Chapter 69. A Level 2 Leader (2)

“What do you lot want from here? What happened?”

Chohong sounded combative as she climbed up the stairs. The members of Sicilia simply glanced at her and stepped aside without saying a word.

Once she and Seol Jihu entered the third-floor office, they found quite a lot of people waiting for them – so much so that the already small space looked even more cramped than before. Three people were sitting on the couches; two sitting on one couch were Dylan and Hugo, while a lone woman sat on the opposite side. And there were 5, 6 people standing stiffly behind her.

“You finally came, Chung Chohong?”

The woman wearing a thick coat turned her head to greet the newly-entering duo. Her lengthy hair sported the color of a bloody waterfall. Her matching crimson eyes seemed to gleam dangerously like a ferocious wild beast. Seol Jihu saw the clear scar extending from her brow down to her cheek and finally recognized who she was.

“Oh? Is it you, rookie?”

The 'general manager' of this year March's Neutral Zone, and the boss of Sicilia, the most powerful organization in Haramark – it was none other than Cinzia.

“What brings you here, Noonim?”

Chohong strode forward fearlessly and inquired as she plopped down next to Cinzia. Thanks to that, Seol Jihu had nowhere to sit now, so he went behind Dylan and Hugo to stand there, instead.

“Obviously, there can only be one reason why I came to speak to you guys. It's work.”

“Work? What kinda?”

“We've already discussed it. Sorry, you aren't invited this time.”

“What were you guys even talking about?”

While Chohong and Cinzia continued to converse in a rather friendly manner, Seol Jihu began scanning the crowd behind them. He didn't know the reason for the Sicilians' sudden visit, but never mind that, he was hoping to find someone he knew in the group.

Such as Leorda Salvatore, or….

“Un?”

It was then; a certain woman standing tall and silent right behind Cinzia caught his attention. Her lemon-colored hair neatly pulled up into a ponytail, as well as a pair of glasses worn over her sharp, probing eyes were both especially eye-catching. Seol Jihu belatedly confirmed her unmistakable maid outfit next. His eyes opened wider, and he began displaying a bit of over-the-top happiness at seeing her like this again.

“Miss Ag….!!”

He was about to finish saying “…nes” but hurriedly shut his mouth up in time. He wasn't stupid enough to not notice the current atmosphere of the office.

“?”

Maybe she sensed his gaze? Agnes had been maintaining her cold and strict facial expression of the head maid being employed by the famous aristocrat household until then. But she began sneaking a glance at the youth on her opposite side. When their gazes met, he began smiling innocently and waved his hand.

Since there were way too many eyes watching here, Agnes pretended to have not noticed him. Her silent indifference seemingly resulted in Seol Jihu receiving a powerful punch to his guts. He dazedly stared at her with blurry eyes for a while, before his hand powerlessly faltered to his side. Way past looking sad now, he even looked as if he was wallowing in the pits of despair and dejection.

“….”

In the end, Agnes let a soundless sigh escape from her lips. She then nodded lightly once and sneakily waved her hand. It all happened in a short period of time, but that was more than enough to bring vigor back to Seol Jihu's demeanor, his eyes regaining their glint again.

“Keuk-”

Cinzia observed the exchange between the two with an expression of a crafty cat before her head dropped lower in her trademark cross-legged sitting position. Her shoulders trembled noticeably, too. She cackled while chewing on the cigarette still stuck to her lips as if she found something so intolerably funny. It took a while before she recovered enough to open her mouth.

“Well, now. Even the infamous Sicilian lioness would grow softer in front of her own cub, is that it?”

“Keuk.”

The color of Agnes' neck suddenly changed from pale to beet red. Her widened eyes glared daggers at Seol Jihu.

'Why did you have to go and do something unnecessary?!'

Those reproachful eyes were clearly blaming him for everything that happened just now.

“In any case, I've said what I came here to say, so why don't we get going now?”

Cinzia leisurely stood up from the couch, prompting Dylan and Hugo to rise up as well. Chohong pouted after realizing that she was being left out and testily raised her voice.

“Dylan? What's going on here?”

“Mm, well…. I'll tell you the gist of it after we come back. We won't be gone for long.”

Dylan spoke in the solemn voice and turned his attention over to Seol Jihu.

“And Seol?”

“Yes?”

