Chapter 68. A Level 2 Leader
“This can't go on.”
These were the first words to leave Kim Hannah's lips in a while. She reached into her bag.
“I really, honestly didn't want to interfere with your life here in the Paradise. So, I was in a bit of dilemma, wondering whether I should give you this or not. But now, I can't let you carry on like this.”
She spoke firmly as if to make the final announcement and placed something on the table. It was a palm-sized round, clear crystal.
“It's a communication crystal. It's made out of top-quality base crystal, so it'll work even when you're in Haramark. In the future, when you need to go somewhere, anywhere, you give me a call first. Did you hear me?!”
Seol Jihu almost spat out “Are you my mother?” but seeing the murderous glare on her face, he couldn't make his complaints known. Unfortunately for him, Kim Hannah wasn't someone who would take silence as an acceptable reply.
“Why aren't you taking the crystal already?!”
“Uh? Uhh?? How dare you shake your head at me?? You think you're in any position to do that??”
“Well, this is a bit too much, don't you think? You're not my mom, so to get your permission every time I wanna do something, that's a bit…..”
Seol Jihu cautiously voiced his dissatisfaction, but then….
“No, hang on. I'm not saying I won't take it, you know.”
He hurriedly pocketed the communication crystal as soon as Kim Hannah's fury-filled face slowly tilted to her side.
“….Don't think I'm being unfair here. It's you who broke the promise first.”
Seol Jihu didn't know what to say, then.
“You almost shocked me to death, you know?! I wouldn't have been this mad if you were going to 'Ramman', but the Forest of Denial? Arden Valley?!”
Kim Hannah's complexion alternated between red and blue as if she still couldn't believe what happened the longer she dwelt on it.
“Not only the farthest point South, you actually went to the border region! It's a miracle that you actually came back alive, you dumb idiot!!”
Seo Yuhui nodded her head constantly in agreement as she brought the cup of iced water.
'What… you too?'
Wasn't she angry because they were making a commotion here? Kinda feeling like the old idiom of hating the sister-in-law more as she dissuaded the mother-in-law beating you up, Seol Jihu began pouting a bit.
“You better suck your lips in, mkayyyy?”
Kim Hannah growled menacingly. She then began gulping down the cold water to cool the rage in her heart burning as hotly as molten metal.
What the youth couldn't understand at the moment was, ignoring Kim Hannah's temper for now, why on earth Seo Yuhui was also gulping down her own cup of iced water?
She gulped and gulped, and then…
She softly sighed out, and….
She sighed out again.
Both women seemed to be trying their utmost to swallow something back down and suppress whatever it was. So, all he could do now was to keep his mouth shut and quietly wait.
That meant that the interior was now filled with the grunts and groans of two women trying to calm themselves down.
She must've been trying to fill herself up with iced water because Kim Hannah proceeded to empty out six glasses. Only then did she open her mouth to speak.
“…….Okay, so. Why did you come here to see me?”
Finally, they got to the main topic at hand. Fearing that he'd get nagged to death if he took his time, Seol Jihu hurriedly pulled out the tree-shaped jewelry.
“Take a look at this. What do you think?”
Kim Hannah's eyes opened up real wide.
“It's quite big and… pretty.”
She studied it from this angle and that before nodding her head, evidently finding it to her liking.
“It's quite big, but more than that, I can't spot any impurities in it. In terms of purity, this is a top-notch item. Also, with this amazing craftsmanship, any enthusiast will lose their shit as soon as they lay their eyes on it.”
“How much do you think it'll go for?”
“If you're talking about its value in Paradise currency, then at the bare minimum, 300 silver coins, easy. If you're lucky, you can even aim for 500 silver coins, too.”
“Okay, what about in Earth money?”
“It'd be absolutely enormous, that's for sure. However, you need to spend a huge amount of your 'achievement points' if you want to take this over there, so I won't recommend it.”
Kim Hannah shifted her gaze back to him.
“Is this why you came to see me?”
“Very good. Give it to me. I'll take care of it.”
Kim Hannah quickly pocketed the jewelry.
“Something like this, you'd actually be making a loss if you decide to sell it at its face value.”
“You mean, you'll be able to use it in some other way?”
“That's right. Don't you worry though. I'll make sure that you don't lose out on anything.”
He wasn't worried about that. She was someone who readily handed out hundreds of millions of won as pocket money, so she wouldn't take the jewelry and run away, leaving him in the lurch. Also, the Kim Hannah he knew was one hell of a smart cookie.
“Looks like I might be able to change the dangerous situation into an opportunity. Okay, fine. That's that. What about stopping by at a temple?”
