Chapter 36. To Paradise (2)

Yi Seol-Ah, Yi Sungjin, and Yun Seora.

The three of them were deeply engrossed in clearing missions lately. The deadline of the Neutral Zone closing down was fast approaching, that was why.

Since they needed 1000 Survival Points in order to enter the Paradise, it was not much of a stretch to say that the trio spent almost half of their day near the first-floor noticeboard in order to accumulate the necessary amount.

Of course, Seol already told them that they shouldn't worry even if they couldn’t amass 1000 points, but the three of them couldn’t feel happy or content about their current circumstances.

It wasn't simply because they felt ashamed, though. As time passed, they began to realize the lengths Seol went to support them from behind, and the amount required to do so.

The most obvious proof was with them equipped from head to toe with expensive gear. Even though not much time remained until the end of the deadline, only around 30% of the survivors managed to buy a full set of matching armors. Just from this fact alone, the three of them became acutely aware of their advantageous position compared to other people.

So, the issue was with them learning how to survive on their own, rather than their pride, instead. Seol had done so much for them already, so if they failed to even earn 1000 points on their own, then they definitely lacked qualifications to be treated as a 'survivor' in this place. At a bare minimum, they wanted to prove that they were eligible to enter Paradise on their own strength.

'I did it!'

After successfully completing a 'Normal' difficulty mission by herself, Yi Seol-Ah rejoiced wholeheartedly in front of the noticeboard. In reality, her being able to clear such a mission alone wouldn't be seen as too big of an achievement at this point in time by other people.

However, considering how long ago it was when she started doing the missions, the rate of her growth was indeed explosive. On her first mission, she couldn't even pull back the strings of her bow properly out of sheer nervousness.

'Will he praise me?'

A smile bloomed on her face as she recalled the face of her orabeo-nim who constantly encouraged her to be more brave, assuring her that she was capable of doing this, and always taking the time to teach her things step by step, even though he should be feeling frustrated by her by now.

'This is fun.'

Yi Seol-Ah began looking at the noticeboard with an innocent smile on her face.

Since much higher number of 'Normal' difficulty missions were made available initially compared to others, one could still find quite a few parchments left available on the board. Granted, there were only around six, seven attempts remaining per mission, but nevertheless, she planned to do them for a couple more times to work up some more courage and tackle 'Slightly Hard' missions later on.

'Let's go with this one.'

Yi Seol-Ah finally ended her happy dilemma and reached out to a mission parchment, only for….

“Oh, my, look who it is? Been a while, hasn't it?”

….Only for her hand to come to a stop when a voice suddenly called out to her. An unfamiliar Oriental woman was standing behind Yi Seol-Ah even before anyone noticed it, her eyes narrowed to a slit like a venomous snake.

“Who…. Ah.”

Yi Seol-Ah stuttered for a bit, before letting out a small exclamation. Although she failed to remember, she still thought that she recognized who this woman might be. Right at the end of the Tutorial, didn't she see this person on the rooftop?

“You're from…. the same Area as me, right?”

“I remember you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Weren't you that kid who tried to show off and ended up as the first to get killed? Back in the assembly hall, I mean.”

The woman’s sneering tone made Yi Seol-Ah's expression stiffen.

“You don't know who I am, right?”

“M, my memory isn't that good.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Anyways. it's nice to make your acquaintance. I’m Oh Minyoung.”

“Ye, yes, nice to meet you.”

Yi Seol-Ah's complexion was clouded as she politely greeted back. This woman, Oh Minyoung, was not even bothering to disguise her antagonistic attitude present in her voice and in the way she glared at the girl.

“The deadline is fast approaching, so, have you earned enough points now?”

“No, not yet.”

“Really? You haven't even amassed 1000 points yet?”

“No….”

As a matter of fact, Yi Seol-Ah was panicking slightly after sensing the woman's intense malice towards her.

Oh Minyoung crossed her arms across her chest and swept her eyes over Yi Seol-Ah.

Perhaps to focus on mobility, Yi Seol-Ah's outer wear consisted of a jacket made out of flexible leather, while she had a small silvery chainmail underneath it.

Her pants also looked like it was made out of high-quality leather; on her waist was a black belt with a Main-gauche attached loosely. Finally, on her back was an impressive recurve bow and a quiver full of arrows….