“I'd like to have a word with you after I return. Will that be okay with you?”

“Of course.”

He didn't know what that talk would be about, but Seol Jihu readily agreed to do it nonetheless. Cinzia was still smirking as she issued out a new order.

“Agnes, you don't have to come.”

“Pardon me?”

“You already know everything, so is there a reason for you to participate in the meeting? It's been a while since you two met, so why don't you 'unburden' your hearts for a bit? I'm sure you can share a glass or two and catch up on old times, no?”

“B-but, boss?!”

“That's an order.”

Agnes was forced to shut her mouth. Meanwhile, Cinzia cackled and turned around to leave.

“Let's go. Dylan, Hugo. I'm sure everyone is waiting for us already.”

*

And so, Seol Jihu got to enjoy a little 'tea time' with Agnes, all thanks to Cinzia's consideration. He guided Agnes and her stiff face to 'Eat, Drink, and Enjoy'. However, while on their way, they encountered several rather bizarre occurrences.

“Ughk?!”

Men who were walking towards them from the opposite direction suddenly fell on their butts, clearly looking fearful of something. Or…

“Uaaaahhh-!!”

….Some others even turned tail and hastily ran away, their complexions paler than a sheet of white paper.

It was the same story even after entering the pub in question. As soon as Agnes entered the establishment, the boisterous interior suddenly fell into utter silence.

A short while later, someone gasped out, “Hiiick?!” That signaled the beginning of the mass stampede of patrons flooding out of the pub, all of them seemingly running for their dear lives. It didn't take long at all for the pub once packed to the brim with customers to become totally deserted.

Agnes didn't seem to care one way or the other. She gallantly strode along the lengthy bar and lightly flicked something at the frozen bartender leaning against the shelves of alcohol.

Ting!

The copper-colored coin accurately struck the forehead of the shivering bartender busy reciting the Lord's Prayer.

“Barkeeper? Bring me a bottle of rum, and….”

Agnes looked behind her. Seol Jihu was standing there dumbfounded by everything that happened so far, and he needed a bit of time to collect himself to say that he wanted honey mead. The bartender brought out two bottles at the speed of lightning.

“W-Why are, uh, other people reacting to you like that?”

“I wonder why myself.”

“Ah, ahaha…. Well, in any case. It's nice to see you again, Miss Agnes.”

“I'm sure it is.”

Agnes replied disinterestedly and took a sip straight from the bottle. She nonchalantly wiped the corners of her mouth, but her eyes studying Seol Jihu remained complicated.

How should she put this? Obviously, she didn't hate the guy in front of her. Unfortunately for her, meeting someone for a non-official business like this was an incredibly awkward endeavor. She was told to 'unburden' herself, but she had no idea where to even begin, nor did she know how to get a conversation going. Which naturally meant her words came across stiff and unfriendly.

“I'm sorry for holding you up like this, even though you must be really busy. But, actually, I've been in a bind with something lately, and I may need your help.”

“A bind, you say?”

“Yes. I'm having trouble with my training at the moment.”

Training? If they were to discuss that, then things changed somewhat. Agnes consciously sensed her stiff-as-rock facial muscles slowly relax.

“Which part is giving you problems?”

Seol Jihu confessed to her his troubles with the mana training regime. Agnes was briefly taken aback by the revelation that he had reached Level 2 already but quickly collected herself to speak up her opinion.

“I see. Still, it's nothing to be that deeply worried about.”

Seol Jihu quickly swallowed his saliva. He felt reassured from the way Agnes sounded.

“First of all, you must remember that this isn't the Neutral Zone anymore.”

Agnes adjusted her glasses and continued on.

“Paradise wasn't created to accommodate your training regime the way the Neutral Zone was. If you want to learn something, then often times you are required to pull through with your own abilities. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“And secondly…. You said 'Mana Spear', yes?”

“Yes.”

“How much do you know about the art of javelin throwing?”

Seol Jihu had been obediently repeating “yes, yes”, but her abrupt and unexpected question rendered him utterly speechless.

“Do you know the origins of javelin throwing? How about, the techniques involved with it? For example, the correct postures to assume from beginning till the end when throwing a javelin while standing still or when throwing it after a run-up?”

Only then did Seol Jihu realize what Agnes was trying to say.

“I see. I was too hasty in my approach.”

