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I cautiously removed Jin Sahyuk's blindfold. With the cloth blocking her sight gone, Jin Sahyuk slowly opened her eyes.
She frowned, blinded by the light, then she raised her head and looked at me.
"…You're not Bell."
She tilted her head, still in a daze. She sat motionless for the next three minutes.
I was the one who spoke first. With a sigh, I asked, "What are you doing here?"
Jin Sahyuk didn't answer and only dropped her gaze to the floor. Her cheeks were slightly flushed from embarra.s.sment.
"If you aren't going to talk, I'm leaving."
As I got up, Jin Sahyuk flinched. She bounced up desperately like a fish jumping out of water.
"Wait! Don't leave!"
I stopped and looked down at Jin Sahyuk.
I scanned Jin Sahyuk carefully.
She was bound with 'Magic Power Suppressors', a powerful effective good from the Tower of Wish that suppressed all magic power.
"How did you get caught in the first place?"
Jin Sahyuk opened her mouth as if she was about to say something but soon shook her head with a sigh.
"…I can't tell you."
"Then I can't let you go either."
Jin Sahyuk's resentful glare landed on me.
Our fruitless conversation continued, when suddenly….
"She said she wanted to borrow you."
I heard a new voice behind my back. It was Boss.
I turned around, slightly confused.
Boss scowled at Jin Sahyuk.
Jin Sahyuk averted her gaze without a word.
It wasn't too difficult to discern what had gone down between these two.
'Jin Sahyuk thinks I'm Kim Chundong so she probably told Boss that she wants to take me to Akatrina, which led them to have a fight. Although, I'm not sure why Jin Sahyuk chose to announce her decision to Boss….'
"Hajin, she's dangerous. She's planning to kidnap you," Boss said as she furtively stepped on Jin Sahyuk's foot.
"Kuaak—" Jin Sahyuk screamed, but she didn't forget to bite Boss' shoe at the same time.
"As you can see, she's vicious. You can't set her free."
Boss stared at me with a mysterious look. This time I could understand the meaning behind her gaze even without the help from the Magnifying Gla.s.s. She was worried for me.
I scratched the back of my neck awkwardly. Of course, I had no intention of returning to Akatrina with Jin Sahyuk.
However, I was destined to leave Boss one day.
Technically, I didn't even exist in this world.
A bittersweet taste lingered in my mouth.
"Well, even if I do end up getting kidnapped, it sure isn't going to be by her. You don't have to worry-"
"You still can't set her free. I have to go now because I have other business to take care of, but if this scoundrel isn't here when I come back," Boss looked at me sternly, "Bear in mind there won't be any forgiveness even if it's you."
Boss warned coldly and left immediately.
'Well, nothing I can do at this point.'
I shrugged my shoulders at Jin Sahyuk.
Jin Sahyuk also raised her head and looked at me.
She whispered, "Just let me go secretly."
"Are you crazy?"
Jin Sahyuk frowned.
"…At least give me something to eat."
"Yeah. I'm starving."
Right, since her magic power was sealed, it should be harder for her to withstand hunger and thirst.
"Fine. Give me a moment."
I went upstairs to the kitchen. Cooking was easy thank to Dwarf's Dexterity.
In 20 minutes, I finished cooking a pot of beef porridge and prepared jangjorim and kimchi as side dishes.
Jin Sahyuk was already enjoying the smell of the dish before I came down the stairs.
I put the tray down in front of her. But Jin Sahyuk only stared at it without laying a finger on it.
"Untie me so that I can eat."
"You know I can't."
"…What, so you expect me to lick it like a dog?"
Jin Sahyuk glared at me. As a former king, she wouldn't dare endure such disgrace.
Left with no other option, I scooped the porridge with a spoon and offered it to her.
Jin Sahyuk seemed to have realized that this was the best treatment she was goign to get as she swallowed the porridge without resistance.
However, the moment that the porridge slid down Jin Sahyuk's throat….
Jin Sahyuk's eyes widened.
I let out a laughter as I had expected her to react this way.
Even the most expensive ingredients wouldn't be able to recreate the amazing taste of my porridge.
The dish was the manifestation of perfection that only [Young Dwarf's Dexterity] could create.
"It's good, right?"
"I-It's…. Give me more. I need to taste it thoroughly for an honest a.s.sessment."
With a smile, I stuffed the porridge down Jin Sahyuk's throat.
Jin Sahyuk soon lost all sense of shame.
"Give me that kimchi."
"Give me one more bowl."
"Hey, don't you have any dongchimi?"
Jin Sahyuk ate like she had been starving for eons.
Meanwhile, around the same time, Rachel had evacuated to her room with Evandel.
Although her heart was still thumping from the earlier incident, she was relieved to see that Evandel had already fallen asleep in her arms.
Rachel let out a sigh of relief.
