Early July, 2017 AD.
Around 300 Paradise days after the opening of the Neutral Zone on March 16.
The event that garnered the attention of countless Earthlings was officially over.
The fifth Banquet had been expected to be similar to the fourth Banquet, which was also known as ‘The Festival of Blood’, but the results proved to be the opposite.
Contrary to all expectations, a large number of survivors exited the portal.
The rate of survival in Stage 3 of the previous Banquets had always been devilishly low — the third Banquet had two survivors while the fourth had none. Considering this, the fact that over half returned alive instantly became widespread news.
Particularly, the rumor that an Earthling from Area 1 was the root cause of this phenomenon instantly spread like wildfire to the seven cities.
The Southeast City of Eva
“Did you see the article about the Banquet? Look here! We are from the same year, you know? We were in the tutorial together!”
As if waving the article back and forth wasn’t enough, Shin Sang-Ah bounced around everywhere shouting at the top of her voice. The people around her cringed when they heard her shout.
One person even sighed. “Hahh… Here we go again.”
“Alright, alright. Miss Sang-Ah, we get it, now please calm dow-"
“Do I look like I can calm down?”
With a weak smile on his face, a man attempted to calm her… only to no avail.
“Isn’t it freaking awesome? Like, they say he’s already Level 3! Get it? Level 3! Huh? He’s Level 3! Okay?”
In the midst of a helplessly sighing crowd of people, a slow-witted woman with a curious look committed something that shouldn’t have been done.
“Hey Unni, just what kind of a person is he to get you this fired up?”
In that moment, Shin Sang-Ah looked at her with the eyes of a predator, while a man who was just about to cover his ears trembled.
“Oh my. You don’t know who Seol-nim is? Then I suppose there’s no helping it but to tell you about him again. Listen carefully, now. Our fates crossed paths on the second floor of the-…”
The man teared up.
“…-tutorial. Anyway, there was a son of a bitch called Kang Seok.”
Shin Sang-Ah then proceeded to preach the gospel of god-Seol without pause.
The Northwest City of Nur.
“I don’t believe it!”
A middle-aged man exclaimed as he looked through the newspaper.
“Not only did he fend off an Orc Champion, he slayed it? Even if he wasn’t alone, it’s not something a Level 3 can pull off… No wait. Since he cleared the Banquet, I guess it’s just a matter of time that he’ll become Level 4?”
The man muttered to himself before his jaw suddenly dropped to the ground.
“T-This. Isn’t he almost leveling up once a month?”
A young man wearing a green cap backwards chuckled when he saw the middle-aged man shake his head.
“I told you. He’s something else.”
The gaping mouth of the middle-aged man showed no signs of closing.
There was a limit in trying to understand the unreasonable. Considering that an Earthling usually took 2 to 3 years at the fastest to reach Level 4, Seol Jihu’s growth speed had long surpassed being just ‘amazing’ and was simply terrifying.
Even throughout all of history, his monstrous speed would have easily placed him in the top three.
On the flip side, this also meant that while his case was extremely rare, there were still cases like him. Only after realizing this did the middle-aged man barely close his mouth.
“It’s all good nevertheless. After Miss Seo Yuhui, Miss Baek Haeju, and that bastard Sung Shihyun, it seemed like Area 1 stopped producing noteworthy people. It’s been a while since someone that I can place my expectations on showed up."
“Was Area 1 viewed as ‘barren’ for a while?“
“Not ‘barren’ or so to say, but after the three bigshots, well two bigshots and one son of a bitch, it’s true that not many people with talents appeared.”
“Well, putting that aside for now. Why did you only mention people from our country?”
“Aren’t we all proud Koreans?”
“Ughh. The stench of patriotism.”
“You little punk.”
The middle-aged man chided. Then turning around and neatly folding the newspaper, he softly asked.
“By the way, Sangmin, didn’t you say you knew this guy?”
“Well I guess you can say we’re acquainted.”
Hyun Sangmin replied as if it wasn’t anything big.
“Choosing that guy in the Tutorial was the best choice I’ve ever made.”
“No, don’t even try.”
The middle-aged man hesitated hearing the young man refuse even before listening to the rest of what he was about to say.
“I know what you’re expecting, but we’re not that close."
“I know, but still.”
“I told you already. We might greet each other on the road, shake our hands asking each other how we’ve been and all, but we’ll still go our separate ways after maybe a meal together.”
He continued after briefly clicking his tongue.
“And more than anything else, I just don’t want to. Also, Seol… umm, I guess his name now is… Seol Jihu?”
He tilted his head for a second before resuming.
“Anyway, he might look like a kind, amiable guy, but he’s the type who is very straightforward in making and breaking relationships. He’s not someone that can be used. Definitely not.”
“Who said I’ll use him? I only meant that we should work together as people from the same nation.”
