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    “Yes…!”

    Nodding at the resolute reply, Yujin turned to the one with the smallest build among the adults.

    “Please go down first and wait to help the children. Then you escape too.”

    “Yes, yes…”

    “We’re short on time so move quickly.”

    Yujin checked the traffickers’ movements again. Fortunately, their transaction didn’t seem to be going smoothly. They scowled at each other, faces twisted, voices rising as if a fight could break out any moment. 

    Despite having to swallow his nervous spit, Yujin cheered on that situation inwardly. 

    ‘Good thing, actually. Keep fighting, fight.’

    The rowdier they were, the more their chance of escape increased. Yujin soothed those anxious to flee immediately and had them move as quietly as possible.

    ‘Will this work out?’

    Out of the ten originally in the carriage, only two remained, including Yujin.

    “Um…”

    “You go first.”

    “B-But then―”

    The man’s body fidgeted, wanting to escape immediately, yet he hesitated to leave Yujin who would be last. Seeing that, Yujin firmly shook his head.

    “If you stay like this, it’ll only delay escape longer. Go.”

    At those words, the man finally had no choice but to leave first. He wanted to see his wife and children.

    After sending off the last person, Yujin prepared for his own escape. With the small noises from their escape drowned out by the men’s shouting, he just had to disappear last.

    “…..!”

    Just as he thought that, a chill went down Yujin’s spine at the abruptly quiet quarreling. He gripped the bar in both hands instinctively and turned around. The traffickers were peering into the now empty carriage through the wide open door, eyes narrowed.  

    “Oh…they escaped?”

    “From the look of it, it was your doing.”

    “Tsk, what is this? Causing a fuss when the goods are gone too?”

    Seeing the traffickers’ rolled-back eyes from proper anger, Yujin swallowed his nervous spit. He had stayed last in preparation for this situation, but now that it was upon him, his whole body froze up.

    ‘First, I need to get out…’

    Facing them in a space he couldn’t even stand properly was like stepping into a pit of poison himself.

    Jumping down from the carriage, the bright sunlight stabbed Yujin’s eyes. Squinting with a frown, he had to quickly blink and adapt to see clearly again.

    “Oh, his face is rather nice.”

    The slave dealer who had been clicking his tongue in irritation at the news of the escapees saw Yujin’s face and brightened.

    At his reaction, the traffickers’ anger at the others escaping flared up. 

    “He’s a bastard child of a noble family. How about it, interested now?”

    With just conjecture and no evidence, the traffickers casually lied, making up Yujin to be a noble family’s bastard to recoup their losses.

    “A bastard? Of which family?”

    “Who knows? Would such esteemed nobles tell the likes of us?”

    The traffickers built on the lie smoothly. It was hard to believe such impromptu fiction, yet the plausible falsehoods were told naturally.

    “You didn’t hand him over directly, did you?”

    “Yeah. So you can trust his background. Quick, tell us if you’ll buy this guy or not.”

    Seeing them start haggling over him when he was right in front of them, Yujin swallowed curses. Who did they think they were, discussing whether to buy or sell him as they pleased?

    But Yujin couldn’t move rashly either. Though no one was looking at him, he knew the moment he moved even a little, they would rush him.

    ‘Dammit, dammit…’

    His hands gripping the bar trembled slightly. He could inflict injury by swinging it around blindly, but that was exactly why he couldn’t brandish it carelessly. 

    Taking a life with a weapon wasn’t easy for a modern person who had lived an ordinary life.

    Step, step. Yujin backed away slowly and carefully. Even if he’d surely get caught, he couldn’t just stand there powerlessly. At least this way, he hopefully wouldn’t regret not trying to run later.

    “Isn’t that price too high? Even all the escaped slaves combined wouldn’t amount to that much.”

    “But he’s of noble birth, right? And his face is more than just decent.”

    “That’s…”

    The slave dealer couldn’t refute that either. Calling Yujin simply decent didn’t capture it.

    Despite his disheveled state, his slender arms and legs and tall, lithe figure looked like he had never done hard labor. And above all were his strangely charming features.

    Compared to the prevalent rugged looks here, Yujin’s refined impression with softer lines was unique.

    ‘Especially those eyes…’

    Of course, his perky yet round nose and properly plump, healthy lips drew the gaze too, but most of all, it was Yujin’s eyes that captivated the slave dealer.

    How could a man have such thick lashes? And the eye corners slanted at just the right angle, not too sharp or upturned, giving an overall cool impression.

    And the mole under his left eye roused the desire to reach out and touch it at least once. Captivated by Yujin’s face, the slave dealer had no choice but to admit this deal would be his loss.

    The moment he showed interest, it was his mistake and defeat. Clicking his tongue at his blunder, the dealer answered the trafficker.

    “Fine. But since his cheek is injured, I can’t pay full price.”  

    “Come on, that’s why I told you not to hit him.”

    At his grumbling, the one who had struck Yujin wrinkled his mouth in frustration. 

    “Bring the money.”

    At the dealer’s words, an attendant hurried into the building and brought out a money pouch. Though he said he couldn’t pay full price, the sagging pouch looked heavier than Yujin expected.

    The traffickers didn’t hide their snickering, elated to have earned more than if they had kept the escaped slaves.

    “We’re much obliged. As expected, this place is the best.”

    Just as the two exchanging the seemingly heavy pouch, Yujin, who had quietly been slumping his shoulders as if giving up on escape, swiftly turned and broke into a run.

    “What?! Hey! That bastard’s escaping!”  

    Everyone was in chaos at the scream-laced shout.

    “Catch him! Grab him!”

    The dealer’s face flushed crimson with rage as he bellowed at them. Never in his merchant life had he come across such a premium product, there was no way he could let it get away.

    ‘Damn it, just you try and slip away. I’ll kill you.’

    Clicking his tongue, the dealer tried to take back the pouch.

    “Huh?”

    But the recipient gripped it tightly, unwilling to let go, and the two ended up in an intense tug-of-war.

    “Hey, let this go!”

    “I thought the deal was finished. You should be the one to let go.”

    “The deal isn’t over when I haven’t received the goods yet. You’ll get the money after bringing the product, right?!”

    “Don’t you trust us? We’ll catch him right away!”

    Though they conversed, the atmosphere was on edge as if something could happen any moment. Those who had tried to chase Yujin couldn’t leave with the likelihood of a fight, so they hurried back and added to their group’s numbers instead.

    “Huh, you guys can’t even go catch him but want the money? Trying to rise above your station after getting a little human treatment, you damn vermin.”

    “Vermin…?”

    The demeaning word made the traffickers’ eyes flash sharply. What started as unwillingness to let the pouch go turned hostile. The crisp sound of swords being drawn pierced the air.

    ***

    “Huff, huff!”

    The uneven road made Yujin’s breathing ragged, and he nearly tripped several times but persevered like a grasshopper to maintain his speed.

    “Stop right there!”

    Even with his breath up to his throat and the soles of his feet torn and aching, Yujin couldn’t stop at the voice of his pursuer behind him.

    ‘Just a little more…Just a little more and I can get away…!’

    Fortunately, only one set of footsteps chased him, and they didn’t seem to be very fast, unable to gain on him. 

    The gasping growing fainter was a sign Yujin could escape soon if he kept this up a little longer.

    ‘I need to go in there.’

    To hide himself, Yujin changed direction toward an area more densely wooded with higher grass. If even running was difficult in this place, the exhausted chaser would surely give up quickly.

    “….!”

    But the moment he stepped foot there, Yujin found the two children hiding in the bushes as he had told them to do.

    “Na-Nari…”

    “It’s you, mister.”

    ‘Leesha…! Alex…!’  

    Seeing them here, Yujin’s vision practically blurred.

    Since they had escaped first, he thought they had run far away already. But too young and drained from long confinement, the children couldn’t get far and had hidden.

    “There he…huff…!”

    Meanwhile, the gradually nearing footsteps made Yujin whip his head around. His pursuer still chased him persistently.

    If he stayed here, he was sure to be caught. Yujin stood there stiffly, conflicted and unable to decide.

    ‘If he’s just focused on chasing me, can I lead him past here without him noticing…?’

    If he turned back now, the narrowed distance ensured he’d be grabbed. Yujin wavered at the huge temptation. He tried deceiving himself.

    If I run really fast, he won’t know the kids are here.

    ‘…..Bullshit.’  

    No matter how he tried to rationalize it, it was impossible. The children hid themselves as best they could, but hadn’t even the frenzied Yujin found them right away?

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