Chapter 282. After the Setup (3)

Seol Jihu had no choice but to doubt his eyes when he saw a woman staggering out of the room with her hand against the wall.

She was struggling to walk not because she was ill or morbidly obese. It was because she simply had too many layers of clothes on. No, this volume couldn’t be because of having just too many clothes on.

Seol Jihu stared at the outer padding that was about to burst, and lo and behold…

“Ah.”

The woman fumbled. She immediately spread out her arms in an attempt to balance herself, and Seol Jihu quickly rushed to support her.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-Yes.”

As the woman spoke while nodding her head…

“I’m fi—”

Tk! The catcher’s mask she was wearing fell to the ground.

“…”

The woman shut her mouth, not finishing her previous thought. Of course, Seol Jihu was at a loss for words as well.

‘What the heck is this catcher’s mask for? Why is she wearing it?’

She even had a hat on!

At this moment, his cell phone rang once more along with Phi Sora’s voice urging them to hurry.

“Hmm….”

Seol Jihu pressed his forehead. He already had a lot on his mind. Many questions were yet to be answered, but he decided to ask what he was most curious about first.

“Why… are you wearing all that?”

“To prepare for the Tutorial.”

Her voice was soft but clear. Rather than timid, she sounded empty and dry.

“To prepare for the Tutorial?”

Scanning her outfit again, Seol Jihu’s expression contorted.

It was a strange sight no matter how many times he saw it. At least her bottoms were airier than the layers upon layers of clothes that she had on above her waist.

“Did you dress like that on purpose? To increase your defense?”

The woman didn’t answer, seemingly sensing a negative connotation from his tone. She only looked up at him blankly.

Seol Jihu corrected himself.

“…Well, uh, you have great preparedness.”

“Thank you.”

She bowed politely, then spoke.

“I put some thought in wearing this, but I think it would be better to take them off.”

“Right? You think so?”

Thankfully, she didn’t seem to be a complete idiot.

As Seol Jihu was inwardly breathing a sigh of relief, the woman continued talking.

“I thought I was more than prepared with this until a moment ago. I realized how stupid I was when I opened my eyes.”

Seol Jihu did not miss the underlying meaning of her words. Her memories must have come back. In that case, this person really must be….

The sound of struggling was heard. She was trying to take off her clothes, but could not even bring her arms together. After trying it a few times, she gave up and stared at Seol Jihu.

Seol Jihu sighed.

“…Let me help.”

Starting from the outermost padding, he got through six layers of tops and bottoms before taking out knee and shin protectors and finally the leather gaiters. Only then did her real clothes — a monotone tracksuit that was definitely penetrated by the wind — reveal itself.

Coincidentally, Seol Jihu was also wearing a matching set of sweatshirt and sweatpants that Kim Hannah bought him, making the two look similar.

“Whew.”

Seemingly exhausted, the woman plunked down on the ground and spat out a sigh. It must have been scorching hot under all those layers as tiny beads of sweat were staining her light-grey tracksuit.

Seol Jihu carefully studied her as she took off her hat and fanned her face with a look that said, ‘Ah, I finally feel alive.’

Neat eyes that seemed to be drawn with a paintbrush and similarly graceful facial features that were like timidly bloomed peach blossoms.

The atmosphere she gave off wasn’t a joke either. She was simply sitting still, yet she gave off a cynical and sensitive air.

Although she was in the same room as Seol Jihu, it felt like she was in a world of her own. Moreover, the beauty mark under one of her transient pupils gave off a heartrending allure.

It was at this point that Seol Jihu realized Kim Hannah’s previous description of her had been spot on. She was undeniably a beauty, but she also seemed to be a bit of an oddball. That said, he didn’t yet understand what part of her was cheeky.

Did she feel his gaze? The woman put her cap on again before getting up.

“Thank you for helping me out.”

She cupped her hands together and bowed. Seol Jihu said what he should have said a long time ago.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Seol Jihu.”

“Um, you’re the one who invited me, right?”

“Yes, and you must be…”

“Eun Yuri.”

Eun Yuri spoke in a soft voice. Then…

‘Again.’

Her expression became dazed. She looked into the empty air, and her already blank expression disappeared completely.

“Miss Eun Yuri?”

Her ears must still be open as she snapped out instantly.

“Are you alright?”

“…Yes.”

