Chapter 31. A Misunderstanding (1)

Yun Seora. Current age, 20 years old.

A young woman, who got invited to Paradise after being scouted by Sinyoung.

The so-called picky and arrogant woman as coined by the dead Yi Hyungsik.

Along with another Invited, Kang Seok, she was seen as Area 1’s top seedling for the March recruitment period.

She always displayed the habit of 'think first, act later' in everything she did; her thoughts or decision making were never swayed by emotions, and because of her personality, she held no interest in other people's business.

Such characteristics meant she enjoyed a certain amount of advantage during the Tutorial, but once she lost her right arm, her situation drastically changed for the worse.

She was very much aware of her weakness in the context of the environments of the Neutral Zone, where cooperating with others was a must.

So, for one month straight, she focused solely on fixing her broken right arm. Unfortunately, she had no choice but to revise her strategy and focus on strengthening her fitness level instead after learning that her tally of SP, 317 points, wasn't even remotely enough to heal her wounds.

As an Invited, she already had acquired a fairly good understanding of what was going on in the Neutral Zone before coming here. That was why, before her Job awakened, she decided to focus on raising her physical stats. She knew that, as long as she could become a Sorcerer, or, even a Priest, then her problem would be solved.

Yun Seora did not let go of that sliver of hope, even when stuck in a hopeless situation. However, that got brutally cut off when her Job was set as a Warrior.

She left the Chamber of Awakening as if being chased away. And as expected, there was literally not a thing she could do in her current state.

She had spent every single SP she had by then. She even had to sell the bag she got as the starting bonus cheaply, too.

Even if she wanted to earn some points, no one wanted a Warrior with a crippled arm in their team.

Staying in a proper sleeping quarter became a luxury she could only dream of. She couldn't even afford to eat one meal a day, and her health continued to send out warning signals as a result. Starved of the necessary nutrients, her body got weaker and weaker with every passing day.

And with her weakened body, she couldn't even attempt those Basic missions that did give out a small amount of points as rewards.

Her determination ran out a long time by then and even enduring through nothing but sheer malice also eventually reached its limit. If it weren't for the Yi siblings that came to see her every other day, Yun Seora would've died of starvation already.

However, she knew that the siblings were also struggling desperately as well. So, she could not depend on them forever.

Sensing Yun Seora's discomfort, Yi Seol-Ah spoke up carefully.

She said, ‘How about we speak to 'Orabeo-nim'? Since he's honest and hard-working, he wouldn’t abandon us callously.’

It'd be a lie if Yun Seora wasn't tempted by that suggestion. In the end, though, she shook her head and said no.

If he owed her a favor, the story might have been different. Sure, he saved her life, but in return, she gave him the Revival potion. And their relationship came to an end there. At least, Yun Seora thought so that way.

She didn't mind if others called her out on her petty pride. Actually, she was too ashamed to go and speak to him by then.

Still, refusing to heed the suggestion of Yi Seol-Ah played heavily in Yun Seora's mind. And, not wanting to inconvenience the siblings any further, she discreetly changed her hiding place without telling them.

However, that night, Yun Seora ended up going through a terrifying and breathless ordeal.

She opened her eyes in the middle of the night to find three Western men. Two of them were restraining her arms, while the other one was sitting on top of her.

No matter where, it seemed that one would run into bastards like Kang Seok.

In the middle of her fiercely resisting them, the face belonging to the man on top of her came in closer to whisper.

“Hey, I heard that you're a cripple.”

“You wanna keep living like this? Don't you wanna go to Paradise?”

“Just behave yourself. We will feed you well and find you a warm bed to sleep on, too.”

“Who knows? Maybe even a couple of points, too….”

Survival Points. The moment she heard those words, all strength automatically seeped out of her body. Naturally, her resistance weakened as well.

By the time she realized her mistake, she felt coldness touching her buttocks. When she regained her bearings, she found her underwear pulled down to her ankles already.

And when that man took off his pants while a thick, lecherous smile formed on his face, Yun Seora shook like a smartphone vibrating to alert the owner of an incoming call.

She shook hard as if someone poured a bucket of freezing water on her head in the middle of a harsh winter.

Like words of a snake tickling her ears, the man told her to open her mouth.

A hideously ugly object neared her face, yet her lips remained shut. She thought that the moment she yielded here, everything would really come to an end for her.

No, a simple 'end' wouldn't be all. She feared falling even deeper into a bottomless abyss….

And so, she did not open her lips.

But, she did scream out with everything she had. She bit whatever she came in contact with and used her whole body to fight.

Her rewards were harsh swearings, along with fists and kicks. Even then, Yun Seora did not let up her crazed resistance.

Eventually, the men grew sick and tired and abandoned her with a thick spit to her face.

She fixed her clothing and unsteadily made her way back to the fifth-floor lounge. She then fell to the floor and got into a huddle.

A single drop of the warm, salty liquid she'd been holding back finally leaked out of her eye. The tears she'd been shedding inwardly began streaming out, and eventually, she burst out into uncontrollable sobs.

'It’d be better if I just died.’

She was scared of falling asleep again because of the incident but forced her eyes shut regardless. She thought that if she died here, like this, then she might not have any regrets.

She didn't care what happened anymore.

And so, Yun Seora fell into a fitful slumber. But, then….

“….Miss Yun Seora?”

Just as she was about to pay the ferryman to cross the river Styx…

“Miss Yun Seora.”

….She took a look behind her.

And, she clearly saw him.

“Are you alright?”

She saw a certain young man offering his hand to her.

*

While Seol was nursing Yun Seora, Yi Seol-Ah and Yi Sungjin arrived at his quarters.

The siblings entered his room hesitantly, and couldn't close their mouths after taking in the grand sights of the luxurious furnishing of the place that reminded one of a palace. They recovered quickly from the shock, though, after spotting Yun Seora whimpering on the bed, and approached her. Deep frowns were etched on their faces.

“She wasn't this bad two days ago….”

“Really?”

“Yes. Why did she get so….?”

Yi Seol-Ah looked anxious. Seol lightly held his chin, contemplating.

'What could be her problem?'

With just a glance, he could clearly tell that Yun Seora was very sick. Even though he brought her to his quarters, thick perspiration continued to form on her forehead, and her breathing became rougher and rougher.

He thought that the current situation was marginally better, compared to when she failed to respond to him gently shaking her around. However, since he lacked proper medical knowledge, he could only remain in the dark. He still recognized the fact that she needed help.

Seol told the siblings he'd be back soon and left his room. When facing a situation he didn't know how to solve, there was only one person he could rely on.

After hearing his explanation, Agnes quickly called for another maid to join them.

The person to answer the call was unexpectedly none other than Maria. The blonde maid walked up to them in swagger, and when Agnes introduced her class to Seol, she cocked an eyebrow, perhaps in disapproval of the revelation.

It turned out that Maria was a Level 4 Priest.

Not only that, she was a Priest in healing who had walked a long road – from Lv.1 “Priest”, Lv.2 “Deacon”, Lv.3 “Clergyman”, and to her current Lv.4 “High Priest”.

Seol promptly returned to his quarters with the two maids in tow.

“This is… so bloody fantastic.”

After checking out Yun Seora's condition, Maria spat out a short assessment.

“It's that bad?”

“Never mind her right arm, it looks like she's been starving herself for the past month or so. On top of her body and nerves being weakened to this state, she even got beaten up pretty good as well, so yes. It's bad.”

“She got beaten up?”

“Yes. Seriously now…. Don't know who hit her, but that person sure fucked her up.”

Maria leaked out a hollow chuckle. Hearing the real cause of Yun Seora's accelerated deterioration, Yi Seol-Ah covered her mouth in shock.

“You did the right thing by bringing her here. Without the effects of this room, she might have crossed the River of Lethe and would be tipping the wineglass of Forgetfulness by now.”

“How do we go about healing her….?”

“If you want, I can do it. But, strictly speaking, there's no need. If she spends the next couple of days in this room while eating and resting well, she will recover fully.”

“Does that mean her right arm will be healed, as well?”

