Chapter 298. An Unexpected Clue (5)

“…You’re right.”

“Aren’t I?”

Jang Maldong grinned before waving his cane around.

“Take it slow. Eat at the right times and get a lot of sleep. What you need to do right now isn’t building up your stamina but controlling your mind and looking inside your subconscious psyche. There is a reason ‘mind’ comes first in mind, technique, and body.”

A healthy mind develops a healthy body. Remembering the old adage that admonishes to make haste slowly, Seol Jihu bowed.

“Thank you.”

“No need. Ah, if possible, try to train elsewhere. The Neutral Zone is a place for the newbies to train. Because of you, other people have been too scared to use the facility.”

Though Jang Maldong said this jokingly, this was indeed a mistake on Seol Jihu’s part. Realizing it now, Seol Jihu went, ‘Ah.’

“Sorry, I’ll find another place.”

Seol Jihu respectfully bid goodbye and left the training room. Since the head manager’s room was huge, he planned to train there.

It was around then that Eun Yuri came to the training room in her tracksuit. Her morning missions had actually ended early, so she asked Jang Maldong for personal training. She had only run into Seol Jihu by coincidence.

“Oppa…?”

She called out to him, but Seol Jihu breezed past her. Eun Yuri gave a shocked expression as she stood frozen in a daze. For some reason, he was giving off a hard-to-approach air today.

“Don’t mind it so much.”

Jang Maldong chuckled.

“He becomes blind once he puts his mind to training. He might look fine on the outside, but a fire must be raging inside him.”

“Fire?”

Eun Yuri looked confused, but Jang Maldong understood this well. A human’s willpower wasn’t infinite. No matter what someone did, they would get tired over time unless tangible results could be seen.

This was the state Seol Jihu had been in recently.

It wasn’t that his desire to improve disappeared. He also had been training on a regular basis. But because his talent was extremely ordinary for the giant wall blocking his path, he couldn’t help but get exhausted.

This was when Eun Yuri appeared. The emergence of an overwhelming genius shocked Seol Jihu greatly and resulted in lighting up the internal spark that was slowly flickering off.

This was easy to see just by looking at Seol Jihu’s back as he left. Drenched in sweat, he was radiating heat from his body.

‘The existence of a rival is a good stimulant for growth.’

Jang Maldong rubbed his chin and stared at Eun Yuri in satisfaction. Eun Yuri, who was glancing at Seol Jihu with a somewhat sullen look, sighed in the next moment.

“…Oh right, Master.”

Then, she spoke.

“I’m sorry, but can you finish today’s personal training before noon?”

“It doesn’t matter with me, but didn’t you say you’d train until 1?”

“That was the plan, but I have a sudden meeting to attend to. Team Leader said we should eat lunch together and talk about potentially changing the missions we’re taking.”

“Team Leader?”

Jang Maldong tilted his head.

“I thought you were the leader, Miss Eun Yuri.”

“Ah… no, it’s not me. There’s a Priest in the team. She’s the leader.”

Eun Yuri said while shaking her head.

“I could have taken the role, but I conceded it. I’m still refusing it to this day.”

“Mmm… is there a reason? Taking on the position of a leader can be a good experience.”

“That’s true, but I don’t like it.”

‘She doesn’t like it?’ Jang Maldong was a little surprised at these unexpected words. Feeling that she was ‘avoiding’ it, he asked.

“If it is okay with you, I’d like to hear why.”

“Well… it’s just my personality. I want to do what I enjoy doing. I won’t feel comfortable if people around me start depending on me on their own.”

Eun Yuri lowered her head a little and murmured quietly.

“And excessive dependence… can get a little scary.”

‘Hmm…’ Jang Maldong observed Eun Yuri with keen eyes as she fiddled with her fingers.

It went without saying that different people had different personalities. While some preferred to stand in the front and lead others, there were also those who preferred to stay back and follow others’ lead.

For example, Seol Jihu was a general. Although his rank was equivalent to the commander in chief, he was a vanguard who directly led his subordinates and charged forth, rather than staying in the rear and giving commands.

However, war wasn’t fought with just generals. Although the organization had a peerless administrator like Kim Hannah, strictly speaking, she was a non-combatant. She could not fight in wars and would not be of much help either.

That was why they needed someone who could follow him to the battlefield — a tactician who could strategize and grasp the overall picture so that Seol Jihu would not have to look back while charging forward.

‘Looks like I can be a bit more relaxed. Though, it’ll depend on how she develops.’

Jang Maldong grinned. He had hopes that Eun Yuri would come to fulfill this role.

*


Seol Jihu quit all activities after that day. Now that Eun Yuri was doing well on her own, he stopped paying attention to her.

Two months had already gone by since the start of the Neutral Zone. Seol Jihu began to stay cooped up in his room training alone.

His daily routine changed completely. He woke up at 6 a.m. sharp, just like Eun Yuri, and trained until midnight without rest. He was shadow training in his head even when he was taking showers, and he continuously used mana even as he ate.

Once midnight hit, he would leave the room and head to the training room. As not many people used the training room at this hour, he could use the facility’s equipment to his heart’s content.

Seol Jihu truly trained like a madman. If there was one thing that was different than the past, it was that he no longer cared about the result.

Instead, he had belief.

Even if his efforts did not bear fruition immediately, he decided that it would be a process of growth. He did not doubt that these processes would build up and eventually come back to him as result.

As he devoted his entire time and effort into training, the jealousy he had for Eun Yuri began to grow faint.

…No, in truth, he still smiled bitterly whenever Eun Yuri came by and talked about the things she learned that day. Whenever he saw her status window, he became keenly aware of the difference in their talents and got depressed. However, Seol Jihu did not envy Eun Yuri more than he needed to. In fact, he simply accepted it.

As someone once said, it was foolish to resent someone for their inborn talent; rather, one should try to take one step every day for ten, twenty years. Then one day, they would meet the person they always wanted to become.

Seol Jihu ruminated on these words whenever he had negative thoughts, spurring his training efforts even further. Once he did, a new competitor came into the picture.

It wasn’t Eun Yuri, but himself.

Before he noticed, Seol Jihu had started a fight with himself. Indescribable sorrow flooded in whenever he saw his status window that was at a standstill, but that only made him grit his teeth and thrust his spear once more.

The moment he gave up would be the moment he lost. Not to someone else, but himself.

When he thought this, he could not give up. And thus, whenever he endured these things, he felt himself grow stronger.

It was a mysterious thing. Although there was no tangible result that his eyes could see, he was feeling something inside him harden.

Just like how a genius had their own path, an ordinary person had their own path.

Seol Jihu’s talent was average. This fact could not be changed. In that case, there was only one thing he could do.

‘Try harder.’

To endeavor to make up for this lack of talent.

‘More, more…!’

As Seol Jihu dodged the Homunculus’ attacks in the world of his imagination, droplets of sweat fell from his hair, shining like starlight.

*


Seol Jihu trained until 2 a.m. today just like always, then headed to the cafeteria. Once he entered the kitchen, just as expected—

“You’re here?”

Seo Yuhui was waiting with the cooking ingredients all prepped up.

“Yes, Noona…”

Seol Jihu smiled awkwardly, feeling apologetic. There was only one reason Seo Yuhui was up at this time waiting at the cafeteria — to make a meal for Seol Jihu.

Anyone would feel hungry after an arduous training session. Seol Jihu had been sneaking into the kitchen every night to steal food but was caught by Seo Yuhui one morning when she came to prepare for the next day.

Seo Yuhui was sorry to see the head manager and representative sneaking away food like some sort of a criminal, and thus she personally came to serve him late-night meals.

“Eat this and wait. I’ll prepare the food soon.”

Putting out a basket filled with herbs-and-meat sandwiches, Seo Yuhui smiled brightly and got up from her seat. Seol Jihu was impressed as he saw a kitchen counter fully prepared with all kinds of ingredients. On the other hand, he couldn’t help but feel sorry.

It really felt like he was making Seo Yuhui suffer unnecessarily.

“Noona, I can prepare my own food….”

“No, you’re going to grab whatever you see again. Haven’t you been getting only four hours of sleep to train? Then you need to eat more nutritious food.”

Seo Yuhui spoke kindly while stirring a ladle. Seol Jihu smiled bashfully as he felt the scent of herbs spreading in his mouth.

“This is great. I’m happy.”

His expression really seemed happy. Seo Yuhui smiled as well.

“Fufu, are you that happy?”

“How can I not be happy? You’re treating me like a king every day.”

“Ah, you can look forward to tonight’s dish in particular. I prepared something special.”

“Special?”

“Yep. You see that clam-like thing on the counter?”

Seol Jihu’s gaze headed to the counter. Looking at it again, he saw clam-like shellfish with soft-looking shells and a lot of meat.

“They’re called Margarita Marice. It’s a type of shellfish native to Paradise. Because their meat is white like milk, they’re also called the ocean’s pearls.”