The middle-aged man retorted with a grumpy face.
“That patriotism. Put a lid on it, will you? And pfft.. ‘work together’, huh?”
The sharply retorting Hyun Sangmin suddenly smirked.
“If you really want to do something, then push me instead.”
“What’s this now? How much more do you want us to support you.”
“Won’t I just go and embarrass myself if I went and met him right now? I need something to back up my words if I want to confidently ask for a collaboration or something, don’t I?”
“Well, won’t you look at this guy! You tell me not to use people when you’re the one using me, huh?”
“Tsk, you notice too fast.”
“Why you little punk.”
The two men both broke up in laughter.
The Capital City, Scheherazade
Yi Sungjin frantically rushed over while waving a piece of paper in his hand.
“Look! Look at this!”
The blankly standing Yi Seol-Ah tiredly responded as she turned around.
“What is it?”
“You remember Hyung, right? Seol Hyung.”
“Yea. Hurry and look.”
Yi Seol-Ah peered at the paper. And as she read, her face began to fill with astonishment.
As if reading about the news of someone she knew was that gratifying, her once dull pupils slowly regained its light, and her pale face started to regain some color.
“Heavens! Is this all true?”
“It is. Isn’t it amazing?”
“Just what on earth. He’s really awesome…”
“Isn’t he? He must be super successful nowadays. Well, if it’s Hyung then, it makes sense.”
Yi Seol-Ah chimed in without letting go of the paper in her hand.
“Yes, of course! That’s our Orabeo-nim!”
Yi Sungjin chuckled seeing his sister react with such joy.
“Hey Noona. Just call him Oppa. Orabeo-nim sounds weird.”
“So what if it does? Anyway, it says his name is Jihu here. It wasn’t Seol?”
“Oh that. I was wondering about that too, but I’m confident it’s Hyung. There must be a reason.”
It was only for a moment that they were able to chatter excitedly.
“What are you guys doing?”
The siblings both went stiff when they heard the sharp voice that interrupted them.
They made unwilling faces, but upon forcibly turning their heads around, there she was.
A woman with one hand on her waist, staring at them with an impassive expression.
At first glance, her haughty face with her famous knife-like personality made her seem like she was exuding a hostile aura.
Yi Seol-Ah immediately bent her waist in greetings.
“What were you doing?”
Gravely striding over, the woman didn’t respond to Yi Seol-Ah’s greeting and snatched the paper she was holding.
Yi Seol-Ah reflexively stretched out her hand but paused when she saw the woman’s eyebrows shooting up. She slowly dropped her arm back down.
After glancing through the paper.
“Who brought this?”
The woman asked with narrowed eyes.
Yi Sungjin replied. It was a slightly rebellious tone.
Yi Seol-Ah whispered, but the boy didn’t turn away his eyes. The woman’s lips visibly tightened.
The woman let out a scoff as if she had just witnessed something ridiculous.
“Ahh. These punks are driving me crazy once again huh.”
Slowly crumpling the paper with her fair hands.
“Hey you. Yi Seol-Ah.”
She gripped her hand into a fist and crumpled the paper further.
“You think Paradise is a joke, don’t you?”
“No I don’t!”
Yi Seol-ah shook her hands panickedly.
“No? Then, why are you looking at this kind of thing? Do you think you have the leisure to fool around?”
“I-I’m sorry, Unni.”
Yi Seol-Ah hung her neck, looking depressed.
The woman jutted her chin out and dragged out a long sigh for them to hear. Then she focused her gaze at Yi Seol-Ah who was fidgeting uncomfortably.
“Look, kids. You guys didn’t come here for free. You both came through because I used my achievement points, right?”
“Considering you made me spend two Bronze Stamps, you have to at least act like the stamps’ worth. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“And this. Just what made you bring this? To piss me off?”
“…It’s not like that.”
Yi Seol-Ah softly spoke up but hearing the woman’s tone becoming sharper, she flinched.
“Don’t you feel any shame looking at things like this? You’re both from the same year, aren’t you? It’s not like you’ve excelled and broken any records or anything. No, I don’t even expect that. I wouldn’t even be complaining here if you had just hit average.”
“I’ll try my best. I’ll work harder.”
“Aigoo. Our little lady. Always saying that she’ll do her best, that she’ll try harder. Just when do you plan on starting?”
The woman berated her without end.
“If you’re not talented, then don’t you at least have to show that you’re hard working? Don’t you feel sorry for the person who scouted you?”
The woman tossed the crumpled paper after waving it in front of them a few times. As Yi Seol-Ah felt the paper ball hit her foot, she bit down on her lips.
“Well won’t you look at her. Just because I said a few bad words. Sigh."
Shaking her head, she turned around and promptly left the room.
Even after the footsteps gradually faded away, the pair of siblings stood in silence.