Maria suddenly went very quiet and gazed at Yun Seora. Agnes also studied Yun Seora's crippled right arm for a while before speaking up.

“Six stab wounds on the arm…. Caused by a short but sharp dagger, it seems. The assailant even twisted the blade around in two of the wounds too.”

“How long has it been?”

“Over two months. Will it be tough even with 'Moderate' or 'Massive'?”

“Why ask something you know the answer to already? 'Light' would have sufficed if the wound was treated right away, but…. But, it's too late now. You know that a wound gets progressively harder to heal the longer it is left untreated. If it's a 'Colossal', it might be possible, but I'm not confident.”

Agnes breathed out a soft sigh.

Meanwhile, Seol couldn't hide his astonishment at the two maids who were able to figure out what happened two months ago with just one look.

A certain sense of anxiety was blooming in the corner of his heart at the same time, as well.

He couldn't figure out the contents of the discussion since several words related to Maria's profession were thrown around, but he still understood that fixing the right arm would be very difficult.

Maria stood up straight and shook her head before shifting her gaze over to Seol.

“This arm is as good as dead. It's past the simple 'healing' spell, requiring something on the level of 'Revival' at this point. Instead of leaving it as is, I recommend amputation.”

“….Excuse me?”

“There's no helping it. We aren’t in Paradise. You won't find a Priest better skilled than me within the Neutral Zone. But even I find healing this arm difficult.”

Seol was hoping, but just as expected, this injury couldn't be healed in the Neutral Zone. Maria didn't beat around the bush and conveyed the truth.

That wasn't the end of the bad news, though. There was still around a month left until the deadline, and Yun Seora's right arm could get even worse during this time.

“Is there… any other way?”

Seol wasn't expecting to hear 'impossible' as the prognosis, and he could only chew on his blameless lower lip in frustration.

It was then.

“There is one other way.”

A calm voice seemed to help him recover his senses. Agnes raised her body up from the bed, having concluded her examination of Yun Seora's arm.

“As Maria said, only a Level 5 High Ranker can heal her injury. But it just so happens that the Priest class is the closest to the gods.”

“….”

“I told you that you'll have to select a god to serve when you reach Level 5. Do you remember?”

Seol nodded his head.

“'Colossal' is a very powerful holy spell a Priest can learn after reaching level 5.”

“Didn't you say Miss Maria is level 4?”

“Indeed, she wouldn't be able to use it under normal circumstances…. But there are exceptions.”

“Agnes? You should really shut the fuck up now.”

Maria began glaring at Agnes. However, the latter maid only spared a cursory glance as a reply, and her words did not stop.

“A Priest who walks on a singular path without receiving the aid of other gods will be bestowed the High Priest class. When one becomes a High Priest, you're given a special privilege.”

“A special privilege?”

“Yes. That is the power to hold a Ceremony. It's like begging the gods to allow one to use a high-level spell.”

Maria squeezed shut her eyes. Even the noise of her teeth gnashing could be heard. Seol thought that she just whispered several curse words, too.

He eventually opened his mouth while looking at her.

“….Excus…”

“Ah, no! Hell no! No freaking way!”

“M, Miss Maria?”

“I can't hear you~ Lalalala~~ Ebebebebeh….”

Maria repeatedly covered up her ears and uncovered them with her hands.

“C, can't you help us? Please! I beg you!”

Yi Seol-Ah couldn't just keep watching, so she begged, but….

“Fuck, keep your piehole shut.”

Maria spat out in anger and became supremely irritated, causing Yi Seol-Ah to jump up in shock and hurriedly seek refuge behind Seol's back. The maid's sudden burst of sweary anger unnerved the Yi girl and she was unable to close her slack jaw.

Seol signaled the tearful girl to be quiet, and then, began slowly approaching Maria. The maid's entire body began convulsing.

“Don't come here! Don't' come closer to me!! Don't you dare!!!”

“Miss Maria, a word. Please.”

“Argh, shit! Let go of me right now!”

Since she showed signs of running away, Seol gently grasped her arms to stop her. Maria then threw her fists and resisted him. They landed on his chest, but seeing that they didn't hurt too much, he figured that she wasn't planning on hurting him.

