Chapter 367. The Awaiting One (1)

“Kkeu….”

A gurgling grunt escaped Seol Jihu’s clenched teeth.

His two hands trembled noticeably as they pushed the boulder up.

Seol Jihu scraped up every ounce of energy from his body and concentrated it in his hands.

However, the boulder remained immovable.

No matter how much strength he used, the boulder remained fixed in place like it was glued to the ground.

Seol Jihu’s bloodshot pupils waned.

His eyes stung, and his vision blurred.

He wanted to take one hand off the boulder and wipe his eyes, but he couldn’t do even that.

Never mind climbing the mountain, even standing still was hardly bearable.

If he took his hand off for even a second, the boulder would roll down and crush him without a doubt.

He had already died several times in the exact same way.

However, human strength was not limitless. Simply standing became more and more unbearable as time went on.

“Euuuuu, heuuuuuu…!”

Realizing what would happen soon, a beast-like cry escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth.

He pushed forward with arms that felt as if they were exploding from all the blood rushing up.

Of course, the boulder remained fixed, and it was his body that was pushed back.

“Keuk!”

Seol Jihu dropped his head.

Ddddk. Droplets of sweat poured down from his drenched hair. Likewise, sweat flowed down his exposed upper body like rain.

He had thrown his shirt off long ago, exposing his bare skin and muscles. Not only was it getting in the way, but the extra layer was also stifling him.

This unchanging situation was so frustratingly stifling that he wanted his heart to explode. Perhaps that way, things would feel a little more refreshing.

“!”

Suddenly, Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

He had lost his balance while he momentarily lost focus.

His sweat-drenched left hand slid off the surface of the boulder.

Though he quickly came to his senses, his left arm was already advancing past the boulder.

At the same time, the boulder rolled down like it had been biding its time for this moment.

“Ah.”

From the face to the feet, a heavy sensation crushed down on his body.

Seol Jihu became dazed and his vision blurred in an instant.

…Again, he failed to surpass his limit.

Crack! Craaaack!

A bone-chilling sound rang out.

Soon, the boulder reached the bottom of the mountain, leaving behind a trail of fresh blood.

All that was left in its course was a dying body dripping with blood, with torn flesh and crushed bones.

The trampled body convulsed sporadically.

Not even a scream rang out.

Even though Seol Jihu’s Endurance stat had risen to Intermediate (Intermediate), his body was not able to withstand the boulder.

Seol Jihu aimlessly stared at the spot he was standing on.

Not long afterward, his body began to turn translucent.

And as the body disappeared completely, it reformed at the bottom of the mountain.

He was now in the same spot he was in when he first entered this place.

Although he revived right away, Seol Jihu did not open his eyes. He stayed still, sweating profusely, on the field overgrown with weeds.

How much time went by?

Though it was only twenty minutes in Paradise, three hours and twenty minutes had gone by in this place.

Having woken up, Seol Jihu was climbing the mountain once again.

Of course, the result was not any different this time.

The boulder gradually increased in size and became 1.5 times larger before it even reached the halfway point.

The mountain already got steeper the closer he got to its peak, so with the boulder getting heavier as well, Seol Jihu’s muscles reached their limit early.

That was why he couldn’t climb any further.

Even if he took a step forward with great difficulty, the boulder only grew heavier.

He was met with a series of limits.

‘Damn it.’

It was so bad that Seol Jihu thought he was being toyed with.

But the boulder wasn’t the only thing that was unique.

The first thing Seol Jihu felt after coming to this place was the lack of the need to eat and drink.

He didn’t get hungry or thirsty either.

And if he died during the trial, he would just revive at the starting point.

When he was starting out, he was happy, thinking it was the perfect environment for training.

But that was it.

Even if he didn’t feel hunger or thirst, his mind still got tired.

It was the same with pain.

The first time he died, Seol Jihu screamed at the top of his lungs.

He had gotten used to it now after dying hundreds of times, but what he felt the first time he was crushed to death by a boulder was still vivid in his mind.

The only solace was that his Endurance stat increased by a stage from the repeated deaths.

Seol Jihu smiled bitterly before furrowing his brows at the pain in his arms.

It was exhausting. It was so painful and tiring that he wanted to die.

But what was most exhausting was that he didn’t know the purpose of the trials.

There was no clear objective.

He didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing.

