Chapter 108. Evil XXX

When morning dawned, Seol Jihu’s eyes opened on their own. Just seven days ago, he couldn’t wake up unless someone woke him up. His body had perfectly gotten used to the training schedule, so it shot up when morning came no matter how tired and exhausted it was.

When Seol Jihu dazedly stared into the air with only his upper body up, blood fell down from his nostrils.

“…Ah.”

He had gotten used to this by now. He wiped his nose clean before he rummaged through the medicine bottles and took out a healing potion and a stamina recovery potion.

He drank them down in one gulp. This was because they had the effect of recovering one’s energy, although they weren’t normally used this way.

The village head would be sad if he found out that his prized potions were being used as mere tonics, but Seol Jihu had no other choice. After all, he might have really died if he didn’t drink them. And starting from today, there was a new bottle to drink.

Seol Jihu looked at the milky medicine bottle Jang Maldong gave him and grinned. From what he found out with the color of General Observation, this Competence had a four-times multiplicative effect for twelve hours.

Although it paled in comparison to the VIP shop’s Competence, it was still nothing to scoff at. After emptying the bottle in one gulp, Seol Jihu marched out of the cave commandingly.

*

After breakfast.

For some reason, Jang Maldong ended the morning exercise early and dragged Seol Jihu to a large tree measuring more than two arms’ width around.

“Originally, I planned to make you continue that death-inducing run until the day we go back.”

Seol Jihu flinched hearing his serious tone. He didn’t doubt Jang Maldong for even a second.

“But it looks like you overcame a wall….”

It sounded like Jang Maldong knew his stamina broke through.

“Don’t be too happy. People don’t say stamina is the foundation to all strength for nothing. You’re only getting started. Your freakishly high mana overshadows even some High Rankers, but your other stats are too low.”

He wasn’t wrong. Even the difference between Low (High) and Intermediate (Low) couldn’t be taken lightly, yet Seol Jihu’s Mana stat was at Intermediate (High).

It would make some sense if he were a Magician who refined mana to materialize spells, but as a Warrior who mainly used mana to amplify his physical abilities, this abnormality posed a problem.

“Of course, that also helps you to exhibit strength well beyond your level and physical abilities.”

“Right, it does.” Seol Jihu agreed right away. “But the way you said ‘freakishly high’ makes it sound like it’s a bad thing.”

“Isn’t that obvious?” Jang Maldong chuckled and then crossed his arms. “Your mana might flow through your Circuit, but it’s your body that is influenced by the mana’s amplifying effect. Once or twice might be okay, but in the long term, it will have a negative effect on your body.”

“What do you mean by negative effect…?”

“Hmph, since you recklessly overwork your body all the time, you should have experienced it already…. A constant throbbing of the head, a sudden knot in your stomach, regular dizziness, or a sudden loss of strength…. Do any of these ring a bell?”

A sour look appeared on Seol Jihu’s face, like he just bit into a bitter persimmon. The symptoms Jang Maldong described were everything he’d felt whenever he used his mana to the limit.

Seeing the youth’s speechless face, Jang Maldong clicked his tongue.

“If the body is a car, then mana is the engine. If the engine overheats and explodes, the entire car will burn up.”

“….”

“Don’t forget. Your engine is a time bomb.”

Seol Jihu’s expression turned solemn.

‘I see…. The reason for those strange symptoms was my engine screaming….’

Those were all things he hadn’t thought much of until now.

“Let’s cut the chit chat. Get in there.”

Jang Maldong pointed his cane at a large old tree, which had dozens of logs hanging from it. At first glance, they seemed to be positioned randomly, but the different direction and height of the logs were signs that they were placed with great care.

Seol Jihu walked until he was in the middle of the hanging logs. He looked around and saw a few bloodied logs.

‘What training could this be?’

“Did you drink the Competence?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know what the advantage of Competence is?”

Seol Jihu gave a simple reply at Jang Maldong’s question.

“It’s increasing the body’s rate of improvement.”

“You’re not wrong, but you’re not entirely correct. If you use it that way, you’re only making use of half of the Competence’s effect.”

‘Half?’

When Seol Jihu tilted his head, Jang Maldong grinned.

“The real effect of Competence is multiplying the efficiency of all activities of the body.”

Seol Jihu thought, ‘Isn’t that the same thing?’ But he didn’t say it out loud. The moment he did, he had a strong hunch that he would be smacked with a cane.

“It’ll be better for you to experience it once than to hear it a hundred times. Perform the Thrust, Strike, and Cut.”

Rather than asking, ‘Here?’, Seol Jihu swallowed his saliva. The logs were definitely not hanging here as decorations. They were sure to come flying at him during the training. He could easily tell just from the way Jang Maldong grabbed one of the logs.

“Start.”

Swish! Swish! Seol Jihu began to perform the spear techniques. After about twenty reps, a log came flying toward his left flank. As he had been on guard expecting something like this to happen, Seol Jihu immediately tried to avoid it by stepping backward. However….

Thwack!

“Uuk!”

Before he could even take two steps, he felt a blunt impact on the back of his head. He wasn’t hit. He actually ran into it himself.

“Who told you to move?”

Seol Jihu rubbed his head and groaned at Jang Maldong’s commanding tone.

“You can use your five senses or rely on your sixth sense. The goal of this training is to dodge without looking behind you.”

When he shouted, “Again!”, Seol Jihu hurriedly returned to the middle.

‘I can’t move from this spot.’

Although he constantly reminded himself, the same thing ended up happening on his second try. He was used to performing the three spear techniques in one spot, but having to pay attention to the logs added a whole new level of confusion.

Tk, tk, tk, tk! In the end, he was smacked in four different spots before falling. Clutching his head, he rolled around in pain.

“Nice going.”

“Come on, how am I supposed to dodge them if I’m not looking?”

“I never told you to dodge without looking. I told you to not look back.”

Jang Maldong continued calmly.

“I also told you not to move from that spot. But I never told you not to move at all.”

‘Wordplay?’

When Seol Jihu stared at him with blinking eyes, Jang Maldong closed his eyes gently. He was boiling with anger on the inside, but he opened his mouth with a calm expression.

“Listen, brat. Stop trying to do things without a plan and use your head. Think about why you’re investing your time into this training after drinking a precious Competence.”

He sighed and pointed the cane at him again.

“You’re quite proficient with the Thrust, Strike, and Cut. As long as you get in the right form, you display a high level of spearmanship. But the problem is this — no matter the reason, if your form gets shaken up even a little bit, your level plummets. It no longer stays as spearmanship but devolves into a random waving. Do you know why?”

Shake, shake.

“That’s because you have no experience. A true expert can block, parry, or dodge the enemy’s attack, all the while counter-attacking in the perfect spot.”

“You’re saying my attacks are too honest?”

“Don’t spout nonsense. Where’d you hear that? You can’t even do those ‘honest’ attacks.”

Pummeled by cold, hard facts, Seol Jihu was at a loss for words and could only shrug his shoulders. Jang Maldong wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t like he could ask his opponent in the middle of a fierce battle, ‘I’m trying to do a proper attack, so can you wait a moment? If possible, take a few steps back too.’

“I might be helping you train, but you’re the one who is going to make something of it! If you find out what my intentions are in making you do this training and even pull off some level of success, then you’ll end up with a great weapon in your hands.”

“A great… weapon?”

“Well… it will provide a foundation to correct your twisted mind, technique, and body.”

Jang Maldong wasn’t the type of person to say things in vain. Seol Jihu became a little more serious.

“What are you doing? Get up.”

“Wait.”

“Wait? What, you don’t want to train?”

“Five minutes, no, three minutes! Just give me three minutes. Let me think about something.”

Jang Maldong revealed a look of discontent, but he didn’t say no. That was because he could tell Seol Jihu’s attitude had changed.

After reflecting on everything Jang Maldong said, Seol Jihu opened his mouth, “Sir, I have a question.”

“Go ahead.”

“I know what the five senses are, but what do you mean by sixth sense?”

“…Hm.”

Jang Maldong dropped his head a little and a thin smile spread across his face.

‘Good!’

The youth wasn’t a genius who could understand ten things if he was taught one. But since he was at least trying to understand more than one, how could Jang Maldong not be happy?

“I’ll give you an example. Have you ever felt like someone was looking at you? Even once.”