“Indeed. You know nothing about throwing javelins, yet you wish to manipulate your mana to imitate the actions of one. It's only obvious that you failed in your attempts so far. It's the same thing as you to run, even though you don't even know how to walk yet.”

Although she was solemnly chiding him, he felt like his eyes were finally opening up now.

“I know where you get your confidence from. You did become proficient with applying mana very quickly. However, teaching yourself new skills is never an easy endeavor. No, it's only normal to be this difficult and obtuse.”

“….”

“It's the same story for the Mana Circulation. It may take some time, but I still recommend that you should familiarize yourself first with the basic knowledge first.”

Seol Jihu felt ashamed of himself and accepted her recommendation. He couldn't deny that, for sure, he took this whole thing way too lightly. He fidgeted around the mead bottle with a bitter look on his face, which forced Agnes to cough once to break the somber atmosphere.

“Even still, I'm impressed.”

“Pardon?”

“I've heard of your exploits so far. You would have easily learned whatever skills you wanted with your current achievement points, but…. It is commendable that you have resisted the temptation and still tried to do your best every day.”

She actually went ahead and praised him. Even back in the Neutral Zone, she hardly ever praised him, so this had to be something. Seol Jihu embarrassedly grinned.

“Well, by listening to your advice, I know I’ll wake up with gold under my pillow.”

“I don't know what that means, but regardless, continue to do your best. You'll definitely reap the rewards in the future when your level has risen up sufficiently as well as when your skills undergo a fundamental evolution.”

Agnes formed an imperceptible smile. She then made a couple more suggestions before emptying the outstanding bottle of rum for good and stood up from her seat. Seol Jihu was saddened to see her go so soon, but she was undeniably an Earthling like him. He couldn't hold her here when she clearly had a ton of stuff to do.

Agnes promised to show up every now and then to check up on his progress before turning around to leave. They said their goodbyes outside the pub's entrance. But, while watching her back getting further and further away, Seol Jihu went “Oops!” after realizing that he forgot to say something important to her.

“Miss Agnes!”

Agnes stopped her steps in the distance and turned to look at him. He quickly waved his hand and shouted at her.

“Thank you for everything!”

Agnes nodded her head once and turned around again. It was then that Seol Jihu shouted out loudly enough to wake the dead.

“And also, say hello to Mister Teddy Be…..!”

“I'll kill you!!”

Swish!

Agnes closed the distance in the blink of an eye and madly pounced on him. Seol Jihu was taken by surprise from that explosive turn of speed, but he still managed to break out into a satisfied grin. He got beaten up by her so many times now, which meant that he was expecting such a response from her, anyway.

'Not this time!'

He quickly pulled his spear out and assumed a defensive posture. Unfortunately, in the following moment – her hand easily slapped the spear off from his grip as if he wasn't even holding it in the first place, and took a swing at his face like a mad snake.

“I told you to stop, didn't I?!?!”

SLAP!

“Kuk!!”

It was only after he was beaten up black and blue that Seol Jihu finally got to learn that Agnes was a frightening Level 6 assassin-type Archer who was only a half-step away from becoming a Unique Ranker.

*

Having parted ways with Agnes, Seol Jihu dragged his beaten body to a blacksmith. The owner of the blacksmith nearly freaked out from the status of the youth's face, but still, the business he had there was promptly taken care of. When he returned to Carpe Diem's office, both Dylan and Hugo were waiting for him.

“Where have you been? And what is that?”

“Throwing spears.”

“Oh. You’re trying to practice spear throws…. Wait a minute. What's the matter with your face?! Did someone hit you?”

Dylan hastily asked. Seol Jihu tried to gloss it over with a sheepish laughter, but Hugo got quite worked up.

“Seol! Which son of a bitch was it?! How dare someone touch a member of Carpe Diem?!”

“Nah, it's fine, so don't worry about it.”

“I get it, so tell me who he was! Don't worry, I’ll break both of his legs!”

“I-It was Miss Agnes.”

Hugo was raring to go, his large hands gripping the halberd tightly, but then, he suddenly froze up on the spot.

“W-Who?”

“Miss Agnes.”

“You mean, Agnes Claire?”

“Yes, her. Don't do anything, though. I was in the wrong to begin with, anyway.”

“R-Really? If you say so, then there's no helping it, I guess!”

Hugo coughed out loudly and quietly put the halberd down before rapidly disappearing from the sight. Dylan smiled quietly while enjoying the scent of his tea.

“I'm greatly surprised. Not only do you know Agnes, you can even survive her attacks.”

“Ahaha. Never mind that. Didn't you have something you wanted to talk to me about?”

Seol Jihu wanted to change the topic anyway, so he put the throwing spears on the floor and asked.

“Mm. Want a cup?”

“I'm okay.”

Seol Jihu tactfully declined the offer and settled down on the couch. Dylan took another sip of his tea and opened his mouth.

“We received a commission.”

“From Sicilia?”

“That's something for me and Hugo. You see, not too long ago, the royals issued a top-secret mission. They contacted Sicilia, but they were lacking in personnel, so they requested us to help them out.”

“If it's a mission that even Sicilia don't have enough people for, then….”

“Just know that it's a mission only High Rankers and above can participate. Actually, it was hard trying to convince them to let Hugo in. They only allowed it after I told them that, since I'm nominally an Archer, I'd need a familiar Warrior to watch my back.”

That meant Seol Jihu and Chohong couldn't participate even if they wanted to.

“I guess Chohong and I get to enjoy a sudden vacation, then.”

“Well, the thing is, we have another job to take care of. It's a mission issued by the village of Ramman.”

Seol Jihu's eyes shot up from the mere mention of 'mission'. If the job at hand had to do with delivering something, then there would be no need for a sit-down like this one.

“How much do you know about Ramman Village?”

“Located southeast from Haramark, the distance of half a day's travel. A village populated by a few hundred Paradisians. That's all I know.”

Dylan nodded his head.

“Looks like you know the basic information. Let me not beat around the bush. It's a monster extermination request.”

“Extermination, is it?”

“You see, Ramman suffers from a periodic outbreak of monster excursions. And they issue missions like this pretty often as a result.”

Seol Jihu tilted his head.

“When you say it's a periodic thing, doesn't that imply there's a colony or a nest of the monsters nearby?”

“That's the thing.”

Dylan lightly slapped his knee to signal that the youth had accurately pointed out the crux of the problem.

“The monsters have been beaten back dozens of times already. The kingdom even formed subjugation forces several times. We were able to defeat the hordes without much problem, but that's just about it. We searched everywhere but never found where they were coming from. Even if we consider the stability of the entire Haramark region not being all that great, this simply makes no sense at all.”

“Doesn't that mean the monsters will come back in the future even though we exterminate them this time?”

“We still have to get rid of the monsters that do appear, regardless. Actually, Ramman village wants us to rescue the missing villagers and find the cause for the monster outbreak while we're at it. But, it's not strictly necessary to go that far. So, how about it?”

“What did Chohong say?”

“Seol, I'm asking you.”

Dylan lowered his voice slightly.

“If you're up for it, I'm thinking of leaving you in charge of this mission.”

“But I'm not even an Archer.”

“An Archer acts as the 'header'. Of course, many do take the on the jobs of being both a header and a leader. But it's also normal for different people to assume those two roles.”

A header's role was to lead his or her team in the right direction during expeditions. As for the leader, that title was given to someone tasked with overseeing every facet of an expedition, such as planning the expedition itself to making adequate preparations, etc., etc.

“I thought you could only form an expedition team once you reach Level 4? And don't you also need permission from the royal family?”

“This isn't an expedition, but an exploration. You are more than qualified enough to handle this.”

When Seol Jihu displayed a surprising lack of confidence, Dylan formed a wide smile and continued on.

“I thought that you wanted to form your own team in the future? Was I wrong?”

“Ah?! Did I get found out?”

“Hehe. In that case, I think this mission will be a perfect chance for you to pop your cherry. It may sound like a simple job, but once you take it on, you're going to learn about lots of things. It was the same story for me, too.”

Dylan placed the teacup on the table.

“So, how about it? You up for it?”

Seol Jihu replied immediately.

“Of course.”

*

He got to lead his first mission.

The mission itself wasn't as difficult as the scouting of the Forest of Denial nor the defence of the Arden Fortress, but even then, Seol Jihu was plenty motivated by the fact that he'd be the leader for the first time ever.

As it was not an 'expedition' but an 'exploration', there shouldn't have been anything too complicated about it. For one, he didn't have to worry about procuring supplies as they could set up a base of operations at the Ramman village itself. Porters and carriages could simply be hired on the spot, as well.

The real problem actually lied with recruiting other team members. There were already two Warriors, so they only needed one more, and finding a willing Archer wasn't that difficult, either. Finding a Magician was an impossible feat to begin with, so that portion of the recruitment process wasn't even considered.

No, the actual problem was to do with hiring a Priest. It didn't matter whether you were forming an expedition or an improvised team of misfits, a Priest was a must-have existence.

“Dang it, what does he expect from us anyways?”

Chohong grumbled unhappily, a cigarette loosely hanging off on her lips. She ended up being paired with Seol Jihu, but that meant she also had to feel helpless about their current situation.

“Hey, do we really need a Priest? I mean, can't we just make sure that we look the part and show up there? I can take care of those monsters just by myself.”

Chohong's irritated grumblings brought about a wry smile on Seol Jihu's face. If they were pressed for time, sure, they could do that. But that would result in the quality of the team getting worse.

Unless they were talking about desperate Earthlings who lived paycheck to paycheck, what skillful Warrior or Archer would want to join a team without a Priest in their midst? In a world where a moment's carelessness could result in you being killed off in the blink of an eye?

Most importantly, this was Seol Jihu's first leadership role. He wanted to make sure it all ended in a resounding success. He didn't want to take any liberties or be too adventurous if he could help it.

'Only a team with a Priest will attract quality team members.'

Seol Jihu's thoughts eventually arrived there, and he stood up from the couch.

“Where are you going?”

“To recruit a Priest.”

“You will? How?”

“I'll give it a shot. We still have time, right? If all else fails, we'll just do it as you say.”

Seol Jihu left behind Chohong and her wide-open eyes to enter the bedroom. He took out the communication crystal thinking that he might as well keep his promise and get advice from ‘her’ while he was at it.

A short while later….

—Ramman village, is it?

“Yeah. A mission came in.”

—Ohhh. So you want to head south that badly.

“Don’t worry so much. It's not by the border region. And besides, people can't just keep doing what they want all the time.”

Seol Jihu gathered his hands and pleaded with Kim Hannah. She snorted unhappily but didn't say that he was forbidden from doing it.

—Hmm. So, you're looking for a Priest…. It'll be pretty hard to find one, that's for sure. If it were the entire Carpe Diem participating, then it would be a different story. But if it's just you and Chung Chohong, it will be hard to rely on your team’s fame.

“That's why I'm asking you for advice. Isn't there a good way out of this?”

—Well, it's not like there is none.

“Really? There is a way?”

Seol Jihu's expression brightened up after hearing Kim Hannah's words. But, when she slowly explained what was what, he ended up forming a bit of a frown instead.

“She was in the city?”

—Didn't I tell you before? Her base is in Haramark.

“You did? In any case, I’m not sure if she'd be willing to help out. There's still the old debt to settle, too.”

—I'm sure you know this already since you have prior dealings with her. But well, she is one hell of a calculative and materialistic woman.

Seol Jihu immediately agreed with that assessment.

“That’s true, but having to spend silver coins for an exploration of this scale, that's a bit….”

—You shouldn't think of it as you wasting your money. The sole minus point of Carpe Diem is that you guys don't have a Priest among you. Do you have any idea how much pain and suffering other teams have to go through to find a suitable Priest when they plan for expeditions?

She quickly carried on.

—And let's not forget, it'll be hard to find a Priest as skilled as her. So take this opportunity to build a personal connection with her. I'm pretty sure that, as soon as she realizes working with you will be beneficial for her, she'll sign up with you on the spot.

Seol Jihu understood what she was saying here. A Priest was almost as hard to come by as a Magician, and she was telling him to invest in one right now for the sake of his own future. He slowly nodded his head.

“Okay, got it. I should go and speak to her, then. Nothing to lose by doing it, anyway.”

—Exactly. I'm pretty sure she'll say yes unless something else's up. After all, she's one of the few who knows your true worth. At the very least, she won’t slam the door in your face.”

“It's a way forward, which helps. Thanks, mom.”

—Don't worry about it. If something else comes up…. Hey, what did you just call me?

Seol Jihu quickly ended the communication. The crystal's radiance dimmed but then, only a second later, it began glowing again. He simply giggled to himself and stepped outside Carpe Diem's office.

*

Luxuria’s temple was Seol Jihu's next stop. He spoke to someone at the reception and waited for a while. A lady soon approached him and asked him to follow her. She guided him through the residential area within the temple building and eventually, they arrived in front of a door among many others lining up this silent corridor. Funnily enough, as soon as she knocked on the door, the guide lady… ran away.

The door was flung open abruptly a short while later, revealing a small-statured young woman staggering unsteadily on her feet. Her brilliant blonde hair was unkempt and very messy; she only wore an oversized white shirt; her sunken eyes were more noticeable because of her pale skin.

It was Maria.

She stared at him without saying a word before pointing back at her room.

“….Come in.”

It was a pigsty inside her room. The lighting was excellent and the interior was brightly lit as a result, but well, that only served to highlight the dire conditions of the trash pit that was her room.

The whole place seemed a bit too… 'sad' to be called messy, now that he took another look at it. Seol Jihu was suddenly overcome with a sense of kinship when he spotted an ashtray stuffed full of burnt cigarette butts. It even resembled a hedgehog, somehow. But then, he spotted cigarette burns adorning the various walls and the bedsheets, and naturally, nearly freaked out right there and then. Hell, the bottles of liquor rolling around on the floor seemed cute by comparison.

“And what brings your lordship to my humble abode? I hear you're a real hot stuff nowadays.”

Maria scratched her unkempt hair like a man, and then, smacked her lips and scanned her surroundings.

“Well…. take a seat anywhere. Want something to drink? How about alcohol? I don't have anything else to offer.”

“No, I'm fine. Were you sleeping?”

“Yeah, I was. I drank a bit too much yesterday… Euh, euh…. fucking hell, this hangover is killing me.”

Maria picked up one of the many bottles on the floor and shook it around. Slosh, slosh…. She didn't even hesitate for a second before dumping the contents down her throat. Her white neck skin bobbed up and down a couple of times, and when she was finally done, she shuddered slightly as a grimace formed on her face.

“Urgh. Now I feel like a living person again.”

“A-Are you alright?”

“What, you mean my body? It's a lot better than when I performed the Ceremony.”

She settled down on the corner of the bed and proceeded to stare at the youth with a pair of unfocused eyes.

“So, what brings you here? If you came to pay back the debt, I welcome you with two open arms.”

“I came to ask you for a…..”

“Ah, fuck.”

He didn't even finish his sentence, yet she was already dropping her head lower, a long groan escaping from her mouth. She then spoke to him in that posture.

“You ain't gonna ask me for another Ceremony, are you?”

“No ways. I'd say it's more like… an offer this time.”

She grabbed the bottle upside down by its neck, prompting Seol Jihu to quickly state his business.

“An offer?”

Maria slowly raised her head. There was a hint of interest in her expression, so he didn't waste any more time and carried on with his real intention for being here – to ask her to accompany him to the village of Ramman.

“Hmm…..”

As expected, Maria's reaction was less than enthusiastic. Her head tilted to the side just a tad; then, as if she was already done thinking about it, she shook it from side to side.

“I get what you want from me, but I don't wanna. I can't see any merit in me following you.”

“I see.”

Seol Jihu readily agreed with her and that made her stare back at him with suspicious eyes. She smirked a little.

“Oh, my? Was the rumor I heard about you all lies? Or, did Paradise finally get to you, too?”

“I'm still thankful for your help the last time.”

“You don't have to mention it. I'll be getting my due reward sooner or later anyway.”

“Of course. I'll be waiting.”

Perhaps his clear-cut attitude left a favorable impression on her because she crossed her arms and opened her mouth as if she was doing it all for his benefit.

“You came all the way here to see me, so I guess it's a bit rude to turn you away empty-handed like this. So, how about this? I know a few apprentice Priests, and I can ask one of them to follow you around if you want. Sure, they might not be all that much, but you know very well that having a Priest in your party makes a world of difference, don't you?”

That suggestion didn't sound so bad, either. She probably wouldn’t recommend someone utterly hopeless since she sounded sincere. However, Kim Hannah strongly 'advised' him to get closer to Maria, even if that meant spending a fair amount of coin in the process. He figured that attempting to do that now wouldn't end in a loss for him.

“Thank you for your kind offer, but I'd still prefer if it was you, Miss Maria.”

Maria snorted, her expression one of dumbfounded amazement.

“Hey, looky here. You said you know.”

“I do.”

“You say you do, so how come? Okay, let me make this crystal clear. Why would someone of my caliber follow you on such a pathetic little mission?”

“Well, you'll earn experience points and also rewards.”

“Hell no. You think that pitiful amount of points will make a dent in my current level? And what was that? Rewards? The rewards you talk about won’t even buy me a day's worth of liquor, you know? You honestly think I'll go with you just to earn a pittance like that?”

Maria's acerbic way of talking hadn't changed one bit. Seol Jihu smiled refreshingly and reached into his inner pocket. He expected her to react like this already, so now was the time to bring out his trump cards.

“You understand me now? There is no reason for me to….”

Clunk.

She stopped talking immediately as soon as a small coin pouch was placed atop the white table.

“What's this?”

“Five silver coins. How about it?”

“You….”

Maria frowned deeply.

“How did you even figure out that I like this kinda stuff? I'm asking you this purely out of concern for your welfare, okay? Do you have any idea how much a single silver coin is worth?”

“One copper coin is around 500 won. A silver coin is a thousand copper coins, so 500 thousand won. Five silver coins equal 2.5 million won.”

“Oho? I guess you're rolling in dough now, huh?”

The ends of Maria's sentence arched up rather mysteriously. Her tongue snaked out and slowly licked her lips.

“Well, I see how sincere you are, but… I’m still not sure.”

Before Maria was given a chance to continue, Seol Jihu pulled out five more silver coins. In her full view, he began slotting them inside the coin pouch on the table, one at the time. Maria blinked her eyes non-stop.

“….Can I ask you one question?”

“Please go ahead.”

“I can't understand why you, in your current level, have that many silver coins…. No, never mind that. Okay, why are you trying so hard to hire me?”

“Because I think you’re trustworthy.”

“You aren’t planning on making this the payment for the debt you owe me, are you?”

“No way. That's that, and this is this.”

Hnnng~ Maria leaked out a snort as the ends of her lips curled up. Her attitude had definitely changed compared to a minute ago. If she was a High Ranker Priest, then Seol Jihu would have to fork out ten times the current amount, but she was only a Level 4. His current wealth was more than enough to endure this sort of financial impact.

“So you’re going to pay me upfront. Is that right?”

“Only you, Miss Maria. No one else.”

“Okay, what about splitting the loot? The rewards?”

“Is there a need to even ask that? We split evenly, of course.”

Maria began pondering seriously now. Upfront payment of ten silver coins and no special conditions attached when splitting the loot…. Considering the type of the mission and the distance needed to travel, this was a more than generous amount. She began sneaking a couple of glances at him before suddenly prattling on while twirling her hair with her fingers.

“Weeeell, I guess it's not so bad…. Yeah, here's the thing. Doesn't matter what the work is, someone on my level usually needs somewhere around 6.5 million won before we are tempted into action~”

Her previously-stiff, manly manner of speech was now full of aegyo. Without saying another word, Seol Jihu slotted five more coins into the pouch. By this time, Maria was practically drooling out of her mouth.

“Oooh, wow! This oppa is a lot more cooler than he looks, isn't he?”

“Will this be enough for me to become your friend, Miss Maria?”

“W-What was that?”

Maria stuttered in surprise at those rather unexpected words. A slight smile formed on his lips after seeing her reaction.

“Friends?”

After exploding into a fit of laughter, Maria opened her eyes wide to stare directly at him. A bright smile remained on her face.

“I was wondering what's gotten into you. But, now I see. You were scheming to reel me in, weren't you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, my goodness! But, what do I do now? I'm not that easy to catch, you know~? Haven't you heard the rumors? You won't be able to count the number of the teams that gave up on trying to win me over, cuz there are too many to begin with!”

This was Seol Jihu’s first time hearing it, but he simply shrugged his shoulders in a nonchalant manner.

“Are you in or out?”

“How interesting.”

Maria stood right up from the bed. She took several airy steps to get closer, before snatching the coin pouch up. She then loudly shouted out.

“I'm in!”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter