Experiencing something for the first time would always be a special moment.
The sensation of going to Paradise was… somewhat like sinking into the depths of the ocean. Seol felt his entire body becoming heavy and sluggish.
After quietly closing his eyes, Seol Jihu felt his body emerging out into the open air. When he opened his eyes, the transfer gate from the temple was behind him, still emitting that mysterious light.
“You're finally here.”
He also saw Kim Hannah waiting for him.
He had finally returned to Paradise. This would be his second time entering this world.
Seol Jihu presented his slip to the counter and received a key in return. He quickly made his way to the storage to retrieve his gear. He confirmed that the gold '8' changed to silver, returned the key, and exited from the temple.
Kim Hannah was waiting for him by the entrance, and when she saw him, she opened her mouth to speak.
“Did you check everything?”
“Well, in that case….”
Huu… She suddenly let out a long sigh and formed a deeply wistful expression.
“It’s not too late, you know?”
He was about to ask her what she was talking about, but then, she silently signaled him with her eyes. It was only for a brief moment, but he didn't miss her eyes drifting to her right.
“Mm. Well, honestly, I just want to enjoy myself and relax for a little while longer.”
“In that case, I guess there isn’t much I can do then. But please do give me a call when you change your mind, okay? Sinyoung's doors will always remain open for you.”
Kim Hannah presented him with an ivory-colored bag. It contained supplies that she had prepared for him under her own name.
It was far inferior compared to what Sinyoung was offering, but then again, it was still better than nothing. Also, it was a bit much for a Level 1 like himself to receive them, too. So, Seol Jihu gratefully accepted the supplies.
“Will it be fine if I don't accompany you?”
“No, it'll be fine. I know you're really busy, anyways.”
“Then, how about only until the South gate?”
“I said, I'm fine.”
A woman persistently sticking to the clearly irritated man – of course, they were putting on an act for others to see. When she was in Paradise, Kim Hannah had to be seen as loyal to Sinyoung.
'Seriously. I have to do some weird things, don't I?'
They shared short farewells and went their separate ways. They had already discussed about everything he needed to know back on Earth, and also, he was aware of how busy Kim Hannah was, too.
He wasn't a little kid anymore, so he didn't want to waste her valuable time with unimportant stuff.
'So, this is Scheherazade….'
The uniform rows of earth-colored stone buildings, clean and well-maintained avenues, and finally, throngs of people going about their daily lives wherever he looked; as befitting the capital of a kingdom, this place was overflowing with vitality. He found it hard to believe that there was a war going on somewhere just from the mood of this place.
Also, many fantastical structures such as castles, towers, and military barracks that couldn't be seen on modern Earth caught his curious gaze.
What would the shops sell here? What about the blacksmiths? There were other temples around here, too. He was so, so curious about many things.
If it were up to him, then he'd spend at least a day or so to sightsee what this city had to offer, but Seol Jihu first had to resolve this urgent problem called “leave this place as soon as possible.”
Scheherazade was the most prosperous city within the territory controlled by humans, and indeed, Sinyoung's headquarters was also located here. In other words, this city was their backyard.
Seol Jihu couldn't help but feel a bit aggrieved by the fact that he had to leave this perfectly-fine city behind and go somewhere else, as if he was being chased away. But, what could he do? Sinyoung was obsessively observing every move he made. If he didn't want to become their puppet, then he had to go to a place where their influence didn't reach.
He walked while looking around and eventually arrived at the South gate.
There was a huge open stone gate, and next to it, stables and horse-pulled carriages….
'…Can you even call those carriages?!'
Seol Jihu blinked his eyes in dumbfoundedness.
Unless one had no money, it was this world's common knowledge to utilise the services of carriages when moving from one city to another. But well, he couldn't help but panic a bit after spotting rows upon rows of worn out, rickety wooden carts parked there, instead of the covered coach he rode in when he left the Neutral Zone.
Out of all these, carriages with flaps on either sides to block out some of the elements looked a bit better than the most. Seol Jihu stood there, wondering what he should do next, before cautiously walking over to a man lying on a stack of hay while chewing on a grass stalk near one such 'carriage'.