Setting aside the goal of ‘placing the boulder on top of the mountain’, he just couldn’t understand what this accomplished.

It might have been better if there were at least different trials to choose from, but pushing a boulder up a mountain for 100 days straight without a visible purpose was enough to cause mental illness to even the strongest minds.

If Seol Jihu did not develop the ‘self-command’ temperament through Jang Maldong’s training, he would have been driven insane long ago.

Still, it wasn’t as if there was no progress.

The spot where he was currently forced to a stop was different from the one where he was initially stopped.

He had advanced at least somewhat.

But it was only twenty-six or so steps ahead.

He still had a long way to go, but he hadn’t even taken thirty steps yet.

At this rate, it was unknown whether he would even pass the first trial.

The end felt so out of reach that Seol Jihu dropped his head.

Just as he shut his eyes, staring at the blood and sweat soaking into the mountain path…

‘…Huh?’

Before he noticed, the weight crushing down on his arms seemed to have lightened by a bit. His palms, which burned with a tearing pain, turned warm as blood circulated through them.

Just what happened?

Did his hands slip again while he wasn’t paying attention?

Thinking ‘what if’, Seol Jihu raised his head. His jaw dropped.

Thankfully, his hands were still firmly glued to the boulder.

They had not slipped. Instead, a message was printed in front of him.

[Your Strength stat increases from Intermediate (Intermediate) to Intermediate (High).]

Strength entered Seol Jihu’s pupils. This was the second stat increase message that popped up since he entered the Path of the Soul.

“Let’s go…!”

In the next moment, Seol Jihu pushed the boulder in excitement.

Things were different than before.

The boulder went up perfectly fine as if Seol Jihu’s subconscious perception of his own limits had been limiting him this entire time.

“Good, good…!”

He shouted in pure excitement, but he was scared on the inside.

He had achieved this result after a hundred days of pain and hardship. What if he couldn’t pass the first trial?

As much as he got his hopes up, the disappointment would also be immense.

As such, Seol Jihu rolled the boulder up in a hurry.

However, the reality was cold-hearted.

The closer he got to the peak, the boulder got bigger and bigger until it eventually became twice his size.

The weight he felt in his hands was dozens of times greater than what it started out as.

“Uek!”

Eventually, the boulder sunk into the slope of the mountain.

“Please, please…!”

It didn’t budge even at Seol Jihu’s desperate pleading. The boulder stood coldly in place. Seol Jihu had reached a limit once again with only about thirty steps left to go.

Seol Jihu’s expression dimmed.

He tried to push forward, refusing to give up, but overexerting himself only made his hand slip.

“Ah!”

As he reflexively got out of the way, the boulder rolled down the mountain like an avalanche.

He now had to descend the mountain and start all over again.

“…Haa….”

Seol Jihu spat out a sigh from the bottom of his heart.

For a while, he dazedly looked down at the mountain path before plopping down on the ground.

His legs had suddenly given in.

He felt like he finished running a marathon only to be told that he needed to do another round.

Of course, it went without saying that the current situation was a thousand times worse.

“….”

Seol Jihu didn’t stand up for a long time.

He remembered the saying, it only gets tougher the closer you get to the end.

He empathized with this saying more so than ever before.

Suddenly, he didn’t want to get back up.

He saw the sunrise a hundred times before he could reach this point.

He couldn’t even fathom how long it would take for him to climb the remaining distance.

“…Fuck…”

A coarse curse escaped his mouth.

As he sat in place, not wanting to do anything, he suddenly had a thought.

‘Should I try to go up?’

Seol Jihu glanced up at the first peak.

He had yet to climb there.

It wasn’t until now that he even thought about walking up without the boulder.

‘The message said to push the boulder up, but wouldn’t it be okay to see what’s there?’

Seol Jihu wasn’t hoping to pass the trial this way. He simply wanted to know what the purpose of this trial was.

‘…Let’s try it. Maybe it will give me a hint.’

Seol Jihu got up after much deliberation and staggered up the steep mountain slope.

Although he gave all sorts of excuses to justify going up the mountain, it was really because he didn’t feel like he could handle going back down and standing in front of the boulder once again.

For the sake of his sanity, he needed a change of pace.

And so, Seol Jihu climbed up step by step, and when he eventually reached the peak…

Three alerts struck his ears.