She was sure Evandel was asleep when she left.
'Did she wake up because I wasn't by her side?'
A sense of pride swept through Rachel when she realized that, maybe, she had become important to Evandel. But it was quickly replaced by concern as she remembered what Kim Hajin and Ah Hae-In said to her.
They both had insisted to keep Evandel hidden from others for as long as they could. This was the reason why all royal servants had to swear under the 'silent oath'.
Of course, Rachel could always argue that Evandel was her cousin or something…. But everything happened so fast and she didn't want to lie to Yoo Yeonha.
Yoo Yeonha was dangerous because she could do anything for the honor and glory of her guild. Rachel didn't want to expose Evandel to such an ambitionist.
But for some reason, it seemed that Yoo Yeonha already knew Evandel. Rachel couldn't stop thinking about what Yoo Yeonha said about seeing Evandel in Seoul.
Rachel carefully placed Evandel on the bed.
Now in a more comfortable posture, Evandel fell deeper into sleep. She seemed as lovely as always.
Putting aside all worries and concerns, Rachel lay beside Evandel and patted her.
Yoo Yeonha's words suddenly popped up in her mind, but Rachel managed to block it.
She didn't want to use Evandel as a means for negotiation. Evandel was dear to her.
Rachel patted Evandel's head until her breathing began to soften.
And soon enough, Rachel began to feel sleepy as well.
Rachel's eyes closed and her hands stopped.
…The pair fell into a deep seep.
On the other hand, the victim(?), Yoo Yeonha, was unable to sleep.
"What was that?…"
Yoo Yeonha muttered as she twirled a pen between her fingers.
She had returned to her room after failing to locate Rachel.
The girl who came looking for Rachel earlier was most definitely the girl who was with Kim Hajin. So the most probable explanation at this point was….
"But that girl clearly doesn't have Kim Hajin's genes. She only looks like Rachel."
Yoo Yeonha wrapped her head with her hands.
She couldn't help but suspect that this all had something to do with Kim Hajin.
Thinking back now, Kim Hajin always wanted to help Rachel out in one way or another.
For example, the negotiation between Essential Dynamics and the British government months earlier was fundamentally the fruit of Kim Hajin's efforts.
Then were Kim Hajin and Rachel really… Wait.
Then what about Chae Nayun?
"I don't understand."
Was Kim Hajin a womanizer who chased after girls at every chance he got?
'No,' She thought, 'He may be a sociopath without empathy but he's definitely not a player.'
Maybe it was a momentary mistake?
That made more sense. Anything could happen between a man and a woman on the spur of the moment.
"…Oh my G.o.d."
Yoo Yeonha covered her hot, flushed cheeks with her hands.
'So that means….'
The girl seemed to be about five years old at the least.
Which meant it must have happened when they were still in Cube….
"Oh G.o.d, I can't believe him…."
Yoo Yeonha started to feel a sense of betrayal as her imagination intensified.
The next morning.
Rachel slowly opened her eyes. Evandel was already gone, probably having left for her morning meditation session with Ah Hae-In.
Rachel stretched with a yawn.
This knock was probably from her butler.
"I'm awake," Rachel answered, and the old butler opened the door and came into her room.
"Were you able to get a full night's rest?"
"Yes. And Evandel is…?"
"Lady Ah Hae-In picked her up this morning for their morning meditation. Would you like a cup of tea?"
Rachel nodded and pulled herself out of bed.
"Yes, black tea, please."
As soon as the butler clapped his hands, servants brought her the tea. Rachel combed her disheveled hair and sat at the table.
"Enjoy your tea."
The butler left, and Rachel poured the tea out of the teapot into the cup in front of her.
Just as she was about to fight off her remaining drowsiness and begin yet another beautiful day with a sip of bittersweet te
—Excuse me, you can't do this.
A small commotion occurred just outside her room.
—This place is off-limits to outsiders!
Curious, Rachel turned her head towards the hallway.
—What do you mean by off-limits? I'm the princess' teacher and I need to speak to her right this moment!
It was then that she recognized the familiar voice.
Rachel flinched. Immediately, the door swung open and a woman entered the room.
"Ah~ I knew you'd be here, Rachel."
Rachel's grip around the cup tightened the moment she saw the woman.
"How have you been?"
This woman was Rachel's former teacher, the elementalist 's.h.i.+n Yeohwa'.
Rachel suddenly felt dizzy.
All those horrible days she had spent with s.h.i.+n Yeohwa unexpectedly emerged in her mind.
She had been beat up, insulted and humiliated for no good reason.
Rachel wanted to erase that portion of her past from her memory forever.
"Why haven't you been keeping in touch? Do you know how much I missed you?"
However, despite the horrendous treatment she had received from her former teacher, Rachel chose not to take any action against s.h.i.+n Yeohwa. It wasn't just because she was afraid of s.h.i.+n Yeohwa's reputation as the Earth's best elementalist. Rachel didn't want to betray her teacher.