Seol Jihu went, “Ah!” There were indeed times like that. Was it in high school? When he was enjoying talking with his close female classmates, he often felt a stinging glare. And once he turned around, sensing that something was off, he would always see Yoo Seonhwa looking at him restlessly. He still didn’t know why. After all, they weren’t even going out at the time.

“Looks like you have. The ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning - that’s what I call the sixth sense.”

“And this sixth sense… it’s something that can be trained?”

“If the reaction of your brain or your instincts are what’s causing it, then why not? In the end, it’s still a physical phenomenon.”

Seol Jihu exclaimed in awe inwardly. He finally understood why Jang Maldong made him drink the Competence. When he picked up his spear and got up, Jang Maldong also prepared himself.

“Start when you’re ready.”

His signal also changed from ‘start’ to ‘start when you’re ready’. These three additional words made a whole world of difference.

Shortly afterward, Seol Jihu’s spear began to stab and slice through the air. After another twenty reps….

“!”

A rope began to move. Seol Jihu didn’t turn back to see where the log was coming from and only focused on the movement of the rope.

Soon, when the rope that was moving like a pendulum drew a horizontal line, he slightly raised his leg.

An abrasive surface brushed past his foot. That wasn’t all. Tong! The sound of a log hitting something rang out.

‘Left? No, is it a bit behind that?’

He wasn’t sure. However, as soon as he heard the sound of something cutting through the air, he twisted his body. And as he spun, he stabbed forward with his spear.

“That’s it.”

He heard a compliment for the first time. But before he even had the chance to rejoice, a bloody smell spread out from the right side. He reflexively turned his head.

“Good.”

In the next instant, his neck felt itchy. Maintaining a high level of concentration, Seol Jihu followed his instincts and lowered his head.

Swish. A sandpaper-like sensation brushed past his spine.

“Excellent!”

Jang Maldong clenched his fists. Like the saying, ‘praise breeds willingness’, Seol Jihu became more excited and heated up about the training.

*

Second week. The training entered a new phase.

The content of the training changed quite a bit, but the biggest change was that Jang Maldong began to add detailed advice no matter what training Seol Jihu did.

Even during weight training.

“The body can’t just be tough. It needs to be made durable so that it can absorb or ward off impact. If it can’t be bent like steel, there’s a chance it will shatter.” He nagged about making the muscles more elastic.

Of course, he did more than just physical training. When the morning training ended, Seol Jihu began his mana training under the guidance of Jang Maldong.

“Flash Step is a technique in which you move instantly by using the elasticity that comes from bending your body like a bow.”

The hellish muscle training ended, and Seol Jihu’s ears perked up as he drank water while panting. He was expecting to begin Mana Spear training, but his interest was piqued after hearing the words ‘Flash Step’. After all, who wouldn’t be excited about learning a new ability?

“Since it uses your entire body, you can say it’s closer to a body technique than a foot technique.”

Jang Maldong pointed at a large tree in the distance. This one was a normal tree that didn’t have any logs hanging off of it.

“You see that, right?”

“Yes.”

“Prepare your Mana Spear.”

“Excuse me?”

He couldn’t help but do a double-take. Jang Maldong immediately gave a more detailed explanation.

“Use your Mana Spear to make each leaf fall off. Remember, it’s one leaf per spear. Make sure your Mana Spear doesn’t affect the surroundings of the leaf.”

“Then… I would need to make the spear small and weak.”

“Yes, the key is to consume minimal energy to create Mana Spears. Try it. It won’t be easy.”

“Is there a point in doing that? The more mana I put in, the stronger Mana Spears—”

“That’s precisely the problem.” Jang Maldong snorted.

“There are three goals for this training. The first is to fix your bad habit.”

“?”

“No matter who or what you’re fighting, you tend to pour your mana in. Like I said before, if you don’t stop now, your body will break apart in the future.”

“….”

“The second goal is a matter of efficiency. Since you always use all of your mana to defeat your target, you are unable to do delicate control. In other words, your control over mana is poor.”

Seol Jihu thought he was quite skilled at controlling his mana, so this came as a surprise. Although he nodded his head in agreement, he still had a few doubts.

“I understand what you mean, but what does this training have to do with Flash Step?”

