Hellish training began.
In Paradise, the ‘mind’ referred to one’s wisdom, mentality, talent, and so on; the ‘technique’ referred to one’s ability and skills; and the ‘body’ referred to one’s physical level and physique, including their mana.
The state of Seol Jihu’s mind was entirely up to his control, and he had spent quite a bit of time training his body so far.
The problem was with his technique. Originally, his technique was at the highest level of the three elements.
Rather, that was what he thought. And that wasn’t strictly wrong. After all, his basic spear techniques were at high-rank.
The problem was that no matter how high-ranked his techniques were, they were useless if he didn’t use them properly.
After realizing his flaw, Seol Jihu couldn’t help but think that his technique had fallen behind the most.
So for this training, he set his goal to re-examine the technique he had been neglecting.
Seol Jihu ran. While charging forward at breakneck speed, he curled up, spread his mana to every corner of his body, then let it explode instantly.
Tong! Along with a boom of the air detonating, Seol Jihu shot forward like an arrow.
Abilities that were unlocked with each level-up were separated into two categories— an evolved version of an already-learned ability or an entirely new ability.
He had learned Flash Step at Level 3, and Flash Thunder, which he unlocked at Level 4, was an evolved version of Flash Step.
Meaning, raising his proficiency in Flash Step would be his shortcut for acquiring Flash Thunder.
Of course, with Jang Maldong’s personality, Seol Jihu rarely dug just one well while training.
Tong! Just as Seol Jihu performed Flash Step once more…
Jang Maldong shouted at the top of his voice.
At the same time, Phi Sora, who was standing apathetically to the side, swung a bucket she was holding in her hand.
The colorful stones sitting inside the bucket shot out and hurled toward Seol Jihu.
The distance between Seol Jihu and the stones shortened in an instant. Jang Maldong shouted.
Ten or so stones muddled Seol Jihu’s vision. Red, orange, yellow, and green. Of the four different colors, he had to stab the yellow stones only.
While running at full speed and using Flash Step.
He caught sight of something yellow in the corner of his eye and reached forward.
Tak! Struck by the spear, the yellow stone flew far into the distance.
But there wasn’t just one yellow stone.
Before he could even check whether he had hit the correct target, Seol Jihu quickly scanned the flurrying wave of stones.
He brandished his spear swiftly and managed to hit two more stones.
They were both yellow.
But as the remaining stones rolled on the ground with a fierce sound, Seol Jihu went “Ah.”
A yellow stone that he had failed to see stopped by his foot.
“Get it together!”
An angry rebuke immediately flew out.
“What happened to the log training you did!? Did you forget already!? I told you not to hit after you see, perceive, and then think! Hit as soon as you see it! Move using your intuition!”
This wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
“A true expert will land a successful attack before you can perceive it! By the time you try to move, your head would already be in the air!”
Meaning, his thinking process had to occur instantaneously with his body preferably reacting first.
In truth, hitting three out of the four yellow stones was impressive enough. But Seol Jihu returned to his original spot without complaining and prepared to run once more.
That way, he would be scolded less. Moreover, he was feeling the effect of this absurd training.
His Intuition skill, which had remained at the same level for a long time, was growing by the day.
With a new location, the content of the training was naturally different as well.
Another training Jang Maldong ordered was shadow boxing — selecting an imaginary opponent and studying ways to attack and defend alone.
After giving it some thought, Seol Jihu chose Phi Sora as his imaginary opponent. Of course, he could also fight her in real life, but the main purpose of this training was ‘to think’.
After engraving what Hugo said deep into his mind, Seol Jihu closed his eyes and racked his brain intensely.
[I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. You really are courageous.]
What Phi Sora said wasn’t a compliment. If anything, it was sarcasm.
‘Hugo’s right. My weapon is a spear. Its long reach is an advantage. There’s no reason for me to rush in first.’
Especially if the opponent is an expert.
Then was standing still the correct answer?
What would she have done if he just waited?
Surely she would have charged in first, right?
What should he have done then?
Once he started to think about the battle, all sorts of thoughts ran in circles inside his head.
‘Miss Phi Sora’s movement… it was smooth like the flowing water as she charged in, but when she attacked with her longsword, it changed to a fierce wave.’
At that time, Seol Jihu had struck with his spear shaft, but Phi Sora shoved her sword to his neck a step earlier.
This meant she had reacted faster.
‘What if I don’t allow her to charge in at all?’
Seol Jihu thought back to the beginning of the fight and thrust his spear from the moment Phi Sora rushed in.
He didn’t stab in a straight line but threw straight Thrusts randomly to prevent her from nearing him.
But the Phi Sora in his imagination didn’t back down.
Using the flat side of her blade to cleanly parry all of his thrusts, she grabbed the spear shaft which lost its direction and speed, slammed it down, and tried to throw off Seol Jihu’s balance.
Seol Jihu used Phi Sora’s downward force to his advantage, spinning the spear shaft 180 degrees. Then, he aimed for Phi Sora’s knee with the back of the spear shaft.
According to his calculations, he should hit her head or her collarbone—
But the spear shaft ended up strongly striking Seol Jihu’s temple instead. Because his eyes were closed, he had failed to calculate the angle properly.
Seol Jihu crouched down, massaging his temple with a frown.
Soon, his groans stopped.
He lowered his hand, folded his arms, and fell into thought.
‘There has to be a better way than just maintaining a distance between us…’
Seol Jihu grabbed the spear he had dropped and got up.
After closing his eyes again, he began to brandish the spear before the back of the spear shaft suddenly shot up and struck the bottom of his chin.
Seol Jihu rolled around while clutching his chin before shooting right back up.
He clenched his teeth.
“Damn it, I’ll push you down at least once today!”
His shout of determination rang throughout the entire area.
Seo Yuhui, who just happened to be picking fruits from a nearby tree, jumped in a startle.
She barely held back from asking, ‘Who?’
‘I didn’t bring that many clothes… Thankfully, all of my underwear is good for the occasion…’
That night, Seo Yuhui secretly took a bath. After washing her entire body clean with the water from the stream, she waited while calming her beating heart.
Just in case, of course.
But nothing happened that night. Seo Yuhui found Seol Jihu sleeping soundly with an exhausted face.
And she had an unhappy expression for the first time.
“You little rascal.”
In the end, she gently pinched Seol Jihu’s cheek before taking her sleeping bag and going far, far away.
She then tightened the string so that no one else could come in.
It was a revenge of sorts and a punishment if one could call it that.
“You said you unlocked three new abilities after becoming a High Ranker?”
During one of the break times, Jang Maldong asked Seol Jihu, who was drinking water.
“Sword Qi, the Misfortune-Delivering Curse Spear, and the Punishing Vengeance Spear.”
When Jang Maldong recited his High Ranker abilities one by one, Seol Jihu quickly gulped down the water in his mouth and nodded.
“Use your contribution points to learn the Misfortune-Delivering Curse Spear.
Seol Jihu didn’t say ‘what’ because he didn’t understand him the first time. It was because he couldn’t believe he heard those words from Jang Maldong.
“There’s no helping it. Judging from your explanation, the Misfortune-Delivering Curse Spear is more like a magic spell than a spear technique. And a very high-level spell, at that. Digging one well is hard enough. It’s better to use contribution points to learn it than to waste precious time.”
Due to the habit he started developing since he was in the Neutral Zone, Seol Jihu had an aversion to easily acquiring abilities. But he agreed anyway as he remembered Agnes saying something similar in the past.
That it was more beneficial to learn absurdly difficult abilities with contribution points.
“What about the Punishing Vengeance Spear?”
“Mm. For the Punishing Spear…”
Jang Maldong smacked his lips. These two spear techniques were giving him a headache as well.
Both the person trying to learn and the person trying to teach were at a loss for what to do.
It was only natural for higher grade abilities to come out with higher levels, but even then these two abilities were too difficult.
“I’ll be honest. Sword Qi is fine, but I don’t think these Curse Spear and Punishing Spear are something you can learn at Level 5.”
“Put away that questioning look. The abilities’ explanations make them even more confusing, especially this Punishing Spear.”
Seol Jihu agreed with him on this. Delivering an ‘absolute’ counterattack that equals the damage taken. That was a cheat-like ability no matter how he looked at it.
“It looks like an ability that you have to be a Unique Ranker or at least a Level 6 to learn.”
Jang Maldong carefully voiced his opinion.
“I’m not sure why, but it looks like you’re unlocking abilities that are a stage or two beyond where you currently are every time you level up…”
He trailed off as he wasn’t confident, but this didn’t mean what he was saying was completely baseless.
Just looking at Seol Jihu’s class name was a hint.
Excluding special cases like Kim Hannah, among ordinary classes, named classes like the ‘Lance of Nemesis’ were only given to Level 6s, and to an extreme minority as well.
But Seol Jihu was a Level 5.
No matter how one looked at it, there were more than a few suspicious points.
“Let’s at least give the Punishing Spear a go. It’s not as if we don’t have any clue.”
“By clue, you mean…”
“You said it yourself. That this technique was developed by imitating the Floral Substitution technique.”
Seol Jihu’s mouth moved slightly.
He had heard the name a couple of times, but nothing popped up in his head when he tried to remember what it was.
“To be clear, Floral Substitution is on a far superior dimension than any of the abilities you’ve acquired until now. It might even be more difficult than Sword Qi.”
Sword Qi was the crowning symbol of High Ranker Warriors.
As it was their representative technique, it wasn’t easy to acquire it through one’s own efforts.
Even Phi Sora had acquired Sword Qi after acquiring One With the Sword.
Since Jang Maldong said this Floral Substitution technique was even more difficult than Sword Qi, Seol Jihu could only imagine how difficult it must be to learn it.
“Floral Substitution (移花接木). To move (移), a flower (花), to graft (接), a tree (木). Its literal translation would be grafting a flowering tree onto another tree, while the meaning would be to trick someone to elaborately flip the truth.”
Jang Maldong began to explain.
“Techniques generally require the use of mana. But mana flows through your mana circuit. This is an immutable fact.”
“Floral Substitution transplants your mana into someone else’s mana and changes its flow. You can think of it as a ‘restoration’ of sorts.”
Then, he pointed at Seol Jihu with his left hand and pointed at himself with his right hand.
“Seizing your opponent’s flow of mana and controlling it, or reversing it with overwhelming strength, thereby redirecting the opponent’s technique back at them. Floral Substitution must be something similar to that. And to do this, you must understand your opponent’s technique and their flow of mana.”
Seol Jihu closed his mouth.
“Do you have an idea now?”
Seol Jihu made an awkward expression at Jang Maldong’s question.
“Should I also spend my contribution points to learn the Punishing Vengeance Spear?”
Jang Maldong chuckled.
“Let’s give it a try first. Learning it simply through points and learning it after putting in some effort should feel vastly different.”
Jang Maldong sighed before taking out two books from his bag.
He held up a faded book, the Crescent Blade Spear Technique.
“We’re postponing this as well. No matter how much research I do, I just can’t understand it. You’re going to need a grandmaster spearman and not a simple expert spearman to give this a try.”
Seol Jihu quickly acquiesced. He had also read the Crescent Blade Spear Technique, and from what he could gather, each of the Crescent Blade Spear Technique’s seven ultimate arts had a specific technique at its foundation.
For example, if the first technique was the One With the Spear, the second was the Flying Spear, the third was the Formless Spear, and the fourth was the Mind Spear.
The fifth and the sixth techniques were of such impossibly absurd complexity that he had no clue where to begin.
‘The seventh was the Spear God…’
“At least you can learn this one.”
Jang Maldong waved around the Righteous Heart manual.
“I want to just explain the basic concept and have you learn it on your own… but then you’d have too long a road ahead of you.”
After saying this, he suddenly put on a solemn expression.
“I know you have a lot to work on right now. I also know you’re doing your best. But don’t forget what you said in the past. That you’d walk a path of thorns.”
Harmonizing the mind, technique, and body without suppressing the growth of the technique.
Seol Jihu nodded his head strongly.
“Focus on training your Intuition skill, but don’t neglect other training.”
“Good. Now sit cross-legged.”
Seol Jihu immediately sat down.
“It’s nothing hard. Just follow my mana’s lead.”
Jang Maldong wasn’t just playing around while Seol Jihu was running around with Kim Hannah. He had been focused on researching the techniques to fulfill his promise.
To hasten Seol Jihu’s growth as much as possible.
Seol Jihu closed his eyes as he felt a hand touch his back. He immediately roused his energy and moved it through his acupoints following the mana flowing into his body.
[Class Ability ‘Mana Circulation [Intermediate (High)]’ evolves to ‘Righteous Heart (Low)’.]
[Please check your Status Window.]
Although he mainly trained his technique, that didn’t mean he neglected the other two elements. Like the saying, ‘stamina is national power’, Seol Jihu always put time into training his body at the end of the day.
Today, for example, was running.
He ran a simple course, repeatedly going back and forth from the campsite to the peak of Mount Peléeom.
The distance didn’t seem that long when he passed by in the carriage, but it felt infinitely farther when running.
Only after running for dozens of minutes following the ridge was he able to finally see the volcano.
And like most volcanoes, the terrain was not at all flat. Sedimentation from lava and small volcanic craters made the ground extremely rugged.
The steepness of the mountain made the course even more dangerous, but Seol Jihu, for some reason, was beaming with joy.
He had long passed the stage of complaining about the difficulty of training. He knew that the more painful and strenuous the training, the more rewards he would get in the future.
That wasn’t all.
[I’ve told you about the effect of my needles before.]
[You must know that the limit of your physical level increased.]
[Your physique should have changed as well. Have you heard of Marrow Cleansing and Bone Forging?]
[A real Marrow Cleansing and Bone Forging might be something of a myth. But speaking in Paradise’s terms, your new physique should support your techniques’ growth.]
Just the increase in his innate potential was jaw-dropping, but Jang Maldong’s acupuncture technique apparently hastened the speed of his techniques’ growth as well.
How could Seol Jihu not be enthusiastic about training when such amazing arrangements were being made for him?
At that moment, he saw a teenage boy with a sour grimace running toward him from the opposite side.
It was Yi Sungjin.
Seol Jihu shouted, being glad to see him.
“How many round-trips is this!?”
“This is…! Second…!”
He stammered as if he found even talking to be difficult.
Seol Jihu kicked off the ground and asked.
“Did you go to the peak!?”
The youth and the teenage boy crossed each other. Seol Jihu couldn’t help but notice Yi Sungjin grunting as he ran. Come to think of it, he felt like he saw tears as well.
Seeing Yi Sungjin slowly getting farther away, Seol Jihu gave a warm smile.
‘I was like that too in the past.’
Thinking about it now, he really had come a long way.
Back in the Neutral Zone, he cried because even running around the track was difficult. Now, he could make several round-trips on such rough terrain.
Getting accustomed meant he had grown that much.
But on the flip side, it meant his growth had halted.
If he became satisfied with where he was now, he would become too complacent.
‘I want to get stronger. Even more than I am now…!’
Just as he was about to kick off the ground again after steeling his resolve…
Seol Jihu’s eyes widened before he turned back to face the front.
He hadn’t noticed until now, but the red egg was chasing after him while bouncing up high, going Tong! Tong!
“What’s up with you?”
Seol Jihu asked with a dumbfounded face.
“Why are you following me? And since when?”
But as always, the egg didn’t answer. Even as he continued to run, it simply bounced along without falling behind.
“Are you hungry? Is that why you’re following me?”
“Or did you just want to run with me?”
“Jeez. Ah, by the way, when are you going to hatch?”
“Can’t you let me use the Spear of Purity now, hmm?”
“Why not? Stop playing hard to… huh?”
Just as Seol Jihu halted in a startle, the egg bounced forward vigorously.
Bouncing rapidly, it surpassed Seol Jihu in an instant.
‘Did I mishear the sound of winds? Or did I hallucinate?’
Seol Jihu, who was staring blankly, snapped out a moment later.
He roused his mana in a hurry and prepared to use Flash Step without holding back.
Because his eyes were fixed on the egg, Seol Jihu didn’t realize.
That a golden current of electricity was faintly crackling around and below his ankles.
This was the precursor of Flash Thunder.
Soon, the raging electric current rose from his feet to his calves, from his calves to his body, then from his body to the top of his head…
Along with the sound of thunder, Seol Jihu’s figure charged forward like a storm.