"Why won't you answer me?"
s.h.i.+n Yeohwa, oblivious to her former student's generosity, took advantage of Rachel's publicity and promoted herself as 'Rachel's Master'.
"Don't you know better than to ignore your teacher?"
s.h.i.+n Yeohwa gave a sly smile.
[Gangwondo, Underground Bunker]
Three weeks had pa.s.sed since the start of the training camp.
Chae Nayun stayed awake all night again because of the memo Heynckes had left behind the day before.
—Oh, by the way, I met Kim Hajin last week. He seemed to be a feisty lad.
Chae Nayun couldn't find the right words to answer him. She no longer remembered what she was supposed to feel about Kim Hajin. The only thing that she was sure about at this point was that she wanted to see him badly.
Chae Nayun spent the night in distress and morning came before she knew.
Everyone got out of bed at the sound of alarm and stood in a line at the center of the bunker.
"Did you sleep well?"
Soon enough, Team Leader Yun Seung-Ah appeared.
This time she was accompanied by a rather unusual guest.
Spirit Speech Master Aileen.
With a stern look and a pair of short legs, Aileen stood beside Yun Seung-Ah.
Yun Seung-Ah looked down at Aileen with a mixture of emotions.
She let out a small sigh and began her speech, "So… today is the day that we begin our mission… Miss Aileen will explain the details."
Surprised murmurs filled the bunker as no one had expected the mission to begin so abruptly.
Aileen explained, "My Team 1 and your Team 3 will enter Orden's territory today. We've been keeping the exact date hidden for confidentiality, and I hope you understand."
It was an astonis.h.i.+ng and sudden declaration.
"But there's no need to worry. Our first and foremost goal is to build an outpost. We're simply setting up a place for us to eat, sleep, and rest while we fight Orden."
Aileen took out a card from her pocket.
"This is a 7-star card called [Building Fortress]."
[Building Fortress] [7-star] Effective Good
○ Instantly build a fortress: above the sea, beneath the earth, over a cliff, anywhere.
○ The fortress possesses Lv.7 Defense and is equipped with a 'portal' that only the card owner's allies can use.
"This card can be used to build a fortress anywhere. We'll use it to build our underground outpost near Orden's palace."
Aileen stopped and laid out on the ground the various camping gears that had been reduced in size with magic engineering.
"All of you, take one each."
Though they were still stunned by the sudden announcement, the Heroes quickly retrieved the gears from the ground just as they had been instructed to do.
"And now, I introduce you to the man who will help us travel to Orden's territory."
A dense fog rolled over the bunker the moment Aileen finished speaking. A man in a robe appeared from within the fog.
"…Nice to meet you. My name is 'Rebé'."
The man who introduced himself as 'Rebé'—'Bell'—smiled at the Heroes. To Bell, the members of the Task Force were basically gold mines, destined to become leaders of the future.
"Is he an outsider?" Kim Suho asked, slightly suspicious.
Aileen answered briefly, "…Yes, he is."
To be honest, Aileen was also suspicious of this outsider. She had hesitantly agreed to let him in on the mission only because the administration insisted that he was trustworthy.
"Ah, please, do not be worried. I am already under 'Spirit Speech Seal', as well as 'Oath and Vow'."
It was true. Not only did Bell sign all sorts of contracts, but he also agreed to be put under Aileen's 'Spirit Speech Seal', which proved that Bell's intentions were pure. He didn't need to lie about Orden because his goals aligned with the government's.
"Unni, Spirit Speech Seal is that thing where…."
Aileen nodded to Yun Seung-Ah.
"Even if this man has the intention of betraying us, it's okay. His heart would burst and he'll die a painful death with just one word from my mouth."
Everyone was surprised. This meant that Bell had basically entrusted his life to Aileen.
"Well, in that case…"
Kim Suho nodded and stepped back.
"Thank you everyone, for trusting me."
Bell spoke, trying keep his voice modulation in control.
"My role in this mission is very simple. I'm going to transport all of you to Orden's territory using my Skill, 'Ma.s.s Teleport'…. Well, I guess I shouldn't waste any more of your time. Everyone, please gather around me."
Chae Nayun, Kim Suho, s.h.i.+n Jonghak, Yi Jiyoon, Yi Yeonghan and the remaining members of Team 3 hesitantly approached Bell.
"Please hold onto each other tightly so that you don't end up outside the spell circle. Ah, but don't look so nervous. You'll be returning here as soon as you finish setting up the outpost."
Bell released his magic power. Violet air currents swirled around Bell, creating a complicated geometric shape.
Bell shouted cheerfully, "Here we go~"
Before long, the spell circle was completed and Bell's Skill, 'Ma.s.s Teleport', was activated.