There was a sudden sniffle. The surprised Yi Sungjin could see Yi Seol-Ah’s reddened nose.
“…does that woman have some sort of sickness that’ll kill her if she doesn’t bitch around at least once a day.”
He grit his teeth looking at the door before turning and scratching his head.
“I’m sorry, Noona. It’s all because I brought the paper…”
Yi Seol-Ah shook her head.
“No, no, it’s not your fault. And it’s not like that woman’s been that way for a day or two either."
Yi Seol-Ah’s eyes were watery but seeing that she pursed her lips and tightly gripped both her hands into fists, it seemed like she didn’t lose her conviction.
Letting out a short sigh, Yi Sunjin commented with a whining voice.
“I miss the Neutral Zone.”
Yi Seol-Ah neither agreed or disagreed with his words, but she didn’t say no either.
“Let’s go train.”
Saying that with a slightly hoarse voice, she packed her bow and arrows and left the room.
Haramark. Carpe Diem Office.
“Sure. Go ahead.”
Chohong’s cool reply made Seol Jihu make a bewildered expression.
“Why do you look like you have a hook floating above your head? Go ahead and do it!”
Snorting, Chohong resumed concentrating on her exercise.
“That geezer was cautiously asking whether you came and mentioned anything about the leader position. I guess all’s good now.”
On one hand, Seol Jihu was impressed at the sweating Chohong who was doing crunches while hanging upside down with her legs hooked on a pull up bar. On the other hand, he couldn’t help but feel unsettled, thinking that things were complicated.
He knew that Chohong didn’t have any ambitions about being the leader. But not taking up the position because she didn’t want to and fully supporting him as the team’s leader after acknowledging him was a different matter altogether.
So he had painstakingly prepared and carefully asked, only for her to throw out a ‘Sure. Go ahead.’
It was a reply cool enough to the point that it was almost cold.
Seeing Seol Jihu just dumbly stand there, Chohong spoke after realizing what he was thinking.
“Hey! Do you take me for a fool? Do you think I simply agreed without thinking it through?”
“Of course. You’ve accomplished some amazing things lately. So what are you worried about?”
Like Chohong remarked, it could be said that there really was nothing to worry about. He had already proven his uniqueness.
He had appeased the spirit in an unconventional manner in the Forest of Denial, proven his bravery when he lured hundreds of Parasites in the Arden Valley, and pulled off the impossible when he solved the mystery behind the Ramman Village.
Was that all? He had provided a plan for the rescue mission and had even displayed his ability to sway a crowd during the Banquet.
And this was leaving out his Gold Stamp or his monstrous growth speed. The numerous accomplishments that he had unknowingly accumulated naturally provided him with the qualifications to be acknowledged as a leader.
However, it would have been a different story if Chohong had also aimed for the role. But since she even went ahead saying that acting as the temporary leader had been much too exhausting, there was no reason for him to persuade her against it.
“Don’t think about it too much. There wasn’t anything big either when we made Dylan the leader.”
Though Chohong said not to worry, it wasn’t reassuring at all. After all, the visions he and Dylan had were completely different.
Was it really okay to just accept the role this easily?
Seol Jihu turned his dazed eyes. Hugo was looking outside the window as if he hadn’t heard anything.
He was blissfully gazing at the house across the street. More accurately, he was staring at Seo Yuhui who was standing outside her door.
Hugo was unresponsive even when he carefully tried calling him.
Hugo finally responded when Seol Jihu shouted for his attention. But even then, he made shooing gestures with his hands without turning around, saying with his actions not to bother him.
“Yea yea. Sure. Okay. From now on, Seol is our leader.”
Seol Jihu’s tense face collapsed upon hearing Hugo’s simple reply. He felt stupid for racking his mind until his head hurt all night long on how to convince the two of them.
Chohong who jumped down from the pull up bar, placed her hand on Seol Jihu’s shoulders.
“Hey. You must have felt it living with us for a while, but Hugo, that bastard, is a guy who’ll outright express whatever he has on his mind. He’s not one to hide anything he’s dissatisfied with.”
Seol Jihu almost blurted out, ‘You’re like that, too,’ before quickly swallowing it.
“The fact that he’s like that means he doesn’t have any problems with it. Think positively.”
“And you know. That bastard doesn’t have much thoughts to start with.”
Chohong said with a slightly serious tone. Seol Jihu found himself unconsciously agreeing.
“Anyways, good luck, new leader!”
Heartily shouting a cheer, Chohong slapped his back and left the training room.
Though his back still stung from Chohong’s slap, Seol Jihu walked towards Hugo who was still lost in the sight of Seo Yuhui.
“Hugo. Can we talk a bit?”
Seol Jihu wanted to have a serious conversation with Hugo.
“Talk? Sounds good.”
“Wow… Isn’t she just so beautiful?”
Seol Jihu decided to give up.Previous Chapter Next Chapter