Seven people, consisting of Shin Sang-Ah, Yi Sungjin, Hyun Sangmin, and Yun Seora, as well as the three people Seol shared food with earlier on, were standing in the corridor right outside classroom 3-2. They seemed to be unable to enter the safe zone.
That wasn't the end, however.
Seol found three rather familiar figures outside classroom 3-1. Yi Hyungsik and Jeong Minwoo stood triumphantly, while Kang Seok was sitting on a chair, looking quite relaxed and pleased with himself.
“You finally showed up.”
Kang Seok raised his hand and greeted Seol. Ignoring him, Seol walked closer and spotted Hyun Sangmin's darkened expression. Anger was evident on his face as well. Shin Sang-Ah also looked like she'd just had about enough of those three, too.
“….They say it's a spell that restricts access.”
Hyun Sangmin glanced at Seol and groaned out.
'A spell that can restrict access?'
Just as he finished thinking this, Seol's steps came to a halt. No, that wasn't quite right— he couldn't go forward as if there was an invisible wall blocking his progress.
Seol lightly tapped on the seemingly empty air. Knock, knock. There was nothing in front of him, yet the sensation of knocking on a cement wall was transmitted to his hand.
“You're wasting your time. You see, I got this as a starting bonus. No one can enter without my permission.”
Kang Seok slowly fidgeted around with his fingers. There was a half-torn piece of paper held between his index and middle finger.
“You haven't forgotten that my Mark was silver, right? Mister high-and-mighty Gold Mark.”
Kang Seok giggled insidiously. Seol frowned slightly, instead.
“You opened the door to the sixth floor, didn't you?”
“Mm? I got the key through the drawing machine. Don't you know that you will definitely receive the key if you spend 199 coins?”
Of course, Seol knew that. But, he was curious about the reason why Kang Seok would waste his coins getting that key in the first place. After all, what with Seol and Yun Seora taking away almost all the coins, Kang Seok and his goons couldn't have had the easiest time searching for the coins themselves.
It would have been tough just finding enough for their gate usage fee, so why….
It was then, a hypothesis formed in Seol's head. He reflexively turned his head around to look behind him— at the unconscious Yun Seora.
“Yup, as expected! I knew you were a smart guy!”
Kang Seok exclaimed in a display of pleasant surprise.
“Actually, I have to admit that this was a gamble with low odds of success. I mean, in order for us to succeed, two things had to happen, you know what I mean? If you had chosen never to leave this safe zone in the first place, then my plan would've been all for nothing.”
“What are you saying?”
“However, I definitely knew you'd crawl out of here. Seriously now, a nice gentleman like you wouldn't just sit still on your ass after hearing that loud scream, am I right?”
“As for Yun Seora… Well, I was planning to approach her when the time was right, but for some reason, she was getting really fired up trying to find more coins. Oh, well! It was a good thing for us in the end, so it doesn't matter, right?”
Hearing this, the pieces finally fell to their intended places.
The first step of Kang Seok's plan was to get the sixth-floor access key. With three of them working together, finding 199 coins wouldn't have been that difficult.
After acquiring the key, Kang Seok kept a close eye on the situation.
From the very beginning, he never planned to hit Seol. No, he planned to attack Yun Seora the moment she revealed that she was in possession of the map.
The timing was important, but the main variable was still Yun Seora. Kang Seok had to try something, anything to separate her from Seol.
The original plan was to have one of their members assault either Yi Sungjin or some other poor sucker to draw Seol away, and in the meantime, the remaining two would attack the isolated Yun Seora. Her personality meant that even if there was some kind of an incident unfolding somewhere, she'd not care and thus, not make a move herself.
However, Yun Seora was focused on finding more coins well beyond the midnight mark. How could this situation be any better for Kang Seok and his goons?
So, the trio assaulted Yun Seora as she entered the girl's restroom. After robbing her of her coins, they went to the sixth floor before Seol reached the bathroom, and opened the door. Then, when Seol was still on the fifth floor, they came back down to the safe area and activated the restriction spell.
“All of you have lost your damned minds!”
Shin Sang-Ah loudly swore at them.
“You insane bastards! You crippled a person to this degree, just for some measly coins?”
“Nope~ That wasn't my original intention. I just wanted to knock her out. I swear that was all.”
Kang Seok defended himself as if he was being wrongly accused of the crime.
“But then, that girl was so damn persistent, you know what I mean? She grabbed onto the bag and didn't want to give it up, and that really pissed me off. So, that's why….”
The end of Kang Seok's sentence trailed off; Jeong Minwoo standing next to him giggled unsightly, and from seemingly out of nowhere, produced a dagger and performed a stabbing motion in the air. He too was an Invited, albeit as a Bronze Mark.
