The Frozen Player Returns - Chapter 71
The moon shone through the barn on the outskirts of Rome. Marco checked the clocked and clanged on a pot with a spoon.
“Everyone gather! Start counting.”
“Hyung, can’t we just skip it for tonight? We have a guest…” Max looked at Seo Jun-Ho and grumbled.
“No. It’s part of the rules,” Marco said firmly. The children started to gather in front of him. They sat down and shouted their numbers.
Marco nodded approvingly, looking at the children that sat patiently like baby ducks. “Alright, everyone’s here. You know what to do, right?”
“Take out the blankets!”
“Wash your face and brush your teeth!”
“Move quickly.” They dispersed in all different directions as he gave the order. Max led the children who were using blankets and old clothing to create bedding.
“Hey, Deva! Brush your teeth!”
“I don’t want to!”
“You’re gonna get cavities. Come here!”
Seo Jun-Ho chuckled as he watched Deva run away. The kids didn’t have much, but they weren’t unhappy.
“Then…” He put on his jacket and prepared to leave.
“Where are you going this late?” Marco asked. He had been watching him.
Seo Jun-Ho smiled and ruffled his hair. “Kids don’t need to know.”
“…Take your hand off me. I know you’re going to try to pick up girls.” With a sullen look, Marco shooed him away. “If you’re gonna be late, be quiet when you come in. Some of them are light sleepers.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.’
“And why are you wearing a mask and sunglasses at night?”
“Why, do you want to see my face that badly? I’ll show you if you ask nicely.’
“Bastard… fuck off!” He made a face and stuck up his middle finger. Seo Jun-Ho laughed and left for real.
The moon was bright and round, and the clouds were thin in the cool night air. Not to mention the horse dung.
“It’s the perfect night to cross a wall.”
Seo Jun-Ho kicked off the ground and headed for the heart of Rome. He leaped over roofs, heading to a certain city.
Vatican City was an independent country that existed to uphold the Roman Curia. After the Gates appeared and the 2nd floor opened, many religions prevailed, but the Catholic church remained the largest doctrine.
“Hm. It’s already this late…” A gray-haired man slowly stood up from his seat. He was Pope Francio XII who was once called the ‘Bell of Heaven.’ He was retired and spent his time as the librarian of the Vatican’s secret archives. His work was simple; all he had to do was make sure that the documents remained undamaged.
As the night got darker, he made sure that there was no one left.
‘I should turn off the lights now.’
Francio flipped the switch, and two shadows appeared against the moonlight coming through the window.
“I see that we have an uninvited guest,” Franco muttered, walking over. The stranger kept his hand in his pocket and didn’t move. “Who are you?”
Francio adjusted his glasses and looked at the intruder again. His eyes widened and he started to tremble.
“Y-you are…?” He could never forget the characteristic black coat and mask. “Oh, Lord…”
He gripped his cane and hobbled over.
“I heard you were under treatment.”
“My body ached because I was laying down all the time, so I decided to go out more.”
The man spoke to the former Pope as if he were a friend. Interestingly, Francio seemed happy to see him.
“It seems that this old servant’s prayer has reached heaven. I didn’t think that I would see you again.”
“It’s nice to see you again. I feel sorry, too.”
“Haha, am I that old?” Francio touched the wrinkles on his face.
“A long time has passed.”
“25 years, I think.”
“…It’s an honor to see you again.” Francio bowed respectfully. He wasn’t reserved about his humility; he was only sorry that he couldn’t get on his knees because that was reserved for his God. “I’m ashamed that we are the ones living in the peace that you and the others brought.’
“No need. That’s what we wanted.” Specter shrugged and pulled up two chairs. “Take a seat. I came here to ask you something.”
“Ha, I am an old man of no importance. I don’t know as much as I used to.”
“But you’ll still listen, won’t you?”
“Of course.” Francio sat down.
“Do you know about Paradise?”
“…Paradise, you say?” Francio tilted his head. “Are you perhaps asking about the Paradise in the Bible?”
“No, it’s the name of a place. An orphanage of sorts where they raise kids… Have you heard of it?”
“Unfortunately, no.” Franci shook his head.
“…I see,” Seo Jun-Ho muttered under his mask. As soon as Max had told him about Paradise, he thought of Francio.
‘If it really is related to the Vatican, there’s no way he wouldn’t know about it.’
But it became apparent that Francio had no idea about it. Seo Jun-Ho smiled beneath his mask. “Things are getting interesting.”
Who would be crazy enough to pretend to be priests and kidnap children right under the Vatican’s nose? The only answer was fiends. After all, they had long given up their humanity.
“Thank you for your help.” As Seo Jun-Ho stood up, so did Francio.
“I am sorry I could not be of more help.”
“No, you’ve done more than enough.”