[The restriction of class and miscellaneous abilities is lifted.]
[The restriction of mana is lifted.]
[All artifacts are unsealed.]

“Eh?”

A startled yelp escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth.

Happiness surged over his sullen face.

His abilities and artifacts were useable again.

Moreover, his mana had returned.

Strength entered his limbs as he felt powerful energy circulating through his body.

‘So passing the first trial lifts all the restrictions.’

Finding this out was worth the effort of risking danger and climbing all the way up.

Seol Jihu nodded his head before tilting it in confusion.

His abilities had come back, but…

‘Why didn’t my innate ability come back?’

Thinking about it now, it was strange.

The messages said his class abilities, miscellaneous abilities, and artifacts were restricted. However, it didn’t say the same thing for his innate ability — the Future-Gauging Nine Eyes. It clearly said that it disappeared temporarily.

It was suspicious no matter how he thought about it.

Since he already climbed up to the first peak, Seol Jihu figured he would go up the others as well. And so, he walked to the pathway that stretched above the first mountainside.

The second path wasn’t all that different. All he had to do was climb up.

But if he were to describe the difference in detail, it would simply be that the second path was a bit narrow and had countless crossroads in the middle.

‘Is the second trial a maze or something?’

As he climbed up with doubts, he suddenly felt a large tremor.

Then, he saw a boulder rolling down quickly from the second peak.

No, it wasn’t a single boulder. At least a dozen were rolling down, one by one.

Seol Jihu flinched reflexively before flashing his eyes and rousing his mana. Now that he got back his mana, he had no reason to fear the boulders or avoid them.

Seol Jihu waited for the first boulder to come down before punching forward at full strength.

Boom!

The boulder exploded in one blow.

As expected, the power of the High (High) rank mana was enough to shatter the office-sized boulder into tiny pieces.

As the tiny pieces of rocks fluttered in the air, Seol Jihu swung his fists one after the other.

Kwang, kwang, kwang, kwang! Seol Jihu swung his hands without stopping.

He punched with mana-clad fists as if to vent his pent-up frustration.

Destroying the boulders gave him a sense of ecstasy and freedom that couldn’t be described with words.

But when he destroyed the tenth boulder, new tremors erupted from the left and right.

Boulders were rolling down from the dozens of crossroads that stretched out in all directions.

‘So it wasn’t a maze.’

Seol Jihu grinned and jumped up.

Lightly stepping on a boulder that just rolled down, he expelled the mana surrounding his body.

Paat! A flash of light cut through the slope in an instant.

“Hahaha!”

Seol Jihu laughed.

He knew he shouldn’t rely on mana, but it was too much fun.

He expected the second trial to be even more difficult than the first, so he couldn’t hold in his happiness at knowing that the second trial would be a breeze.

Seol Jihu ran through the pathway in the blink of an eye and reached the second peak.

He stepped down lightly and immediately took a good look around.

It was then.

“!?”

He swayed as soon as he stepped on the ground.

“Huh? Huh?”

He suddenly couldn’t feel his mana.

Rather than it disappearing again, the sensation itself wasn’t being transmitted.

He felt like he was floating in midair.

Even when he swallowed his saliva, he couldn’t feel it going down his throat.

He couldn’t feel himself breathe, and all sound became distant.

Eventually, his vision blurred before going completely dark.

All five senses had lost their function.

As Seol Jihu was at a loss for what to do in the sudden darkness…

[Eu… eu…]

A moan rang out in his head.

Seol Jihu looked left and right in a startle before fixing his gaze in one spot. This spot was the only place that was lit up amidst the darkness, almost as if a spotlight was shining down on it.

A strongly-built man was lying there, groaning.

Seol Jihu stared at the man’s shattered glasses before realizing who he was.

‘Hyung?’

Why did he suddenly see Seol Wooseok here?

He didn’t know what was happening but refused to stand still.

Just as he tried to rush up to him to ask if he was okay…

“Retard.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

W-What did he just say?

“Why the hell did you come at me for? Especially if you’re going to get knocked out by a single punch. Did you really think I was going to get beaten up like when we were young?”

Seol Jihu shook his head crazily.

His mouth moved on its own.

“Why the hell did you show up here anyway? So embarrassing.”

Puk! He then kicked Seol Wooseok.

His body was moving on its own as well.