He asked, figuring that the answer would be related to the third goal. However, Jang Maldong didn’t answer outright.

“You know…,” Jang Maldong stared at him and grinned. “I’ve been thinking this for a while now, but you really are the type who needs to be taught ten out of ten things.”

“S-Sorry.” Interpreting Jang Maldong’s words as him needing to be spoonfed, he hurriedly apologized. Jang Maldong shook his head.

“You don’t need to apologize. You grew up on Earth, so it would be strange if you knew these things. Besides, it’s not a bad thing to seek advice.”

He sighed disappointedly as he looked at Hugo, who was collapsed in the corner.

“Do you like soccer?”

It was a seemingly random question, and although Seol Jihu preferred baseball, he didn’t say anything.

“In terms of soccer… I’m not expecting you to make goals. But if someone passes the ball to you, even if you miss your shot or the goalkeeper blocks it, it’s normal to at least try to score.”

“Right.”

“Suppose that you just passed the ball to someone and he’s just standing there in a daze. Wouldn’t you be mad?”

“I would.”

Seol Jihu wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but since Jang Maldong sounded like he was complaining, Seol Jihu just went along with it.

“Right?”

Whew- After taking a deep sigh, Jang Maldong smacked his lips.

“Well, in that sense… you’re not half-bad. You’re decisive as well.”

It sounded like he was complimenting him.

“But sometimes, you need to learn to score by yourself.”

Jang Maldong put more strength into his voice.

“Receiving passes and scoring is a skill in itself, but there’s no guarantee that someone will always pass the ball to you at the right time. Sometimes, it might even be impossible.”

“You’re saying I should develop a habit of thinking.”

“Yes. To be more precise, you have come to a realization on your own. If you can’t do that, even if you become a High Ranker, you will only be a Halfie,” Jang Maldong said solemnly before raising his cane.

‘Halfie?’

Seol Jihu felt like he just heard an important piece of information. Although he had more questions to ask, he decided to focus on the training for now.

Jang Maldong’s cane was pointing to the tree.

*

A new training started, but that didn’t mean his suffering decreased. In fact, if he was only talking about pain, it was multiplied several folds compared to before.

He was bruised all over his body from being struck by the logs, his muscles spasmed, and because he focused on fine control of his mana, he felt drained of energy. Since he still had to run to finish the day, the quantity of training had actually increased.

Jang Maldong really wasn’t lying when he’d said ‘It will only get harder from tomorrow.’

“Uuuuu….”

Seol Jihu groaned in pain as he headed to a lake near the cave. Even though all he wanted to do was just lie down when the training was over, he needed to wash up first. The cave was a small and confined space to begin with, and he would be causing the others a massive headache if he went in there smelling horrible.

After great struggles, he finally arrived at the lake. He took his training clothes off and carefully dipped his body in the water. His skin stung for a moment, then his body trembled from the gentle flow of the water.

It was so refreshing that he wanted to scream from the top of his lungs. But since he was exhausted, he chose to quietly swim along the lake currents. When he pushed his face underwater and loosened his arms and legs, he began to float with only his curved back above the surface.

If anyone unfamiliar with the situation was watching him, they would surely think they were looking at a corpse. Of course, Seol Jihu didn’t care about this in the slightest. His head was only filled with thoughts of training.

The second week was coming to a close. He was making progress, but he was still clueless as to how the Flash Step worked.

‘What does fine control of mana have to do with it?’

It was hard to believe that Jang Maldong said it without a purpose. Looking back at all the training exercises he’d done, Jang Maldong’s training seemed to be connected with each other.

Rather than trying to achieve a single goal with a single training exercise, Jang Maldong’s methods seemed to be arranged so that many things could be learned mid-process.

In other words, it was likely that the two goals he heard about were clues to learning the Flash Step. It was just that… Seol Jihu couldn’t figure it out.

Seol Jihu slowly raised his head out of the water before taking a small breath and plunging his head back down. He got rid of all idle thoughts and entrusted his body to the flow.

How much time went by? As he was endlessly floating on the lake’s surface, feeling the flow of the water, Seol Jihu suddenly tilted his head.

‘Flow?’

When this thought crossed his mind, an unknown sensation enveloped his body. He wasn’t sure what to make of this sensation, but he subconsciously concentrated on the flow of the water brushing past his body.