The man was staring at the heavens with a bored expression, but as soon as a shadow loomed over him, raised his upper body right away. He was a local, with bronze-colored skin, a mustache, and somewhat disheveled hair.
The number of the Paradise's original residents had decreased considerably ever since the war broke out, but still, there were quite a few that had survived. With the exception of those who directly participated in the military affairs, most of the residents who had lost their homes carried on living while getting involved in the Earthling's activities, such as farming or operating various shops, etc, etc.
For instance, this man here – after evacuating to Scheherazade, he switched his job to a wagoneer to make his ends meet.
“You an Earthling?”
“Pardon? Ah, yes, I am.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“To the city of Haramark, if possible.”
The previously-disinterested expression of the man crumpled in an instant.
“No good, then. I only go as far as to Zahrah.”
“Because, it's uncertain, that's why. You don't often hear the news of an attack taking place on Zahrah road, but the Haramark road on the other hand….”
The man slowly shook his head and his large hair, and then….
“Anyways, you say you want to go to Haramark, huh?”
“In that case, wait for a bit. Oi~ii! Maktan!”
As soon as this guy raised his hand and shouted out, a bald man sitting a bit of distance away from them turned his head around. And Seol Jihu began despairing in his heart right away. Because, the bald guy was the driver of a wooden wagon that looked like it was designed to ferry goods.
“Why are you calling me? I'm about to set off.”
“You have a spot left?”
“There will always be a spot left.”
“Very good. This fella here, he wants to go to Haramark.”
The man named Maktan showed some irritation as he walked closer, before he started studying Seol Jihu.
“You must be an Earthling.”
“Of course he is. Can't you see that? You really need to ask?”
“Shut up. I heard you ask the same question earlier on, okay?”
Maktan's tone was curt, causing the man with the unkempt hair to chuckle out in embarrassment.
“I'll calculate your fee separately, okay? 30 copper coins to Zahrah, but if it's to Haramark, then 300 copper coins up front.”
The price jumped by ten times in a single breath. Of course, Seol Jihu immediately realised that price included the compensation for the danger to Maktan's life, as well.
Maktan continued to study the Earthling youth in front of him before adding a few more words.
“Hmm…. But, if you're willing to work as a mercenary, then I'll halve your fee to Haramark.”
“A mercenary, is it?”
“To guard the wagon as a guard. I know many safe paths to that city, but I get attacked two, three times out of ten.”
Seol Jihu understood then. He nodded his head and loosened the mouth of his bag. If there was an attack, he'd not be able to stand still and watch, anyways. In that case, might as well make it cheaper for himself.
Currency of this world was also included among the list of things Kim Hannah was supporting him with. When he opened the money purse, a handful of coins emitting silver luster revealed themselves.
'She said there are 100 silver coins, didn't she?'
The basic currency in circulation of Paradise were the copper coins and the nickel coins. 100 copper coins were worth a single nickel coin.
Above that, there were the silver coins. A single silver coin was worth 1000 copper coins or ten nickel coins.
Above that were the white silver coins, gold coins, and even platinum coins, but those things were matters still very far away for him right now.
When Seol Jihu handed over a silver coin, Maktan's eyes became super large in an instant. While giving Seol the change of 8 nickel coins and 20 copper coins, he raised his head up and looked at the sky. The sun was about to touch the middle of the heavens.
“If I push hard, we might reach Zahrah before the end of the day.”
“What about from Zahrah to Haramark?”
“If everything's smooth and trouble-free during the trip, two days. If we're unlucky, be prepared to spend four nights outside.”
“Let's get going. I was going to set off right away.”
Maktan lightly pushed the back of Seol Jihu.
“By the way, it hasn't been that long since you got here, right?”
“What gave you that idea?”
“There ain't a lot of Earthlings who reply to us politely like you, you see.”
Maktan sheepishly scratched his philtrum for a bit, before lightly slapping Seol on the shoulder.
'…Who'd have thought it would be this bad?'
Seol Jihu carefully climbed up to the back of the carriage, no, the wooden wagon. There were wooden benches on either side of the wagon, but they were only barely enough to lean his back against.
However, his heart was still pounding really fast.
'I'm really nervous, aren't I.'
The story might have been different if he was doing this right after he left the Neutral Zone. But now that he went to Earth and came back, he found it harder to come to grips with the reality of the situation where he was using a horse-drawn wagon to travel to another city.
Should he say he was getting rather nervous?
'It's like some kind of a lie, isn't it?'
However, it also didn't feel so bad, either. Well, at the least, he was feeling more comfortable being here, compared to when he was on Earth.
Along with Maktan's loud shout, Seol Jihu's body tilted to the side as the wagon pulled away.
Seol slowly grasped the railing and quietly stared at the city of Scheherazade as it grew smaller in his view.
Haramark was a city located towards the south of the human's territory.
There were two reasons why Seol Jihu chose this city as his destination.
Firstly, it was the only city where Sinyoung's reach didn't extend to, and secondly, Earthlings were allowed free rein in this place, which was quite unlike any other regions.
Of course, if there were good points, then there were bound to be bad ones, too.
One of them was the security of this place, which was so bad that Haramark had earned the nickname of the City of Crime.
A royal family also existed in this city, and they at least tried to enforce some sort of rules, but the truth was, they had pretty much stopped interfering with the Earthlings' affairs a long time ago. It couldn't be helped, since all those organisations who participated in the rebellion had been forced to re-allocate their headquarters to this city.
The other bad point was that this city was very close to the frontlines. Sure, warfare and the Earthlings went hand in hand, but Seol Jihu was only a Level 1.
The reason why he was still going there, though… Well, technically speaking, the Haramark Castle was not located near the border regions.
As far as security was concerned, everywhere was pretty much the same, with the exception of Scheherazade. And because of the warfare raging on between the humans and the alliance of the extraterrestrial beings and other species, he figured that the most powerful humans wouldn't have the time to pay attention to this place and its ongoings.
Kim Hannah thought for a while regarding this matter, before agreeing to let Seol go to Haramark on the condition that he'd not travel further South.
And so, he entrusted his wellbeing to the rickety wooden cart with a heart full of expectations and hope, but around the two-hour mark, his butt started to ache.
He had grown sick and tired of watching the scenery pass by. Well, there was nothing to see anyway, since it was just the same desolate wasteland everywhere he looked.
If he knew someone on this trip, then he might have started a conversation at least; he ended up thinking about his friends and the Yi siblings multiple times as the wagon continued on.
Seol Jihu watched the brown scenery pass by while resting his chin on his hands, before shifting his gaze to the other passengers.
There were three other people riding on the wagon, besides himself and the driver, Maktan. They were travelers just like him, and judging from their attire, they were Earthlings, too.
The bald African dude sitting next to Seol Jihu while yawning out constantly, boasted a huge physique and was kitted out in sturdy-looking armours. Also, his huge battle axe and its sharp edges caught his interest.
For some reason, this guy was eyeing the passenger on the opposite side with narrowed eyes.
Seol Jihu followed after that man's eyes and took a look first at a young-ish man with a kind face and well-combed blonde hair sitting on the other side. He seemed to be a Priest, judging from the white priest get-up and the discoloured cape on his back.
And next to him was an attractive woman with a set of wild red hair as well as a longbow on her back. She had her arms across her chest, and her legs crossed as well, her head rhythmically nodding in slumber.
Just as Seol Jihu discovered hints of freckles on her nose, a husky voice of the African man suddenly came from beside him. The axe warrior was studying the woman as his back inclined slightly.
Her sleep must not have been that deep, as she slowly raised her head to glare with a crumpled expression.
Her unhappy tone of voice implied how irritated she was by the man's attempt to wake her up, just as sleep was about to embrace her.
“That's right. You. Your bow is pretty good, isn't it?”
The woman maintained her cold expression, but the corners of her eyes arched up slightly.
“Well, I was in Scheherazade because of this guy, after all.”
“Because of a bow?”
