Episode 18

Pioneering The Labyrinth (3)
3 weeks ago
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Honestly, before she massacred all the goblins in the tribe, Elena seriously thought that the Lord might have had some ulterior motive.

After all, the first thing Kim Hyunwoo did after hiring Elena was to hand her two hand axes she had hardly used and assign her the task of single-handedly dealing with the goblin tribe using only those axes.

Naturally, Elena refused such a task from the Lord.

She knew her own abilities too well, and besides, it was typical for her, a hero without any renown, to lack the capability to handle a goblin tribe on her own.

However, the Lord sent her to the tribe along with the mercenaries, calling it an ‘opportunity to assess her abilities objectively.’

Hearing the Lord’s words that it was fine to run away without hesitation if it seemed dangerous, Elena, with reluctance, reached the tribe and was prepared to flee at once when the goblins appeared.

Even with the derogatory title of a failed hero, she was still a hero chosen by the world, so escaping from goblins was somehow within her capabilities.

Despite thinking this, the reason she did not flee was that her hands naturally lifted as if guided towards the charging goblins.

“…Huh?”

It was because the hand axe in her hand had shattered the skull of an approaching goblin too swiftly.

Barely adapting to the situation that occurred in a flash, she instinctively swung the axe at the goblins that kept pressing in.

The small hand axe in her hands moved back and forth, slicing through the bodies of goblins.

Her hands moved as if possessed, reliably taking down a goblin with each attack.

The sensation of being someone else stopped only after she had split open the heads of all the attacking goblins.

“Pant, pant-!”

Elena gasped for breath and slumped to the ground where she stood.

Her heart was pounding madly.

Her whole body ached as if she had muscle pain, and her arms and legs were trembling.

Despite being in what could definitely be described as a not-so-good physical condition, Elena’s thoughts were wholly focused on what had just happened.

“Did I… fight this well?”

Elena reflected on herself but firmly shook her head.

Having given up her dreams and slowly started to compromise with reality, she was thoroughly self-aware and knew her own abilities well.

She was weak.

As weak as the derogatory title of ‘failed hero’ that was attached to her indicated.

Therefore, she could not understand the situation.

“Is it because of this?”

Elena looked at the hand axes in her hands.

Axes so small that they seemed only suitable for splitting already chopped firewood or for throwing.

She turned the axes over and over, but she felt nothing special about them.

Rather, the axes were excessively ordinary.

“Did I … have talent?”

Just by holding a hand axe, to become this strong?

A fleeting thought.

Elena shook her head firmly again.

Before and after receiving the title of a failed hero, she had made a great effort to become stronger and learned numerous weapon skills.

Among them was naturally the skill with axes, and although she had used a hand axe once or twice before, this was the first time for such an experience, making Elena suddenly remember the Lord’s words.

He had spoken of an opportunity to objectively assess her abilities.

“Try to trust it… once.”

At the same time, recalling the Lord who had said such things to her, she decided to go see him.


That afternoon.

As the sunset slowly faded and night approached, Elena, who had arrived at the Lord’s castle, immediately went to see the Lord.

“What happened to me?”

She asked Kim Hyunwoo.

A question laden with many implications.

Even Elena, not knowing what to ask first, instinctively threw this question, and the Lord, as if guessing everything, smiled and spoke.

“It seems you’ve completely dealt with the goblin tribe on your own.”

“Well, yes, but…”

Seeing her slightly confused expression, Kim Hyunwoo did not hesitate to take out a box from his robe and hand it to Elena.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a gift.”

“What? Just like that-”

“First, open it. If it feels like a burden, consider it a reward for trusting my word.”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s words, Elena looked mildly startled but soon opened the box he handed her.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the weapon you’ll use from now on.”

Inside the box were two hand axes.

However, these axes, unlike the ones Kim Hyunwoo had handed over in the afternoon, had a somewhat more luxurious aura.

“Of course, I’ll replace it with better ones as you gradually earn money, so please make do with these for now.”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s words, Elena looked up and replied.

“…What exactly did you do?”

“What do you mean?”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s tilting head, she fumbled with her words and then slightly shrank back as she spoke.

“I don’t know if it’s my place to say this, since I’ve already been hired, but I’m weak. Weak enough to be called a ‘failed hero.’”

“So?”

“And yet, I dealt with the goblin tribe alone, even though there were more than 200 of them. A massive tribe that heroes without any fame like me would struggle to fight properly. This is-”

“Are you asking if it doesn’t make sense unless I did something?”

As Elena hesitated and nodded slightly, Kim Hyunwoo, as if choosing his words, stroked his chin a few times before speaking.

“Well, you’re half right, to begin with.”

“Half, you say?”

“Yes, it’s true that I did something.”

“Ah…”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s words, Elena let out a low exclamation.

Of course, it was something she had already sufficiently guessed.

However, despite her suspicions, there was a sense of regret as if a part of her had hoped otherwise, and Elena unwittingly attempted a self-deprecating smile.