Even at a conservative estimation, they must have totaled around 14,000 points. Oh Minyoung was decently equipped herself, but she wouldn’t be able to afford even one of Yi Seol-Ah’s equipment even after selling all of her equipment.

“I guess things are working out for you nowadays.”

“….”

“You don't mind if I take a look, right?”

Oh Minyoung took large strides and came closer before reaching towards Yi Seol-Ah without permission. Taken by surprise, the latter tried to back away, but by then, her bow was already in the older female's hands.

“Uh, uh?”

“Wow. Yeah, I guess expensive things are the best, after all. How much was it?”

“I, I'm not sure? It can't be that much.”

Yi Seol-Ah barely managed to force out an answer.

“Is that so?”

Oh Minyoung surveyed her surroundings for a bit, before a suspicious grin formed on her lips.

“In that case, how about giving me this bow?”

“…..Ah?”

“You said it can't be that much, didn't you? Oh, no. I didn't mean it as for free. You gimme this, then I'll also help you out. Know what I mean?”

“N, no. I don't need it. Thank you.”

“Don't be like that. Didn't you say you need to gather Survival Points? If you join my team, I'm pretty sure you'll amass the amount really fast.”

Oh Minyoung pointed behind her back with her thumb. There were three Western men sitting by one of the lounge tables, looking on with what could be best interpreted as 'interested' expressions. One of them even grinned slyly and waved his hand at Yi Seol-Ah.

The truth was, the ones who attacked Yun Seora were these three. Of course, Yi Seol-Ah didn't know this. However, she still sensed an unknown feeling of anxiety and wanted to leave as soon as possible.

“P, please, give it back.”

The restless Yi Seol-Ah reached out and grabbed her bow, trying to pull it back. Oh Minyoung strengthened her grip in response.

“What are you doing? Didn't I say I'll help you?”

“I don't need it. Please give it back.”

“Okay, fine! I'll – hey, I said, I'll give it back!?”

When Yi Seol-Ah yanked hard, Oh Minyoung nearly toppled over from the force. The latter woman couldn't hide her astonishment. She underestimated the younger girl's physical strength and ended up losing the bow before she could do anything about it.

“You…..”

“I'll be leaving now. Take care.”

‘This little….’ Flames flickered in Oh Minyoung’s eyes as she looked at Yi Seol-Ah’s departing back. Undisguised jealousy burned vividly in her eyes.

“Hey, you. How much do you charge each time?”

Her loud shout forced Yi Seol-Ah's steps to come to an abrupt halt. She spun around so fast, her hair fluttered in the air. She began biting her lower lip.

“….What are you talking about?”

“You know. Kinda curious.”

Oh Minyoung mockingly smiled while speaking up.

“Someone like you, how much do you charge each time? 100 points? 200?”

“Wha, what did you say?!”

Yi Seol-Ah couldn't help but suspect her own hearing just then.

“Just how many times did you do him, for that guy to buy you all these cool armor and stuff? Mm?”

At that undisguised attempt to ridicule her, Yi Seol-Ah's eyes widened in shock.

“Orabeo-nim isn't like that!”

“Oh, please. You think I don't know that you live in the same place as him?”

“Why are you acting like this?”

Yi Seol-Ah's anger shot up and her voice became shrill. Tears pooled around the edges of her eyes, seemingly to reflect the unfair treatment she was receiving.

They didn't even know each other. Not only here in the Neutral Zone, but even back in the Tutorial, they didn't even share a single word until this moment. Naturally, Yi Seol-Ah couldn't understand why this woman was being so hostile to her.

“I told you, didn't I? I want to help you. What's the matter? You don't want my help?”

“I don't need your help!”

“Will you look at this little girl? How dare you raise your voice at me?”

At Oh Minyoung's signal, the three men watching on from the lounge stood up. Sensing the mood had rapidly turned for the worse, Yi Seol-Ah began retreating step by step.

“This unni is going to teach you an easy way to earn points.”

“I, I don't need it.”

“Aren’t you worried about making enough points in time? Don't worry. Those guys give out lots of them.”

Hearing Oh Minyoung's insidious words, Yi Seol-Ah's expression became even more unsightly.

'Why?'

She hadn't done anything to this woman, yet why….?

“There's no need for you to act all innocent and like, you know? It's too late for that.”

Yi Seol-Ah finally had enough of Oh Minyoung's venom and was about to make her escape from there. But, then….

