The Frozen Player Returns - Chapter 70
During the afternoon when the sun was at its highest in the sky, magic energy wavered in a damp alley. A moment later, the energy shaped into a man.
“We’re here. This is Rome.” The speaker was a teleporter from the Korean Player Association. He glanced behind his shoulder, tilting his head. President Shim Deok-Gu had given him a personal order so he had been nervous, but his task was easier than he imagined.
‘Who is he?’
It was hard to discern the identity of the man he had escorted because the latter was wearing a baseball cap, a mask, and sunglasses. But if he was on a secret mission, he must be a high-leveled Player.
“I’ve fulfilled my task. I hope things go well for you.”
The man simply nodded at his gesture.
“I have other assignments, so goodbye…” The teleporter checked the time and disappeared into the alleyway. All alone, the Player looked around.
“So this is Rome.” The Player with the baseball cap pressed down low was Seo Jun-Ho.
“Ho, this city is home to the spirits of many valiant warriors,” The Frost Queen said.
“You can tell?” Seo Jun-Ho was surprised.
“To some extent, yes.”
Having heard the Frost Queen’s evaluation, Seo Jun-Ho emerged from the alley. They only stepped out onto a sidewalk, but they were quickly surrounded by tourists.
“Let’s go to the place Torres always goes to.”
Seo Jun-Ho sat on a bench as he waited for a few hours at the square with a fountain. Of course, Torres never came.
“Do not be disheartened. You cannot expect to be full after your first bite.”
“I’m not disappointed. In the first place, he’s supposed to come next week, so there’s no reason I’d see him today.” It was enough that Seo Jun-Ho had familiarized himself with the area. “Let’s look for a place to stay.”
Seo Jun-Ho stood up. At that moment, he felt something brush against his left wrist.
He grabbed the pickpocket’s arm.
“Hey! Let me go!” The boy looked to be around 15. His shirt and jeans were worn and ripped. He glared at Seo Jun-Ho. “What’s with you?”
“Is something wrong?” Tourists started to stare at them.
“If you don’t let me go right this instant, I’m gonna say you’re kidnapping me.”
“Do you think they’d believe you? Hand it over.” Seo Jun-Ho snatched his Vita from the boy’s hand.
“Geez, it was a pickpocket?”
“Tsk tsk…Look at that. It’s not very safe here.”
“He’s got slippery fingers. How did he steal a Vita?”
“You be careful too. They’ll steal your nose if you’re not careful.”
It was a common sight, so the people quickly lost interest. The boy spat on the ground in frustration. “Tch, how unlucky. You seemed like a pushover…”
“Oh my. He has quite the eye for people.” The Frost Queen quipped.
Seo Jun-Ho glanced at the Frost Queen and then back at the boy.
“What’re you looking at? Why, you want an apology or something?”
“No, I’m wondering if I should report you to the police.”
The boy glared at him, biting his lower lip.
‘Is he scared?’
Seo Jun-Ho tilted his head.
‘He shouldn’t be reacting like this. After all, he’d probably just get a slap on the wrist and a scolding from his parents.’
Seo Jun-Ho examined him again and nodded slowly.
‘He’s part of a family.’
It was common for runaways in Italy and other parts of Europe to pickpocket as a group. They knew their cities inside out.
‘Not a bad start.’
Seo Jun-Ho smiled at his guide.
Seo Jun-Ho leisurely sipped on his coffee. In front of him, the boy was chomping down food like an animal.
“Slow down. You’re going to get indigestion.”
“…” The boy was still wary of Seo Jun-Ho, but he slowed down. He finished his fifth plate and started to examine him.
“What? Do you want more?”
“Ah, no. I’m full.” As he spoke, the boy pocketed the bread one by one. “I have siblings at home…I suddenly remembered them ‘cause I’m full.”
Seo Jun-Ho shrugged. “You know I have no obligation to them, right?”
“O-of course. I have some shame.”
“Good.” Seo Jun-Ho raised his hand for a waiter.
“Can I help you?” asked the waiter.
Seo Jun-Ho turned back to the boy. “How many?”
“F-fifteen. Sixteen, including my older brother.”
“Sixteen portions of spaghetti and sixteen pieces of butter garlic bread. To-go, please.”
As the waiter walked away, the pickpocket boy bowed his head. “…Thank you.”
“Look at this. Aren’t you quite the pushover?” The Frost Queen teased him. Seo Jun-Ho flicked her off his shoulder.
“Do you have a house or parents?”
“You’re part of a family, right?”
“…Yes.” Perhaps it was because it was the first time anyone had shown him kindness in a long time, but the boy answered all his questions. “We’re called the Marco family. The hyungs take care of the others and we live in a barn.”
“Are your younger siblings blood-related to you?”
“No, we all met as runaways, but we’re like a real family.”
Not bad. If he was affiliated with a ‘family,’ then he would know a lot about Rome.
“What do you think about being my local guide? I’ll pay you in food.”
“I-I’ll do it! I’ve memorized every street and alley in Rome. I promise.” The boy nodded vigorously at the thought of warm, delicious food.
“Great. But first, I need to see if you’re good enough.”
“Ask whatever you want,” the boy said confidently.
“I have a younger brother that I lost a long time ago. I heard that he was in an orphanage in Rome.”
“Oh, an orphanage…” He listed off several orphanages, smiling brightly. But it wasn’t what Seo Jun-Ho was looking for.
‘Those are all orphanages in Rome, but that’s information I could search up online.’
Obviously, Shim Deok-Gu had looked them up online.
“I’ve been to all of them. Isn’t there anywhere else?”
“Um…Those are all the orphanages around here…” The boy racked his brain, trying to think of something else. “Oh! Maybe he’s in Paradise.”
“…Paradise?” Seo Jun-Ho tilted his head at the strange word.
“Yes. I’ve never been there myself and I’ve only heard the hyungs talk about it, but I know it exists.”
“What do they do there?”
“Um, well, there are a lot of pickpockets like us in Rome. I think there are about six families.” The boy launched into his story, using his hands. “Every month, priests go to every family. They tell us they’ll make us clean of sin and take one person to Paradise.”
“Yeah. I think they’re from the Vatican.”
Vatican City was in Rome, so it was a common sight to see people in priest robes.
‘So they wouldn’t seem suspicious.’
Things were getting interesting. Seo Jun-Ho asked another question. “What’s good about Paradise?”
“I heard that you can go to school there, wear clean clothes, and eat three meals a day.”
“How do they pick the kids that go to Paradise?”
“I’m not sure. They just choose on the spot.” He paused, then muttered quietly. “But I don’t want to go to Paradise.”
“Why not? It sounds like a great place.”
“…The priests are a little scary.” The boy shivered. “They look very kind, but…something about them makes me uncomfortable.”
“For no reason?”
Seo Jun-Ho remembered something.
‘Demonic energy brings out all the fear in people.’
If those priests were fiends with demonic energy, it made sense that the boy felt that way, especially because he had sharp instincts. Seo Jun-Ho couldn’t lose him.
As such, Seo Jun-Ho called the waiter again. “I would like some pizza two-go. Eight orders.”
“Is that where your family lives?” Seo Jun-Ho looked at a shabby barn. It smelled of horse dung as if there was a farm nearby.
“It smells a little bad, but it’s a nice place.” the boy said.
“…Well, whatever. Lead the way.” Seo Jun-Ho shrugged.
The boy skipped over to the barn and opened the door, carrying the food.
“Hey, what’s that? Something smells good!”
“You guys didn’t get to eat anything today, did you? Eat up!”
‘So his name is Max.’
The younger ones surrounded Max, and he grinned as he started to distribute the food. A boy that was laying in the corner stood up.
“Max, what is this?”
“Oh, Marco hyung. This…” Max looked up at Seo Jun-Ho. He didn’t seem to know how to explain.
“I bought it, so don’t worry.”
“So who are you?” Marco growled as he approached him. He seemed to be 19. He looked like an adult among all the children, but to Seo Jun-Ho, he was still a child.
“It’s my first time in Rome, so he’s gonna be my local guide. This is the payment.”
“…Max, is that true?”
“Yeah. Sorry I didn’t discuss it with you, hyung.” Marco looked from Max to Seo Jun-Ho and nodded slowly.
“Do what you want. But you, if you do anything to my kids…” With that cliched warning, Marco stood next to Seo Jun-Ho and watched the children eat.
“Aren’t you gonna eat? I bought enough for everyone.”
“I’ll eat if there are any leftovers after they’re done.”
Seo Jun-Ho had expected him to be some sort of gangster because he led a group of pickpockets, but Marco was surprisingly pragmatic.
“What’re you really looking for? You could’ve hired a professional guide with the money you spent on all that food.”
He was clever. Seo Jun-Ho shrugged. “I’m looking for my little brother. Max said he might be in Paradise, so I want to meet the priests.”
“…Paradise?” Marco nodded. “I see. I understand now.”
“By any chance, have you ever met any of the kids since they went to Paradise?”
“No. Sometimes I wonder how they’re doing and ask the priests, and they give me letters from them. They seem to be doing well.”
“Really? I want to meet them. Do you know when the priests are coming again?”
“You’re lucky. They’re coming in two days.”
“Two days…” Seo Jun-Ho nodded. “That’s Sunday,” he muttered.
He was looking forward to his first Roman holiday.
1. Not a literal family, obviously. It uses the English word ☜