Today’s destination was the slums.

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     It was simple to find the slums in any territory; even the greatest of lands did not lack a ghetto.
Those were also easy to find.
One only needs to wander around the outskirts of the city.
Solar’s slums were similarly located in the city outskirts.

     As they got closer to the slums, the colors of the houses and even the citizens gradually looked washed out.
Everything was shabby and worn out.
At some point, there was the constant smell of wastewater and death.
The stick-thin denizens, who had been listlessly laying about, threw wary glances at the well-dressed Ayra and Janus.

     While he agonized whether or not he should go deeper, Ayra’s feet stopped.
In a place where the streets, sights, and people were all gray; the people who were dressed in startlingly snow-white clothes stood out.

     “Now, now, there’s still food left; everyone, please line up.”

     “Take caution and don’t forget that Mollunka-nim is looking over you.”

     With red flowers on their chests, Mollunka’s priests were distributing food to the poor.
Perhaps such a scene was quite frequent, the slum denizens kowtowed, drew Mollunka’s holy sign with their fingers, and afterwards received their food.
Come to think of it, Ayra guessed it was common for religious organizations to offer charity services.

     Behind the other priests, one priest adorned with three clusters of red flowers stood apart from the group, watching the proceedings with cold eyes; that person wore exceptionally luxurious clothes–different from the graciously smiling priests handing out the food.
Ayra immediately called upon the Stat Window.

 

HP: ???

MP: ???

Physical Attack: ???

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Magic Attack: ???

Affection: ??? <3

 

     Attera? Was there a family line like that in this territory? Tilting his head to one side, Ayra stared at them.
Just in time, he remembered that the person by his side had lived here for 10 years.

     Ayra tapped Janus’s arm.
“Who’s that? The person standing behind the priests?”

     “Attera te Acht.
That person became the high priest recently.”

     Becoming Mollunka’s high priest at such a young age…

     While speaking with Janus, Ayra suddenly felt the tingling of a gaze; when the young lord turned his head, he could see the high priest looking this way.
The frigid cold gaze pierced through him.
Was that because Ayra and Janus didn’t seem like people who would visit the slums?

     Not wanting to cause a fuss, Ayra began moving again.
A strangely persistent gaze followed him until he completely left the area.

     Strolling through the slums didn’t instill pleasant feelings.
The security in this area was the worst; hungry, naked people struggled to survive.
If the young lord had come alone, he would likely have been dragged into conflict.

     ‘In the future, I’ll have to take responsibility for these people…’

     He resigned himself to this fate, but this wasn’t a job he particularly wanted either.
It would have been nice to spend the rest of his life researching or experimenting in the Labyrinth.
However, life was unpredictable and arbitrary–as was also the case in his previous life with his sudden death.
The young lord tasted the bitterness of life and, for the first time in a long while, craved alcohol.

      “I want to drink…” Ayra muttered, almost involuntarily.
Janus’s eyes, which had been lingering on all corners of the slums, turned his way.

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     The corners of the mercenary’s lips lifted, as if he had pinpointed the shadows that Ayra had not fully pushed down.
“Your heart is quite soft.
Just that much is enough to make you think they’re pitiful and poor.”

     “It’s natural if you’re human.” Ayra’s voice was weak.

     It was simply just because the people here were poor and pitiable.
To be exact, he was imagining how his future self would carry the responsibility of governing the land and its people.
The more he thought about it, the more difficult it was for him–who only knew magic– to build up this territory.
Even in his previous life, he was someone who had never competed in a class president election.

      No, let’s think positively.
Rather, it’s actually fortunate that he at least had magic.
When Ayra began inadvertently stroking Pebble on the back of his hand, the artificial spirit wrapped itself around the young lord’s finger.

     “Well, I like that.
I like guys who can’t pretend to be heartless,” Janus said.

     Ayra didn’t know why, at that moment, the mercenary’s voice sounded so nice; the young lord’s heart pounded.

     Janus naturally and firmly grabbed Ayra’s shoulders and tapped it twice.
“Then, shall we go and drink?”

     Are we going to that delicious steam bun store nearby? In this cold weather, hot meat soup and refined rice wine sounds so good.
However, Janus steps headed towards the mountain.

     As he walked on untrodden roads rather than the defined mountain path, Ayra recalled that first day where they climbed to the top of the mountain.
“What, the mountain…? Is there some secret bar?”

     Janus, who walked up with light steps like he was on flat land, lightly clicked his tongue and Ayra’s gasps and huffs.
“You’re such high maintenance.” 1

     When he saw Ayra stepping on the fallen leaves on the slope and sliding down, Janus grabbed the back of the young lord’s neck and put him right back on his feet.
“It’s not a bar.
Come to think of it, there’s one more advantage to this territory; the people here can brew a damn good, strong drink.”

     What did he mean? The mercenary’s words were odd, but Ayra followed immediately behind Janus anyway.
After about an hour of slipping and tumbling down the mountain path, Janus’s footsteps finally stopped.
Ayra, who walked almost like he was crawling on the ground, raised his head.

     It was a bleak, shady, and remote place.
Beneath Ayra’s doubtful gaze, Janus crouched atop a rock with zero hesitation.
Then, he began to dig vigorously at the ground with his hands.

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     “……!”

     The ground was frozen hard since it was in shade, but the mercenary’s hand dug into the ground like it was a shovel.
His speed was so fast; when Ayra looked behind the mercenary to look at the mound of dirt piling up quickly, Janus had, in that moment, finally pulled something out.
It was a wooden box caked in dirt.
How long ago was this box buried? When Janus roughly brushed it off, instead of dirt the wooden box in its entirety had fallen apart.

    Five bottles of liquor appeared.

     Ayra opened his eyes wide, “What? Why is there alcohol here?”

     “When I first came here, I buried a few things.” Holding a bottle of liquor, Janus began walking again.
If he buried those when he first came to this territory, then that liquor had been underground for 10 years.
Full of expectation, Ayra followed; a good, wide rock–perfect to sit on–appeared before them.
It was located in a high position in an area with a lot of sun; the scenery before them was beautiful.
While sitting on the rock, Janus handed the young lord the entire bottle.

     “Wait a minute.” Ayra searched around his system space.
One of the first survival tips young mages learned when they entered the labyrinth was to keep emergency food in their system space in case they get lost.
If they waited while eating their emergency food supply, the senior mages would go around rescuing their stupid juniors weekly.

     After a long search, Ayra pulled out some twisted jerky and a half-crushed biscuit from a corner.
He spread his handkerchief over some rocks, placed the food on top, and opened the alcohol.
The heavy scent of alcohol pierced his nose.

     Excited, the mage bumped his bottle against Janus’s and took an eager sip.
The strong alcohol made him gasp.
“Just what percent is this?”

     While shaking the bottle back and forth, Ayra looked to the side; Janus had emptied the bottle halfway and was whistling pleasantly.
“It’s aged well.
It would have been perfect if it was just a little stronger, but this isn’t so bad.”

      If the drink was stronger, wouldn’t it just be pure alcohol? In anycase, aside from its extreme percentage, the 10-year-old precious liquor tasted delicious.
After taking a bite of jerky, Ayra once again brought the bottle back to his lips.

      As he sipped, moderate warmth welled up in his body; his mind, which had become anxious from looking around the slums, was slightly relieved.
He even began to think, ‘It’ll all work out somehow.’  Looking down at the back of his hand, Pebble, who had followed its master and became drunk as well, moved around more languidly and elastically than usual.

     ‘Hmm, soon I’ll achieve the quest conditions; the estate will work out, one way or another.
It may somehow be more enjoyable and delightful to live here than in the Labyrinth’…Dark grey eyes sought the person sitting next to him.

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      After a couple more sips of alcohol, Ayra spoke in a cheery tone, “Today was great.
You’ve guided me well these days, and this alcohol is quite valuable.
I’d like to reward you.”

     “Well, it’s fine.
I’ve gotten clothes, and I also had an enjoyable time with you.” Janus said languidly as he tilted his bottle.
Perhaps he was in a good mood–disheveled hair cast small shadows over his groggy eyes.
Ayra glanced at the other’s lips, guzzling at the bottle, and the up and down of Janus’s adam’s apple.
Inadvertently, the young lord’s ears pricked up.

     Trying to be nonchalant, Ayra asked calmly, “Really?”

     “Running into things as if you have no eyes; stumbling over as if you have no feet.
Things like that.”

     “Hey…”

     Ayra glared at the notion that he was made into some sort of spectacle; at that sight, Janus erupted into laughter.
Staring at such an attractive face made the young lord feel a little better.
On one hand, Ayra’s pride was slightly hurt by the other’s words, on the other, his face flushed red and his heart fluttered from the joke.
How fortunate that his face was already reddened by alcohol.

Pouring the alcohol into his mouth, Ayra recalled his memories of walking through this land with Janus.

     Pure white castles, rugged houses made of bricks and wood, slums, the markets, small trading posts, farmland plains, and impressively high rocky mountain ranges…

     After two weeks–perhaps long, perhaps short period of time–he had finally gotten slightly used to this land.
Solar was a cold, arid, dry, and mostly mountainous land.
However, even in this climate, the denizens were busy living their own lives, working hard.
That sight permeated into Ayra’s brain.

     And, obviously, the Solar territory wasn’t the only thing to grasp a portion of Ayra’s heart.

 

 

TL: I always go TT_TT at the names in this novel.
What kinda name is Acht?

Janus says “손 많이 가네”, which literally means “you take a lot of hands.” It’s basically ‘high maintenance.” 

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