With an exquisite ill-timing, a devilish roar resounded out from the distance. The complexions of almost everyone present paled. The very first monster they encountered upon the start of this journey, the one that gave them such a nightmare— the Gaekgwi was climbing up to where they were at this precise moment.
“Wow! Sounds like that thing is really pissed off, isn't it? Oh, well. It's been locked out down below all this time, so there's that.”
Kang Seok and his two cronies looked extremely relaxed.
“If you're waiting for the end of this spell's duration…. Well, I feel like I should inform you right now, that you all should just give up.”
“Are you saying it'll last forever?”
“No ways. It's not that crazy of a cheat item. Not only the duration, but the size of the effective area is limited, actually. If I were to increase the area to its maximum permitted width, then it'll probably last around 8 minutes, tops? …But what do you think will happen if I only keep the area to half its maximum size? Like, only around this part of the corridor.”
Kang Seok pointed once each towards the safe zone's front and rear entrances. Seol didn't reply. There was no need to after all; Kang Seok was implying that, when the spell's covered area decreased in size, the duration of the spell would increase instead.
“With that Gaekgwi coming up, you wouldn't be able to go to the sixth floor yourself, though?”
“Oh, that? You don't have to worry. You see, I'm a really lucky bastard. Look here.”
Kang Seok pulled out another piece of paper and waved it around the air.
“See? I've got another paper talisman with a spell written on it~!”
Seeing how he was playfully teasing Seol and others like that, it seemed this must've been his natural-born talent. Seol couldn't help but think that the reason the bastard turned out this way was all thanks to suffering a bad prenatal development or something similar.
“Please! Let us in!”
Someone behind Seol shouted out. It was the young man who tried to sneakily ask Seol to revive his dead friend, right before the treasure hunt commenced.
“I, I haven't done anything wrong to you, have I?”
Hearing that, Seol couldn't help but chuckle bitterly.
'Are you trying to imply that I did something wrong then?'
Forming a fake expression that screamed “I didn't think about that!”, Kang Seok opened his eyes wide and began rubbing his chin in a show of deep deliberation. Then, as if he was being a benevolent benefactor, he murmured rather loudly.
“Yes, indeed…. It could be so. I'm sure it's unfair to you like this. Fine! Good, good! You, you, and you. You three, I'll grant entry.”
The trio glanced at each other, and then without any hesitation, ran forward. It was a repeat of the time when they were entering the second-floor safe zone as soon as the metal barrier was lowered. Only after rushing inside the safe zone did they begin spitting out sighs of relief.
And so, the moment Kang Seok had been waiting for finally came. He gazed at the others who remained outside the barrier with a relaxed smile.
Seol inwardly issued a disappointed groan. It seemed that the lessons taught on the second floor weren't enough for these idiots.
'It's a good thing that I made preparations.'
Seol slowly reached inside his pockets, getting ready to finish this nonsense once and for all; but, before he could….
“So, what about you, little guy? Or you, Hyun Sangmin?”
Seol's hand stopped just before he could grasp the spell balls. It was unknown what he was thinking at the moment while he withdrew his empty hand from the pocket.
“You wanna die like this? Hey, you want to die to that Gaekgwi monster, the one that murdered your pretty and kind sister? Siblings, eh? Is it like, 'get one and you get another' kinda deal?”
“Hey, man! Miss Yi Seol-Ah must be turning in her grave. I'm pretty sure she's fervently praying for me to save your hide right now.”
Kang Seok confirmed that Yi Sungjin was trembling like a leaf, and then shifted his attention to Hyun Sangmin.
“And you… You did what you could already, right? No, wait a minute— could it be that you're feeling a guilty conscience or something? What the? I thought you were a realistic bastard like me? Was I wrong?”
“Just come in already. There ain't nobody here to tell you shit.”
Kang Seok's words were as slick and seductive as the whispers of a viper. After hearing those persuasive words, Hyun Sangmin and Yi Sungjin kept staring at each other before shifting their gaze to a single man.
However, Seol simply stood there in silence.
The first one to make his move was Yi Sungjin. He resolutely shut his mouth and trudged onwards. He walked past the invisible barrier and entered the safe zone.
“Keke…. Still so young, yet so impressively decisive. Very good. You could even become a general in the future.”
Kang Seok lightly tapped on the youth's shoulder. The boy didn't say anything and entered the classroom.
“However, you are more loyal than you look, aren't you, Hyun Sangmin?”
Even then, Seol didn't show any response. Seeing this, Hyun Sangmin licked his lips regretfully and pulled his cap low. After spitting out a low groan, he began moving as well.
….After leaving behind that single word.
“Oh, hang on. How about giving me a smoke first?”
Kang Seok stopped Hyun Sangmin before the latter could enter the barrier.
“Don't forget the light.”
Only after Hyun Sangmin personally lit the cigarette for Kang Seok, was he allowed to enter. Kang Seok sucked in the cigarette smoke once; he then proceeded to feign shock after 'finding' Shin Sang-Ah standing there.
“What's the matter with you now? Did you become an exhibitionist all of a sudden after taking your pants off just once?”
Shin Sang-Ah gritted her teeth. Yi Sungjin and Hyun Sangmin's desertion was quite shocking, but there was a far graver matter of her own safety to worry about here. Thinking back to the confrontation that happened in the assembly hall, and the humiliation she had to suffer on the second floor, she just knew there was no way Kang Seok would make things easy for her now.
However, Kang Seok proceeded to shatter her expectations as if he was trying to show off.
“Hey, now! I was just joking, you know. Just a joke. I can tell that you ripped your shirt to stem Yun Seora's blood loss. That is commendable. But still, you keep standing there and you might come down with the flu, you know?”
Kang Seok then took off his cardigan and pushed it towards Shin Sang-Ah's direction. He waved it around slowly as if telling her to come and take it. She couldn't help but grow suspicious.
“You, doing this again….!”
“Nope. I'm not trying to lead you on. I promise.”
“Stop trying to make me say the obvious things. Take this and put it on, already. Don't you get it?”
“Man, this lady is really slow on the uptake, huh. I'm saying, you can also enter. Do I have to spell it out for you too?”
Shin Sang-Ah lightly swallowed her saliva. Why was he suddenly acting like this?
She could just about understand the reason why— most likely, they must've held a deep grudge against Seol, all because of what happened on the second floor.
Powerful indecision gripped her at that moment. Meanwhile, Seol still showed no signs of movement.
Shin Sang-Ah stood between Seol and Kang Seok as she weighed her options before a strange light flashed on her face for the briefest of brief moments. And then….
“Argh, my arm hurts.”
Just as Kang Seok lowered the offered cardigan just a tad, she moved her feet.
“That's right. That's right.”
She took a quick glance at Seol a couple of times, but her feet never stopped moving. Before long, she crossed the barrier. A strange smile formed on Kang Seok's face.
“Oh? So you really came, eh?”
“What do you mean….?”
“No, no. You did well. Take this before my arm falls off, will you?”
Kang Seok raised a small fuss while waving the cardigan around. Shin Sang-Ah glanced at Seol one more time, before reaching out. Just as her hand touched the offered clothing though, Kang Seok suddenly grabbed her arm and pulled her in close.
Like someone falling face first, she fell forward and ended up in the still-seated Kang Seok's embrace.
“You like looking for your mom a lot, don't you?”
“W-what are you doing!?”
“Stay still, will you? You came here knowing this would happen already.”
The low vibration from the floors below continued to get closer. Shin Sang-Ah's stiff body flinched ever so slightly. Kang Seok's hand lightly patted her back, then slowly crept lower, past her slender waistline and eventually arrived at her petite, round rump.
“Or…. You'd rather go back outside?”
She began to tremble even more when Kang Seok whispered in her ear. Gradually, all strength seemed to seep out from her. Even when he began roughly kneading her butt like rice dough, Shin Sang-Ah didn't mount any form of resistance.
“Now, do you feel like listening to what I'm saying?”
“You don't want to answer?”
When Shin Sang-Ah replied with honorifics, Kang Seok's complexion brightened to reflect his happiness.
“Uh-whew. My little bitch, look how soft and fluffy your ass is.”
Kang Seok lightly slapped her rear, causing Shin Sang-Ah to squeeze her eyes shut. Quite surprisingly though, she then carefully wrapped her arms around Kang Seok's back and dug deeper into his embrace. Seeing this, Yi Hyungsik and Jeong Minwoo wolf-whistled quite loudly. Kang Seok burst out in boisterous laughter when she began gently rubbing her cheek to his.
“Very good. See? If you had behaved this way from the beginning, everything would've been simpler. If you start making me feel happier by showing some aegyo and stuff from now on, I'm gonna treat you right, you know?”
While constantly enjoying the riches of Shin Sang-Ah's body, Kang Seok then pointed his chin outside the barrier.
There were only two people remaining there— Seol and the currently-unconscious Yun Seora.
“So, how does it feel to be betrayed? Why don't you enlighten us, Mister Gold Mark?”
[Kang Seok's Status Window]
[1. General Information]
Summoned date: March 16th, 2017
Marking grade: Silver
Height/Weight: 178.8 cm/ 72.6 kg
Current condition: Good
Class: LV. 0 (Invited)
Nationality: Republic of Korea (Area 1)
—Maverick (Tries to do things the way he likes, regardless of others.)
—Self-centered (Vigorously pursues his own personal gains only.)
—Gift of gab (Possesses great talent at talking and making speeches.)
—Sadism (Feels sexual gratification only after inflicting physical or psychological pain on another person.)
[3. Physical Level]
Strength: Low (Intermediate)
Endurance: Intermediate (Low)
Agility: Low (High)
Stamina: Low (High)
Mana: Low (High)
Luck: Intermediate (Low)
Remaining ability points: 0
Seol was busy looking at Kang Seok's Status Window. He felt like he could understand just a little where it all went south for this idiot. Besides that 'gift of gab', he seemed to be suffering from a few noticeably negative traits.
Seol's brows furrowed slightly at that. ‘A friend, huh.’
“I feel really sorry for you.”
Kang Seok seemed to be genuinely sorry for Seol, judging from his facial expression.
“Why do you insist on living like that? Mm?”
He lightly tapped on Shin Sang-Ah's head and continued on.
“You don't seem to have any morals.”
Kang Seok began chortling as if he had heard something funny.
“Aigoo~ my friend…. Ah, I get it, I get it. Really! There is a reason to be mindful when we're on Earth. There are laws and stuff, and if I don't follow them, I will end up behind bars. However….”
Kang Seok pointed at the ground below.
“However, this isn't Earth. Meaning, there's no reason for me to stay the same here. You too are an Invited, so you should know this by now, no? We're going to a brand new world? My ass! In the end, this is all just a fucking game, man! A game. And you're supposed to enjoy playing games.”
“A game, huh.”
“Yup. So, what's the point of keeping up with your morals here? Like, what's the fucking point of being the best, kindest, and the fairest in this place? There is no one here who gives a shit about those things. Only 'I' counts. I'm telling you, nobody cares.”
Kang Seok suddenly grabbed Shin Sang-Ah's hair and yanked, causing her to gasp out in pain.
“Look at her. She's your proof. She only latched onto you for a bit so that she can leech off of you. I mean, you saw it with your own two eyes, right? How did she react when the situation changed just now?”
Shin Sang-Ah slowly averted her gaze.
“So, the point here is that, don't suffer losses. You have that much talent, and I can tell you got a quick brain in that head of yours too. So why couldn't you just close your eyes and commit to the program?”
Seol continued to listen while standing there, his arms across his chest.
“You want to look after these weaklings? What a load of fucking bull crap. You think all those with power are evil, and weaklings are all pure, nice folks? You still think these losers are nice?”
Kang Seok passionately spat out his words.
“I can see that you've received some mental damage just now. But, you know what, don't be too discouraged, man. That's how~ the world operates. You're supposed to exceed the 'haves', and step on the 'have-nots'— that's the only way you can survive. You stay mindful of this guy and that girl, then sooner or later, you'll be bitten by all sorts of stray mutts. Only you'd end up dead.”
Seol slowly closed his eyes. The words coming out of Kang Seok was something he too was thinking about recently.
“You still don't get it? What happened to Yi Seol-Ah earlier? And what's happening to you now?”
“You see, it's not that the 'one who's supposed to make it' are making it, but those who are willing to make it, are making it. Also, it's not that those supposed to fail are failing, it's just that they are destined to never make it. Simple.”
“…Those who are destined to make it….”
Kang Seok shouted out of the blue and extended his hand.
“Now that I've talked this much, I'm sure you get it now. So.”
“Like true men, why don’t we let bygones be bygones? As a symbol of starting over…. Ahh!”
As if he remembered something, Kang Seok withdrew his hand.
“I still should make you apologize, though.”
Seol's eyes narrowed.
“An apology, huh.”
“That's right, an apology. The spot you sucker punched me still hurts, you know?”
Kang Seok spat out a sigh and loosened his shoulders.
“If you've really changed the way you think, I'm sure it's not that difficult for you to do something as small as making an apology, right?”
Seol quietly stared at Kang Seok.
“Well, it's a simple matter, anyway. All you have to say is one word— sorry. Then, we can become true friends afterward.”
Seol took a glance at Yun Seora.
“Not her. You gotta leave her there.”
Kang Seok must've noticed Seol's gaze because he spoke in no uncertain terms.
“I'll have to refuse your apology if it comes from a mindset where you're thinking that you can't help it if it means saving Yun Seora. You see, I really hate hypocrites.”
Seol shifted his gaze away and then placed his left hand on the invisible barrier.
Kang Seok smirked; his mouth opened up progressively wider in a smile as if his long-held wish was finally getting granted.
Seol sounded as if he was desperately squeezing out his voice 'unwillingly'. Like a kid opening up his birthday present, the colors of Kang Seok's expression brightened even more.
Seol held his breath, then clenched his fist.
“….Son of a bitch.”
“I was lyin…. Huh!?”
Just as Kang Seok forgot what he was going to say and sat there stupefied, the safe area behind him became quite noisy.
“What the hell?”
Jeong Minwoo turned around to find out why it became so noisy over there.
And just as Seol was about to produce a spell ball from his pocket…