“There were this and that to take care of, too.”
“I can see that it's a longbow designed for war…. You, by any chance, are you a Level 4?”
The woman shook her head.
“Nope. Level 3. I'm a Tracer.”
“Ohh, a tracker, huh. Different than how you look.”
She coyly narrowed her eyes at the black man's amazed exclamation.
“Did you wake me up because you wanted to ask me that?”
“Well, I was curious, that's all.”
“Don't make me laugh. If you're done asking me questions, then I'd like to go back to my beauty sleep.”
Hearing her thorny reply, the black man grinned slyly.
“Why are you reacting like this when you know what's up already? How much?”
‘What is he talking about now?’ Since he was getting bored anyway, Seol Jihu was focusing on this conversation, only to tilt his head slightly.
The woman spat out a lengthy groan as if she saw this coming a mile away. She breathed in heavily for a bit, before pointing at her mouth.
“Five coins. Nickels.”
“Aren't you a confident one. What about going all the way?”
She swept her gaze all over the axe-wielding warrior before snorting out.
“It's pretty hard to find a muscle brain with substance to back it up.”
“You will only find out if it's the right length or not after taking a look, right?”
The axe warrior slapped his sizeable thigh a couple of times, but the woman shook her hand around.
“Don't want to. Don't have a hobby of doing it on a moving wagon.”
“I'll add one more nickel coin. How about it?”
“I still don't want to. If you don't like it, forget about it, then. I wouldn't have agreed if it weren't for my tight budget after I bought this bow.”
The large warrior licked his lips then quickly pulled out the coins from his inner pocket before tossing them at her. The woman lightly caught them all and yawned out loudly. After getting up from her spot, she scratched the back of her head while signaling to Seol Jihu with her chin.
“Excuse me, let's switch.”
Seol Jihu dazedly swapped the seat with her. She then placed her side on the big warrior's thigh.
“How about touching?”
“You can't go low. And the moment you put your hand on my head, I'm going to kill you.”
“Ha, aren't you a fierce one?”
The warrior chuckled jovially before inserting his large hand under the woman's top.
Seol Jihu dazedly watched on before realizing that the woman had lowered her head on the warrior's crotch. Seol Jihu ended up hiccupping out of sheer shock. He belatedly turned his eyes away.
'W, what the hell are they doing now?!'
His heart began pounding hard. Was this the so-called culture shock? The inside of his brain became blank like a sheet of white paper after seeing something he couldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams.
The Priest was watching all this unfold with a disinterested expression. But, when he saw the young man next to him blush heavily while visibly panicking, a soft grin replaced that bored expression.
“First time seeing something like this?”
“…Oh, yes. It is.”
The Priest glanced at Seol Jihu's two spears and spoke in a surprised tone of voice.
“But you look like you’re at least Level 2…. Have you been staying in Scheherazade all this time?”
Seol Jihu managed to recover his wits just enough to nod his head.
“Huh. So, you were a gentleman, eh? So, it'll be your first time traveling to Haramark?”
Was Seol making a mistake when he thought that the Priest's teasing voice sounded a bit like he was mocking the youth?
“If it's your first time, let them have some fun. Unlike Scheherazade, in Haramark, the idea of romance still burns strong, you see.”
Seol nearly blurted out “Romance, my foot” but he somehow held back the urge.
“You know how it is. There's no television, no computer, whatever. So, what is there for us to do here? Sure, you might think we've got all these explorations and expeditions, but it's not like we can go on those all the time. In the end, we eat, drink, and fuck. We end up being more faithful towards our basic instincts. Those are the only things we have as pastime, after all.”
Seol Jihu couldn't really sympathise with that notion, but he continued to nod his head. Well, he had to do something here, since the sucking noise coming from the other side was really getting on his nerves at the moment.
See, the thing was, Seol Jihu thought it was infinitely preferable to focus on chatting to a friendly Priest with a happy grin on his face, rather than looking at the pair of crazed and uninhibited man and woman going at it in a…. public space.
The young Priest continued to talk excitedly, before going, ‘Oops’, and offered his hand.