“You know, maybe you should stop introducing yourself. Don't you agree?”

Suddenly, a man intruded in the middle of the two women. While Yi Seol-Ah got surprised by who it was, Oh Minyoung was frowning rather unhappily at this new development.

Because, he was the man who loved to wear a pair of sunglasses indoors as well as to put on a green baseball cap backward – Hyun Sangmin.

Oh Minyoung began gritting her teeth.

“You….”

“Kyah. I wondered what was up after hearing a dog barking out loudly over here. Who would've guessed that it really was an actual bitch?”

“What did you just say?!”

“Ohh, my bad. My bad. You're still a human being, so comparing you to an animal is unfair.”

Hyun Sangmin raised his hands defensively and his expression showed he was genuinely sorry.

“So, if I remember correctly, your actual nickname was….”

He then smoothly took his sunglasses off.

“…10 points, right?”

Tremble.

Oh Minyoung's body trembled as she tried her very best to look composed.

“You should watch what you say if you don't want to end up as a bloody mess.”

“Oh, is that right?”

Hyun Sangmin sneaked a glance at the lounge and sniggered dismissively.

“If you're bitching around here because of those three chumps…. How about you looking over this way?”

Oh Minyoung's gaze followed his pointing chin, and she had to nervously swallow her saliva. There was a group of four men glaring at her direction.

“You see, you ain't the only one with friends around here…. Oopsie, you aren't a friend to those three. Is it more like a pet dog?”

“Shut your mouth.”

Oh Minyoung glared at Hyun Sangmin with murderous eyes.

“I don't want to see that disgusting face of yours, so get lost, you son of a bitch.”

“But, I don't wanna. Besides, you're also a bitch, aren't you?”

Hyun Sangmin cackled and dismissed her threats nonchalantly, before lightly tapping on the shoulder of Yi Seol-Ah.

“You’re just jealous of this girl, aren't you?”

“….N, no. Not really.”

Oh Minyoung flinched, her eyes opening up wider in a somewhat strange manner.

“I'm not jealous of her at all! Why should I be envious of a girl who sells her body for some measly points?”

Although she tried to look composed, her voice was clearly trembling. On the other hand, Hyun Sangmin was completely relaxed.

“I told you, stop introducing yourself. You know she hasn't done that and that's why you're being so bitchy about it~~, no?”

'What is he talking about this time?'

Yi Seol-Ah listened to this exchange while feeling anxious, before finally figuring it out. Her frown became even deeper as a result.

“Someone has to shake her ass off the whole day long just to survive, yet here's someone else who doesn't have to~~.”

When Hyun Sangmin mocked her in a teasing tone of a voice….

“Shut. Up.”

Her voice thickly laden with murderous intention leaked out of her mouth. Too bad, Hyun Sangmin wasn't going to stop just because of that.

“I'm sure you were a lot happier when this girl and her brother, as well as Yun Seora, were struggling to survive, right? You probably spied on them every day and consoled yourself, didn't you? While feeling a sense of pathetic superiority over them, thinking that at least you're better off than they were.”

“Y, you son of a bitch! When did I ever do that? Are you mentally ill?”

“You probably were hoping too, right? Like, waiting for the day these three would fall to the rock bottom just like you. It was you who gave those three the idea to do that, wasn't it?”

It was then, the dumbfounded Yi Seol-Ah's complexion darkened even further.

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

….Could it have been?

Yi Seol-Ah clenched her fists tightly without realizing it and stared at the venomously-glaring Oh Minyoung.

“But, what will you do now? One day you run into them, and lo and behold, they are all living happily~ ever after! They are eating nice food, they are training so diligently, and even kitted out in such a great set of equipment, to boot! So, how can a bundle of inferiority complex such as yourself not feel the pangs of vicious jealousy stabbing at your heart?”

“I said, shut your goddamn mouth, you son of a bitch!!!”

Oh Minyoung screamed out that sounded almost like a plea. Her bloodshot eyes opened wide as if her eyelids were being torn open by her anguish.

“Just whose fault was it?!”

“Huh?”

“You, you made me like this!! Why did you only help them out? Why didn't you do the same for me?! I also struggled!! I, I too desperately fought and scratched and clawed my way to here!!”

She began babbling out almost incoherently now. Hearing this, Hyun Sangmin snorted derisively.

“You should take a really good look at yourself first. Who would want to help you when you're this bitchy?”

“What?! When did I ever wrong you?!”

“Your wrongs? There are quite a few, actually.”

“Y, you…?!”

Oh Minyoung spun around angrily towards the direction of the new voice, only to flinch rather grandly after seeing who it was – a woman wearing a white robe, her arms crossed against her chest, with a disdainful smirk etched on her lips.

“I helped you to get to the second floor, only for you to fall for that bastard Kang Seok's schemes.”

The identity of the woman who swept her bob-cut hair back was none other than Shin Sang-Ah.

“Maybe the story might have been different if you tried to press the door release button like Sungjin did. So, just who was the one that abandoned me behind to rot in the darkened corridor as if you couldn't care any less? Mm?”

After hearing her voice thickly laden with criticism and sarcasm, all Oh Minyoung could do was to move her lips up and down without making a sound.

“And that wasn't all, right? Remember what happened on the fourth floor?”

“T, that was….”

“Oh, and let's not forget, it wasn't as if you gave away that Revival medicine for free like Miss Yun Seora.”

Shin Sang-Ah spat on the floor in an exaggerated manner and began grinning again.

“You've done nothing so far, yet you want us to help you?”

“You…. You….!”

Surrounded from all sides and verbally assaulted without a chance to say something, Oh Minyoung suddenly broke down and began sobbing. She crumpled to the floor and wailed out in pure sorrow.

However, Shin Sang-Ah coldly glared on while not caring whether the woman cried or not. She did tear her stare away when shadows loomed near, though; the three men by the lounge finally came closer after noticing that things were not moving as they expected them to.

“Why don't you guys stop there?”

A guy with a huge physique in the middle raised his voice and intervened.

“From what I heard, this whole thing amounts to nothing much at all, anyway. So, is there a need to raise such a fuss?”

“Sure, it's nothing much. I just showed up here 'cuz a mutt was making too much noise, that's all. Since the owner showed up now, hopefully it'll get more peaceful around here.”

Hyun Sangmin retorted sarcastically, causing the big guy's expression to crumple in anger.

“I know who you are. You better watch your mouth.”

“Like owner, like dog, huh. What’s my mouth got to do with any of you fucks?”

“You have a death wish?”

“What, you wanna have a go? You’re confident?”

Hyun Sangmin lightly tapped the crossbow slung on his back. Meanwhile, the big guy took a slow but contemplative look around his surroundings. There were not only Hyun Sangmin's team, but Shin Sang-Ah's team to worry about, too. The man realized he was at a numerical disadvantage.

“….You, I’ll remember you.”

“Ha, why don't you also say 'better watch your back' while you're at it?”

“Don't you dare to think that every Bronze Mark is equal. We'll see the day we enter Paradise.”

“Aigoo~ I'm so scared~.”

Hyun Sangmin shuddered and shrunk back, causing Shin Sang-Ah to break out in a fit of giggles. The big man quietly glared at them both for a long while before taking Oh Minyoung away and disappearing from the view.

At last, some peace and quiet had come and allowed Yi Seol-Ah to release her tightly-held breath.

“Haaaaa….”

This whole event was truly, completely, utterly outside her scope of expectations – she would've never guessed that Oh Minyoung harbored such an ill will. She thought that a raging storm blew by just now or some such.

A short silence flew by before Hyun Sangmin lightly tapped Yi Seol-Ah’s drooping shoulders.

“Hey, you okay?”

“Ah, y, yes!”

Yi Seol-Ah nodded her head urgently.

“A good thing that I came around looking for you. I was going like, Just maybe, but whew, what a relief. Anyways, you gotta be careful, okay? Those three, they are bad people.”

“I…. Thank you. Really.”

She bowed her waist deeply to express her gratitude. Hyun Sangmin simply waved his hand around.

“No need for that. After all, Seol asked me for this favor.”

“Orabeo-nim did?”

“Yup. He told me that Oh Minyoung chick seemed a bit suspicious, and so, he asked me if I minded letting you and your brother tag along for a while. I said, sure, why not.”

“Really? He asked me to look after Miss Yun Seora, though,” said Shin Sang-Ah, as she swept her gaze around the first floor. Hyun Sangmin nodded his head as if he knew about it already.

“Well, in any case. You planning to take a short break? If not, why not try a Slightly Hard mission with me and my team later on? Along with your brother, of course.”