Just like she said, the outer surface of the shellfish was milky white and soft. Furthermore, the shellfish were fattened up nicely and were meaty. Seol Jihu got near them and took a whiff, and a delicate scent wafted into his nose.

‘They’d be perfect even when eaten raw.’

Seol Jihu gulped.

“Can I try them?”

“Of course, I prepared them for you to eat.”

Seo Yuhui replied as she blanched vegetables in boiling water.

“Ooh, they look amazing.”

“Ah, but be careful. They might look clean from the outside, but the kernel inside them is venomous. You should never eat them raw, and they should be prepared with herbs that neutralize the poi—”

Seo Yuhui flinched and stopped talking. Turning back reflexively, she saw Seol Jihu pulling the top and bottom of a shell apart and taking out the meat inside.

“J-Jihu?”

Seo Yuhui’s eyes shot open quickly. As Seol Jihu opened his mouth to drop the meat inside, she yelled in shock.

“WAIT!”

The poor bloke was about to die. Seo Yuhui’s maternal instinct activated and without a thought—

“…!?”

She threw herself at Seol Jihu while shouting something.

…Rewinding the time to 10 minutes ago, Eun Yuri waited until 2 a.m. without sleeping and then snuck out of her room. In her hand was a plastic bag.

‘I hope he’ll like it.’

Recently, seeing Seol Jihu had been getting increasingly infrequent. She had heard the reason from Jang Maldong. That it would be difficult to see his face now that he started his personal training.

As soon as she heard this, Eun Yuri wanted to help Seol Jihu. She didn’t have any motive other than wanting to repay the favor she received. So after long deliberation, she took Jang Maldong’s advice and prepared a suitable gift for him.

[If you want to help him, buy him some Competence.]

[Not the Special Competence. He’s not the type to steal something he’s given out. He’ll be over the moon if you just get him the best Competence from the regular store.]

Because she was beating one mission after the other, it just so happened that she had ample Survival Points. So after buying as many Competence as she could from the regular store, she had snuck out of her room at the time that Seol Jihu’s training would end.

As she had not seen his face in a while, a part of her wanted to meet and tell him about her recent progress.

‘He’s not in the training room… Did he go to the cafeteria already?’

Eun Yuri moved her steps while looking around.

The cafeteria’s lights were off. But just as she expected, a bright light was leaking out of the kitchen.

Eun Yuri’s face lit up. As she was about to enter the kitchen…

“This is great. I’m happy.”

“Fufu, are you that happy?”

“How can I not be happy? You’re treating me like a king every day.”

Eun Yuri suddenly heard two people talking.

‘This voice…’

Realizing that the voices belonged to Seol Jihu and Seo Yuhui, Eun Yuri blinked rapidly.

Why were they here? At this time of night, to boot.

‘Are they eating something delicious without telling anyone?’

Eun Yuri tilted her head for a while as questions began to pop up in her head. It was then.

“J-Jihu?”

The volume of Seo Yuhui’s voice abruptly went up.

“WAIT!”

Crashing and creaking noises suddenly erupted from the kitchen like the shelves and the kitchen table were shaking. Then—

“N-Not raaaaaw!!”

Seo Yuhui’s urgent yell burst out.

“Haak—!”

Following that was the sound of Seol Jihu’s heavy pants.

Eun Yuri’s steps halted. Shortly afterward…

“Haaa… haaaaa—”

Seo Yuhui let out a long moan as if she was spitting out the breath she had been holding in.

The frozen Eun Yuri steeled her mind and snuck a glance inside. Immediately, her expression stiffened.

The kitchen was a mess. They must have been going at it hard because the prepared ingredients were scattered all over the floor. Moreover, although the kitchen counter was blocking her view, she could see Seol Jihu’s leg peeking out from the edge of the counter’s corner.

“Wheeeeww…”

And at the place where Seol Jihu was presumed to be lying down… Eun Yuri could see Seo Yuhui’s shoulders peeking above the counter, her upper body faintly bouncing up and down.

“Jeez, what am I going to do with you. Didn’t Noona tell you to wait a bit longer?”

“S-Sorry, I got too absorbed… I did it without thinking…”

“You should be more careful. What if there’s an accident…?”

Seo Yuhui let a breath loose as her shoulders slumped.

“Auuu, okay. Let’s wipe off first. It’s a complete mess.”

“I’ll do it. It’s my fault. Just stay still, Noona.”

Words that were easily misunderstood flowed out.

Eun Yuri swallowed hard. As the man and woman got up, she quietly turned back.

With her cheeks and neck flushed red, she sneakily left the cafeteria.

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