“Name's Alex. I'm a Level 3 Investigative Priest. From Area 4. You?”
Seol Jihu hesitated slightly before shaking the offered hand.
“I’m… Seol. I'm a Level 1 Warrior from Area 1.”
“Eh? Level 1?”
Alex's jaw dropped to the floor before laughing out loud. He placed his hand on his forehead.
“Oh, oh, now I get it. You weren't a gentleman, but a newbie!”
Alex then lightly poked the youth in the ribs with his elbow as a lewd grin formed on his face.
“Well, when you get to Haramark, you will definitely get a shock of your life.”
Seol Jihu could only smile awkwardly after seeing Alex's giggling eyes.
The trip became a lot less boring once Seol began chatting to Alex. As for the Priest, he got way too excited by the fact that the youth continued to listen to his stories, so he began telling Seol all sorts of things.
In the meantime, the wagon left the area of desolate wasteland and entered a new region.
They arrived at Zahrah after sunset, just as Maktan said they would.
After hearing that this was a village, Seol imagined that Zahrah would be a collection of small rural homesteads with equally small number of residents, but he got quite surprised by the size of the place.
Alex explained that there were well over 1000 residents living here, and that one could even find government offices, inns, and markets in the village. He also said that one could find most of the daily necessities in the markets as well. But he also emphasized that this village had been receiving support from Scheherazade, and other villages were not like this one at all.
Feeling fatigued from riding on the wagon for the whole day, Seol Jihu went straight to the rented room in the inn after dinner.
As this would be his first proper night spent in Paradise, this occasion should've held a lot of sentimental value, but it turned out to be rather disastrous, instead.
The building itself was rather flimsy, and thanks to that, Seol got to hear the axe warrior and the Tracer lady going at it the whole night long. Blocking his ears didn't prevent him from hearing the panting groans of the man nor the moans of the woman.
In the end, he couldn't get to rest properly, and while carrying a totally fatigued face, he climbed aboard the wagon as it got ready to depart in the early dawn.
Seol Jihu couldn't help but feel a bit angry at the man and woman giggling and talking to each other, but as soon as the trip got underway and the wagon left Zahrah, such thoughts slowly evaporated from his mind.
The further they traveled, the scenery changed more and more. The reddish soil of the wasteland was gradually covered up by grass and plants, and soon, even trees made their appearances. It didn't take long after that for trees tall enough to block out the sky to appear, too.
The road became rougher as well. But seeing the changing scenery while drinking in the smell of nature had its own appreciable charm. After he breathed in the cool, clean air, the sleep that he didn't get to enjoy earlier on slowly crept up on Seol.
If there was another thing that had changed, then that would be the attitudes of the axe warrior and the Tracer woman had changed as they got closer to Haramark.
The axe warrior didn't try to initiate lewd conversations any longer, while the Tracer woman sat quietly as her eyes became sharper and focused.
“Get some sleep. It'll be fine. We should be okay for the next half a day or so.”
Seol Jihu's eyes closed softly after getting the permission from Alex. It was only yesterday when he thought the Archer lady sleeping on the wagon was something pretty amazing, but now, he was confident that he'd fall asleep just like she had done.
'I wish we could arrive at Haramark as soon as possible….'
And so…. how much time passed by?
“Keep your voices down.”
“Wake him up…”
Seol was still half-asleep when he thought he heard voices. Then, he felt someone shake him by his shoulder.
When he woke up from his nap, the first thing he saw was a dark forest. And, although it was just his intuition, it seemed that the wagon was moving at a far quicker speed for some reason.
“Wake up, Seol!”
“You up? Uh?”
Just before Seol could finish his question, Alex placed his finger against his lips and signaled that he should keep his voice down. Seol Jihu closed his mouth shut and surveyed his surroundings.
That wasn't the only alarming thing, though.
The large warrior was fidgeting around with his axe, as an uneasy expression remain etched on his face.
More importantly, the Archer lady had her ear pressed tightly to the floor of the wagon at the moment.
She was concentrating hard. Anxiety was easy to see in her facial expression.
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