Chapter 30. Looking Back (2)

'The Golden Commandment is it…'

Its meaning wasn't complicated and the phrase wasn't trying to imply anything deep, either. So, he only needed to interpret it as he heard it. However, he just couldn't link the original meaning of the phrase to his ability, 'Nine Eyes'. It didn't feel quite right.

Just like the 'right' and 'left' directions, there must be some kind of deeper meaning behind the way it was named like that. He thought about it dozens of times, but could only draw a blank. The deeper he thought about it, the more complicated his head became.

In the end, he spent the whole night without a wink of sleep.

'I can't figure it out.'

Sleep didn't want to visit him. Eventually, Seol got exhausted stirring around the bed wide awake and decided to postpone deciphering the 'Golden Commandment' to another time. He knew better than to force himself to a wrong conclusion here. In any case, he needed to find the proverbial loose string to yank out first if he wanted to unravel this mystery.

There were two ways he could think of that might resolve this quandary:

One, to open up the 'right' direction.

Just like how the 'left' direction was connected to 'lower' direction, the odds of 'upper' direction having a link with the 'right' was high. If he could find what the remaining three colors were, he might be able to narrow down the meaning of the golden color.

'But there are no Ambrosias left….'

Two, the sole remaining method, was to find the truth by experimentation.

Having stared at the ceiling for the entirety of the night, Seol made up his mind and pushed himself off the bed.

The longer one stayed in the Neutral Zone, the harder it became to sense the hours passing by. Not only were there no clocks in this place, but most of the facilities also stayed open 24 hours a day, which kind of made finding a spot without light shining on it a rarity. Only the smartphone he received at the beginning of the Tutorial kept him up with the current date and time.

[05:17 AM]

Around this early morning hour, the always-crowded first-floor plaza would be much quieter.

Wondering if Yun Seora was there, Seol came down to the first floor only to find someone else's familiar back, instead.

'Yi Seol-Ah?'

He was about to call out to greet her but stopped. His half-opened mouth slowly closed shut.

Yi Seol-Ah was in the midst of taking a halting glance at the noticeboard.

It didn't seem as if she was here for the running mission. A Basic difficulty mission could be repeated infinitely, so there was no need to worry about the mission parchments running out. If she was hesitating like that in front of the board, that could only mean that she was thinking of challenging a mission with a difficulty higher than 'Very Easy'.

Her petite shoulders drooped in disappointment. Her head faltered, hinting that she was deeply devastated over something. Seol quickly walked over to her side.

“What should I do now….?”

“Miss Seol-Ah?”

“Heukyahck?!?!”

When he called out to her out of the blue, a rather peculiar scream jumped out of her mouth. She quickly turned around to face Seol. Her shocked expression calmed down quickly after seemingly losing ten years of her life through fright.

“Orabeo-nim!”

“Good morning. You here to try the running mission again? It's been a while since we ran side by side, so how about it?”

“Oh…. Well, shall we?”

She sounded really unwilling. Seol didn't miss the fact that she hesitated ever so slightly before answering him.

“What's wrong? Are you feeling unwell?”

“Oh, no! Not at all. Uhm, it's like, I'm lacking in confidence, something like that? I haven't practiced a lot lately and stuff….”

She blurred the ends of her sentence and smiled awkwardly. Her smile was the usual one that seemed pure and innocent, but today, he picked up the hint of unnaturalness that she couldn't completely conceal. Her always-sunny complexion seemed very haggard as well.

'Mm?'

Seol carefully studied her appearance for a little while and tilted his head.

Now that he had taken a closer look at her, there were a few odd things about her. It had been slightly over a month since classes were awakened, yet her attire remained the same as what she wore during the Tutorial. And having met up with Shin Sang-Ah and Hyun Sangmin earlier on, this oddness came across as quite bizarre to him now.

Yi Seol-Ah's 'aptitude' wasn't bad when he took a peek at her Status Windows. Although it couldn't be called as desirable as 'Brilliant', he did remember seeing the description of 'jack of all trades' or something similar to that in her Aptitude column.

“Have you eaten breakfast yet?”

When he asked her while thinking, ‘it can't be, right?’, she hurriedly nodded her head.

“O, of course!! I filled up before getti….”

Growl.

With the exquisite timing, the loud cry of an empty stomach roared out for everyone to hear. And sure enough, it was not coming from Seol's belly.

“…..If I want to eat, I need to complete missions, you see….”

Quite unlike how she sounded just a minute ago, there was no energy in her voice now. Her pinkish neck slowly reddened up in the shade of sunset. Seol dazedly shifted his gaze over to the noticeboard.

As expected, she wasn't here to do Basic difficulty missions. She was checking out the sections where 'Very Easy' and 'Easy' missions were originally located. Unfortunately, there were no parchments left there. That was because Seol ended up completely exhausting what little remained a few days ago.

—….Yi siblings are constantly helping out Yun Seora…

Suddenly, Seol recalled Hyun Sangmin's words. And right away, it felt like a hammer struck him in the head.

'Ahh…..'

Now he understood the truth.

It wasn't as if the Yi siblings failed to earn enough SPs for themselves. No, it was more like they couldn't as they were trying to look after Yun Seora as well.

In order to complete a mission that paid out enough Survival Points for one to carry on living in the Zone, one would need to get the matching equipment and suitable abilities for one's class. Attempting a mission without those would be akin to throwing your life away.

If one had to lower the difficulty through a sheer lack of choice, then the rewards on offer were too low. Even then, if one continued to persevere and complete them, it'd be possible to amass a few handfuls of points. But for the Yi siblings, those points would have been spent in looking after Yun Seora, instead.

It'd only leave them towards a continuous downward spiral. On top of this, Yi Seol-Ah entered the Neutral Zone with only 46 points to her name. Her brother, Yi Sungjin, had only 114 points. Since they had to support another person with their already struggling finances, their situation must've been in a downward slide for a long time by now.

'Goddamn it.'

Seol's hand clutched his spear tightly.

'….And I had no reason to even do those missions either….'

He resolved himself not to repeat the mistake he made during the treasure hunt, yet he had done it again. He told himself to control his desires, yet, in the end, he thoughtlessly used himself as an example when making decisions.

Only if he paid little more attention. How could he fail so spectacularly to consider the possibility that the situation would be different for other survivors?

From Yi Seol-Ah's perspective, it must have been like him robbing her of the last lifeline she had been depending on.

“….I'm sorry.”

Hearing his sudden apology, Yi Seol-Ah's eyes grew wider and wider.

Of course, she was aware of it, too. There was no way she didn't know since the stories about Seol were widespread around the Neutral Zone nowadays.

“N, no! Don't say that!”

“I'm at fault. I'm the one who finished off all the easier missions.”

“Orabeo-nim, don't say that. Those mission papers aren't mine to begin with.”

“…..”

“More importantly, for the last two months, you didn't touch any of those missions, anyways. It's my fault for being lazy and not completing the missions more often, you know. It's my fault instead.”

Seeing her trying to console him, his hard-to-describe guilty conscience got heavier by another layer. She said that she had been lazy, but there was no way that could be true. No, it was far more likely that she was struggling desperately to survive.

“I heard that you are looking after Miss Yun Seora.”

“Oh, uhm…. T, that is….”

Yi Seol-Ah could only open and shut her mouth repeatedly as if she didn't know what to say. Her expression was asking him, ‘How did you find out?’

“How long has it been?”

“Maybe…. After entering the Neutral Zone…. Around ten days after that….”

‘So, well over a month, huh.’ Seol chuckled out bitterly.

She could've asked him for help during that time, at least once. But she didn't say anything, even when they met a few times to lap the track together. She didn't even show any signs of struggling, either. If no one told him of the Yun Seora situation, he might've never found out what was going on.

Seeing her helplessly lower her gaze, Seol's thoughts became very complicated.

'What should I do now?'

Although he didn't give a definite answer to Kim Hannah, he was planning to help Yun Seora out, anyways. He thought that it wouldn't be such a bad idea to repay Kim Hannah's kindness since he had received lots of benefits from her Gold Mark up until now.

However, helping out the Yi siblings was out of his calculations. Of course, if he began supporting Yun Seora, the burden on the siblings would decrease considerably, but…

But, it was already too late. Others had leapfrogged far ahead of them by now. Never mind catching up to them, could she and her brother even manage to gather 1000 points each before the end of the deadline?

While stewing inside the swirling mess of jumbled up thoughts, Seol got to confirm his disposition being 'Chaotic' one more time. Even though he thought he should aid them somehow, no small part of him didn't want to get involved here and just wanted to concentrate on completing missions, instead.

Should he help them, or not?

Encountering yet another crossroads in his path, Seol closed his eyes to contemplate.

It was then, he suddenly recalled a scene from almost two months ago.

[…Let's run together!!]

