Puk! Black Seol Jihu stabbed his fingers into his own eyes.
“You know that you’re walking on a thorny road.”
He then put his hands over his ears, injecting mana into them and destroying his own eardrums.
“Why are you trying to cross it in one go? What doesn’t work won’t work no matter how many times you try it.”
He did the same to his nose.
“Ah, of course, there are people who can do it.”
Meanwhile, he blabbered on as if he was used to this process by now.
“While some have trouble just grasping the basics, these people would succeed as naturally as breathing and achieve their own realms. The former would have trouble taking just a single step forward, but the latter would leap through twenty steps during that time. We call these people geniuses.”
Black Seol Jihu revealed his teeth in a thick smile.
“They’re the real Irregulars, unlike you who rely on Future Vision and Nine Eyes.”
Suddenly recalling Eun Yuri, Seol Jihu clenched his teeth.
Black Seol Jihu turned around. He trudged to the boulder and pushed it.
It was only then that Seol Jihu noticed what state Black Seol Jihu was in. His sight, hearing, and sense of smell were the same as his own before he revived.
Seol Jihu stared at his alternate self fixedly before subconsciously standing up.
Black Seol Jihu rolled the boulder up with one hand, easily passing the first slope and going to the second slope.
Drrrrrrk! Soon, the second peak rumbled, and several boulders appeared out of nowhere.
“I just don’t get it.”
Seol Jihu’s eyes waned.
Black Seol Jihu stopped and raised the boulder into the air with one hand before throwing it like he was playing with a tennis ball.
The house-sized boulder disappeared into the distance, becoming a dot in the blink of an eye.
“What’s the reason you keep trying the same thing when you know it doesn’t work?”
At the same time, as Black Seol Jihu stretched out his hand toward the slope, the boulder that was rolling down at the lead touched his palm.
What happened next was completely bizarre.
As Black Seol Jihu twisted his arm slightly and pulled, the course of the boulder changed. It began to roll down following the direction of his hand, almost as if the two were connected by an invisible string.
It wasn’t just the boulder leading the pack that changed course. The other boulders also veered off course following it.
“If your destination is far away, you need to think about getting there step by step.”
As he said this, Black Seol Jihu dropped his hands like a conductor.
A spin was applied to the rolling boulders. As Black Seol Jihu waved his hands again, the boulders stopped rolling down and rolled back up the slope.
Drrrrrk! It was around this time that new boulders appeared from the crossroads.
By this time, however, the initial set of boulders was spinning around Black Seol Jihu.
Kwang, kwang! The boulders rolling down from the crossroads were sent flying without getting anywhere close to him.
Seol Jihu’s Unique Spatial Ability — Grand Cosmic Shift.
Seol Jihu couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
But that wasn’t the end. Black Seol Jihu raised his foot up high.
“Not to mention…!”
Kwang! As he slammed his foot down, the entire slope shook. The boulders that were spinning around him and the boulders that were flung back all bounced up.
In that instant, amidst the boulders soaring into the air, a powerful electric discharge sparked up from Black Seol Jihu’s body.
Seol Jihu’s Unique Spatial Ability — Thousand Thunder.
As a thousand electric currents rose simultaneously, Black Seol Jihu’s figure contorted like a static signal from a broken TV.
It was neither loud nor clamorous, but Seol Jihu couldn’t take his eyes off him.
Because of the lightning energy in his body, he could feel with great clarity how much destructive power was compressed in each of those currents.
By the time the boulders came to a stop in midair, Black Seol Jihu grabbed his spear and aimed it at the sky.
“It’s not like there’s only one way to pass the trial.”
In the next moment, the electric currents that dyed Black Seol Jihu moved like water while giving off powerful sparks.
From his right arm to the spear shaft, spear blade, and then finally the spear tip. Soon, a chillingly sharp orb coalesced at the end of his spear.
The spear howled.
A bone-chilling shriek echoed out.
Black Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open. His arm bent like a fishing rod and trembled violently. At the same time, the small orb began to emit a faint light.
