After entering Odelette Delphine's team, Seol's daily life had entered what one might call a period of stability. No, perhaps he should say it was on the right track.
In any case, he managed to pay off his debt in just two days. Clearing the 'Ambush' mission once paid out 1,667 SP, so by clearing it ten times, he was able to pay back the 15,000 points and still have lots left over. Even after all that, there were still five 'Very Hard' missions left to go.
What the team tried their hands next was a mission called 'Arrive at the destination within a soundless environment', and it gave out 20,000 points as reward. Clearing it just once netted Seol 3,334 points.
Now that the debt had been paid off, Seol was able to get lost in the fun of cooperative battles as well as the joy of amassing a lot of Survival Points, without a single worry.
Yun Seora's recovery was just as trouble-free. Like what Maria said earlier, simply by eating well and resting well, and with the added effect of Seol's quarters, her physical fitness level returned to normal in no time at all.
The only thing was that Seol couldn't help but notice her being uncomfortable around him.
Once, he returned to his room to find it cleaned spotless. The shelves were all neatly arranged, mirrors shone and reflected light brilliantly, and the toilet sparkled blindingly too.
Seol dazedly looked around, only to spot Yun Seora sweating profusely while mopping the floor on all fours. Of course, he was quite shocked by this sight. Not only could he not figure out why she was cleaning the place, but she was also in the middle of her recovery too.
He hurriedly ran up to her and snatched the mop away and asked her what on earth she was doing instead of resting. She only lowered her head in silence as her reply.
On another occasion, he returned after clearing a mission only to find Yun Seora missing from his room. And on top of the bed, he spotted four neatly-folded papers.
The contents of those letters started off with the expression of her gratitude as well as her apology for causing him so much trouble; they were so profoundly heartfelt and touching, he almost cried reading them. And the passage about the “debt being hers and hers alone, so she needs to pay it off herself” sounded especially grimly resolute.
Thinking to himself, ‘She wouldn't’, Seol went out to look for her and ended up nearly falling over in fright after finding her bravely stalking towards Hao Win on the first floor. He then had to go through the event of picking up and carrying away the struggling Yun Seora.
It wasn't only that though. Just taking care of Yun Seora alone was already headache-inducing, yet the Yi siblings went around causing problems as well. Seol found them loitering around in front of the noticeboard, apparently hoping to pay off the debt by themselves, so Seol had to bring them back with force, too.
'This can't go on.'
Seeing that Yun Seora's condition had recovered fully, Seol thought that he should move on to the next step. No, he had no choice but to do that.
Seol only said he wanted to have a chat with them, yet the siblings were kneeling on the ground right in front of him. Yun Seora, who had been cautiously reading the mood from the side until then, also silently bent her knees and got down, too.
He told them to sit more comfortably, but they didn't budge. Judging from the way they continued to stare at the floor, they must've understood what they had done wrong. Seol spat out a lengthy groan.
“Just what were you thinking?”
“That man, Hao Win….”
“I told you, he's a good person. He's friendly, and…. No, wait. Fine. Let's hear it. What about Mister Hao Win? Did he say something else to you?”
Yi Seol-Ah mumbled helplessly.
“I…. overheard…. by chance….”
“Okay, heard what exactly?”
“That, well, he is a…. He's really a gang member from Hong Kong's Triads. That’s the biggest Chinese underground organization….”
If there was one thing Seol came to realize about himself recently, it was that he seemed to have developed a strange habit of glaring at the ceiling when something dismayed him or caused a sense of dumbfoundedness.
So, he stared at the ceiling of his room for a while, before shoving a cigarette between his lips.
“Yeah, sure. He's a Triads boss. Right.”
He more or less understood where the Yi girl was coming from. He too had a preconceived notion about Agnes and Hao Win when he initially heard of their affiliations. Most likely, they were really terrifying people. But, at least judging from what Seol knew, Hao Win was a man with a pleasingly outgoing personality.
“Okay, let's say he is. So what?”
“H, Hyung, we….”
“I know. I know that you want to help out somehow. It's a commendable idea, but I'm asking you again. What were you even thinking, looking at the noticeboard like that? Don't you know that all the missions up to 'Slightly Easy' difficulty have been exhausted?”
They couldn't reply. They couldn't say anything even if they had ten mouths.
“Is it because of the debt? I've already taken care of that. No, I'm in the middle of amassing points at the moment. The reason I'm still doing missions with them is that I also need their strength. I can never clear 'Very Hard' missions by myself.”
“If you really want to help, then become stronger. Haven't you realized that you guys doing whatever you want is actually making my life really difficult instead?”
“You guys have no armor, no weapon. Your classes aren't even in high demand. You literally have nothing, yet you want to tackle missions? You think 'Normal' difficulty missions are a cakewalk?”
Yi Seol-Ah whimpered out an apology in a really tiny voice. It was her first time seeing Orabeo-nim get so angry at them. Rather than feeling unhappy after receiving his scolding, she could only remain apologetic here, though. She very well knew that his anger stemmed from him being worried about her and her brother losing their lives.
Seeing their dispirited looks, Seol's anger cooled down a tad. If it were any other time, they might have raised a huge fuss, saying stuff about doing everything they can to show their gratitude and all….
'No, hang on.'
Even then, a wrong deed was still a wrong deed.
“….Listen to me. I borrowed 15,000 points in total. That was for me to buy the necessary equipment so I could attempt clearing the Very Hard missions along with that man's team. In other words, I too have received help from Mister Hao Win.”
“So, this is what's going to happen to you three. I'll lend my points to you. I'll train you too.”
“I'm telling you to become stronger.”
If they wanted to help him, they needed to become stronger, without a doubt. Flipping that around, he was telling them that they were too weak to be of any help right now.
“You all understand that you've fallen far behind everyone else even if you start right away, right?”
All three nodded their heads in sync.
“There's no need to get depressed, though. Depending on what you do during the remaining time period, you can catch up to the rest, or even surpass them.”
“Only if you do as I say.”
He wasn't making an empty claim. It was an undeniable fact that Yun Seora and the Yi siblings were far behind everyone else. Even after receiving their classes, nothing had changed from the day they entered the Neutral Zone. To be more specific, they lacked the necessary points, so they couldn't buy anything, including abilities.
However, Seol found that to be their advantage, instead.
Agnes once told him, ‘I do not recommend buying Applications from the stores.’
There was an old saying, a dangerous situation could also become one's opportunity.
“You all know about the effects of this room, right?”
“Yes, it's a room only given to the first place ranker….”
“Right. Take these.”
Seol placed three vials in front of the kneeling trio. Yi Seol-Ah's eyes widened instantly.
They were bottles of Competence.
They also happened to be the most expensive potions available in the regular stores. Not as good as the VIP store's special Competence, they nevertheless still boasted four times the effect on any training done.
“It's not going to be easy.”
Seol told them in no uncertain tone.
“You will have to train really, really hard. I will help out, obviously, but once we start, it'll be very harsh…. It's the same for you too, Miss Yun Seora.”
Seol stopped looking at the siblings and shifted his gaze over to Yun Seora as he spoke. She froze mid-action of trying to open the stopper off the vial.
“Will it really be alright?”
She sounded much more determined than before.
“There is something I realized after entering a party.”
“There are a lot of amazing people to be found inside the Neutral Zone.”
Simple determination would never be adequate in this place.
“Mister Tong Chai, Leorda Salvatore, Odelette Delphine, Hao Win…. Also, Mister Hao Win came here after years of preparation on Earth.”
Seol did not want an answer that was neither here nor there.
“While you, Miss Yun Seora, couldn't do anything for the past two months, these talented people poured in their best efforts to become stronger.”
If she were to do this, she needed to do this properly. If not, she might as well give up now.
That was what Seol was implying.
Yun Seora's voice was small as she spoke.
“I have no confidence in surpassing them as I am right now.”
But, for the first time ever, the woman who remained ever so quiet until now, so much so that her presence sometimes couldn't even be sensed….
“But, even if it's late, I want to catch up to them.”
…revealed what was on her mind.
“I want to become stronger.”
She revealed her simple wish.
That was all he needed.
Yun Seora unhesitatingly drank the vial. Same for Yi Seol-Ah and her brother, Yi Sungjin.
Seol watched the Yi girl's cheeks puff up before she swallowed the liquid down her throat. A sly grin emerged on his lips.
“You just entered the ranks of doped athletes, you know that?”
“P, please don't say that….”
Yi Seol-Ah blushed deeply.
Seol got up from his spot. The effects of Competence would only last for 12 hours. Even a minute, a second, was too precious to waste.
Seol activated 'Nine Eyes' and spoke up.
“Yi Sungjin, you need to raise your fitness level first. Go down to the first floor, and find the 'Running No. 4' mission among the Basic difficulty. Start doing that until you collapse.”
“U, until I collapse?!”
“There's no helping it. There isn't enough time left, until you have to start doing the real missions, you know. When you're finished, come to the third floor gym.”
“Yes. I will!”
Yi Sungjin hurriedly ran out of the room. Seol took the remaining two women and, before heading to the third-floor gym himself, sought out a certain maid.
“Training, you say?”
Agnes tilted her head slightly.
“Hmm, I wonder. You'll still be behind everyone even if you start doing the missions now….”
Hearing her rather unconvinced tone of voice, Seol quickly added his own.
“They haven't bought any abilities from the stores. I believe they still have a chance.”
“Not buying from the store through choice and being unable to buy because of the circumstances are not the same.”
“I'm going to help them as well. They will continue to stay in my quarters, and I will make them use the same items that aid in the natural recovery that I've used.”
“I'll also make them drink two bottles of the regular Competence a day. I will also provide them with the necessary points to buy their equipment. Will it be still impossible?”
“If you're willing to do that much, then the story certainly changes a great deal.”
Finally, Agnes seemed to show a positive reaction.
“Will you help us out?”
“I might be able to, but….”
Agnes cocked an eyebrow and swept her penetrating gaze over the two women.
“Have you fully explained my training methods to them yet?”
“In that case, I understand. Since it's your personal request, I shall do my utmost best. However, if they decide to give up halfway, I shall not stop them.”
Agnes's role within the Neutral Zone was a trainer, an instructor. If someone wanted to train under her, she wasn't going to refuse outright. It's just that, no one wanted to in the first place….
Seol paid for the usage of the gym and gathered his hands while watching the two girls follow in after Agnes. He was praying for their happiness in the afterlife.
Well, Agnes was known as the Sicilia's demonic instructor, after all.
The merciless training regime commenced.
On the first day, both Yi Seol-Ah and Yi Sungjin broke down and cried.
The maid named Agnes whipped them and pushed them hard like a devil.
Even Yun Seora had to shed a small tear.
However, although she cried a little because of the toughness of the training, the biggest reason had to do with the sheer joy of it all.
It was tough, but she also enjoyed it. It was as if she was finally doing something meaningful – as if, things were finally, finally clicking into gear.
As she had already experienced nearly falling into pits of hell, she was indescribably happy from the joy a fulfilling day provided her with. It was as if she was living in a dream every day.
And so, such dream-like days began changing her little by little, day after day.
[The personality trait, 'Cool-headed', has been created.]
She regained her lost personality, and….
[The personality trait, 'Despair', has been removed.]
…Not only that, her desire to give up disappeared. Also….
[The personality trait, 'Indifferent', has been removed.]
…Also, she developed an interest in someone.
Late at night, while everyone else was asleep.
After returning from another day's arduous training, Yun Seora lay on the bed but her eyes remained wide open and blinking nonstop.
Although her body was fatigued, sleep wasn't forthcoming.
Like a habit, she sneaked a glance at a certain someone. And she stared at the youth lying on the floor to sleep silently and continuously.
He was the guy who never forgot to give her the Competence in the mornings and the afternoons.
He was the guy who brought along a few items and said that they would help with strengthening her body's natural recovery rate.
He was the guy who never forgot to encourage her, saying that they would go and do the missions together as soon as she finished the training.
Although it was hard to understand why he sometimes slyly suggested that she should utter the words 'teddy bear' to Agnes, but regardless, he was….
'Someone I'm grateful to.'
Thanks to his generosity, she could rest in his quarters where even a short period of break would wash away all the fatigue.
On top of that, she didn't have to worry about starving ever again, getting to fill her tummy with delicious food, instead.
From a certain point on, she began accepting his gestures of goodwill. The uncomfortable awkwardness gradually disappeared, and at the same time, the sense of gratitude grew larger and larger.
'Why is he helping us?'
That was the last unanswered question burning a hole in her head.
Was it because he pitied them? Or did he sympathize with them?
Or, could it be….
'Because he's interested in me….?'
It was then, an unknown type of bashfulness assaulted her in full. No matter how hard she reasoned, it didn't make sense. She began chewing on her lower lip. Shaking her head while inwardly crying out, 'I don't know anymore!' was just an added bonus.