“I'm a Level 2 now.”
As if he was waiting for this moment, he proudly formed a 'V' sign with his fingers.
“Yeah, sure. You're so cool, ain't you.”
Kim Hannah's less-than-impressed tone of voice promptly shot him down, though.
“You did all of that, so of course you should get a level-up. Did you spend your points?”
“No, I haven't. I want to use them all up later.”
“Good. Ah, what's your new class title, then?”
“I knew it, a spearman…. What was that?”
Kim Hannah frowned slightly.
“It's supposed to be a one-of-a-kind class.”
“A one-of-a-kind class? What skills did you learn then?”
“I didn't learn anything. I thought that it'd be better to figure it out myself rather than spending some of my points to artificially learn them.”
Kim Hannah slowly chewed on her lower lip. Her expression implied how dubious she felt right now.
“A one-of-a-kind class, is it….”
She lightly tapped the table with her index finger, before opening her mouth.
“I can't figure out what your class is supposed to be. Hey, you know, it'll be fine if it happens later, so you should stop by the temple again and check out what skills you can actually learn.”
“I know what you're going to say. Here's what I'm saying, though. You should at least take a look at those skills so you can use them as a guideline. These skills are designed to match your level, so surely, you should be able to get yourself an inspiration or two in that way.”
What she said certainly made sense.
“I get the reason you want to hoard your points, but skills are a different kettle of fish altogether. I mean, if you don't spend your points and don't even learn a single skill, then is there a meaning in leveling up in the first place?”
Kim Hannah easily pointed out something Seol Jihu had completely failed to consider. She then quickly reached into her bag again. Her communication crystal was emitting light once more.
“They are going absolutely mad over there. Seriously now.”
She clicked her tongue in annoyance, before continuing on.
“Is there anything else you want to talk to me about?”
“No, I don't. If you're that busy, you can go ahead, you know.”
“You don't need more money?”
“Nah, I'm fine.”
“How much do you still have left?”
“100 silver coins you gave me, plus 270 silver coins I got as the mission rewards, so it's 370 silver coins in total.”
Kim Hannah showed how surprised she was.
“For a reward from a single scouting mission, as well as participating in a minor skirmish, they really gave you a lot, didn't they?”
“You think so? I can't wrap my head around it, actually.”
“Now let's see. The current exchange rate should be around 505 won for a single copper coin. So, let's round it off to 500 won, and then….”
Kim Hannah calculated for a second or two and then opened her mouth again.
Seol Jihu's jaw nearly dropped to the floor.
“It was that much?!”
“Well, you were putting your life on the line, so of course you should get at least that much. I mean, a team like Carpe Diem that has a High Ranker in their midst should easily earn around 100-200 million per mission.”
Only then did he truly understand why Chohong was in such a celebratory mood.
“Even then, you shouldn't just wastefully spend your money, okay? As your level climbs up, so does the price of the equipment designed for your level. Not to forget, Paradise has been embroiled in war for a long time now, so the ridiculous spike in prices of some stuff is really something else, too.”
After Seol Jihu nodded to show that he accepted her explanations, Kim Hannah, too, slowly got up from her seat.
“Thank you for the delicious tea, Lady Seo Yuhui. I'd also like to apologize for making that racket earlier on when you were gracious enough to invite us in.”
“Oh, no, it's fine. You did well. You seem to have suffered enough.”
“Oh, no, not at all.”
Seol Jihu narrowed his eyes and stared at Kim Hannah and her soft, prim giggles. He kind of understood why some people took to calling her 'Miss Foxy' now.
A short while later….
Kim Hannah nagged for the last time, her words being something along the lines of “I'm going. It'll be better to leave separately. If you don't call me regularly, remember that I'll hunt you down and hurt you myself” etc., etc., and then left the building in gallant strides.
Once she was gone, only two of them remained inside this empty teahouse. Seol Jihu slowly rose up from his seat to leave as well, only to sense a pair of eyes locked onto him. They were so strong that he simply had to stop moving completely.
Seol Jihu's neck issued a rusty creaking noise as he turned his head to his side. Seo Yuhui was quietly gazing at him with a pair of somewhat saddened, moist eyes. As if an icy-cold breeze rushed in and swept past him, he felt a chill run down the length of his body. That feeling of gentle, understanding older sister was completely gone now – so much so that he grew fearful of this woman all of a sudden.
'Is she angry at me?'
But, it was Kim Hannah who was responsible for all that racket, though? Besides, didn't she say that she was fine only a few seconds ago? Although he kind of felt a bit wronged here, Seol Jihu still decided to apologize.
“I'm sorry for all the commotion earlier.”
Seo Yuhui squeezed her eyes shut. Her pale hand slowly hid her face.
A short moment of silence later, she picked up a clean tea towel and walked around from the counter. Her steps led her right in front of the youth.
As it turned out, she was on the taller side. Seol Jihu was already a tall guy to begin with, yet the top of her head reached all the way up to the base of his neck.
When he saw the tea towel in her hand, he finally remembered that his face was still a mess of Kim Hannah's spit-laden tea water.
“N-no, hang on. I can….”
She quietly ordered him and slowly raised her hand up to carefully wipe his face. His skin brushed against her hand every now and then; she felt rather cool to the touch. Funnily enough, although it was cold, the feeling still came across as warm, causing him to gradually enter the state of utter relaxation. Seol Jihu closed his eyes slightly.
“….I'm a little annoyed, for sure.”
Out of the blue, he heard her soft voice, sounding as if she was talking to herself. He momentarily doubted his hearing. Was she that annoyed by their antics? Were they that noisy?
He wanted to apologize again, but she started wiping every part of his lips right then, so he couldn't open his mouth to speak.
“Did you do something to Sinyoung?”
She suddenly asked him a question.
“No, not at all. Actually, I helped them out. I haven't done anything bad to them at all.”
“If so, then why?”
“It’s because Sinyoung sees me as the replacement for an Earthling named Sung Shihyun…. I guess I don't know the concrete details myself.”
Her hands hesitated for a brief moment there, but it began moving again right afterwards.
“Sounds like you're working in Haramark?”
“Oh. Yes, I am. The capital is basically Sinyoung's living room, so I was told that I shouldn't remain in this city anymore.”
“I see. I'm sure that life in Haramark isn't easy, though. I'm curious, is there a reason for you to keep returning to Paradise?”
Seol Jihu was also curious now as to why she was interrogating him with all these questions when this was their first time meeting each other. Even then, he decided to be honest with her on this one.
“It's because I find this place enjoyable.”
“Enjoyable? Is it fun here?”
“Well, rather than fun…. There's a place for me in Paradise.”
“A place for you?”
Seo Yuhui tilted her head. She didn't seem to have understood him.
“Yes. There are people here who accept me for who I am and require my help.”
Seol Jihu smiled brightly. Seo Yuhui's spotless forehead gradually creased up into a frown. She slowly withdrew her hands and quietly studied the youth. There was even a hint of her getting a little angry, too.
“By saying that, are you implying that there is no place left for you back on Earth?”
Seol Jihu sheepishly smiled and scratched the back of his head. Seo Yuhui shook her head, her expression heavy.
“That isn't true.”
She spoke as if to chide him.
“Your family and your friends aren't here in Paradise.”
“Please, think about how worried your family and your acquaintances will be when you suddenly disappear.”
Seo Yuhui's tone of voice stopped being persuasive, and now it sounded more like a plea, instead. However, Seol Jihu's response was less than enthusiastic.
After his family was brought up, he felt his chest tighten up as if he had swallowed up a boulder. It felt so heavy that he simply wanted to turn around and run away from here.
'And I just barely managed to forget about them, too.'
He honestly believed that they would probably prefer to never see him again.
“Well, I wonder about that. I don't think they'd be too worried about me.”
“But, why would you….”
“….Well, we sure are having a weird conversation for a pair of strangers, don't you think so? Haha.”
He let off a bitter chuckle and took a couple of steps back.
“Thank you for your hospitality. Looks like me staying here any longer will unnecessarily impose on you, so I should get going now.”
Seol Jihu bowed slightly as his goodbye, and as if he was running away, spun on his heels. Seo Yuhui reflexively reached out, but…
She stopped herself just before her hand touched his back. In the end, she could only stand there and watch the youth leave through the open doorway.
A short while later….
Still staring in the direction the young man had walked off to, a certain mysterious light of determination flashed in Seo Yuhui's eyes.
A month flew by since he came back to Haramark.
During that time, one could describe Seol Jihu's life as monotonous, but at the same time, complicated as well.
The first thing of note – his training.
He didn't run into any serious problem during the morning's physical training regime. Since there was a good selection of gym equipment in the Carpe Diem's building, all he had to do was stick to the training regime he was already familiar with.
But the real issue came from the afternoon training session, which was when he'd spend all his time practicing the utilization of mana.
Seol Jihu agreed 100% with Kim Hannah's opinion that there was no point in leveling up if he didn't get to raise his Stat values or not learn a single skill. So, he went back to Gula's temple and got to see the two skills he could have learned by spending his achievement points.
One was the 'Mana Spear', where he would create spears out of his mana to throw. The second was the ‘Mana Circulation’, a skill that offered a generalized help when he wanted to apply his mana in his movements.
Seol Jihu initially was grumbling unhappily at this revelation, thinking that how could there be only two lousy skills available for his current level. But once he started his training, he quickly had to change his mind.
He just couldn't get a bead on this 'Mana Spear' thing at all. Simply circulating his mana throughout his body and trying to materialize it outside of his body were two fundamentally different things.
It was the same story for Mana Circulation. He continued to desperately utilize and apply his mana, but there was not one sign of him awaking or figuring this skill out.
He wanted to get someone's advice, but no one could help him out. Only then did he finally realize why most Earthlings resorted to spending their achievement points to easily and painlessly learn their skills.
Truth be told, he could have learned both skills with ease with his current tally of achievement points. However, Seol Jihu was deliberately enduring to the best of his abilities as he continued to brave the stormy sea of the unknown all by himself.
If there was one thing Seol Jihu felt soon after fully joining Carpe Diem, then that would be the fact that it was very rare to find a job or a commission where, just like how it had been with the Forest of Denial, he could satisfy both the mission parameters while also enjoying the benefits of going on an expedition.
Unless it was an outbreak of war, the royal family's missions would be given first to the Guilds or those organizations that were as large as big corporations – as long as the mission itself wasn't some madcap bullshit assignment that no one could complete, that was. They would then pass the mission to those teams that featured High Ranker Earthlings in their midst that also happened to hold friendly relations with them, so it proved to be rather hard to find a juicy opportunity like the last time.
More importantly, though – the leader of Carpe Diem, Dylan, was the type of guy who'd never participate in expeditions that didn't sound like a sure thing. As a result, Seol Jihu had to resort to earning experience through minor jobs such as working as a courier or as a guard.
Even yesterday evening, he had to accompany Chohong to the village of Ramman. He got paid a little bit extra to go along with her on this sudden courier job, and having safely completed the job, they were making their way back. Of course, the reward he got was pitifully small compared to the expedition of the Forest of Denial.
And so, by the time they returned to Haramark without encountering any hiccups, it was already late morning.
“Wow, it's so damn hot today. Too damn hot, I tell ya~.”
Chohong walked while fanning herself with her hands. As soon as she spotted their destination, her steps gradually slowed.
“Isn't it weird? There aren't that many people on the street today. Why?”
Chohong took a look around them and spoke up. Indeed, the streets were oddly devoid of foot traffic as if something major went down while they weren't here.
“Look, that place is still under construction…. Hey, you. Are you even listening to me??”
Seol Jihu was worrying about his mana training regime at that moment. But as soon as his colleague tried to talk to him, he quickly broke out of his thoughts. Chohong's personality meant she couldn't endure being bored for long, so if he failed to humor her in time, she would often start sulking like a baby.
The direction Chohong was pointing to was a building opposite to Carpe Diem's own premises. He originally had no idea what that building even did, but one day, he woke up in the morning to find it being demolished, to be replaced by a brand new structure.
Haramark was a fairly large city. So, if someone was able to buy a plot of land outright and start constructing a new building like that, then that person must've possessed considerable financial muscle. Seol Jihu recalled Dylan wondering out loud just who would become their new neighbor.
Seol Jihu voiced out his desire.
“I hope it's a restaurant.”
“Because it'll be easier to eat our meals that way.”
“Pu-hah! Hey, wait. Since we're already on the subject, why don't we stop by at the 'Eat, Drink, and Enjoy'? I mean, this crappy weather is so hot anyways. Let's call Dylan and Hugo out and knock back some cold ones. What do you say?”
He knew that Chohong would do pretty anything for a chance to drown in alcohol, so he nodded his head quickly and spoke up.
“Okay, let us do that, Miss Chung Chohong.”
Immediately, Chohong frowned in detestation.
“Eii, god damn it! Just who told you my surname?!”
“I told you, it was some passerby.”
“Stop messing around, will ya? Start talking already!”
Chohong angrily spat out “Kyahk!”, leaped at him and began hanging off his neck. Seol Jihu giggled and walked closer to their building's stairs. But then…
Both of them raised their heads at the same time to look at the third floor, their steps coming to an abrupt halt. Nearly ten Earthlings were standing outside the third-floor entrance as if they were waiting for something.
“W-what the hell?”
Chohong became flustered instantly.
“What are the guys from Sicilia doing here?”