Seol Jihu screamed at the top of his lungs.
It wasn’t like he asked for fame or wealth or anything of that sort. All he wanted was for the goddess to not put the word ‘mana’ in his class name.
Even as lightning bolts continued to pour down, he kept on punching the unshakable wall with fists charged with mana.
It was a desperate struggle.
Their fight finally came to an end when the frightened Luxuria intervened.
Only after Luxuria promised to persuade Gula even if the heavens split in half did Seol Jihu stop punching the wall and leave the temple.
Meanwhile, an untimely celebration was underway at Valhalla. Members who had returned from the temple were laughing and chatting with each other.
Everyone was busy bragging about their new classes, but when they saw Seol Jihu trudging into the room, their smiles turned into a confused look.
At their morning meeting, he looked neat and tidy. But now, after a visit to the temple, suddenly he was charred from head to toe.
His filth could definitely earn him a spot among beggars.
“What the… Why do you look like that? Did you get struck by lightning or something?”
Chohong muttered in surprise. Though she wasn’t serious about it, her conjecture was spot-on.
“I just had a fight.”
“A fight? With who? Who’s stupid enough to pick a fight with you in Eva?”
“Ah, whatever. I had some doubts, but…. Ugh, maybe I’ll take this opportunity to really change my god. I seriously can’t take it anymore….”
Seol Jihu’s voice thinned as he panted for breath.
Chohong shook her head, dusting him off.
“First of all, I think you’re lying. But if you’re not, you’re seriously insane. Did your fight with the Parasite Queen mess your head up or something?”
“I couldn’t even say my class name out loud until I was Level 5 because I was too embarrassed. What do you know about this pain?”
Seol Jihu snapped, and then glanced at Chohong from top to bottom.
Chohong flashed a broad smile.
“…That smile tells me you’ve succeeded.”
“Of course I did! I leveled up!”
She raised her chin and made a peace sign with her fingers.
“Listen well. From now on, I’m not just a Templar, but a High Templar.”
“High Templar? Does that mean you can use Psionic Storm now?”
“Ah, stop being so Korean.”
Chohong gave Seol Jihu a light slap on the shoulder and giggled.
“High Templar, High Templar….”
Seol Jihu murmured to himself, clearly envious.
She liked the attention, but his reaction seemed a little over the top. Chohong asked him curiously.
“What are you so jealous of? I became Level 6, sure, but didn’t you get more rewards than me? Since you’re one who led us to victory and all.”
“That’s true… but I’m too embarrassed to tell you. Maybe I’ll switch over to Ira.”
Seol Jihu answered weakly and turned his eyes to the side. There he saw Hugo doing a forward roll, shouting at the top of his voice.
He rolled forward, then wiggled his arms and legs towards the ceiling, then rolled again from side to side. He was expressing joy with his entire body.
“…What’s wrong with him?”
“What do you think? He finally became a High Ranker.”
“Ah. Right, Hugo was Level 4.”
“Yeah. He used to be a Barbarian. Now he’s…. What was it again? Barbarian Champion.”
This class name wasn’t bad either.
Ira seemed to have a good naming sense.
Seol Jihu was seriously considering switching over when suddenly….
A nasal voice interrupted his train of thought as if he didn't have enough things on his mind.
He looked up to see a blonde girl with chubby cheeks twisting her body with her hands behind her back.
“Oppa! Did you know that I also leveled up?”
“Ah, congratulations. You were a High Priest, so that must mean you’re a Chief Priest now.”
“Yeah! I’m now Level 5 Chief Priest. Speaking of which….”
Maria tapped the floor with her left foot, then put her hands forward with a radiant smile.
She was holding a piece of paper.
Seol Jihu’s brows furrowed.
“Yup, yup. But don’t get me wrong. It’s just that since I’m now a High Ranker… and a valued Chief Priest at that, I was thinking maybe we could throw out the old contract and sign a new one that’s befitting of my new….”
Suddenly Maria’s voice cracked and thinned.
Her eyes trembled faintly as she glanced over Seol Jihu’s shoulder.
There, Kim Hannah was giving her an icy stare.
A corner of Kim Hannah’s lips slanted upward, drawing what looked like a sneer across her face.
Maria’s face twisted into a scowl.
“Ah, n-nothing! So I wrote this new contract… but who cares? Once a contract, always a contract! Damn it, I’ll see you after my contract period ends!”
Maria quickly disappeared, yelling a bunch of things that Seol Jihu couldn’t understand.
“She never changes, does she? For her, everything is about money. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.”
Audrey Basler gave an amused smile as she entered the room.
She must have overheard their conversation, for she was an archer and had good ears.
“I successfully became a Level 5 Sharpshooter. It feels a little strange because I haven’t done much.”
“You must have earned a lot of points for your participation in the Spirit Realm expedition.”
“I don’t know. Normally it’s what you do that matters more than the participation itself…. Well, from the Spirit Realm to Tigol Fortress, I killed as many enemies as I could. So I think I managed to make the cut just barely.”
“Still, congratulations on becoming a High Ranker.”
“Thank you. It’s all thanks to you, Representative. The truth is, I had already given up on becoming a Level 5.”
Audrey Basler muttered sheepishly, still feeling surreal.
Suddenly she looked back at the door.
“Ah, that’s right. The Archer of Steel and the Swallow Archer also successfully leveled up. They both seemed over the moon. They’re usually so calm, so that was new.”
He recognized the nickname Archer of Steel and assumed that Swallow Archer that Audrey was referring to was Kazuki.
“Did you happen to catch their class names?”
“I’m not sure about the Archer of Steel, since he has a unique class and all. The pretty boy used to be a Great Pathfinder… so my guess is that he became an Archranger.”
Seol Jihu struggled not to feel bitter.
He knew he should be celebrating their raise but couldn’t help envying them.
“I am— the great— Barbarian Champion—! Come at me!”
Hugo was still jumping with joy, clearly oblivious to Seol Jihu’s feelings.
Chohong looked at Hugo with a sour face, then gave a snort.
“Okay, next Level 5.”
“What do you mean ‘what’? I’m Level 6.”
“I just don’t understand why Ira acknowledged you as a High Ranker. You’re dumb as a post.”
“Fuck you. I don’t want to hear that from someone who had to switch from Priest to Warrior because she couldn’t memorize a single holy spell.”
“Uh-huh~ You’re Level 5~ I’m Level 6~”
Hugo clenched his fists, gritting his teeth.
He seemed ready to attack at any time.
“Look who’s talking.”
That was when a raspy voice interrupted the two.
“Level 6? As if I wasn’t surprised enough when you became Level 5. I might get a heart attack from the shock.”
“What? Damn it. Who said that? Wanna die?”
Chohong grabbed the Thorn of Steel which was leaning against a wall and looked around.
But then she immediately stopped because an old man in a navy suit was staring at her with a wooden stick in his hand.
Jang Maldong glanced at the mace.
“Are you going to hit me with that?”
Startled, Chohong hid the Thorn of Steel behind her back.
“You’re no different than him, yet you brag about yourself….”
“Come on, why do you have to say it like that? I admit I got beaten up pretty bad, but I still put my life on the line.”
“And Hugo put his on the line as well.”
Jang Maldong replied, and Chohong blushed in embarrassment and let out a grunt.
Hugo began massaging Jang Maldong’s shoulders with a big smile on his face.
“The way you speak… one would think you were a Unique Ranker.”
Jang Maldong clicked his tongue and turned his eyes away from Chohong.
It was then that he noticed the young man standing across from him, and the frown on his face slowly faded away.
The same thing happened to Seol Jihu.
A bright smile spread across his grim face.
“When did you come back?”
“I just arrived. When I heard you were coming back, I immediately left Haramark…. By the way.”
Jang Maldong stopped and blinked.
He pointed his cane at Seol Jihu.
“You… Why do you look like that? Did you get struck by lightning or something?”
Seol Jihu scratched his head.
The lobby was so noisy that Seol Jihu and Jang Maldong had to move.
Seol Jihu was very happy to see Jang Maldong, for he hadn’t seen his master since his last visit to Haramark.
“I’ve heard the rumor. You left a long scar on the Parasite Queen’s face?”
“It was just a scratch. When the spear left my hand I was sure I could get her, but then she raised her head at the last minute….”
“Haha. ‘Just a scratch’ he says, even after wounding a god. Well, tell me how you feel. I’m ready to hear the speech of the great war hero.”
“Oh come on. Not you too, Master. Everyone’s exaggerating. The first thing I did today when I woke up this morning was to thank god for being alive.”
“Huhu. I guess that isn’t much of a surprise, considering everything that’s happened.”
Seol Jihu and Jang Maldong smiled at each other.
Whatever the reason, talking to his master calmed Seol Jihu down.
“By the way, is something troubling you?”
Seol Jihu flinched.
He was being careful not to reveal his worries, but Jang Maldong saw right through him.
“You just won a very difficult war and achieved all you wanted. So there shouldn’t be much for you to worry about right now.”
Seol Jihu muttered, slowly averting his eyes.
“Complicated how? Tell me.”
Jang Maldong pressed him with a curious look.
After a moment of hesitation, Seol Jihu told him about the incident at the temple.
Jang Maldong tapped his finger lightly on his armrest before tilting his head.
“You’re right. The essence of the World Tree is fine, but I’m not sure how we can utilize Temperance’s divinity.”
“Right? We need tremendous holy power to revive a god, but I don’t think we can gather the amount needed.”
“If the Seven Gods feel burdened by the amount, it must really be a lot. Perhaps we should just keep it for now. We might come across offerings holding large amounts of holy power later. Or it could be useful when we need a huge amount of contribution points in a short period of time.”
“I agree with you. I’ll discuss it with the rest and store it away.”
“You must keep a close eye on it. It cannot fall into the hands of the Parasites ever again.”
“Of course. I’m going to keep it inside the temple storage.”
Seol Jihu nodded at Jang Maldong.
“That should be safe enough. Anyhow, about your level….”
Jang Maldong stroked his chin.
“I can see why you’re troubled. You haven’t fully mastered Level 5, and suddenly the path to Level 7 opened up…. Your mind and body remain the same, but your technique is rising infinitely.”
Seol Jihu smiled bitterly.
That wasn’t what was bothering him.
But he couldn’t tell his master that he was upset about his class name.
Moreover, the problem Jang Maldong pointed out was indeed a big one.
“But that problem can be fixed.”
Seol Jihu straightened himself and clasped his hands.
Jang Maldong narrowed his eyes.
“For you to speak so confidently…. Are you planning on using that?”
“Yes, I think it’s the right time. The war convinced me that I needed it. What do you think?”
Seol Jihu asked cautiously.
“Not a bad idea.”
Contrary to Seol Jihu’s expectations, Jang Maldong answered without hesitation.
“In fact, I was thinking the same thing. It would’ve been a waste to use it at a lower level. But now that you’re a Unique Ranker, things are different.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, but you must brace yourself.”
Jang Maldong continued.
“Level 5 to Level 7. The trial will be proportionately difficult because the power you seek is so great. Will you be able to stand it?”
“Do I have a choice? Actually, I’d like to spend some time preparing for the trial… but I’m not sure where to start.”
Seol Jihu gazed at Jang Maldong with eyes burning with passion.
He was seeking advice.
“Here’s the first thing you should do.”
Jang Maldong gave a little smirk.
“You need to rest.”
“N-Nothing. It just feels weird to hear you say that I need to rest….”
“Haven’t I told you many times before that rest is also an essential part of training?”
Jang Maldong smiled faintly.
“Of course there are times when you must push yourself beyond your limits. But you’ve done enough of that already. All throughout the war, up until just a few days ago.”
“You look fine on the outside, but you know that’s not really the case. You’re exhausted both physically and mentally. Am I wrong?”
Seol Jihu remained silent.
Jang Maldong stared at him, then emphasized again.
“If you continue to pull on a rope that’s already too tight, you’ll just end up breaking it. You need to loosen it a little and give it some time to recover so as to extend it longer the next time you pull it. So for now, take rest and recharge. Training comes after that.”
Seol Jihu let out a deep sigh.
He wanted to refute but couldn’t find the right words.
“And… you’ve been here too long. Shouldn’t you visit Earth?”
Seol Jihu flinched at the unexpected remark.
His reaction was small and brief, but Jang Maldong didn’t miss it.
“Yes. When was the last time you went back? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Uh… I mean, of course as an Earthling I have to establish a secure access environment… but I think I’ve already done enough. Umm….”
Jang Maldong feigned a smile as he carefully examined Seol Jihu.
‘He’s doing it again.’
This wasn’t the first time that Seol Jihu had such a reaction.
Whenever Jang Maldong brought up Earth, Seol Jihu looked hesitant.
Even when Jang Maldong sent him back by force, he would return to Paradise as fast as he could.
He found out Seol Jihu was a Paradise addict during the Arden Valley War, but the spearman’s symptoms seemed to have worsened since.
Seol Jihu acted as if he had completely forgotten about Earth. Jang Maldong sincerely hoped it was all his misunderstanding.
Addiction has no next step.
Seol Jihu could be nearing the point of no return.
For a while now, Jang Maldong had intended to talk to him about this matter.
Determined, the old man asked.
“Have you eaten?”
“What? No. Not yet.”
“Okay, then let’s go for dinner. Why don’t we eat out today? We haven’t done that in a while. Hopefully, you’ll treat me, since we haven’t seen each other for a long time.”
It was all too sudden.
Seol Jihu’s dazed eyes followed Jang Maldong as the old man got up from his seat with a smile.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You’re a bit strange today, Master….”
“Strange how? We’ll have some food and wine and a nice talk while we’re at it. Or do you not want to spend time with an old man like myself?”
“Of course not. I’ll buy dinner. It’ll be on me. But first, I have to get ready. I’m not in the most attractive state right now, as you can see.”
“Make it fast. I’ve been eating only dried meat and bread for days. I’d like to eat real food.”
Jang Maldong turned around, saying he would wait for Seol Jihu at the entrance.
Seol Jihu took a quick shower but soon ran into an unexpected problem.
He needed money to eat out.
But he had none.
To be precise, he had tons of money in the temple storage, but couldn’t access it because he was currently barred from entering the temple.
Of course, there was a possibility that Jang Maldong might have some, but Seol Jihu didn’t want to take back his words after he proudly announced that he would be the one to buy.
So he had no choice but to borrow.
When he opened the door, Kim Hannah, who was working at her desk, threw a sassy look at him.
“Here you go.”
She let out a sigh then took off her coat and threw it at him.
“Take that and go play outside. I’m working, so don’t bother me.”
“No, that’s not what I’m here for.”
“Give me some money.”
Seol Jihu put his hands forward.
Kim Hannah frowned.
“Now? How much do you need? It’s kind of scary that you’re asking for money.”
“Just enough to pay for dinner. I’m going out with Master.”
Kim Hannah blinked rapidly.
“…It’s true what they say about the rich. Why don't you skin a flea for its hide and tallow?”
“It’s not like that. I just don’t have any money on me right now.”
“Then go visit the temple.”
“I’m temporarily banned….”
“Banned? From Gula’s temple? You?”
Kim Hannah looked dumbfounded.
“You… really had a fight with Gula? You weren’t joking about that?”
“Jesus, I… can’t even find the words to say anything.”
Kim Hannah shook her head.
She slowly rose from her seat and leaned towards Seol Jihu.
“Jinah’s Dad, what are you doing, picking a fight with the goddess you serve? Please get your act together for the sake of our future daughter, will you?”
“Okay, but I do need some allowance. I sacrifice so much for this family, and you can’t even give me enough money to pay for one meal?”
“Enough with the stupid role play. Jeez.”
Kim Hannah grabbed her purse with a sigh.
She then snatched the coat she threw at Seol Jihu, put it around her shoulders, and began walking towards the door.
“Where are you going?”
“You said you were having dinner with Master Jang. Let me come along as well.”
“But I thought you were working?”
“Come to think of it, I haven’t eaten yet.”
“It was just gonna be the two of us.”
“I feel like I should join in. You’re going to be talking about something important, right? I know a nice, quiet place.”
“What’s with that face? Neither Master Jang nor you enjoy drinking. But here you are, drinking in the middle of the day. So I just assumed it’s a cover for talking about something important.”
Her wits were second to none.
‘Maybe she’s a nine-tailed fox with her tails hidden under her clothes. Maybe she’s really a Beastman.’
Seol Jihu thought to himself.
When Kim Hannah asked Jang Maldong if she could accompany them, the old man didn’t turn her down. Rather, he gave a ready consent.
“Join us. It just so happens that I have a question for you as well, Miss Kim Hannah.”
He didn’t sound excited, but he didn’t seem surprised at her appearance either.
Kim Hannah led them to a quiet restaurant, and the trio ordered food and drinks.
Their order arrived shortly.
It was then.
“Why do you hate going back to Earth?”
Seol Jihu, who was pouring wine into Jang Maldong’s glass with both hands, quickly raised his head.
He knew he didn’t mishear.
Today, Jang Maldong was acting rather strangely from the moment they met.
Still, he didn’t expect his master to be so straightforward.
Jang Maldong pulled his glass back.
Then he grabbed the bottle in Seol Jihu’s hands and poured the drink into Seol Jihu and Kim Hannah’s glasses.
Without a word, he raised his glass and poured the drink down his throat.
Startled, Seol Jihu also drank from his glass. He then gazed at Jang Maldong with a puzzled look on his face.
Jang Maldong was waiting for Seol Jihu’s answer.
“Master. I don’t particularly hate going back.”
“But you do.”
Jang Maldong’s voice didn’t waver in the slightest.
“My age is a symbol of my wisdom, and I’ve seen you long enough to see through your lies. More importantly.”
Jang Maldong let out a cough and glanced sideways.
“The one who invited you to Paradise does not seem to be objecting either. It looks like she agrees with me.”
Jang Maldong added quietly.