He remembered a scene of a girl who came to console him after seeing how shaken he was back then. It was of a girl who'd never forget her savior and tried to repay the favor no matter what.

And then, that Bible verse Kim Hannah left behind entered his thoughts as well.

….Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them.

He then decided to look at things from the siblings' perspective.

What if he ran into a situation similar to what the siblings, or even, Yun Seora were facing? Without a doubt, he'd be wishing for someone to come and help him out right about now.

[I never really thought of those words as altruistic babble, though. No, it's much more closer to 'give-and-take']

Although it was only by a little bit, Seol thought he could understand where Kim Hannah's sentiment was coming from.

Maybe….

Just maybe, there could be a future that might unfold in the way Kim Hannah had been implying – a future, where Seol needed to receive help from someone else. Could this girl in front of him be one of the potential 'someone else'?

No, that didn't matter. What did matter was his feelings on the subject regardless of what might happen in the future. He didn't know why, but he wanted to help her.

He wasn't dealing with a bastard like Kang Seok. Knowing the struggles this kind-hearted and warm girl was going through, he couldn't turn a blind eye anymore.

'It's not like I don't have a wiggle room, is it?'

The moment he decided, Seol opened his eyes and spoke to her.

“Come. Let's run for a while.”

*

Seol and Yi Seol-Ah began jogging on the track.

He completed his portion of the allocated laps first and waited for her to finish. Seeing her slowly inch closer to the finish line, he waved his hands in encouragement. She managed to get to the line, but before crossing it, she collapsed on the floor and began panting heavily. Seeing this, Seol grinned softly.

“It's only 30 laps, you know. I didn't know you were this unfit.”

“Doping is not allowed!”

Yi Seol-Ah protested to the injustice of this situation.

“I'm telling you, it's not doping.”

While defending himself, Seol's lips formed a bitter smile. He remembered giving advice that she should buy Competence, while being completely oblivious to her living conditions.

“How do you feel after you ran around for a while?”

“It feels nice.”

Yi Seol-Ah smiled brightly on the ground as she regulated her breathing. Even though he forcibly dragged her in here, she wasn't dissatisfied at all.

“Well, then. Should I make you feel even better?”

“…Hm?”

In the Neutral Zone, one could lend out or transfer Survival Points to another. Seol transferred 200 Survival Points from his account to Yi Seol-Ah.

“Uh? Uh, uh?! 200 points?”

“You've successfully cleared a mission, right? You should receive compensation for that.”

Seol jokingly said that, but her expression showed how apologetic and at a loss she was.

“Even still…. If you give me so much points, then I….”

Her words only managed to make Seol surprised and flustered instead. Just how difficult had her stay in the Neutral Zone been for her to act like that over measly 200 points?

“What is your brother doing right now?”

“Oh, Sungjin? He should be waking up soon, I think.”

“In that case, go have a good breakfast with him. With 200 points, you should be able to enjoy a hearty meal once.”

“J, just once?! If I save up, I think we can stretch it out to ten days….”

“No can do. You will spend it all in one go. All 200 points.”

Seol resolutely cut her off.

For a short while, she didn't say anything. She simply stared at him with a dazed facial expression as if she hadn't finished processing this event quite yet.

“Once you're done eating, come up to my quarters with your brother. Oh, and by the way, do you know where I can find Miss Yun Seora?”

“O, Orabeo-nim?”

Yi Seol-Ah unsteadily got up from the ground. She still looked like she hadn't been able to tell whether she was in a dream or not.

“But, but, why?”

“Mm…. Well, because I'm grateful to you?”

“A, about what, exactly? I, I haven't done anything….”

Seol sheepishly scratched his cheek as she stammered out.

“What do you mean, you haven't? You ran with me back then, didn't you?”

When looking back, one could say that was indeed the case. Only by running together with her, Seol finally got to realize how weak he was. From that day on, he focused on improving himself like a madman. In a way, it was because of Yi Seol-Ah's intervention that he had begun his intense training regime to get to where he was now.

Yi Seol-Ah couldn't say anything for a little while longer. Only her lips parted and closed several times.

“Orabeo-nim.”

She somehow managed to squeeze out a word.

“Yes?”

“Can you… turn around for a second?”

“Sure, why not. But, why?”

“I… want to cry, but it's embarrassing….”

Seol smiled gently. She was probably trying to express how grateful she was in her own way.

“Do what you want.”

However, as soon as he turned around, he heard her crying out loudly. His heart nearly jumped out of his mouth in fright, and he quickly looked back, only to find Yi Seol-Ah squatting on the ground again while shedding thick tears of appreciation.

'She's really crying?!'

This time, it was Seol's turn to panic, instead.

*

After sending Yi Seol-Ah back to her place….

Seol headed off to the fifth floor.

He'd never stopped by this floor before. According to Yi Seol-Ah's explanation, a sizeable lounge could be found there, and Yun Seora spent most of her time in that place.

Seol initially believed that, since that space was called a lounge, the facilities there shouldn't be so bad, but….

“….”

….As soon as he arrived there, he had to revise his thoughts immediately.

The circular lounge was indeed rather spacious and open. But there were only a handful of chairs to be found here. He couldn't even begin to call this place a lounge at all.

When he pushed open the glass door and entered, he spotted a lone female figure lying quietly in the far corner of the room. She had a hood covering her head while her body was in a huddle.

Seol heard her cough. It sounded dry and scratchy. Seol placed his palm on the floor, and his body shivered slightly after sensing the coldness coming from the hard surface.

'It's really cold in here.'

She must be in a deep sleep; Seol walked towards her in loud-enough footsteps, but she still showed no signs of movement.

Zzzz

While listening to her soft, nearly imperceptible breathing, Seol looked at her face and became utterly speechless.

Yun Seora's appearance too had changed a fair deal since the end of the Tutorial. Unfortunately, it was for the worse.

Her previously pale smooth cheeks were now yellowing and sunken. Her exposed wrist was so thin, he mistakenly thought he was looking at bones. He thought he was looking at a broken doll.

“….Miss Yun Seora?”

Seol called out her name and placed his hand on her shoulder. Her body flinched a little, then.

“Miss Yun Seora.”

And when he gently shook her….

“….Ah-ahck!”

Suddenly, she sucked in a heavy breath; as if she was having a nightmare, a strained cry escaped from her lips, and she desperately hid her face with her left hand. She huddled even closer and began shaking like a leaf.

“What the….?”

He thought he looking an abused child trying to not get hit anymore. Seol took a step back in astonishment.

“Are you alright?”

“Euh…. Euhah…!”

“Miss Yun Seora!!”

“Uh, uhm?”

Abruptly, she raised her head. A pair of blurry, unintelligent eyes gazed at Seol.

“Huuua…”

She let off a pained whimper, and her eyes slowly closed again. Her entire body slumped, too. And when he called out to her again, she didn't respond.

'Is she unconscious?'

Her current state seemed too precarious to simply say she fell unconscious.

Seol quickly lifted her up. He only used his arms, yet he could barely feel her weight.

Leaving the fifth-floor lounge, Seol immediately went to his quarters on the tenth. He thought that, since his room restored one's stamina rapidly, simply by being there would help her regain her consciousness.

After carefully laying Yun Seora down on the bed, Seol was overcome with a feeling of helplessness.

Although he did bring her here, he hadn't realized how bad her conditions actually were. Perhaps, that superior officer asking Kim Hannah for favor must've realized that Yun Seora was on the brink, too.

'Let's confirm her status first.'

Seol activated his 'Nine Eyes'.

[Yun Seora's Status Windows]

[1. General Information]

Summoned date: March 16th, 2017
Marking Grade: Silver
Sex/Age: Female/20
Height/Weight: 166.2 cm/48.2 kg
Current condition: Heavily injured
Class: LV. 1 Warrior
Nationality: Republic of Korea (Area 1)
Affiliation: N/A
Alias: N/A

[2. Traits]

1. Temperament:
—Indifferent. (She's not easily interested in anything particular.)
—Despair. (Has fallen into despair and gave up on herself, and has not looked after her own body.)

2. Aptitude:
—Brilliant. (Possesses a smart brain as well as good overall talents.)
—Highly observant. (Will carefully analyze and study items and events all around her.)

[3. Physical Level]

Strength: Extreme–Low ↓2
Endurance: Extreme–Low ↓1
Agility: Extreme–Low ↓3
Stamina: Extreme-Low ↓2
Mana: High-Low
Luck: High-Low

Remaining Ability points: 1.

[4. Abilities]

1.Innate Abilities (0)

2. Class Abilities (0)

3. Other Abilities (0)

[5. Level of Cognition]

Depressed (Deeply worried and/or frustrated; lacking in energy) / Despair / Pessimistic (Has a gloomy outlook on her life; is in mourning; is in despair)

“….What the hell?”

Seol's brows furrowed in a deep frown.

Yun Seora's condition, confirmed through her Status Windows, was in a terrible state.

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