glass after another – and that's where his memories ended. Someone must have carried him into this room.
The important thing was that he was now a member of Carpe Diem. They were the only team in Haramark marked by the 'Golden Commandment', so understandably, he was quite pleased with this result.
Seol Jihu jumped up from the bed and threw the windows open. He was thinking of catching some refreshing breeze while looking at the scenery provided by the city of Haramark, but he could only frown deeply at the steadily-permeating stench of acrid body odor.
His current state was nothing to laugh about. He was stuck in the wilderness for almost three weeks and hadn't had the chance to properly wash up, not even once.
Thankfully, he discovered a shower in the bathroom attached to this particular room, so he promptly stripped down.
After scrubbing every part of his body with cold water, Seol Jihu now felt quite refreshed. Putting on regular clothes, he emerged from the bedroom only to realize that there was no one else on the third floor.
He went down to the first floor, just in case, and finally spotted a familiar face there. Chohong, kitted out in a sleeveless T and a pair of hot pants just like the first time he saw her, was busy exercising as sweat poured down from her body.
When he cautiously entered the gym, Chohong turned her pony-tailed head slightly towards him while still hanging on the steel bar.
“Oh, you're up.”
“Yeah, just now. What about you?”
“Woke up in the morning. I was thinking of getting rid of the hangover together, but you were in a deep sleep, so I left without waking you.”
Now that he thought about it, there was an extra bed in the room. That must have belonged to Chohong.
“If it was breakfast, you should have woken me up, though.”
“Breakfast, my foot. Exercise is the best cure for a hangover, you know? Besides all that, aren't you too weak against alcohol? You got KO'ed way too quickly.”
“Don't worry. You didn't throw a drunken rampage. You just slept quietly like a baby.”
Chohong smirked and resumed her pull-up regime. Every time the steel bar touched her chest, her finely-crafted muscles flexed for all to see on her sweat-soaked back. Seol Jihu's stare was held captive by that mesmerizing sight.
He heard somewhere that a woman's body was supposedly much harder to develop muscles, especially to that degree. So, it went without saying that she must've worked very hard to get to where she was. The longer he watched, the more impressed he got – at the same time, he even thought it looked quite beautiful to behold, as well.
Chohong carried on and did 50 more pull-ups, and her posture didn't stray once. After letting the bar go, she lightly landed back down on the floor and began controlling her breathing.
Seol Jihu took a closer look at his surroundings with a trembling heart. He had no idea who created this gym, but well, everything here was top class. From what he heard, not only the entirety of the first floor but even the back of the building as well as the basement had been converted into the team's training facility.
'What should I start with?'
“Hey, let's go back upstairs. It's almost time, too.”
Hearing those words coming out of the blue, Seol Jihu could only look around himself with an unwilling expression. Chohong, meanwhile, emptied out a whole bottle of water in one go and exhaled deeply.
“Dylan said he'd be back by lunch at the latest.”
“I didn't see him upstairs though.”
“He'll be here. Dylan's like a devil, you see.”
Chohong wiped the sweat off her neck with a towel as she opened the exit door.
Seol Jihu could only take one last look at the gym with a wistful expression, before turning around to leave as well.
Just as Chohong said, two boys of Carpe Diem returned to the office while she was taking a shower. Dylan was carrying a huge bag on his back, and Hugo was carrying a lengthy item wrapped in blue fabric, a wide grin seemingly perma-glued to his face.
Dylan spoke to Seol Jihu as the latter stood up from the couch.
“Oh, hey, Seol. You're up.”
“Ah, yes. Just now. Where are you guys coming from?”
“If I were to use Master Ian's analogy, I went to fetch our quail eggs.”
Dylan didn't say anything else, and after putting the bag down, plopped down on the couch himself. He rummaged through his pockets, only to stare at Seol Jihu with a somewhat dazed face. The youth chuckled and handed over the packet of cigarettes.
“D*mn it. Thanks. When I go back to Earth next time, I'm going to buy a truck full of this crap and bring it over.”
“Hehehe. I'm really beginning to enjoy this brand, you know?”
Hugo butted in and shamelessly stole a cigarette.
“Oh, hey. You guys came back.”
Chohong emerged from the shower then, with a wet towel covering her hair. She then plopped next to Seol Jihu.
“You guys are late. I thought you'd be quick about it.”
“There was no helping it. We had to stop by two different places, after all.”
“I get it, so take them out already. Stop building the suspense, will you?”
Chohong giggled and rubbed her hands gleefully. Only then did Seol Jihu realize that it was now the time to split the rewards.
“Alright. First of all….”
Dylan placed a substantial-looking pouch on the coffee table and it issued a nice-sounding metallic clank.
“As the reward for going on the recon of the Forest of Denial, as well as participating in the defense of the fortress, we got 850 silver coins. Samuel and his team are gone, so their share is excluded. Including Master Ian's share, it's 170 Silver coins per head.”
Chohong jumped up in surprise before squatting down on the couch. She began raising a great fuss.
“For real? Is this for real!?”
“The Haramark Royal Family is known for being generous with their rewards, but they added a little bit extra this time.”
“Keuh!! That princess sure knows how to treat others!”
Dylan pulled out another pouch, this time smaller than the previous one.
“This is the reward from Sicilia. Just as the contract stipulated, nice and clean 100 silver coins per head.”
“270 Silver coins!!”
Chohong clenched both of her fists and celebrated.
On the other hand, Seol Jihu was a little bit unimpressed. Kim Hannah gave him 100 silver coins to begin with, so it was a bit hard for him to truly grasp the actual value of these 270 silver coins.
'Right, the main forms of currency in circulation are supposed to be copper and silver coins.'
Now it made a bit more sense. There was no way Kim Hannah would have given him only a tiny amount when she gave out hundreds of millions of won as pocket money as if it was a small change to her.
In any case, 270 silver coins converted to 270,000 copper coins. Thinking that he'd ask later how much value a single silver coin possessed, Seol Jihu quietly took the coin pouch Dylan handed over.
“So, shall we get to the main topic, then?”
Dylan cautiously pulled out the burial goods one by one from the large bag. There were a total of ten items they managed to bring out from the tomb. Chohong drooled avariciously, before going Oops!
“What about that geezer?”
“Master Ian said that we can go ahead and take our pick first. He said he will take whatever two that's been left behind.”
“Heh~. A Magician is actually yielding like that? What a surprise.”
“Well, he's employed by the royal family. I'm sure he's not exactly hurting for money.”
Dylan picked up one of the burial goods. It was a decorative item shaped like a tree and fashioned out of several precious jewels. Brown, red, and green colors harmonized with each other beautifully and displayed a brilliant splendor. Most importantly, though, there was a 'fruit' about half the size of an adult's pinky on top of the item itself that stole everyone's attention. It was emitting a rather attractive golden luster.
“We can pick two items each for ourselves, but personally, I'd like Seol to have this one.”
Dylan looked to his sides as if to ask for the consent from his teammates. Chohong let out a soft groan.
“Oh, well. Sure. The kid worked hardest, after all. Agreed.”
“Yup, me too!”
Hugo agreed quickly, as well. As if it was the most obvious thing in the world, Dylan separated the gold bit and the jewel tree before handing them both over to Seol Jihu.
Although he received them because they were being handed over, Seol Jihu still felt a bit bewildered here. Maybe he read the youth's expression, Dylan lightly waved his hand about.
“Don't worry about it and just take them. Whether it was the expedition or the battle at the fortress, we'd all be dead meat if it wasn't for you.”
“Oh, uh… Sure. Thank you.”
“Oh, right. I did it out of habit, but still. Let me give you an advice for the future. No matter what, it's better to sell the gold and jewels separately. No, wait. If you can help it, it'd be better to hold onto the gold.”
“That thing, you should at least get half a gold coin.”
Hugo stared at the treasure with envious eyes.
Seol Jihu tilted his head and took a look at the golden fruit decoration. Now that he took another look, even he could tell that the gold bit was the most expensive part of the treasure. But, if gold was so valuable, then why didn't anyone bring some from Earth?
'I'm sure there's a reason.'
Seol Jihu told himself to ask about that later, and for now, he focused on the splitting of the loot.
It didn't take long to split the burial goods. Besides the one he got in the beginning, Seol Jihu got another treasure. It was a small sculpture shaped like a flower out of a jewel that boasted five different hues.
Besides that, everyone agreed Hugo would be the new owner of Kahn's halberd, while Dylan and Chohong took half of the remaining articles of the deceased for themselves. The expressions of both Chohong and Hugo looked so satisfied that the smiles on their faces didn't want to fade away for a long time afterwards.
“Looks like it's time to hand over the final item.”
Seol Jihu thought it was the end, but Dylan brought one last thing out. It was none other than the mystery item wrapped in the blue fabric, the one Hugo was carrying not too long ago.
“Seol, it's yours.”
“Princess Teresa Hussey tasked us with delivering it, saying it's for the hero who helped her defend the Arden Fortress. So, please~, accept it.”
“That crazy bitch.”
Chohong rubbed her arms as if goosebumps were breaking out there. Seol Jihu unwrapped the blue fabric as if he was under some sort of a spell, and soon, he was greeted by the sight of a two-meter-long spear. His dazed eyes scanned the entirety of the weapon.
The long, smooth spear shaft glowed in a faint blue hue, and from the sharply-refined blades on the tip, he could physically see the ice-white cold air swirling about. Overall, it was not flashy and pleasingly simple, but he actually liked that the most. It was as if he was looking at a spear expertly carved out of a solid block of ice.
When he gently grasped the shaft, the cold sensation assaulted his hand, but that lasted only for a moment; he already felt familiar with the weapon, and the cool, refreshing aura immediately rushed into his body. Even his brain felt refreshed then.
Dylan gave him a piece of paper, saying that it was the certificate of authenticity, but Seol Jihu couldn't really pay any mind to that.
“What the heck?! Isn’t this a magic spear!?”
Chohong's brows shot up real high after she read the certificate for herself.
“I hear that it's got 'Freezing' magic imbued to it. Also, something to purify the wielder's mind. Although, the effect is a bit on the minor side.”
“What's gotten into that princess? No, before that. Isn't this way too over the top?”
“She must have found Seol really to her liking. She even complained to me, asking me why I didn't bring him along.”
“Even then. A weapon with two separate magics….”
Chohong pulled her chin back and muttered helplessly, but Dylan simply shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, thanks to Seol, the kingdom's elite soldiers were completely unscathed, so there's that. I'm sure she's grateful.”
“I'm so envious~. This kid now won't have to worry about getting a weapon until he's at least Level 4….”
“Stop drooling over someone else's stuff and focus on your own loot, Chohong. Are you going to sell them?”
Chohong regained her spirit in a matter of seconds and proclaimed loudly.
“Imma sell them at a really, reaaaally high price!”
Hugo was also brimming with vigorous spirit, as well.
“In that case, we should head to Scheherazade. The auction venue is over there, after all.”
Dylan chuckled as if he expected such a reaction from the two of them, before shifting his gaze to the youth. Seol Jihu was still dazedly staring at the spear.
Finally regaining his senses, Seol Jihu blinked his eyes and looked at Dylan.
“What will you do? Regarding your share of the burial goods, and you also have that Proof of Castitas to think about.”
Seol Jihu quickly organized his thoughts and pointed at the tree-shaped jewel sculpture.
“I'll sell only this one. I'll hold on to the rest for the time being.”
“You made the right call.”
Dylan nodded his head. The proof of chastity might be a piece of artifact designed for Priests, but even then, Dylan was thinking of strongly dissuading Seol if the youth chose to sell it. Why? Because it was too good of an item to sell to someone else.
“Alright, then. Are there any other items you need to store away? Besides the ones here.”
“Well, I do have a couple….”
He still had the Divine Elixirs and the Divine Stigmata. He wasn't planning to use either of them now, and without a doubt, they were top treasures in his possession that he needed to guard with his life.
“Good. Chohong, Hugo, you two get ready. Meanwhile, Seol, bring them out.”
“You want me to bring them out?”
Dylan replied simply to Seol Jihu's question.
“We have a place we gotta visit first.”
The place Dylan wanted to take the youth to was, of course, a temple.
Haramark's nickname was the city of crime. One never knew what might happen here, said Dylan, so it was far, far safer to leave valuable items in the safekeeping of the temples. Seol Jihu thought that argument was quite logical, so he didn't say anything else and brought his luggage along.
Also, he wasn't just going there to use the storage service, either.
“How do you level up?”
Dylan shook his head side to side at Seol Jihu's question.
“We don't raise our levels. A god determines that.”
“A god determines it…. Like when you get your class?”
“Right, like that. What kind of an experience you had, how great your achievements are, they play an important role in your leveling up process.”
Dylan continued on as they walked the streets.
“That's why you see such a disparity between people's speed of leveling up, but…. Well, I can't tell what's gonna happen with you. You're such an Irregular, after all.”
“It'd be nice if my level jumps up to three in one go.”
“You shouldn't get your hopes up too much. Most people won't reach Level 2 even if they work as a porter for over twenty different expeditions.”
Dylan chuckled to himself before his steps suddenly came to a halt.
“Now that I think about it, where should we go?”
“You mean, which temple?”
“Mm. To be honest, it doesn't matter which one you go to until you're Level 4.”
“Can we go to Gula's temple?”
Seol Jihu quickly made his suggestion as if he was waiting for the chance.
“Gula, huh. Since that's one of the gods that look after the Warriors, I guess it's fine. Alright, let's go.”
“Sounds like there are other gods beside Gula if you're a Warrior.”
“Yup. Ira is another god in charge of the Warriors. Once you become a High Ranker, you'll have to choose between Gula and Ira.”
“Who did you choose, Dylan?”
“Superbia. Unfortunately, Archers don't have a choice.”
While chatting about this and that, they arrived at Gula's temple.
As soon as entering the building, he entrusted his items in the storage there. He even felt a bit regretful that he didn't come here sooner to utilize the services since it was free of charge for all Level 1s.
When he was going back to Earth, he had to return the storage key back to reception and get a receipt, but this time around, it simply ended with him registering his name only.
“I'll wait for you outside. Do your thing.”
Dylan walked out of the front entrance, and Seol Jihu headed directly towards the main hall. As his steps led him down the darkened hallway, he sensed his nervousness spiking up higher.
His mind may have changed now, but way back in the beginning, the reason he chose to enter Paradise was because of that 'dream'. And the one thing that was clearly etched itself in his memory was the god named Gula.
Just like how it was with the Temple of Luxuria, the main hall here was dark and quiet.
Soon enough, Seol Jihu spotted a massive ash-grey stone statue and stopped walking not too far from it. There were around dozen or so Earthlings near the statue, and every single one had their heads lowered and their eyes firmly shut.
As for the statue, it was of a woman wearing a thin gown, and a deep hood was covering her face. Seol Jihu quietly studied the statue for a little while longer, before closing his eyes and slowly lowered his head.
It happened, then.
[Come closer, my child.]
Out of the blue, a warm voice resounded within his head.
He experienced something like this before, yet he couldn't help but let his eyes shoot open. He stared at the statue in a slight daze, but eventually, walked closer. For some reason, he thought he could hear Gula's gentle chuckle.
“Uhm, I, uh….”
[You don't have to speak physically. I can read your thoughts.]
Thinking that he too had heard of those words from somewhere, Seol Jihu closed his eyes again.
The ensuing silence lasted for quite a bit of time. Was he too nervous right now? He had a ton of stuff he wanted to ask, but his lips didn't want to open up at all.
She must have found something rather humorous because Gula gently chuckled for a while.
[You've been doing well, I see. Thanks to your actions, my interests have been rekindled.]
Her praise came out of nowhere.
[Stopping the human named Kang Seok and saving the Arden Fortress were the right decision to make. Even though they may seem like small actions, the resulting ripples will not be seen as insignificant in the long run.]
Was she talking about the 'butterfly effect'? Seol Jihu began thinking that the god named Gula knew about pretty much everything he had done so far.
[However, it's still not enough.]
[My child, the future cannot be changed that easily. A salmon might be able to swim against the flow of a river, but it can't reverse the ocean itself.]
What was she even talking about? Seol Jihu felt confused here, but still, decided to focus on what he could.
'There's something I'm curious about.'
[I'm sure you there is.]
Gula quietly acquiesced.
[However, I can't answer most of them at this point in time.]
'But, why not…?'
[The reasons are simple. Firstly, your qualification falls far too short. And secondly….]
The ends of Gula's sentence blurred, which was rather uncharacteristic of her.
[The things I've said, there is no need to tell the present you.]
She then quietly carried on.
It looked as if this Q&A session was drawing to a close, so Seol Jihu quickly thought of some things to say.
'Gula-nim, may I ask you a question?'
[If it's related to your dream, then I won't allow it.]
As if she knew what was coming, Gula decisively said no. Seol Jihu formed a tearful expression.
'But, that's unfair.'
[I've said this to you before.]
He suddenly felt a sensation of something soft gently stroking his head.
[I understand you’re curious. However, that knowledge can't be given to you, and just as importantly, you don't have to know them. Not yet, at least.]
'If I meet the sufficient qualifications, will you tell me everything?'
[If that is your wish.]
'May I know what that qualification is?'
[It will be when the star shines again.]
Gula clearly stated the 'requirement'.
[For a star of fate that lost its luster to regain its brightness – it will not be achieved by simply working hard. You must put in double the effort.]
Seol Jihu still couldn't understand a single thing.
'I don't get it. Then, can you at least tell me something about the gold stamp?'
[Just a little bit.]
Gula answered more willingly this time.
[The reason you were able to receive the gold stamp was that there had been a few remnants left behind from the deal made when the 'Royal Oath’ had been invoked.]
'The Royal Oath?'
[That is as far as I can tell you. I do not wish to burden you with more baggage than this.]
Gula stopped talking there.
Seol Jihu inwardly complained. It was like he was being spoken to in Greek, or as if he was trying to catch the distant floating clouds. However, he thought that he'd get scolded if he insisted for more clarity, so he was unsure of what to do next.
[Let us stop grumbling now and commence with determining what your new level will be.]
[Hmm. Let's see. Certainly, it is incorrect to think of your current abilities as a Level 1 Warrior.]
Seol Jihu's ears perked up.
[Now normally, it would be possible for you to leapfrog Level 2 and become a Level 3 Lancer straight away.]
He was hoping against hoping, but could he really leap up to Level 3 in one breath?
[If that's what you want, I can change your class right now.]
Even before he had the chance to finish saying 'I do want it, thank you', Gula cut him off.
[I am thinking of giving you two other paths to choose from.]
[Now that I have taken a closer look, I see that you utilize your mana quite brilliantly during the battles.]
That was true. The real reason Seol Jihu could display abilities exceeding a Level 1 Warrior was all thanks to his freakish high mana reserve.
[So, after some deliberation, I've come to the conclusion that changing your class to Level 2 'Mana Spearman' might be in order. I judged that it would be a waste of your mana for you to walk the same path as others have taken.]
'A Mana… Spearman? But, I heard that it's already hard digging one well….'
[Indeed, there was a talk of you potentially becoming a Magic Spearman. Although rare, there have been precedents before. However, what I am talking about is Mana Spearman.]
Gula cleared up the confusion.
[Normally, one would go through Level 2 Spearman before becoming Level 3 Lancer. In fact, many spear-wielding Warriors choose this path.]
If Seol Jihu chose this path, he would immediately jump up to Level 3.
[Becoming a Magic Spearman isn't a bad idea, either. If you take into account your starting mana, then you can easily handle 'digging two wells'. However, as you have to walk two separate roads, the current experience points you earned are only enough to reach Level 2.]
It was also fine for him to combine magic into his actions. Honestly, didn't he almost end up as a Magician back in the Neutral Zone?
[And similarly, you will only reach Level 2 as a Mana Spearman with your current achievements. However, this is a path none have walked before – a true one-of-a-kind class.]
The 'Mana Spearman' class was created in consideration of Seol Jihu's unique characteristics. However, that also meant he would become a trailblazer of the unknown.
[Originally, it is our duty to choose the right class for you. However, we also have agreed to respect your opinion, ever since you requested the path of a Warrior back in the Awakening Chamber.]
Gula's voice became lower.
[And now…. You must choose.]
[Which path will you walk on?]
He was now greeted with three differing choices.Previous Chapter Next Chapter