Again, she began staring at the youth. Staring at one thing continuously might've been boring for some, but she never once took her eyes off him.
Eventually, she did close her eyes as the dawn approached, but her consciousness still refused the embrace of sleep.
….No, that wasn't strictly correct.
In reality, she was afraid of falling asleep.
She was afraid of waking back up on the fifth floor.
She was afraid of waking up and finding those three foreigners.
Whenever that happened, she desperately tried to recall a certain moment from that day.
“….Are you alright?”
She recalled the hand of Seol outstretched towards her.
She recalled that short memory deeply imprinted in her brain.
If she concentrated on that moment, before noticing it, she'd fall into a deep slumber. Usually, that had been the case.
'….This is a big problem.'
But, for some reason, she couldn't fall asleep tonight, no matter what. She tossed and turned on the bed for a little while longer, before eventually deciding to get up.
Ever so carefully, she took each step so others wouldn't wake up. Soon, she stood before the deeply snoozing Seol and gazed at him. A strange glint flashed by her eyes as she slowly directed her gaze lower down from his face.
As soon as Yun Seora discovered his right hand, she lowered herself as if she was in trance. She then got down to the floor on all fours. She crawled like that to her new destination.
Just before she collided with his hand, she stopped. She closed her eyes and cautiously placed her nose against his palm.
A small noise leaked out as she took a sniff, and sure enough, she detected his scent. The scent coming from his hand.
Now that she got going, she ended up sniffing for the second and the third time.
She realized that she shouldn't be doing this. Yet, like an addict, she couldn't stop.
For Yun Seora, who could fall asleep only by recalling the events of that day for the past few nights, this was one temptation she could not win against.
'It's nice. Nice….'
Seeing that the youth showed no signs of waking up, her actions became even bolder.
She placed her head on his palm and slowly moved it this way and that, then she even rubbed her cheek against his skin. His palm was large enough to hide her smallish face.
Sensing the comfort and security his large hand gave her, Yun Seora's eyes eventually grew heavy. Not too long after, a soft but regular breathing pattern emerged from her nose.
Seol had a dream.
Is this one of those lucid dreams, I wonder? Seol mused inwardly as he surveyed his new surroundings.
The scenery of his dream was quite breathtaking. He saw a beautiful small hill covered in a refreshing green hue and several different animals playing on it.
There was a bear, sitting on top of the hill and enjoying the gentle breeze; a squirrel darting through the branches of a tree; a deer drinking water from a stream….
While he spectated this scene, Seol's eyes landed on a particular animal that attracted his attention the most.
It was a pig. Not only that, a small and very pink piglet, its body so plump and adorably cute.
'It's really small…. Is it a newly born?'
Seol found the way it slept while leaning against the grass incredibly cute, so he cautiously approached it. He wanted to take a closer look.
Seeing it breathing out so softly like that, his entire body quivered in emotions.
In the end, he couldn't control himself any longer and gently poked the pinkish and squidgy body of the piglet with his index finger.
The piglet's eyes shot open abruptly, and it hurriedly got back up to stare at Seol.
Seol screamed inwardly. When he slowly sat down on the ground, the piglet began retreating while carrying a scared, tearful expression.
'Nonono, come here, here. I'm not gonna hurt you.'
Seol presented his right hand, causing the animal to lightly flinch and stop retreating away from him. Then, the piglet stared at his open palm.
The piglet hesitated, before trotting closer to his position.
Seeing the animal lightly brush his palm with the flat of its nose, a grin automatically formed on his lips. When he carefully brushed its back, the piglet's small tail began wagging, too.
'Should just I keep it?'
Just as Seol was sincerely considering this, he noticed that something had changed.
The piglet's pinkish hue of before had been replaced by a blinding gold color, instead.
The piglet, while emitting the brilliant golden light from its body, raised one of its front paws at him – as if it was asking him to hug the creature.
'Oh, oh, oh!!'
Seol, of course, hurriedly picked it up and hugged it. Yet it remained docile. He couldn't hide his joy.
Well, there was that old saying, wasn't there – that, among all types of dreams, ones with pigs were the best out there? And even more so, since the little piggy was gold, this dream must've been a really good one.
Seol smiled in satisfaction and tightly embraced the piglet squirming and digging in deeper into his arms.
'I'll never let go.'Previous Chapter Next Chapter