“What will it take for you to help us?”

“What the hell? Are you deaf? If it was within my ability, I might help you if you paid me lots of SP, but I'm telling you, I can't do it!”

“How about that Cere….”

“Fuck the Ceremony. Don't even bring that up again! I'm being this civil only because Miss Foxy invited you here. That's all! If you weren't, I'd have bashed in your skull by now.”

Seol nearly blurted out 'This is you being civil?!', but managed to force the words back down his throat. He thought he could finally understand, more or less, why she was practicing the vow of silence, but that wasn't the important thing right now.

“I know I'm asking a lot of you. But, only you can do this, Miss Maria.”

“And why should I?!”

Maria shot back while still glaring back at him.

“You think a Ceremony is a thing where you just have to offer a couple of prayers and kowtow a few times? What about the right type of offerings? Where would those come from? And, why should I offer my own shit that I sweated blood and tears to gather for a bitch I don't even know? I'm not even affiliated with Sinyoung! You think that's all? Do you even know what kind of negative rebound I have to endure after performing a single Ceremony?”

As if her emotions were running wild, she continued to spit out her words in anger. There were even glimpses of madness in her expression, and Seol became slightly terrified by that, but he still looked into her eyes.

'Begging her without a plan will not work.

No, he had to convince her first.

“There is a certain verse in the Bible.”

Maria looked at him with an expression that said, ‘What bullshit are you trying to say here’, while panting like crazy.

“Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you….”

“….You shall also do to them. Book of Matthews, verse 7:12. Gospel of Luke, verse 6:31. I know of it already.”

Maria quickly cut him off, and then chuckled hollowly as if she couldn't believe this.

“Seriously, I'm fucking speechless. So, are you saying that a useless bitch like her is going to owe me a….?”

“It's not just Miss Yun Seora, though.”

This time, Seol cut her off.

“I'll be grateful to you, not to mention a certain Miss Kim Hannah.”

His serious voice made Maria shut up and study the youth. She was still glaring at him, but her frown had softened up ever so slightly. It was as if she was caught off guard just now by what he said.

“What did you say? Who will?”

As he suspected, him mentioning the name of Kim Hannah was the right call. Seeing a ray of hope finally shining here, Seol continued.

“You've heard that Miss Kim Hannah stopped by the Neutral Zone, right?”

“Sure.”

“She came to ask me for the favor then. Yes, it's straight from her mouth.”

“Oh, fuck. Dear lord. Oh, god Luxuria….”

Maria's head slowly faltered, and she planted her forehead on Seol's chest. She then didn't move for a good while afterwards.

As Seol stood there, worried about his pounding heart being discovered, her small hand slowly rose up to his view. She beckoned with her index finger.

“Give me a cigarette. And let go of my arms, too.”

“Oh.”

Seol quickly released her arms and pulled out a cigarette for her. He even lit it up.

“Fu-wooo….”

Maria slowly breathed out the smoke from her nostrils and her mouth, then her eyes began gleaming in dangerous and chilling light.

“For the next five minutes, you all shut your mouths. I'm already feeling like shit, so you better not squeak once. Got that?”

She leaned against the wall and began staring at the ceiling. It was as if the cigarette was her breathing apparatus because she continuously puffed the unhealthy smoke in and out. She also didn't forget to lace the quiet air with various colorful swear words, too. Of course, Seol patiently waited for her to finish.

And eventually….

She flicked the cigarette butt away and spat on the floor. She used her heel to stub the dying light out, causing Agnes to frown ever so slightly, but the latter maid chose not to raise an objection. Agnes was well aware of the dangers and sacrifices a Priest had to bear to perform a Ceremony.

“Haaaaa… Fuuuuck….”

Maria angrily combed her hair back and opened her mouth.

“82,010 points. No, since you gave me a cigarette, 82,000.”

“M, Maria?!”

Quite unlike her, Agnes stammered out in surprise. Her facial expression showed how shocked she was, her open mouth and all.

Completely ignoring that reaction, Maria only paid attention to Seol.

“Let's see…. Your tally of Survival Points is…. Way too bloody short. In any case, you wanna fix that girl's arm, then you better earn 82,000 points and pay me upfront. After that, I'll do it, a Ceremony or whatever.”

Yi Seol-Ah mouthed a strained gasp. For a person who got flustered only with 200 points, a number like 82,000 was something she couldn't even dream of.

Maria must have found that displeasing because she raised her middle finger at Yi Seol-Ah. And then….

“That's the end of our little talk. Don't forget, I want exactly 82,000 points.”

….She growled menacingly and turned around to leave.

SLAM!!

Right after Maria slammed the door shut, hard enough to almost shatter it, Yi Seol-Ah muttered out in a daze.

“82,000 points…. That's crazy. It's too expensive.”

“You're wrong. It's not expensive at all.”

Agnes corrected her.

“Considering the materials involved, it's not an unreasonable price at all. No, I honestly believe that Maria has asked for the absolutely lowest possible amount.”

“Is that so….”

Seol asked back, a helpless smile forming on his face.

“I have no clue about what holding a Ceremony entails, but is there a reason Miss Maria detests it so much?”

“Mm…. Let's just say that she stands to lose a lot.”

Basically, a Ceremony was the type of ritual where one prayed to gods while making appropriate offerings. The greater the wish, the greater the need for higher quality offerings; if one prayed for something that did not match his or her level, then one would immediately receive backlash, as well.

For instance, if Maria wished to cast the 'Colossal' spell, which happened to be the top-tier Level 5 Priest spell, she'd be confined to bed for the next seven days, suffering from a high fever. Then, a restriction of being unable to cast any spell for the next two weeks would be imposed on her as well.

“Most likely, as soon as the Ceremony is performed, she will leave the Neutral Zone.”

“She's going to leave?”

“Yes. If she heads to the main temple of the god she serves, then she can halve the duration of the restriction. More importantly, by offering prayers and recuperating her damaged body there, the odds of preventing the reduction in her physical stats or the loss of her ability to cast spells altogether increases significantly.”

“….”

“That's not all. Just the act of leaving the Neutral Zone alone will cause Maria to incur heavy losses as well.”

The fact was, maids found in the Neutral Zone weren't volunteers working for free. Working in the Zone, as well as the survivors spending their points, earned the maids their own share of Survival Points as well. After leaving the Zone, they could swap these points for something called 'achievement records'. If she were to leave before the Zone closed, then naturally, Maria had to give up on those benefits.

So, if she were to perform the Ceremony now, she had to swallow all those losses.

“That price of 82,000 points should be only for the offerings needed for the Ceremony itself and nothing else. You could say this is the result of her pride as a Priest, I suppose. If you still believe that price is too much, even after I clarified her position, then there is nothing more I can say.”

Hearing that strict and no-nonsense tone of Agnes's voice, Yi Seol-Ah could only lower her head in embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Seol was carefully thinking about a couple of things. He currently owned 38,580 points. Meaning, he needed to earn another 43,420 points.

'That's not going to be easy.'

He had decided not to do anymore 'Hard' missions. And, in order to complete 'Very Hard' missions, he'd need to prepare himself accordingly, which naturally meant he would need to spend some points there. Even if he were to go out now and find suitable partners, since the rewards would be divided equally among the number of participants, he wouldn't receive a lot as well.

'Why only after I purchased things from the VIP store….?'

What an exquisitely ill-timed event this was. If he only knew when he still possessed over 120,000 points.

Agnes quietly studied Seol busy lamenting his poor luck, before bowing politely.

“No matter what you decide to do next, I wish you best of luck.”

Agnes too left his room, leaving only the four of them in Seol's quarters.

Yi Seol-Ah began murmuring her apology with an ashamed face.

“I'm sorry…. Because of me, you….”

Seol couldn't help but agree with her. After all, he wasn't a saint, nor was he a virtuous man. While being subjected to Maria's hysterics, he wondered several times why he should even do this in the first place.

However, whenever that happened, he recalled the old tale of Liu Bei and the old man and reined in his impatience. The moment he gave up, everything he'd done up until that point would be wasted, but if he persevered till the end, he'd gain twice the benefits.

'The Golden Commandment…. Better not be a waste of my time, you hear me?'

Besides, the story might have been different if no one told him. He knew, and since he started this thing anyway, he was planning to see it to the end. He didn't want to look back in regret later, that's why.

his thoughts up to here, Seol transferred another 300 points to Yi Seol-Ah.

“O, Orabeo-nim?!”

“For now, stay and rest here. Buy something to eat for dinner with those points. When Miss Yun Seora wakes up, buy her something to eat, as well. Something easy to digest, like a bowl of gruel or something.”

The Yi siblings became totally speechless from Seol's considerations for them.

“W, what about you….?”

“I'll go and earn some Survival Points. Don't worry about me and wait here.”

They stared, still dazed, as he picked up his spear.

If he activated his 'Nine Eyes' at that moment, he might have flinched in surprise. However, he was too focused on earning the points and he didn't. He simply swung open the door to leave.

*

He came down to the first-floor plaza without a concrete plan, but as expected, there were no ready answers waiting for him there.

The only idea he could come up with was to continue doing the 'Hard' missions. There were ten missions available, and each mission had 9 attempts left.

If he carried on as he did, then he'd be able to earn 40,000 points. However….

'Please stop looking at me like that….'

The stares coming from the other people were no joke. The crowd wasn't saying anything out aloud since they had nothing to say at the moment, but if he tried to attempt another 'Hard' mission, they would no doubt start whispering to each other again.

Damn it, it's your fault for not trying out these missions in the first place!

'Sorry, but I'm also in a bind here.'

Seol firmed his resolve. But, just before he could reach out to a mission parchment, someone poked him on the back, and he had to turn around to see who it was.

“So, can you spare me some time for a cup of tea today?”

As soon as he turned around, a nightingale-like voice entered his ears like a pleasant song. A girl wearing a blue gown was looking at him with sparkling eyes.

It was Odelette Delphine, one of the two people Kim Hannah recommended that he should get friendly with.

“Or, are you going to refuse again?”

Since she asked him so innocently, Seol couldn't refuse her.
“No, I have time.”

“Okay! Let's head to that cafe over there. Everyone's waiting for you.”

Seol was briefly confused by that statement, but after getting dragged to the cafe in question by her, he understood what she meant. There were four people sitting by a table, waiting for his arrival. Three of those faces, he sort of knew.

“Uh?”

Seol checked the face of the thin man wearing a turban and exclaimed loudly.

“You thought I died?”

The guy who looked to be an Indian carried a thin smile as he spoke.

“Yes. Back then, you….”

“Everyone said the same thing when I got back. All thanks to a certain someone.”

Delphine smiled brightly, before going, Oops, and stuck her tongue out.

“It turns out, 'death' isn't the only result available if you fail that particular mission. Who knew.”

“You either die or go back to the beginning and try again.”

“You don't return to the plaza to start over again, correct?”

“Indeed – simply back to the beginning of the maze. I thought I'd really die, trying to escape that accursed place…. Well, it was a story from two months ago, anyway.”

It was easy to see from this conversation how much not invested Seol was in the ongoings of the Neutral Zone unless it had to do with his training regime.

Sitting on the spot Delphine guided him to, Seol slowly took in the faces staring back at him.

“In any case, welcome. Just call me Tong Chai.”

The man who said that was Tong Chai, from Area 5.

“….Leorda Salvatore.”

From Area 2, with a pair of sharp ash-grey eyes that resembled a wolf, Leorda Salvatore.

“It's a pleasure. I'm Hao Win.”

The man slowly savoring his cigarette while resting his feet on the table, Hao Win from Area 7.

'This guy is….'

This man was the other survivor Kim Hannah spoke of. Wasn't he supposed to be a boss in an underground organization? Was it Triads or something? What with his neat and composed appearance, he didn't look like a thug at all.

And then….

“Finally!! My dream is about to become a reality!”

Area 2’s Odelette Delphine, the lone Magician and the second place holder of the Neutral Zone, smiled brightly.

With the exception of one person, everyone here was someone Cinzia called out by name on the first day, back in the theatre.

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