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94 Used to Dying

 "Is this forum thing really going to work?"

After the photoshoot, their model Terry was staring quizzingly at Jom while his friend was doubling over with laughter as he read the comments.

"It should be fine, at least Edward and the others are definitely going to come." Jom wiped at the tears forming in the corners of his eyes and steadied himself. "We just have to wait and hope."

"Oh, the top player that'll join in whenever there's a quest, that Edward?" Terry was shocked, he nodded enthusiastically. "Then we're golden!"

"Don't get too excited, setting whether or not they can beat the Barren Giant aside, even finding this place is going to be difficult for them."

Jom didn't think the situation was all that optimistic, he looked up at the gray sky. "And that's if it doesn't snow."

Having had his parade thoroughly rained on, Terry stopped talking, sitting down in the snow and continuing to munch on his crispbread.

Jom had wanted to talk about their upcoming battle a bit, but after seeing Terry happily chomping down on his snack, Jom was feeling a bit peckish himself-after the battle he had gone through, the food he ate during the banquet was completely gone.

He should fill his stomach before he went into battle.

Pre-battle nerves didn't really exist among players, so they had no problems with eating before a fight.

Jom was just about to start on a jerky biscuit he had found when he felt someone behind him.

He whipped back to see the middle-aged hunter from before standing right in front of him.

"You two really don't plan on leaving?" The hunter didn't notice that he had startled Jom and started speaking when he saw him turn around.

Terry who was previously completely oblivious of the other's presence, choked on the crispbread he was eating, dropping what he had left and thumping hard at his chest.

After confirming it wasn't an enemy, the title 'Villager' still floated above his head in a neutral yellow color and there wasn't an enemy health bar, Jom finally calmed his nerves.

"We've already made our promise, old man," Jom replied seriously, "If you want us to go protect your other village, I'll have to politely decline."

If they were up against mountain bandits they'd at least get some experience for their efforts, and if they got lucky and were able to defeat the Barren Giant with the help of their friends, they might get something good out of it! Compare that to chauffeuring these villagers, since there weren't any new quests or anything, those villagers probably didn't plan on paying them back, and Jom and Terry weren't fans of free labour.

"My name's Joey Arbiter, but you can just call me Joey."

"Fine, Uncle Joey. We'll watch your six here in the village and stall those bandits for you guys to buy you some time," seeing that Joey had something to say, Jom quickly added, "Don't worry, us staying here will do you guys a lot more good than if we protected you on the road."

"That's not what I mean."

The hunter Joey was getting annoyed. "What I'm trying to say is, could you two please think about yourselves?"

"What?" Seeing the huntsman so aggressive, Jom had thought he was in for an argument.

"I'll admit that you two are strong, but with so many bandits, plus the strength of a Barren Giant, there's no way you can win!" The hunter was at a loss for words. "Staying behind is a death sentence, are you... are you not scared of dying?!"

"Death? We're already used to it."

Jom softened his expression and answered calmly.

Even if they couldn't revive themselves, even if their entire team was wiped out, they'd be up and running just three days later!

Being trapped in the small black room for three days is pretty rough, but now as long as they were still able to read through the forums, three days was nothing!

Joey was stunned.

He thought of himself as having seen it all, every time something good was hunted up in the village, he was the one who brought it to the neighboring city to sell, he could easily read someone's expression.

That's why he was sure, when this Jom kid was speaking, he wasn't joking. He didn't fear death at all, his face was calmer than a lake on a sunny day.

'So that's how it is, I should've known.'

Joey was vexed.

He had heard from some friends back in the city that a few churches put children through inhumane trials and tests to train them to be able to receive Divine Blessings.

They threw young children into the cruel jaws of war with only the barest of survival skills, pushing these innocent kids through the stages of maturity with blood and iron, strengthening their wills and weeding out the weak so they may eventually become the heart of the church.

And these two kids were probably living such a life.

They were still so young, and yet they showed the battle prowess of a worn veteran. They had grown accustomed to matters of life and death and viewed the prospect of dying as an everyday matter... How many vile, barbaric acts did they have to witness to be able to think of death as nothing?

Have they witnessed countless of their friends die? How many times have they had to crawl back up from the brinks of their demise? Or have their souls been clawed empty from their unspeakable trauma?

Maybe the reason they walked headfirst into doom, was because death was their only escape from this savage reality.

Thinking of their 'traumatic' past, Joey couldn't help but feel sorry for them.

"You don't have to do this, children should be allowed to act like children! You should never treat death as an escape, come with me! From now on it's okay if you live a normal life, I will protect you!" Thus, the fatherly love spilled forth from Joey, declaring to Jom and Terry with all his heart, "Let us rebuild a family together, if you'd like, you can call me 'Dad' too!"

Jom: ?????

Jom couldn't fathom how exactly Joey could come to that... interesting conclusion. Did he just tell them to call him 'Dad'?

From the sidelines, Terry's brain had come back online and he wasn't pulling any punches.

"I decline."

He somewhat morosely looked at his crispbread laying on the floor, saying to Joey, "You're the one that threw everything away, even your home, at the first sight of danger. I don't want a father like you, who knows if the next time trouble comes, we'll be the ones you choose to throw away."

Joey looked like he had been struck by lightning, freezing up like a zombie. He dragged his feet back to the rest of the villagers, wondering what he had done wrong.

Jom was pretty upset by this turn of events, he had wanted to diss the guy's face off, what was he going to do now?