[Jihu… please…]

“Fuck off, will ya? Just when I was getting lucky too… Eii, you chased away all my luck.”

Seol Jihu spat on the ground and turned back, and Seol Wooseok bit his lip as he watched Seol Jihu walk away.

Seol Jihu stared at all of this in a daze before shaking his head.

No, this isn’t it.

I didn’t say this…

While his mind was in chaos, he suddenly felt a gaze.

Seol Wooseok was staring straight at him with a burning gaze. Tears of blood rolled down his cheeks as he glared at him fiercely.

Tsssst!

In the next instant, Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open.

A huge ball of fire suddenly flared up inside his heart.

The fire spread in an instant and set Seol Jihu’s body ablaze.

“Kuaaaaaaaaah!”

A horrific scream echoed out.

Like a witch being burned at stake, Seol Jihu felt an indescribable pain as he was burned alive.

That wasn’t the end.

After writhing in pain for ten or so minutes…

[Thank goodness, Oppa. That’s the right decision, that’s the right decision. Really, thank you.]

A new voice rang out before the fire subsided.

[Let’s go request for a permanent ban first. We can let Dad and Mom know afterward. Ah, Big Brother too.]

[Don’t worry! I’ll go with you!]

Seol Jihu struggled to gain control of his body, but his head turned on its own.

Through his teary eyes, he saw a cheerfully smiling Seol Jinhee.

[Are you hungry? Do you wanna stop by a rest area and grab food?]

[Roasted potato and grilled squid, right? Okay, okay, I got it. I’ll be back soon, so wait just a few minutes~]

‘No, don’t.’

Seol Jihu opened his mouth subconsciously.

Because…

‘No, no…!’

He knew what would happen next.

As if to prove that he was right, the scenery changed right away.

[Oppa! Opppaaaaa!]

Seol Jinhee was running toward him.

Her arms were full of the food she bought from the rest area. As she rushed to catch up to him…

[Oppa… Ah, aaack!]

She tripped and fell hard.

The roasted potatoes poured out, and the fish cake soup spilled as well.

[Oppa! Don’t go! Oppaaaaa…!]

“Hehe, operation successful.”

His mouth moved on its own again.

“I should be able to get a good number of buy-ins with this, right? Heh, I’ll just double up a couple of times and buy her something better.”

Seol Jihu stepped on the accelerator while humming joyfully.

In the next moment, his smiling face contorted heavily.

‘Uaaah, uaaaah!’

Seol Jihu screamed internally and looked for his younger sister.

Seol Jinhee was kneeling in the same spot, dazedly staring at the car as it rode off.

[…Op…]

Seol Jinhee’s expression suddenly grew cold.

She clenched her teeth, shook from head to toe, and shed tears of blood.

Then, she spitefully glared at the crying Seol Jihu.

“Kuk—”

When Seol Jihu met her eyes, he was suddenly stifled for breath.

An icy coldness flowed out of his heart.

The tempest of frost swirled up and seeped into every organ and vein.

Physical pain was one thing, but what was even more unbearable was the mental pain.

An irresistible power was poking at his brain, pulling out all of his painful memories.

“Kkeuk… kkeuk…”

Now, his even voice didn’t come out properly.

‘Sorry… sorry…’

Seol Jihu stepped backward before suddenly going limp.

His arms fell, and his head dropped.

Tears streamed down his face nonstop.

Soon, his crying eyes went out of focus and became hazy.

As he wept endlessly, Seol Jihu’s upper body began to tilt.

Falling forward bit by bit, it slowly fell face first.

Seol Jihu had crumbled, no longer able to withstand the pain.

Then, Seol Jihu caught sight of someone through his blurring vision.

A woman was looking at him with a sorrowful expression.

He was familiar with her face.

In that instant, Seol Jihu thought of someone.

Even while knowing that wasn’t possible.

“S…”

He spoke, even though he knew that.

“Seon…”

As if to respond to his call, the woman took a step toward him.

Seol Jihu raised his eyes slightly.

However, his tear-drenched face plunged down in an instant.

Darkness quickly crept close.

Seol Jihu did not notice this, but he was reaching toward the woman as if he would crumble away.

“Seonhwa…”

He held out his hand and called out her name.

“Seonhwa…”

And so, just before his head touched the ground…

His shaking, aimless hand…

Tak.

…was grabbed by a soft hand.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter