After setting up camp, Seol Jihu who was in the middle of stretching sat down at Jang Maldong’s request.
Which technique to learn first, what training to do first.
Just thinking about the days to come made his heart pound.
“Sora, you come here too.”
That was before Jang Maldong said this.
“We’re starting right away?”
“Just get over here.”
Phi Sora trudged over reluctantly.
“He won’t understand no matter how many times I tell him, so we’ll have to fix his habits this way.”
Seol Jihu didn’t understand what Jang Maldong meant.
But he knew that it was Jang Maldong’s motto to, ‘make the body learn if the brain can’t understand’.
“Get ready for a spar, both of you.”
He dropped out a bombshell announcement.
“Don’t make me say it a second time.”
After saying this with a firm voice, he added a “but”.
“You’re both forbidden from using mana.”
It was an extremely unfair condition, especially for Seol Jihu.
“It’s not just mana. You’re also forbidden from using the effects of any equipment.”
Meaning, Seol Jihu and Phi Sora were to spar with their pure physical strength and techniques.
Jang Maldong took a step back and gave the two some space.
Seol Jihu was taken aback but obediently took out a javelin from his belt. There had to be a reason Jang Maldong was telling him to do this.
Phi Sora looked around and bent down to pick up a tree branch. But…
“Do it properly. Do you want to lose again?”
With Jang Maldong reprimanding her, she changed to a store-bought longsword.
“…Argh, this is reminding me of the past.”
Grumbling, she aimed the longsword at Seol Jihu.
Seeing the youth staring at her fixedly, Phi Sora sighed.
“Don’t hate me for this.”
“No mana, no equipment effects. Do you realize how disadvantageous these restrictions are for you?”
“To use Janggi as a metaphor, he’s not just telling you to take out the Chariots and Cannons. He’s telling you to take out the Horses, Elephants, Guards, and Soldiers and fight with only the General.”
If that were true, then Jang Maldong wasn’t even making them spar. He was just making Seol Jihu take a one-sided beating.
After all, the General could only move within a limited space.
“But doesn’t the same condition apply to you, Miss Phi Sora?”
Phi Sora shook her head.
“I at least have my Chariots and Cannons. Even if I don’t use mana, I have a skill that my body remembers. Think of it as a passive skill.”
Seol Jihu immediately understood. She must be talking about ‘One With the Sword’.
“What’s up with all this mumbling?”
Phi Sora shut her mouth as Jang Maldong barked angrily.
Thinking about it now, Seol Jihu became curious just how strong Phi Sora was purely based on her technique. He knew she was stronger than Oh Rahee, who was a master of the quickdraw, and he had been told on multiple occasions that she wouldn’t lose out compared to any other High Ranker.
Seol Jihu stopped underestimating her and focused.
Not utilizing mana in combat felt strange, but he took a familiar stance and gripped his spear.
Phi Sora was standing still, still aiming her sword at him as before.
With everyone watching, Seol Jihu kicked off the ground and rushed forward.
Once he thrust his arms forward, the spear blade cut through the air with a crisp sound.
It was a clean Thrust.
At that moment, Phi Sora snorted and accepted the challenge. Spinning her body and letting the spear blade brush aside, she abruptly rushed forward slipping past the spear shaft. The distance between them narrowed in an instant.
Having allowed her to close the distance, Seol Jihu took action to strike her with the spear shaft. It was then—
He paused. A sharp blade had stopped in front of his neck.
Having succeeded in getting up close to his face, Phi Sora was holding her longsword up with a bored look.
“You probably can’t accept this result, right? Let’s go again.”
Phi Sora retracted the longsword and stepped back.
Seol Jihu blinked blankly.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what happened. He had clearly seen Phi Sora’s movements. She rushed in quickly while softly dodging his thrust.
Soft on the outside, hard on the inside. That was how he would describe her movement.
He saw her, yet he was still beaten. Because she moved like she knew how he would react, he had been defeated before he could do anything.
Phi Sora wiggled her sword.
“Come. Let’s fight one last time.”
Seol Jihu shook his head strongly and took his stance again.