A calm reply came out.

“I was just… organizing my thoughts a bit.”

Eun Yuri muttered as she wiped her forehead drenched with sweat.

Seol Jihu didn’t blame her for being confused. After all, she must have just gotten back the memories she lost.

‘What does resurrecting feel like?’ Seol Jihu grew curious about Eun Yuri’s thoughts.

“Do you need my help with anything? Or do you have any questions?”

“No, it’s fine. I’m pretty much set, thanks to Miss Kim Hannah explaining everything clearly… ah, but…”

Eun Yuri shook her head in the middle of talking.

“There’s something I want to confirm.”

Seol Jihu nodded, signaling at her to go ahead.

“Did I really come back? To Paradise, I mean.”

It was a somewhat unexpected question. However, her low voice was filled with previously unexisting desperation.

For some reason, this seemed to be an extremely important question to Eun Yuri.

“Of course. It’ll sink in soon.”

Eun Yuri’s complexion brightened slightly. She looked strangely relieved as if knowing this was enough for now.

It was then. Wing, wing! Seol Jihu’s cellphone vibrated again.

—Can you hurry up? What’s up with these messages? Are you listening to me, dear? Argh, hurry up!

Phi Sora’s yelling flowed out.

The sudden change must have caught her off guard even as the Tutorial’s manager as her tone couldn’t get more urgent.

Seol Jihu finally took his eyes off of Eun Yuri and turned to the room she came from.

“There are some things we need to talk about, but… should we first head to the gathering point?”

“Looks like we should.”

Eun Yuri agreed immediately. Perhaps because she had gone through this before, she was quick to understand.

“Great, hold on.”

Seol Jihu moved right away.

“Ah.”

Eun Yuri seemed a little surprised, but Seol Jihu didn’t pay it any mind and walked into the room to retrieve a cell phone.

“Here it is.”

Looking back, he saw a fidgeting Eun Yuri.

“Um, that’s my room…”

“Oh, sorry. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“N-No, it’s not that…”

Eun Yuri bit her lower lip and avoided his gaze. It didn’t take long for Seol Jihu to find out why.

‘This room…’

To put it bluntly, it was a mess. There were at least six empty bags of chips and several ice cream sticks scattered everywhere.

She must enjoy eating snacks as the room was full of traces of food. However, what caught Seol Jihu’s attention the most was a notebook sitting on her desk.

‘What to do before and after entering.’

Eun Yuri must have made her own plans after listening to Kim Hannah’s explanation. Seol Jihu could clearly picture her jotting down ideas while snacking on ice cream and chips.

‘Was she that excited?’

He felt this at the time of questioning her, but Eun Yuri really seemed to want to enter Paradise even though she shouldn’t have had any memories of it.

The more Seol Jihu thought about this, the more curious he got. However, he decided to ask about it later and left the room to hand her the cell phone.

Eun Yuri quickly received it. Her gaze then fell on the empty air.

[Identity confirmed. You have been registered as a user.]
[Sender: The Guide]

She immediately checked her phone.

[1. Gather at the island lot by the designated time]
[2. Remaining Time 00:03:17]

‘Island lot? Not the school auditorium?’

The start of the Tutorial was clearly different from what Seol Jihu remembered.

Eun Yuri, who was staring at her phone, also looked back at Seol Jihu. She seemed to be asking for an explanation as the Tutorial wasn’t what she remembered.

“Did you hear the first message?”

“Yes, the bonus privilege of the gold mark….”

“I’m not sure what’s going on either. This is also a first for me or anyone else in Paradise for that matter.”

Eun Yuri’s eyes widened slightly.

“We don’t have much time. The Guide should know something about it. Let’s go.”

Eun Yuri nodded silently, then opened the door.

It was dark outside. Dark clouds blanketed the sky, not revealing a single star. Seol Jihu confirmed another change as soon as he stepped out. His fear had come to life as he wasn’t in a city, but a jungle.

A dense forest filled up his vision. The place he and Eun Yuri came out of wasn’t Eun Yuri’s apartment room, but a jungle cabin.

‘Let me get this straight.’

The Gold Mark wasn’t the direct cause of the Tutorial’s change. It was because a Helper had entered with the Gold Mark Invited. The problem was that no one knew this until now.

‘Sung Shihyun must have also entered the Tutorial alone.’