Seol Jihu’s Unique Spatial Ability — Hell Severing.
Craaaaack! An ear-splitting explosion rang out, followed by a startling flash of lightning cutting through the air. The terrifying flash covered the huge mountain in an instant, dyeing the entire world in the color of lightning.
Seol Jihu turned away, unable to withstand the act of destruction causing the heaven and earth to rumble.
How much time went by?
Seol Jihu slowly opened his eyes as the tremors and the thundering booms slowly subsided.
He became speechless as soon as he saw the scene unfolded before him.
Never mind the slope, the entire mountain was burnt black. He couldn’t see a single boulder in his vicinity.
Only hot dust flew in the wind and brushed past his face.
Not even ash was left behind from the destructive attack.
Black Seol Jihu drew a deep breath and raised his arm.
“How can your mind and body last if you’re trying to force yourself to do what’s impossible?”
Koong! Only now did the boulder he initially threw up land safely in his palm.
Black Seol Jihu turned around with the boulder in his hand.
He looked at the dazed Seol Jihu and smirked.
“Why are you in such a rush?”
When their eyes met, Seol Jihu’s jaw dropped slowly.
That was all Seol Jihu could think of after seeing Black Seol Jihu’s godly display of skill. He was clearly in a realm that ordinary people couldn’t hope to reach in a hundred lifetimes.
Black Seol Jihu snickered.
“You’re calling me a monster with just this? That’s troubling… hehehehe.”
He walked toward Seol Jihu with the boulder in hand.
“Hey, haven’t you fought several Army Commanders?”
He came to a stop about two meters in front of him.
“How can you say that if you have? Or what, you think the Army Commanders are a joke because you got lucky and won a couple of times against them? You’re confident you can win again?”
“Without Future Vision, without your comrades, without the World Tree’s blessing, if you fight even one of them in your current state… what do you think will happen?”
Seol Jihu flinched as Black Seol Jihu laughed. The way blood spilled out from his nostrils, ears, and hollow eyes made him look like a demonic ghost.
Black Seol Jihu cackled for a while before speaking again.
“You think you’re trying hard, right? I’m doing well. This is good enough. Isn’t this what you’re thinking?”
He clicked his tongue and shook his head.
“Sure, you can think that. Especially from an ordinary person’s standard. But in my eyes, you’re not trying hard at all.”
I’m not trying hard? Just what else could I do here? Seol Jihu stared at Black Seol Jihu at a loss for words.
“For me, living was a series of hardships. Every day was a tribulation.”
“When I ate, when I walked, when I breathed. Even when I slept, I tied a boulder above my head that could snap off and fall at any moment.”
“That’s how I climbed up to Level 8, and then my aptitude evolved as well.”
“Before I noticed, people around me began to call me a monster. Demon of the Battlefield, Spear Demon, you name it.”
Black Seol Jihu’s voice slowly grew colder.
His voice dropped to a whisper.
“Those guys are the monsters. The Army Commanders.”
The chilly voice continued.
“They were powerful monsters from birth, and they were even bestowed divinity to become half-gods. You get that? They’re demigods.”
“The Parasite Queen is something entirely different. She’s a full-fledged god. How can a human defeat a god? They can’t. Ever.”
Mortals cannot defeat immortals.
Seol Jihu wanted to refute, but couldn’t. He wasn’t in any position to. And so, he could only bite his lip in frustration.
Black Seol Jihu stared at him fixedly before speaking with a sigh.
“…I’m not telling you to become a god.”
“I’m telling you to at least become a monster.”
“They’re demigods. A god. To kill those fuckers, you need to become a monster. So why are you insisting on staying human? Why are you hastily drawing your own limits… No, never mind.”
Black Seol Jihu snorted in the middle of his speech.
“What’s the point in me telling you? What, you don’t want to do it? Fine, then don’t.”