“But the truth is, what I did was only half of it, and Elena, you truly have talent.”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s continuing words, she inadvertently retorted.

“Me?”

“Yes. You seem to be misunderstanding something; I can’t create powers in others that aren’t there to begin with.”

“I’m not a God, after all,” Kim Hyunwoo added, before continuing.

“If that were the case, there would’ve been no need for me to specifically choose you.”

At his candid voice, Elena unwittingly recalled the recent events.

The Lord’s appearance as he held her hand firmly and exclaimed.

“Hmm, hmm-”

Recalling this made her face flush with unnecessary heat, and she cleared her throat unwittingly, but Kim Hyunwoo, unfazed, continued.

“To put it simply, I can help bring out your talent.”

“My talent?”

“Yes, because the talent Elena has is not just this much.”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s words, Elena involuntarily shrank back.

Of course, contrary to her gesture, she was very pleased.

Having lived a life more ignored than recognized, as befits the derogatory title of a failed hero attached to her for the past ten years.

Therefore, the recognition she was receiving from the Lord at this moment was an incredibly sweet and spontaneously body-warming compliment to her.

However, despite such thoughts, the reason Elena’s body instinctively shrank back was due to the habits and thoughts ingrained in her over the past ten years.

The frustration of never being recognized in the last ten years instinctively weighed her down.

She knew.

As always, it was more tormenting to see a disappointed expression after receiving hopeful looks than to be disappointed.

“If it’s hard to believe in yourself, just believe in me.”

However.

“I’m going to make Elena a 5-star hero – no, a hero famous in her own right.”

At Kim Hyunwoo’s confident voice, Elena found herself nodding involuntarily.


※The hero is currently under the effect of a Proficiency Elixir.
Hero Name: Elena
Title: X
Stars: 1 Star ★
Affection: (Measuring)
-Stats-
Strength: 20↑ Agility: 25↑
Intelligence: 17 Luck: 18
Magic: 15
-Traits-
Hard Worker: Always strives to diligently perform any task, keeping the efficiency of training and execution at its maximum.
Insight: When using a weapon with 'innate' or greater talent, there's a 50% chance that attacks will be considered to bypass defense.
-Talent-
Has an innate talent with hand axes.
-Skills-
[View]
※The hero feels trust towards you.

After she left, Kim Hyunwoo, looking at Elena’s information window, wore a satisfied expression.

“It seems to have taken effect well.”

Objectively speaking, Elena’s information window hadn’t changed much.

The only changes were a single increase in both strength and agility, the affection level changing from zero to being measured, and a trust indicator appearing in the last notification window.

However, those three changes alone meant Kim Hyunwoo had achieved his original objectives.

“First impressions are always important with heroes, after all.”

Unlike other games where affection could be blindly raised or lowered, in Arteil, the heroes’ first impression drastically changed the difficulty of building affection later on.

Especially Kim Hyunwoo, who had a history of turning all his characters into 5-stars, knew very well the importance of first impressions.

Not only that, but Arteil also had many elements to consider in raising a hero.

The hero AIs, created using internet AI technology that was rumored to have reached a singularity at that time, were significantly affected by each and every large and small element.

The reason Kim Hyunwoo initially bought a Proficiency Elixir with cash currency to temporarily increase Elena’s talent proficiency and sent her to the goblin tribe was also related to this.

“Elena’s confidence was too low.”

Seeing the mercenaries’ reactions and collecting information about Elena through Loria, Kim Hyunwoo made such a judgment.

A hero with low confidence falls into various debuffed states.

Although he couldn’t yet open detailed traits of the hero due to not having raised the tavern level, Elena’s detailed traits likely included a ‘Slump’ debuff for sure.

It’s a very troublesome debuff that reduces the efficiency of all proficiency work to one-third as soon as it takes effect.

Therefore, Kim Hyunwoo deliberately spent the little remaining cash currency to push confidence into her, aiming to boost Elena’s self-esteem.

To remove the Slump debuff.

Of course, he had no intention of continually filling Elena’s self-esteem.

Continually pampering her wasn’t a good choice either.

While this is fundamentally influenced by personality, in the case of heroes, self-esteem that is too high makes them hard to control.

In short, the key is to properly arrange both carrot and stick until you raise the bond and affection with the hero.

“Moreover, I need to make them realize that my presence is absolutely necessary to prevent a somewhat grown hero from leaving.”

While thinking this, Kim Hyunwoo suddenly remembered one of the heroes he had raised.

Certainly, a hero of a rare half-dragon race, whose self-esteem was so low that he had to soothe her low self-esteem through chatting, leading him to increase his typing speed from 300 to 500.

And while Kim Hyunwoo was lost in these old memories.

A hill in the far reaches of the territory.

In that place where animals or monsters had ceased to be seen for some time.

Red Eyes was intently watching Elena, who was moving with a slightly elated step.

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