“C, can we really?”

Yi Seol-Ah's face brightened in an instant. If she could enter Hyun Sangmin's team, she wouldn't have to worry about another incident like this happening again.

“Don't worry about it. I've already got the consent from my teammates. Besides, do I look like someone who'll do things for free?”

“Oh…. it wasn't like that?”

“But, of course.”

Hyun Sangmin nodded his head as if to imply there was no need to even ask such an obvious question.

“For doing this favor….”

He pulled out the packet of cigarette while grinning widely.

“Seol promised to help us with a Hard mission!”

*

The end of the deadline for the Neutral Zone that initially seemed so distant had arrived before long.

The greatest achievement Seol accomplished during that time was to sweep away every single 'Very Hard' mission with his team.

They might have struggled greatly when attempting the most difficult mission for the first time, but after making adequate preparations, they were able to clear the same mission again in a comparatively safer manner.

It wasn't as if they didn't encounter any close calls, but still, none of them were as serious as Leorda Salvatore receiving a mortal injury.

And so, with them performing that mission successfully for the tenth time, the noticeboard had become completely barren of all the mission parchments.

“Finally. It's over.”

Tong Chai took off his turban and tossed it to the ground, looking as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders.

“There is still one more mission left, though….”

Odelette Delphine stared at the very last mission parchment stuck on the top of the board with a longing expression on her face.

“I'll say this beforehand. If you are planning to tackle that mission, I am definitely not participating.”

“Agreed. That thing is pure madness.”

Tong Chai and Leorda hurriedly let their opinions known.

“But, but…. There is that additional bonus, though….”

“I also am against it. No matter how tasty the rewards look, that mission isn't worth it. Delphine, we should know when to differentiate between reckless bravado and actual bravery.”

Even Hao Win came out with a resounding no. All Delphine could do was to pout unhappily in the end.

“….Oh, well. Yes, it does seem completely impossible to clear, no matter how many times I look at it.”

Although she couldn't completely give up on it, she had to raise both of her hands in surrender.

After that, the six of them shared short but bittersweet goodbyes. They had gone through month-long life-or-death struggles together, so their bond had become pretty solid as a result.

In other words, Seol had pretty much met and exceeded the demand of Kim Hannah, the one about making important friends in this place.
“I was able to earn a lot of points thanks to you.”

Seol shook hands with Tong Chai….

“I won't ever forget that you saved my life. If you run into trouble, come find me by the Sicilia.”

Leorda Salvatore told him bluntly.

“Well, we'll be seeing each other tomorrow one more time anyways.”

Odelette Delphine winked playfully at him….

“Love is an emotion, my man. Don't forget that.”

….And he bumped fists with Hao Win.

“And even now, no one asked me what my name was….”

The nameless(?) Priest carried a lonely smile as he left.

Now left alone, Seol shifted his gaze back to the noticeboard.

He looked at the 'Impossible' mission one more time.

Not only was the reward on offer an enormous tally of 172,800 points, there was also an additional reward as well, just as Delphine said.

'The VIP store….'

Although his greed was acting up again, Seol still shook his head in resignation. He heard that a mid-sized army made up of Level 4 Earthlings and above could just barely clear this mission, so there was no chance in hell that he could clear it by himself.

Seol immediately gave up and turned around to leave.

The Neutral Zone would close on tomorrow; perhaps because there were so many things to get ready, his room was in a bit of noisy chaos.

'Organize everything in the bag first, take with me what I can, return the smartphone before I leave, and spend all the points beside 1000….'

Thinking about his points tally, Seol became rather pleased with himself. His teammates invested most of theirs on better equipment and abilities, but he had not spent a single dime and continued to hoard them. All thanks to that, his current tally was the highest it's ever been.

However, they'd all become worthless by this time tomorrow, so he had to spend them today.

While organizing the contents of his bag, Seol continued to suppress the feeling of regret bubbling in his heart. He knew that mission was truly hopeless, yet the image of that parchment still danced in front of his eyes.

If he successfully cleared that mission, then he'd be able to buy that one item that was seemingly forever out of his reach.

Seol did almost everything in his willpower to shake off that distracting thought.

“Three spell balls, the quill pen of flowing consciousness….”

Plop.

And as he was absorbed in organizing the contents of the bag, something fell from it and issued a soft rustle.

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