He kicked off the ground for the second time. This time, he performed several techniques consecutively.
He planned to do a feint Thrust before switching over to Cut, but unlike last time, Phi Sora pushed the spear shaft away with the flat side of her sword.
Shocked, Seol Jihu tried to hit her with Strike, but…
Phi Sora grabbed his spear shaft like a bolt of lightning and slammed it down.
When Seol Jihu raised his eyes, he saw Phi Sora’s indifferent eyes.
Having lost his balance in a split moment, Seol Jihu felt an unexpected sense of déjà vu.
‘Now that I think about it…’
Didn’t I experience something similar during the war?
He finished his thought as he barely managed to balance himself.
And with that, the battle ended.
Seol Jihu felt the coldness of metal touch his forehead.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. You really are courageous.”
“This should be enough, right?”
Phi Sora asked after turning to Jang Maldong. Seeing him nod, she put her sword back into the scabbard.
“How was it?”
Seol Jihu slowly raised his eyes at Jang Maldong’s question.
He was a little dazed. In truth, he still couldn’t believe what happened. He strongly felt that Phi Sora went easy on him.
“That, just now, was the foundation of your strength.”
The words foundation resounded in his ears especially.
“Do you see what you need to do now?”
Seol Jihu opened his mouth with an entranced look.
“What should I do?”
Jang Maldong spoke firmly.
“Evaluate yourself and accurately discern the current state of your foundation. That’s where you need to start.”
To grow, one must first face their flaws.
That was something Jang Maldong said on a daily basis.
Jang Maldong pointed at the tent without saying anything else.
Seol Jihu turned and staggered forward. Walking past the tent, he disappeared into the forest.
“…Hmph, way to make me the bad guy.”
Phi Sora pouted.
“You’re responsible, Grandpa, if he starts hating me because of this.”
Jang Maldong furrowed his brows.
“Do you think Jihu is narrow-minded like you? Hating you just because he lost once?”
Jang Maldong shot back.
Flinching in guilt, Phi Sora glanced in the direction Seol Jihu disappeared to.
“Anyway, did we really need to do this? It’s not like he was bragging or anything.”
Jang Maldong nodded his head solemnly.
“He’s not conceited, and he’s certainly not an elitist. I know that…”
Jang Maldong trailed off while worriedly staring at the direction Seol Jihu disappeared to.
Phi Sora smirked.
“I didn’t know you played favorites, Grandpa.”
“I mean, aren’t you? When that Rahee bitch destroyed me in a spar, you said, ‘You’re too full of yourself. Do you finally know your place?’ and other mean things like that.”
“That… that was because you were too cheeky.”
Jang Maldong laughed before suddenly closing his mouth. After lowering his head slightly…
“How could I say anything to him…”
He murmured in an uncharacteristically downcast voice.
“When he’s so busy that having even ten of him wouldn’t be enough.”
Seol Jihu was deep in thought while leaning against a large tree. Looking at his Status Window, he felt like he knew what Jang Maldong wanted to say.
I haven’t gotten as strong as the public made me out to be.
What the others saw was him under the effect of Future Vision and several Awakening skills layered on top of each other in a burst of explosive power.
Realizing the reality of the situation, Seol Jihu smiled bitterly.
His techniques were unspeakably dismal.
While being Level 5, he hadn’t even learned skills he should have learned at Level 3 and 4.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t have an excuse. He was trying to acquire them by himself, delaying his progress, and he had been busy with creating his organization after the war.
But at the end of the day, any excuse was meaningless.
What if the opponent in front of him wasn’t Phi Sora, but Undying Diligence?
Would making any excuse save him?
A faint cough rang out from the bushes, waking Seol Jihu up from his deep contemplation. Along with the rustling of grass, Jang Maldong walked out.
Seol Jihu quickly got up.
“What are you up to?”
“Ah, I was just thinking.”
“I’m curious what you’re thinking about.”
Seol Jihu scratched his cheek.
“First, I was wondering if I should learn more varied spear techniques. Just having the Thrust, Strike, and Cut is too predictable.”
This wasn’t the answer he arrived at after long deliberation, but it was the first thing he thought about.
Jang Maldong racked his brains for a moment before shaking his head.
“I can’t say it’s the wrong answer, but it’s not the right answer either.”
“Why did you choose to become a Warrior? And a spearman, at that?”
Seol Jihu became speechless at the sudden question.
“The previous battle. You probably think it’s unfair. Mana and magical equipment are definitely a part of Paradise, so why didn’t he let me use them for the spar? I’m sure you’re thinking this.”
Seol Jihu quietly listened.
“I agree. But then why didn’t you just become a Magician?”
“I said this over and over again at Huge Stone Rocky Mountain, too. You rely on mana way too much during battle. It wouldn’t be wrong to say it makes up 80 to 90 percent of your combat prowess.”
Seol Jihu became lost for words. He couldn’t deny it at all.
“But if you were going to fight around the use of mana, it would have been a hundred, no a thousand times better to have become a Magician.”
Seol Jihu finally understood what Jang Maldong was getting at.
A Warrior, namely a spearman, needed to know how to wield a spear.
“If I allowed you to use mana, the course of battle would have taken a completely different path. After all, the speed and power of the simple Thrust, Strike, and Cut changes completely when mixed with mana.”
Jang Maldong collected his breath before continuing.
“But what will you do if you run into an opponent that your mana doesn’t work against?”
At that moment, Seol Jihu felt as if a blunt weapon struck his head.
The vague sense of déjà vu he had been feeling finally became clear.
When he first encountered Undying Diligence at the fortress wall, he had fought with full force but had been defeated miserably.
He still clearly remembered his spear being blocked by Undying Diligence’s index finger and the Army Commander tossing him aside like a fly.
“You’ve been too focused on your mind, technique, and body and becoming a True High Ranker that you’ve been missing the most important thing.”
Jang Maldong spoke with strength.
“You need to know how to fight.”
Seol Jihu didn’t answer. He stood still and mulled over Jang Maldong’s words.
With Seol Jihu not saying anything, Jang Maldong let out a dry cough and asked.
“Is it that frustrating?”
“It must be frustrating.”
“No, not really…”
Seol Jihu tilted his head. It almost sounded like Jang Maldong wanted him to feel frustrated.
“You’re not frustrated?”
“We fought under the same conditions. I lost because I was lacking.”
Seol Jihu smiled.
“And actually, I was relieved.”
Jang Maldong furrowed his brows.
“Yeah. The path of becoming a True High Ranker seemed too vague…”
Seol Jihu’s eyes twinkled.
“But now, even if I don’t harmonize my mind, technique, and body, I know I can get stronger just by overcoming my current weaknesses.”
Jang Maldong stared at Seol Jihu with a renewed look. He studied the youth closely as if to confirm whether he was being sincere or not.
When he helped competent Earthlings face their harsh reality, they generally showed one of two reactions.
The first was despairing in disappointment and dejection, and the second was turning the humiliation into a frightening desire for victory.
People who belonged to the former weren’t even worth mentioning, while people who belonged to the latter were at least a little commendable. After all, showing a strong reaction meant that there was something that could encourage them to work harder.
But Seol Jihu’s reaction didn’t conform to either archetype.
It didn’t even look like he was taking it easy.
His crystal-clear eyes only showed a pure desire for the pursuit of martial arts and an endless desire for self-improvement that did not change no matter the situation.
It was a rare case.
‘Well, he’s only really passionate about fighting against the Parasites… I guess this isn’t a bad thing.’
Jang Maldong had come to console him a bit, but after having his mind changed, said.
“You’re only one step— no, half a step away now. The ones who climbed up easily using contribution points and the ones who grit their teeth and crawled up while doing their best to learn through their own strength. The realm of High Rankers is where the difference between the two will start to show a striking contrast.”
Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.
Jang Maldong then added, “You’re already Level 5, so it won’t be long.”
“Do you want to know exactly how the two differ?”
Seol Jihu slowly nodded his head.
“Overcome your weaknesses and find out yourself.”
With that, Jang Maldong pointed this cane to the left.
“First— go to Hugo.”
“Hugo’s mana stat is extremely low. He’s a Warrior who only trained his physical level.”
Jang Maldong grinned.
“You can learn a thing or two from him.”
“I’ll go right away then.”
Seol Jihu began to run before abruptly stopping and turning back to face Jang Maldong.
“This is an entirely hypothetical question.”
Seol Jihu cleared his throat.
“But if I manage to beat Miss Phi Sora with technique alone… how strong would you say I’ve become?”
Jang Maldong rubbed his chin at Seol Jihu’s unexpected question.
“If you can build up your foundation to overwhelm Phi Sora’s, and if you can add your mana on top of that…”
He took a brief pause before firmly speaking.
“Then it would not be an exaggeration to say you are the strongest Earthling below Level 7.”
That meant even Claire Agnes would not be his match.
He finally began to see the figure of Agnes in the distance.
He renewed his determination.
Hugo was in the middle of an intensive training regime.
He hung logs to the tree himself and was busy trying to dodge them.
His attitude was completely different than that in the past.
Seol Jihu marveled inwardly as he watched Hugo train. He never thought Hugo was weak, but looking at him like this, he was better than expected.
As this was the first time Seol Jihu saw Hugo training so hard, he was starting to have a renewed opinion on him.
Hugo’s dodges continued endlessly until he was hit by a log a bit before he reached his 800th log.
Spitting out a coarse cuss word, he got up from the ground. After seeing Seol Jihu spectating quietly, he blinked in a daze.
“Huh? How long have you been watching?”
“It hasn’t been that long.”
Seol Jihu returned a short reply. Hugo’s philtrum suddenly elongated.
“What, you want me to cheer you up?”
“Cheer me up?”
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Phi Sora demolished you.”
His tone was full of playfulness. Seol Jihu knew Hugo didn’t have any ill intentions but still smiled bitterly.
“Master Jang told me to find you. He said I could learn a thing or two from watching you.”
“What? The old man said you have something to learn from me?”
Hugo exclaimed in disbelief.
“…Well, your flaws are pretty obvious, Seol, so I guess it makes sense…”
But then he nodded his head as if he immediately understood why. Seeing this, Seol Jihu became a little sad.
Hugo asked again in delight.
“Anyway, he really said that?”
“He really did?”
For some reason, Hugo rejoiced and asked the same question repeatedly.
“Hehe, the old man hasn’t lost his touch! His eyes are far better than Heihachi’s!”
It didn’t take long for Seol Jihu to realize ‘Heihachi’ referred to Eva’s royal administrator.
“Huhuhu, alright, I can help. But I’m busy with my own training, so I can’t dedicate all my time helping you out. I’ll just tell you the answer.”
Seol Jihu had no reason to refuse. It was rare for Hugo to show such enthusiasm, so Seol Jihu didn’t want to interrupt him.
Hugo coughed, then just as he was about to say something, he abruptly made a dumb expression.
“What was I trying to say again?”
Seol Jihu chuckled.
“You said my flaws are obvious.”
“Oh, oh, right. Well, seeing it once is better than listening a hundred times. Hand me your spear.”
When Seol Jihu gave him his spear, Hugo got in position and spoke.
“Watch carefully. I’m going to imitate the way you fight.”
He then rushed forward before thrusting, cutting, and striking with the spear.
He muttered, “Done.”
He trudged back and gave the spear back.
“That’s it. Just these three. And since they’re elementary techniques, they’re easy to see through…”
Hugo glanced at Seol Jihu before carefully continuing his words.
“Um… Seol, don’t take this too hard.”
“I’ll be honest with you then. It’s not just Phi Sora. If you fight under the same conditions as before, neither Chohong, Marcel Ghionea, nor I would lose to you. Probably.”
“Of course, it would be a completely different story if you utilize your abnormally high mana. But by that same logic, it’s an undeniable fact that your strength is a little lacking without mana.”
Hugo’s honest assessment gave him heartburn, but he tried his best to look unfazed externally.
“Master Jang said I didn’t know how to fight.”
“He’s right. Perfectly on the mark, in fact. When I watch you fight… how should I say this, it’s too hit or miss. Like you don’t have any clear plans.”
“Can you explain in more detail?”
Hearing this, Hugo stared at Seol Jihu fixedly.
His face was serious.
“Can I ask you a few questions?”
He asked before Seol Jihu even said yes.
“Why did you rush in as soon as the battle began?”
“A spear is a better weapon than a sword. Why? Because it’s twice as long as a sword. Every spearman knows to fight while measuring their distance. There was no reason for you to rush in first.”
Seol Jihu became lost for words.
“That’s not all. The Thrust. Why do you always stab from the front? You can stab from multiple directions at once, shake your spear slightly to mess with your opponent’s sight, or throw in little feints here and there to throw off the opponent.”
“It’s the same for the Cut and the Strike. You can cut from multiple directions, but you always do it horizontally or diagonally. You also only Strike using the spear blade. You can twist your spear and use your spear shaft like a staff to attack. Why don’t you do that?”
Hugo collected his breath after a long rant. After observing Seol Jihu’s expression, he quietly continued.
“It’s not that I think you never thought of any of this. But Seol, you were just too used to mana. Because just by using mana, it would be hard for anyone to be your match.”
Seol Jihu closed his eyes gently. He finally realized the gravity of the situation.
“Let me give you one last piece of advice— What do you think is the reason Phi Sora defeated you so easily?”
“It’s simple. For example… huup!”
Hugo strode into the thicket and hid himself.
“Let’s suppose I’m hiding here and you’re walking by. If I ambush you, what would you do?”
“I’d parry your attack or counterattack.”
“Right, but what if you didn’t know that I was hiding here at all?”
Hugo suddenly shot up.
“Then what would you do?”
Seol Jihu’s expression stiffened.
Hugo spoke in a low voice after getting out of the thicket.
“You can react if you see it coming, but you’ll simply die if you don’t. Quite a stark difference, huh?”
Seol Jihu finally understood what he meant.
The reason Phi Sora won so easily was that she predicted every single one of Seol Jihu’s moves.
On the other hand, Seol Jihu couldn’t predict Phi Sora’s movements at all.
He had been fighting without knowing even the basics of combat.
He couldn’t help but think how lucky he must have been to survive until now.
Hugo clenched his fist and knocked on his head.
“What’s important is to think.”
In other words, Seol Jihu had been fighting thoughtlessly until now.
By relying only on his mana.
And this flaw of his had been exposed during the last war.
“Anyway, when two skilled fighters fight, there’s a reason they spend some time to probe each other. By exchanging a few moves, all sorts of immeasurable information get passed back and forth. What techniques the opponent uses, what habits they have, things like that.”
“…It’s not easy huh.”
Seol Jihu sighed.
“To think you have to take all of that into account in a pressing battle…”
“That’s why experience is important!”
Hugo laughed refreshingly.
“Your body reacts automatically as you experience more battles! I guess you can say your body knows instinctively.”
Hugo guffawed before patting Seol Jihu’s back.
“Why are you worried? You’ve trained a lot already!”
“Me? No, I—”
Hugo pointed his finger at the tree.
“Think carefully about why the old man made you do that training.”
Seol Jihu looked at the logs that were still swinging around the tree and went “Ah.”
‘Come to think of it—’
[Listen, brat. I might be helping you train, but you’re the one who’s 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.]
[Well… it will provide a foundation to correct your twisted mind, technique, and body.]
This was what Seol Jihu heard during his first log-dodging training.
And through this training, Seol Jihu succeeded in gaining a rare skill called Intuition.
Right, he already had the answer in his hands. He just didn’t know how to use it properly.
[Half a step.]
The peak was in sight.
The moment Seol Jihu realized this, his eyes began to burn intensely.
“Mm! Winning and losing is a part of everyone’s growth! Next time, squash Phi Sora flat!”
Hugo put out his fist.
And Seol Jihu bumped his fist back with a smile.
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