Otherwise, someone should have known about it, and there was no way Kim Hannah wouldn’t have heard about such a rare occurrence.

In other words, Eun Yuri must be the first person in the history of Paradise to have entered Paradise with a Helper, thereby triggering a type of hidden piece.

Of course, the fact that Eun Yuri resurrected might have played a role in it as well.

‘Hopefully, Miss Phi Sora knows something…’

Just as he set out after organizing his thoughts, Seol Jihu almost stopped.

‘…A hum?’

Because of a faint hum. Although it was barely audible, it was most certainly a nasal hum.

Looking back sneakily, he saw Eun Yuri following behind him. She nodded as she looked left and right, and a faint smile was hanging on her face.

Suddenly, the humming stopped.

“Ah.”

Their eyes met. Realizing that Seol Jihu was staring, the smile on her face disappeared completely. Eun Yuri pushed her snapback hat down as she lowered her head.

‘This person…’

The more he looked at her, the stranger she seemed. He could attribute a portion of her calmness to her recovering her lost memories, but shouldn’t she be anxious about the Tutorial changing?

She looked like she was having a blast, like a kid who was secretly happy after getting a surprise present.

Seol Jihu wanted to ask what she was so happy about, but he could only swallow his words as he began to hear faint murmurings of people.

Turning back to the front, he saw an orange lampost emitting a cross-shaped light in the far distance.

It was the island lot.

*


Marcel Ghionea was standing on the path to the lot. He was nicely dressed in a black suit.

He looked like he had questions to ask, but he paused when Seol Jihu gestured at him with his eyes. In the next moment, he spoke courteously.

“Good job coming all the way here. You can go left.”

“Thanks. You look great by the way.”

Seol Jihu whispered as he passed Marcel Ghionea.

“Huhu, thank you, Representative.”

Marcel Ghionea also returned a quiet reply, but seeing as how Eun Yuri gave the two men a back-and-forth look, she must have heard the conversation between them.

A bonfire was burning in the middle of the spacious lot. People inside the lot were separated into two groups using a line drawn in the middle. Seol Jihu couldn’t hide his surprise when he first saw it.

‘Wow.’

There wasn’t a single person on the left. That meant there were no other Invited present.

‘Now this is a first.’

“Thanks for coming early.”

At that moment, a woman who was sitting on a chair next to the bonfire stood up.

“Oh~”

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened. It was Phi Sora wearing a silver suit, office skirt, and opaque stockings. Looking at her like this gave Seol Jihu a whole other feeling.

“Oh, my ass.”

Phi Sora gritted her teeth. For some reason, an oval ocean-colored portal was situated next to her. Did it have something to do with the Tutorial’s change?

“…Alright, now that all 75, or rather 76 people, are here.”

Phi Sora sighed before scratching her head hard. She looked taken aback by the sudden change.

Now that he thought about it, the 74 Contracted were all dead silent. It wouldn’t be strange for them to be discussing loudly after being summoned to such a strange place, but most of them were simply looking at Phi Sora in fear.

‘Well, it’s pretty obvious what happened.’

He didn’t even need to look to know that Phi Sora must have lashed out and crushed their spirits. Judging by the huge cracks on the ground, she must have blown up grandly.

“Argh… how am I supposed to explain this… really… I already have a thousand things to do…”

Her mind must be in chaos. How could it not, when the person who should be waiting in the Neutral Zone suddenly appeared in the Tutorial, which also changed drastically?

Phi Sora clicked her tongue after glaring at Seol Jihu resentfully.

“First… it looks like an explanation of the current situation is needed. You must be curious. Why we’re on this shitty island instead of a school.”

A few of the Contracted nodded their heads. They must have gotten an explanation on Earth.

“First, I’ll read the message I got word by word.”

Phi Sora’s eyes turned to the air. It seemed a separate message went to the Guide just like Seol Jihu predicted.

“If the Neutral Zone is a place of learning and developing, then the Tutorial is a place to screen your qualification to learn.”

She spoke monotonously like she was reading a textbook.

“But when a ‘special’ Invited is brought in with a ‘special’ method, the Tutorial can only lose its original intent. The first reason is that this implies that the Invited has already proven their qualification. The second reason is the existence of the Helper.”

Phi Sora cleared her throat.

“And thus, after much deliberation over many complex elements, the Seven Gods agreed on a special arrangement for the specially summoned Invited for this one-of-a-kind situation. However, this arrangement shall not be forced upon the Invited. They will have a choice.”

After ending there, Phi Sora looked down.

“You all can make a choice. Whether to stay here and start the Special Tutorial, or—”

She pointed to the blue portal before continuing.

“To go back to where you’re supposed to be and start the Basic Tutorial. For the record, this applies to both Contracted and Invited, and this will be your choice to make.”

“Miss Guide! I have a question.”

Seol Jihu shouted as he shot his hand up. Phi Sora replied curtly.

“What?”

“I understand what you’re saying, but… what is the exact difference between the two?”

“The difficulty.”

Phi Sora said clearly.

“The Special Tutorial is incomparably more difficult than the Basic Tutorial. Supposedly, this special Tutorial has the same difficulty as the Neutral Zone’s Very Hard mission.”

Seol Jihu instantly lost all his excitement.

‘Very Hard…. That’s it?’

For Seol Jihu’s current strength, a Very Hard difficulty mission wouldn’t even wake him up a day after he drank himself to sleep.

“But—”

However, Phi Sora foretold a twist next.

“It says the difficulty may increase depending on the situation. And although there is only a low chance, certain conditions being met may make the difficulty increase to Impossible.”

Seol Jihu paused hearing the word ‘impossible’. Now this changed the story.

“…Is the difficulty the only thing that goes up?”

“Of course not.”

Phi Sora shook her head.

“The reward will naturally be proportional to the difficulty. For the record, there is a world of difference between the rewards depending on the conditions met. It says they’re gods’ gifts that can be used not just in the Tutorial, but also the Neutral Zone and even Paradise.”

‘They said there was a hidden space.’

Seol Jihu fell into thought. In truth, he was already leaning heavily to one side. By definition, an arrangement referred to plans or preparations for a future event. In that case…

‘Rather than trying to screw us over…’

It was likely a way for them to give everything to them. It was easy to see from the way they were given a choice.

‘This is a definite must.’

No matter how difficult the Tutorial was, could it be harder than fighting the Parasites’ Seven Armies?

Having made up his mind, Seol Jihu turned around. Eun Yuri also nodded without any complaints. There was no reason for her to refuse. Because after hearing Kim Hannah’s explanation and also recovering her memories, she fully understood how incredible the man in front of her was.

“So? Are you guys doing the Special Tutorial?”

“Of course.”

“That’s what I thought. Alright, first, take this.”

Phi Sora threw a piece of paper over. The paper spun in the air before turning into a golden bag and a leather bag and falling in front of Eun Yuri.

“There is a separate bag for the Invited. Apparently, it was prepared in case any of the Contracted wanted to challenge the Special Tutorial. Of course, that includes the Invited.”

Phi Sora’s voice rang out.

“I thought it normally wasn’t given out.”

“That’s in the Basic Tutorial, but here it’s different. It’s probably because you’ll all die as soon as the Tutorial starts without it.”

Eun Yuri opened the golden bag.

—Necessary Box x4
—Mark of Survival x1
—Diary of an Unknown Survivor x1

The vacant eyes lit up for the first time.

“Wow…”

She hugged the golden bag tightly.

“…I think I just got something amazing.”

Seeing her whisper quietly, Seol Jihu grinned.

“They’re the bonus items given to a Gold Mark, after all.”

Phi Sora smacked her lips while looking at the duo.

“Anyway, that’s it for the Invited. I’ll text you the rest of the details so read it later. Supposedly, getting just one good reward here will let you live like royalty in the Neutral Zone.”

With that, Phi Sora turned to the group on the right side.

“Now, let’s see. The rest of you can follow me. I’ll explain everything again once we get to the school auditorium. You see this portal, right?”

“….”

“I guarantee not a single one of you can pass this stage. Because this stage wasn’t made for you all to attempt it.”

“….”

“Well, if you have a death wish, I won’t stop you. But you’d best follow me if you don’t want to die.”

Phi Sora turned around. Although she tried to enter the portal first, her feet stopped.

“What are you doing? Hurry up.”

The lot was still dead silent.

“Hello? Are you listening?”

Not a single one of the Contracted moved. A few flinched but that was it. They were all standing still like they were pinned to the ground.

“…Oh?”

Phi Sora’s eyebrow went up.

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