This was the first time he was experiencing such a phenomenon. He couldn’t describe it well, but a regretful feeling swept over him. He felt like something was within his grasp but was escaping his hands every time.

‘Flow, flow, flow, flow….’

Seol Jihu muttered the word ‘flow’ over and over again as if to clutch at straws. That was when…

Tk. Something touched his head. At the same time, his concentration broke along with all the flowing sensation of the water.

‘Ah!’

Seol Jihu raised his head wistfully. Immediately, something white filled his sight. Judging by its round figure, it seemed to be a rock. He must have hit his head while drifting around the lake.

‘Damn it!’

Just when it was within my grasp….

A look of annoyance spread across his face. Disturbed at a critical moment, he felt like he suffered a great injustice.

‘This damned rock!’

Seol Jihu slammed his head against the rock. He knew what he was doing was stupid and knew that the rock wasn’t at fault. Still, he planted his face on the rock repeatedly. Otherwise, he didn’t feel like he could soothe his stomach.

‘Damn it, damn it!’

And in the middle of busily slamming his head….

‘Damn… it?’

He suddenly felt that something was off. His head should hurt given how hard he was slamming it into the rock, but he couldn’t feel a thing. In fact, he felt like his brain was enjoying it.

Looking at the rock again, he realized that it was too white to be a marble. It was as if he was looking at a ball of snow.

‘What is it?’

When he rubbed his cheek against it, he felt its squishiness. The elasticity of the supposed rock was so soothing that he wanted to rub his face against it forever.

‘There was a rock like this?’

Rather mystified, Seol Jihu dug his face into the soft surface. His face sunk right in. When he took a deep breath just to be sure, the fragrant smell of….

‘Huh?’

At this point, Seol Jihu had an inkling as to what the rock was.

Peek. He glanced to the side and saw another rock right there.

‘Twin rocks?’

No, it was too smooth, round, and pretty to be a rock or a boulder. Seol Jihu slowly looked up. His gaze went past a slim porcelain-like waistline and climbed up the curve of a back with artistic beauty.

When his gaze went above the neckline and confirmed the red lips clenching down, his eyes quivered.

“So,” A chilling voice just as icy as her cold gaze shot down. “How long do you plan on smelling my butt?”

Hiik-! Seol Jihu shot back in terror.

Under the silent night sky, inside the lake gleaming with starlight, Agnes was covering her upper body with her arms, with her back pointed toward him. Her dazzling beauty made him wonder if he was looking at the goddess of beauty. Her hair wasn’t tied up like usual, giving her a whole new look than what he was used to.

‘No, wait.’

Admiring her beauty could wait. Seol Jihu snapped out of his daze and began to beg in a flustered gibberish. That it wasn’t on purpose, that he was mistaken while thinking about something else….

“…I’ll believe you.”

He was prepared to be beaten up until he was a step away from death when he heard this and couldn’t believe his ears.

‘D-Did I hear that correctly?’

“You see, I was a bit surprised too,” Agnes muttered as she stealthily turned her sharp gaze.

“I had my guard down, but to think I wouldn’t notice you approaching….”

“….”

“If you approached with the intention of peeking, there’s no way I wouldn’t have noticed. At the very least, I believe that you were thinking about something else.”

Seol Jihu’s mouth opened slightly.

“So,” Agnes tried to raise her glasses out of habit, and then went back to covering her upper body when she realized she wasn’t wearing them.

“What were you thinking about?” She sounded like she wouldn’t let him leave in one piece if she wasn’t satisfied with his answer.

“Y-You see… I was thinking about my new ability when the flow of water suddenly…”

When Seol Jihu confessed everything he had experienced, Agnes’s eyes widened and a fed-up expression surfaced on her face.

Seol Jihu was washing up after a long tiring day of training. The fact that he was still thinking about training meant he had to be a masochist when it concerned training.

“I’ve told you time and time again, resting is part of training. What you’re doing is overworking your exhausted brain.”

“Right, but what Master Jang said kept bothering me….”

“Master Jang? What did he say?”

“Something about being a Halfie High Ranker….”

Agnes went, “Ah”, then made a dull smile. It was as if she was saying that he was worried for nothing.