“Maybe once you’re crushed by the Parasites and are dying inside a mountain of corpses, you’ll desperately beg, Gula-nim, please give me another chance to go back to the past…”
Black Seol Jihu chucked the boulder at Seol Jihu.
Reviving at the starting point, Seol Jihu stood still for a long time.
What he just heard lingered in his head.
Humans cannot defeat a god. So, become a monster.
But can I do it?
Seol Jihu’s gaze dropped to the ground. Although he was angry, he knew what Black Seol Jihu said was true.
In truth, he had thought once before when he was half-insane, What use is there in passing this damned trial? What will it do for me?
But thinking on the contrary, would he be able to fight the Army Commanders if he couldn’t even do this? Would he be able to fight the Parasite Queen?
Recalling the Parasite Queen’s descent at Tigol Fortress, Seol Jihu had no choice but to agree with Black Seol Jihu’s words.
Black Seol Jihu must have come to his senses too after being beaten through and through.
Seol Jihu clenched his fists.
His madness-ridden pupils calmed down slightly.
Next, he shook his head, walked forward, and placed his hand on the boulder.
“You’re going to continue?”
Black Seol Jihu’s voice rang out.
He had come down before Seol Jihu noticed after recovering from his self-inflicted injuries.
“You’re free to continue, but…”
He trudged over and raised his hand.
“Don’t ever whine again. I’m not Yuhui or Master Jang. Don’t expect me to coddle you or hear you out like today.”
With a grin, he raised his index finger and middle finger.
Then, just as he was about to aim at Seol Jihu’s eyes…
Black Seol Jihu’s hand was shaken off.
Seol Jihu had brushed his hand away.
“What, you’re going to stop limiting your senses?”
Seol Jihu didn’t reply. He only glared at Black Seol Jihu with a burning gaze.
Black Seol Jihu raised his brows, and then his eyes widened.
“…Help me only with the sense of smell.”
It was because Seol Jihu stabbed his own eyes after asking with a hoarse voice.
He even pulled out his bloody fingers right away and stabbed his ears.
Seol Jihu’s expression waned as he tried to endure the pain. Blood dripped down from his tightly clenched lower lip.
The corner of Black Seol Jihu’s mouth curled up.
The trial started again.
Seol Jihu silently climbed the mountain, and Black Seol Jihu silently watched him push the boulder up.
‘I wonder how long he’ll last.’
Black Seol Jihu exhaled lightly as he watched Seol Jihu being crushed to death by another group of boulders.
Several days had gone by since their last talk, but Seol Jihu was still at a standstill.
Given the little outburst he had, it would have been great if he changed in a positive way or gained enlightenment of some sort.
But being a die-hard realist, Black Seol Jihu knew too well that such a thing was impossible.
Even if a heroine shed tears next to a collapsed hero, the hero would simply be killed rather than suddenly awakening new powers.
Even if he started rampaging in a fit of rage, he would simply become easier prey.
That was the conclusion Black Seol Jihu arrived at after toiling away in Paradise for all those years.
Without any natural-born talent, everyone was the same.
Only when they faced their limits and surpassed them would they be able to obtain what they desired. But it went without saying that not everyone who faced their limits could surpass them.
The taller the wall, the fewer the number of people that could climb over it. The rest would give up in despair or become a cripple trying again and again.
The current Seol Jihu was no different than a ticking time bomb.
He had met his limits a long time ago.
He held on by a hair’s breadth after coming close to collapsing.
Now, only one of two things could happen: becoming one of the few who would surpass their limits or becoming a cripple like most people.
Time endlessly passed by while Black Seol Jihu watched nervously.
The seasons changed three times.
A cold wind blew.
It was winter. The season that boasted the highest difficulty for training arrived.
White snow was falling from the sky.
Black Seol Jihu cleanly gave up any lingering hope.
And he concluded.
To lower the difficulty of the second trial to its original level.
It was a mistake on his part to believe that Seol Jihu could do it just because he was himself.
But the Seol Jihu who entered Paradise through the Gold Mark was distinctively different from himself, who entered as a slave.
There was an indescribable fundamental difference that couldn’t be made up for no matter how much effort Seol Jihu put in.
‘It’s a shame, but I guess it can’t be helped..’
Black Seol Jihu organized his thoughts before walking to the starting point and pausing.
Recently, Seol Jihu had been no different than a machine.
He would stab his own eyes and ears the moment he revived and wait for Black Seol Jihu to restrict his sense of smell. He would then push the boulder up the second peak before ultimately being killed in one way or the other.
Black Seol Jihu had seen this series of events well over a thousand times now. There was another reason that Black Seol Jihu paused.
It was because Seol Jihu was crying.
Tears were streaming down from his lifeless eyes.
Judging by his expressionless, fatigued face, it seemed he himself didn’t realize it.
‘This isn’t good.’
Seol Jihu’s terrible mental state wasn’t a secret, but it seemed he was in a worse state than Black Seol Jihu imagined.
The fact that he didn’t even realize that he was crying showed how worn down his emotions and reason were.
Though Black Seol Jihu played a big role in pushing him this far, he couldn’t just stand still and watch him go completely insane.
This was the limit.
Hardening his resolve, Black Seol Jihu hurriedly walked forward.
Just as Seol Jihu was about to stab his ears after stabbing his eyes, Black Seol Jihu quickly snatched his hand out of the air.
“You did well. Let’s stop here.”
“Limiting your senses, I mean.”
Seol Jihu didn’t reply. He stayed still for a few seconds before moving his hand again. If Black Seol Jihu wasn’t holding onto it tightly, he would have stabbed his ears again.
Seol Jihu clearly had no desire to stop.
“Come on, I told you, you can stop.”
Black Seol Jihu smacked his lips.
“Don’t misunderstand. I’m not mad at you. I’m just saying we should go back and try the trial like it was supposed to be done.”
“You did enough. Give it a try and feel the difference. You’ll be surprised.”
Given Black Seol Jihu’s personality, this was as comforting as he could be. If Seol Jihu’s attitude wasn’t up to par, Black Seol Jihu would have hurled all sorts of abusive language at him. However, Seol Jihu’s recent attitude had no problems.
What could Black Seol Jihu say when Seol Jihu was trying so hard and still failing?
Of course, both sides knew the real meaning behind Black Seol Jihu’s words — Give up.
“…The sense of smell…”
At that moment, Seol Jihu spoke stammeringly.
“After going up the first peak… I’ll do it…”
“What? Ah, hey!”
As Seol Jihu tried to move his hand again, Black Seol Jihu subconsciously tightened his grip. Seol Jihu’s strength had increased compared to before.
“Listen, you’re in a dangerous state right now, you know that?”
With Seol Jihu showing no signs of listening, Black Seol Jihu raised his voice.
“You’re on the verge of losing all emotions and reason and breaking. Do you think you’re going to get the hang of it if you try a little longer?”
“If that’s the case, you would have seen results long ago. So I can promise you, that isn’t going to happen.”
“So stop being so stubborn and end this. Knowing what doesn’t work is good enough. If one method doesn’t work, you have to pursue other methods. Clinging onto what doesn’t work is stupid.”
Seol Jihu murmured softly.
“I know, but…”
After staying silent for a long time, he suddenly asked.
“The Army Commanders… can you defeat them? In a one-on-one fight…”
Black Seol Jihu answered though he wasn’t sure why Seol Jihu was suddenly asking such a question.
“I’ve killed Abhorrent Charity, but I didn’t do it alone. It would be a different story if they don’t release their divinities, but once they do, it becomes difficult even for me.”
Seol Jihu smiled faintly.
It was a self-deprecating smile.
Black Seol Jihu went ‘Ah’.
“While I was climbing the mountain… I suddenly had this thought.”
Just as Black Seol Jihu was about to say something, Seol Jihu’s voice became a little bit clearer.
“If I can’t succeed here… the next time I meet the Parasites… wouldn’t I die without a doubt?”
Seol Jihu continued with difficulty.
“I… won a few times before… against the Parasites… through luck…”
“But… for some reason… I felt like the Tigol Fortress War would be the last time…”
Black Seol Jihu closed his mouth.
“I felt… there wouldn’t be another miracle… coincidence… or stroke of fortune…”
He was certainly right. Seol Jihu’s name was carved in the Parasites’ minds through the last war.
With how high-profile he had become, something like Raging Temperance’s defection or Twisted Kindness’, ‘using only the physical strength to test out his skill’ wouldn’t happen a second time.
On the contrary, they would do whatever was in their means to try to kill him. Perhaps they would release their divinities and charge at him the moment they saw him.
“It’s hard for you… even though you’re already that strong…”
Seol Jihu’s eyes twitched.
“But… I couldn’t even do this…”
His lips trembled as well.
“When I thought that… I just felt so pathetic…”
Despite trying so hard to hold it back, tears began to stream down his face again. Seol Jihu continued with his voice cracking slightly.
“I know it’s not working… but I just can’t bring myself to stop…!”
Black Seol Jihu was unknowingly loosening his grip.
Because he learned why Seol Jihu couldn’t give up.
In the end, Seol Jihu twisted his hand out of Black Seol Jihu’s grasp and stabbed his eardrums.
He then trudged forward while pushing the boulder up.
Without anyone telling him to do so, he followed his instincts and headed for the peak.
Under the falling snow, climbing the frozen icy path, Seol Jihu fell into thought.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t tempted by Black Seol Jihu’s offer.
In fact, he almost nodded his head on the spot.
But the reason he couldn’t bring himself to accept the offer…
‘I’d rather die than fail to pass this trial.’
…was because he couldn’t give up on Paradise.
As this was an undeniable truth, he knew he would have to eventually engage in a life-or-death battle with the Parasites.
He would rather die here than suffer all kinds of humiliation then.
Climbing up to the first peak and limiting his sense of smell, Seol Jihu set foot on the second crossroad.
He lost count of how many times he set foot on this mountain path.
A crushing shock was transmitted to his body through his palms.
His feet stopped.
If once doesn't work, try a hundred times. If a hundred times doesn’t work, try a thousand times. If a thousand times doesn’t work, try ten-thousand times. He abandoned such ignorant thoughts a long time ago.
He just wanted to know.
Even if what was waiting for him at the end was destruction, he wanted to see just once — how far he, Seol Jihu, could go.
He put strength into his weakening legs.
He concentrated on his senses while bending his one palm with great difficulty.
Soon, boulders should begin to roll down the crossroads.
He fired Mana Spears.
He didn’t know how many he destroyed.
He only knew one thing for sure.
Kwang! A heavy impact struck his left shoulder.
A suppressed groan eked out from the bone-wrenching pain.
Before Seol Jihu could even swallow his breath, another impact struck his right ribs.
He barely swallowed blood that was trying to burst out.
Even as he dropped his head and hunched his shoulders, Seol Jihu did not stop firing the Mana Spears.
Inside the bitter cold accompanying the snowstorm…
He screamed like a beast and fully embraced the boulder that he was pushing up. It was as if he was saying he would become one with it. That he would protect it without allowing a single scratch.
I have to endure. Only then will I gain the qualification to take the next step.
Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go.
It’s fine even if my mind breaks down.
So just one more step.
It’s fine even if I open my eyes at the starting point as a cripple.
So let’s just climb one more step.
Baek Haeju scanned the surroundings after entering the Path of the Soul.
This wasn’t her second visit.
Although Seol Jihu didn’t know, Baek Haeju had already visited several times.
After the first visit, she spent about ten days on Earth before coming back to Paradise. Words couldn’t describe how surprised she was when she found out Seol Jihu still hadn’t returned from the Path of the Soul.
Because it meant he had been in there for more than 400 days.
But every time she wanted to meet him, Black Seol Jihu kept her back strongly.
‘No, go back,’ he would say. ‘He’s honing himself. If he sees you, he’s going to return to his dull state,’ he would say.
She was chased out every time, being told to stop bothering him and to come back at a later time.
She had no choice but to listen as Black Seol Jihu would subdue her even if she tried to break through forcefully.
And before she noticed, three months had gone by in Paradise.
‘I’m going to see him today no matter what.’
Shopping bags full of bento boxes were laden in Baek Haeju’s hands.
Although there was no need to eat and drink in this space, one could still taste the food. One of the things Baek Haeju longed for the most when she was taking the trials was food.
When things became so hard that she wanted to give up, she would long for the taste of delicious food or a cold can of Coke.
‘Hopefully, this will cheer him up a bit…’
She didn’t know how Black Seol Jihu would feel about it, but she figured it was okay since a long time went by.
So as she was looking around with such a thought…
Baek Haeju saw Black Seol Jihu, standing like a stone statue at the first peak, and tilted her head.
There was no way someone of his caliber didn’t notice her presence.
But unlike last time, he wasn’t saying anything.
‘Did something happen?’
Feeling that something was off, Baek Haeju turned in the direction that Black Seol Jihu was looking in.
As soon as she laid her eyes on the sloped path beneath the tall mountain, her eyes widened sharply.
The first thing she saw was Seol Jihu climbing up the second peak.
No, it was hard to say he was climbing.
He was barely holding on at the edge of the icy path, protecting the boulder in his embrace desperately.
Boulders that endlessly rolled down from the numerous crossroads were breaking and crushing his body.
Just now, his body strongly shook once again.
That wasn’t all. The snowfallen mountain wasn’t white, but red.
The first path and the second path were especially crimson.
The boulders that came down from the crossroads were red as well.
The entire area reeked of blood.
Having gone through the trials of the Path of the Soul in the past, Baek Haeju instantly realized where the redness came from. That these stains were all from Seol Jihu’s blood.
It showed how many times he must have died during this time.
For a moment, the sound of the winter wind blowing from the mountain sounded like the howl of a dying beast.
“This is insane…”
Tk. The shopping bags in her hands dropped, and the bento boxes fell out.
“This is insane, totally insane…!”
Muttering shortly, Baek Haeju hurriedly kicked off the ground.
She could tell at a single glance that Seol Jihu was in a dangerous state.
However, she had to stop before she even climbed up the first path.
It was because a spear hurled in frighteningly and struck the ground in front of her.
She didn’t need to look to know where it came from.
Baek Haeju raised her brows sharply and shouted.
“You’re completely crazy! Are you trying to turn him into a monster!?”
Black Seol Jihu muttered with his gaze fixed on Seol Jihu.
“Are you trying to kill him!? At this rate, he’s…!”
When Baek Haeju shouted.
“I know, so shut up!”
Black Seol Jihu bellowed back.
Baek Haeju frowned. The Black Seol Jihu she had seen until now was always sly and cunning.
But he was different today. As far as she could see, the current Black Seol Jihu was more serious and conflicted than ever before.
Black Seol Jihu also knew.
How long would it be until the ticking time bomb known as Seol Jihu explodes?
How long would he last? Once? Twice? No, perhaps this was the last time.
Though he knew he had to stop him…
Black Seol Jihu unknowingly clenched his sweaty hands.
Seeing Seol Jihu, who was shaking left and right like a reed that was on the verge of breaking, Black Seol Jihu shouted again and again in his heart.
It was then.
A heavy impact sounded out.
In that instant, Baek Haeju turned around like a bolt of lightning and clearly saw with her own eyes.
Seol Jihu was collapsing with his eyes half-closed.
Blood was spurting out of his head like a fountain.
His head dropped slowly and his arms wrapped around the boulder became loose until, finally, his knees bent and his body fell backward.
Baek Haeju spaced out.
Black Seol Jihu held his breath as well.
The fuse of the ticking bomb had burnt out completely.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
The title is French, literally meaning "the feeling of iron"