When Seol Jihu looked at her, Kim Hannah averted her gaze.
“Why… did you think so?”
“That is not of importance. What’s important is the reason you refuse to go back to Earth.”
Seol Jihu drew a long breath and clenched his teeth.
He suddenly felt naked.
“Is there a reason why I shouldn’t hate going back?”
“It would be okay if you had a valid reason. For example, if your life is threatened on Earth. In that case, I’ll understand and gladly help you. But seeing as Miss Foxy is your Inviter, I don’t think that’s the case.”
“Now that it’s come to this, I’ll be straightforward.”
Jang Maldong said in a frank tone.
“You’re… a strange one. It’s like you want to settle down in Paradise permanently.”
“Paradise is a great place.”
“You know that’s not what I’m trying to say.”
Jang Maldong continued patiently.
“If you travel between Paradise and Earth regularly as all Earthlings do, I wouldn’t be here speaking to you about this matter right now. But you’re different. You look like you haven’t the slightest intention of going back.”
His words hit the nail on the head.
Driven into a corner, Seol Jihu snapped.
“Is it bad that I don’t want to go back?”
“Yes, it is bad.”
“Why? Because I was born on Earth? But I like Paradise better. I like this world better, and I want to live here. Is there a problem with that?”
“Paradise is an extremely dangerous world at the moment.”
Despite Seol Jihu’s rebellious tone, Jang Maldong remained calm.
“In this world, your life is in constant danger. If you die here in Paradise, not only you, but also your friends and family will suffer greatly when you go back to Earth.”
‘…defeated the Parasites.’ was what Seol Jihu was going to say next, but he managed to hold back his words.
It was true that he defeated them, but he put his life in danger many times while doing so.
Above all, he was well aware of what Jang Maldong was truly worried about.
Jang Maldong let out a long breath.
“The day I decided to come back to Paradise, Ian said this.”
“Yes. He said that you needed someone to teach you and guide you on the right path.”
Seol Jihu’s complexion waned when he heard Ian’s name.
“Do you think of me as your teacher?”
Seol Jihu nodded without a word.
“If you truly think so, then please tell me. As your teacher, I wish to understand and help my favorite, most precious student.”
Faced with Jang Maldong’s sincerity, Seol Jihu could no longer remain stubborn.
He bit his lips for a while before lowering his head.
And he muttered.
“I feel like trash.”
Seol Jihu slowly raised his head.
His face looked neither solemn nor mischievous.
His dull eyes appeared void of life.
“I’m trash. You didn’t see that coming, did you?”
Listening to his student’s remorseful confession, Jang Maldong stroked his chin.
“…Is that true?”
He gave a small smile.
The avoider had finally spoken his mind.
“Did you kill someone?”
A bitter smile touched Seol Jihu’s lips.
“I don’t know of your past or how bad it is.”
“Sure. Perhaps you really were trash like you say. I won’t say the past is past. Wrongdoings of the past are wrongdoings nonetheless. But even if you committed a terrible sin, depending on whether you take that opportunity to learn from your mistakes or remain the same, you can either be recycled or become a waste.”
“And I believe you’ve already been recycled.”
Jang Maldong’s eyes penetrated Seol Jihu.
The old man continued solemnly, making sure to articulate every word.
“The man named Seol Jihu, whom I, Jang Maldong, have witnessed with my own eyes here in Paradise, is a man who knows how to confront his fears like a rock, how to be decisive like a wave when necessary, how to challenge the impossible even when others oppose it, and how to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. He’s a great young man.”
‘Though at times he’s too stubborn and childish….’
Jang Maldong’s solemn expression dissolved into a heavy smile.
Seol Jihu remained stunned.
But unlike before, a light flickered in his eyes.
He was apparently surprised to hear his master’s unexpected words.
“That’s why I….”
A gentle smile spread across Jang Maldong’s wrinkled face.
“…Would like to see you overcome your past. If you feel like you can’t do it alone, I’ll gladly lend you a hand. I am your teacher, after all.”
Seol Jihu shut his eyes.
He felt like he couldn’t run away from Jang Maldong anymore.
Or rather, he didn’t want to run away.
Because he knew his teacher would truly understand and help him.
But laying one’s weakness out in the open takes a lot of courage.
Jang Maldong no longer pressured his pupil.
He only waited patiently.
And so, after a long silence….
Seol Jihu finally spoke.
“I was crazy about gambling. That’s right, I was a gambling addict.”
He was lost in the world of gambling.
He turned his back on his family and even betrayed his lover.
He wasted every day of his life.
It was the life of a trash.Previous Chapter Next Chapter