“Hm… Is there anything else that this old man should know?”
“Mm…” Seo Jun-Ho thought for a second before nodding. “There might be a big fire in Rome in a few days, so keep the fire trucks on standby.”
Marco woke up to the sound of raindrops. He checked to see that his younger siblings were still sleeping.
“Huh?” He looked around. The man who had gone out to get girls had somehow fallen asleep in between the children.
‘When did he come in? I’m a pretty light sleeper.’
The man was still wearing his sunglasses and mask. Marco clicked his tongue.
“Geez. Even if I go crazy, I’m not gonna be that crazy…”
He looked out the window. Seeing the pouring rain, they probably wouldn’t be able to work today. After all, there wouldn’t be many tourists milling about.
The man next to him yawned as he woke up. Scratching his head, the man sat up. “You wake up early.”
“What do you usually do on rainy days?”
“We just stay at home.”
“What about food?”
“We have leftover pizza. We have some leftover oats too, so we can boil them into porridge.”
Oat porridge didn’t sound very appealing. And since it hadn’t been long since he went to the Cave of Trials, Seo Jun-Ho was pretty picky about his food at the moment.
“Come out with me.”
“The kids will have to eat something when they wake up. Real food, not oat porridge.”
“…You’re going to buy us food again?”
“Not for nothing, of course. You’ll have to be my guide for tomorrow.” Marco blinked, then quickly pulled on his coat.
“Should we go now? Or do you need time to get ready?” Seo Jun-Ho muffled a laugh at his enthusiasm. No matter how he tried to act like an adult, he was still just a kid.
“I’ve never eaten at a restaurant, but I know the good places,” Marco boasted.
“It’s wherever the locals line up. Right?” Seo Jun-Ho asked.
“Yup, you got it.”
Each holding their own umbrellas, they slowly walked into the city. The streets were quieter because of the rain.
“Makgeoli and pajeon are perfect for rainy days…”
“Makgeoli? Pajeon? What are those?” Marco asked.
“Ah, it’s like an Asian wine and pizza,” Seo Jun-Ho replied. “Lead the way. I’ll follow you.”
“Leave it to me,” Marco said confidently. Seo Jun-Ho followed him from behind and studied him.
“Hey, your walking stance is really stable.”
“…You can see that?” Marco turned around, seemingly a bit surprised. “Are you a Player?”
“Oh, did I not mention it?”
“You didn’t! Ack, now I get it. Max wouldn’t get caught that easily.” Marco nodded. “I’m training to become a Player.”
“It’s a hard job, you know.”
“I have to do it.” He paused and looked back at the barn where his siblings were sleeping. “We can’t live on pickpocketing forever.”
“Do you want to become a Player because they make a lot of money?”
“Rather than that, it’s the only option available to us,” he muttered glumly. “We don’t have an orphanage address or guardians. Who would hire us? We can’t even get part-time jobs.”
“I don’t like being called a thief either. But what can I do when my siblings are starving?”
It was a world that Seo Jun-Ho couldn’t understand. His life wasn’t easy either, but he had grown up in a good home and lived peacefully until he was in college.
“If I become a Player and make a lot of money, I can take care of them all.” Marco gripped his hands into fists.
“I heard from the priests that Paradise has classes that teach how to become a Player.” Marco looked around, and his face became grave. “I’ve only told Max so far, but I’m going to Paradise when the priests come this time.”
“You are? What about your siblings?” Seo Jun-Ho asked.
“The priests said that I would only need to train about a month or so at Paradise before I can get my license. Once I get it, I’m going to a Gate right away to make money.” Marco responded.
The Frost Queen had been listening carefully, and she clapped. “Goodness! What a commendable child!” She patted Marco’s head, moved by his words.
“What the heck. My head feels itchy all of a sudden.” Of course, he didn’t know what was happening. “And…well, this is just my own greed. But If I become a Player, I can become famous.”
“You want to be famous?” Seo Jun-Ho was surprised.
“People look down on me and call me a thief, but if I become a strong Player…” Marco looked up at the sky, his fists tightening. “One day, I might be respected like Specter-nim.”
“…Hey, he isn’t dead. Can you not look up at the sky like he’s dead?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. He’s oceans away, anyway.”
At some point, they reached a restaurant. “If you go down that alleyway, there’s a restaurant that a lot of locals…huh?” Marco’s voice became light. “Is that Anna?”
“Yeah! She was in our family, but she went to Paradise two months ago!” He ran toward the girl, grinning. “Hey! Anna!”
Seo Jun-Ho raised his umbrella a bit to look. There was a boy and a girl, and a middle-aged foreigner who was standing with them. Seo Jun-Ho curled his lip when he saw the foreigner’s face.
It was Torres Milo.
1. Korean rice wine and scallion pancake. It’s a popular pairing ☜