“That’s Master Jang being stubborn.”

“Stubborn?”

“Yes, it’s his personal philosophy. By his logic, 80% of all High Rankers would be Halfies.”

“I see….”

Seol Jihu nodded his head, but he still couldn’t hide his disappointment. Agnes’s tongue licked her upper lip.

“Anyways, you said you were thinking about the flow of water…? Perhaps that’s a clue to arriving at the answer.”

Seol Jihu looked up. “Really?”

“I can tell you if you’d like.”

“Real… n-no.” Seol Jihu’s face brightened at Agnes’s suggestion, but then he quickly waved his hand in refusal.

“It’s fine. I want to do this by myself.”

Agnes nodded her head as if that was a fine choice.

“I understand. I wish you good luck.”

“Thank you. And, um, I’m really sorry about before.”

Seol Jihu bowed from the waist. Agnes turned away.

“Anyways, you should stop floating around the lake just because the training isn’t going well. You might drown if you accidentally fall asleep.” With that, Agnes headed to the center of the lake with smooth movements.

Seol Jihu was standing like a stone statue until now. Realizing that he was beginning to tremble, he quickly followed Agnes like a duckling chasing after its mother.

He thought that the water was deep, but the ground was protruding up where Agnes was standing.

‘So that’s why….’

As he saw Agnes getting farther away, Seol Jihu rubbed his nose and cheeks. Then, he let out a small chuckle.

To think the evil rock that interrupted his thoughts was Agnes’s butt.

‘Wait, then it’s not an evil rock….’

He knew that he would be killed the moment he laughed, so he held his breath and reined in his laughter from bursting out.

*

The morning dawned.

When Jang Maldong woke up in the morning, he became speechless at the sight in front of the cave. Four people were running together. Agnes, Kazuki, and even Hugo were there.

That wasn’t all. In terms of stamina, it was correct for Agnes to be in the lead, followed by Hugo, Kazuki, and Seol Jihu.

However, Seol Jihu was running in the front, with Agnes chasing after him. They were running so fast that they were pouring with sweat.

‘Brat….’

The youth could barely follow his training in the beginning, but now, he was even leading the group. Seeing him so passionate, the old man couldn’t help but feel a little lump in his throat.

He was proud. Compared to the two idiots who paid for a Ceremony to have him die, the youth was like a saint.

Not long afterward, Kazuki and Hugo stopped. However, Seol Jihu was still running nonstop.

It was truly an unbelievable sight.

[I’m not training so that I can run away.]

He began to see the youth in a different light. He had no other choice but to re-evaluate his willpower.

“Haha!”

Jang Maldong laughed happily and watched Seol Jihu and Agnes climb up a hill to where he was. It was then…

“…Hm?”

He blinked in surprise as he saw the duo getting closer. Agnes seemed to be running at full speed but seemed to be unable to pass Seol Jihu. That was impossible from a logical standpoint.

‘Wait a minute….’

Now that he thought about it, Seol Jihu was running abnormally fast. Soon, the youth climbed up the hill with a storm of dust behind him. As soon as he touched the starting point, he turned to the side.

“Why are you doing this?” He screamed and quickly made his way down the other side of the hill. His arms swung in quick succession, and his legs were barely visible.

While Jang Maldong was looking at him in a daze, Agnes reached the starting point and quickly chased after him.

“Stop right there!”

“At least give me an explanation!”

“Shut up! This is the third time…!”

The incident began early morning while Jang Maldong was still asleep. Agnes got up at the same time as Seol Jihu and advised him to eat breakfast. They ended up eating together, but Seol Jihu remembered the previous night’s incident and snickered.

He thought he was being secretive, but there was no way someone of Agnes’s caliber wouldn’t have noticed.

Seeing Seol Jihu dodge her gaze, she became convinced. She checked her Status Window just to be sure and erupted when she saw that ‘Evil Butt’ had been added.

Seol Jihu ran away immediately.

“Evil Butt? What’s so evil about my butt?”

“I, I only thought about it in my head!”

“I’ll kill you once I get my hands on you!”

“Miss Agnes!”

“You’re dead!”

Agnes’s voice echoed out far and wide.

Meanwhile, Jang Maldong blankly watched the youth desperately running away with his Festina Earring in full use.

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