Chapter 378. Thank You (2)

Seol Jihu entered the final trial at last. Just like the previous two trials, repetitive days began once again.

He learned a few things about the Chamber of Void while climbing the third peak endlessly.

The first was that it wasn’t just his five senses that was being limited. Rather, everything around him was disappearing. Not only the slope but even the boulder he was pushing vanished. With his sense of touch gone, he could no longer tell if he was even climbing up a slope or walking on flat ground.

The same applied to his sense of time. With everything going to void, he had no way of feeling the flow of time.

But what he could be sure about was that there was no end in sight, even though he walked long enough to climb both the first and second peaks.

He only suffered endlessly in never-ending illusions.

[Jihu, Jihu… Please…!]

Seeing his older brother collapsed on the ground, groaning, a scorching flame surged up inside his heart and lit his body aflame.

[Oppa! Oppppaaa! Don’t goooo!]

When he ran away, leaving behind his younger sister who fell while chasing after him, a poison provoking vicious pain seeped into his veins, and a cold chill invaded his bones.

[…What? Yankee…?]

His heart shrunk whenever he met Yoo Seonhwa until it finally shattered into a million pieces along with his body.

[What happened to you, Jihu…?]

When he saw his mother crying in front of a spilled dinner table, never mind being heartbroken, he felt like his bones and flesh were being crushed to pieces.

[Jihu… your dad… just can’t understand…. It’s too painful…]

Seeing his father, murmuring helplessly with his head and shoulders hanging, an irresistible listlessness swept over Seol Jihu.

He had to die countless times in this trial as well. When he could no longer bear the fatigue and collapsed, he would find himself at the starting point once he woke up.

According to Black Seol Jihu, he had collapsed on the slope and was promptly crushed to death by the boulder.

To be honest, this pain was nothing. Though it hurt, he had built up a strong resistance to pain from repeatedly dying for close to five years. All he had to do was accept it as something he deserved for his past sins.

However, what tormented him the most was that, inside the Chamber of Void, he was blurting out things against his will.

“Retard. Why the hell did you come at me for? Especially if you’re going to get knocked out by a single punch.”

“Hehe, operation success. I should be able to get a good number of buy-ins with this, right?”

“Iya, Yoo Seonhwa. You’ve changed a lot after coming back from your overseas study. What, were those Yankees really that good? Hmm?”

“No, father, I quit gambling. I’m trying to work hard, so why can’t you lend me some money to start my business? Is it because you think I’m going to use it to gamble?”

There was no pain since he was acting against his will, but the reproduction of the past when he was a piece of trash only gave him indescribable shame and regret.

This can’t go on. I can’t do this. I have to climb silently, but I’m not able to.

Seol Jihu began to put in a great amount of effort.

To try to change these illusions.

‘No.’

The illusions didn’t change.

What had to change was he, himself.

And so, he tried his damnedest to speak.

And one day, a small change occurred.

“Fuck off, will ya? Just when I was getting luc… ah, euu…”

“Anyway, I’ll just double up a couple of times and buy her something bet… s, so, sor…”

His mouth still moved as it wanted. However, a groan-like mumbling began to mix into his words.

“What, were those yank… no… Se, Seonhwa…”

And after an unknown period of time, his stammering slowly became clearer.

“…s, so… sorry….”

“I’m sorry… father…”

Eventually, Seol Jihu’s will overrode his actions.

He had succeeded in manifesting Perfect Harmony inside the Chamber of Void.

Once he could talk freely, controlling his body came quickly.

Seol Jihu no longer beat his older brother or stole his younger sister’s car and ran away.

He simply walked forward.

Then, his family’s reactions also changed.

Of course, they didn’t suddenly embrace him and forgive him in tears.

They did cry. The problem was that they cried tears of blood and pounced on him like vengeful spirits.

[Sorry? How can you be sorry when you’re lying again? What? Sinyoung? What a joke!]

His father rushed in like a bolt of lightning and slapped his cheek.

[Die! Die! You doubted me, you bastard? I’m going to kill you and kill myself!]

Yoo Seonhwa stabbed a knife into his stomach and twisted it left and right.

His mother didn’t say anything, but she stood next to him and stared at him fixedly with hollow eyes.

But when Seol Jihu didn’t stop walking despite all of this, their attitudes changed yet again.

[Don’t go.]

Seol Wooseok spoke while collapsed on the ground.

[If you’re really sorry, don’t go. Come back and help me up.]

He then reached out and grabbed Seol Jihu’s ankles.

[Don’t go! Don’t go!]

Seol Jihu could hear Seol Jinhee’s scream as well.

[You said you’re sorry, didn’t you!? You son of a bitch. Was that all a lie!? You’re leaving me behind again!?]

She ran up to him in an instant and clung onto his arm.

He was surrounded by spite, anger, and resentment.

Inside all of this, Seol Jihu quietly smiled to himself. Now, the illusions actually felt like illusions.

Time flowed like a running river.

Before he noticed, everything around him dimmed.

His body didn’t react to pain, and the words of the illusions only wandered inside his head aimlessly.

Eventually, even the illusions turned faint.

Seol Jihu was assimilating with the void.

How much longer did he walk?

While walking forward with his head down like a criminal, Seol Jihu suddenly looked up, blinking.

‘Light…?’

A clear light blinded his sight.

As he narrowed his eyes, he could see a shining light in the far distance.

The small light gradually grew in size as he walked closer until, finally, it expanded to the size of a portal.

Seol Jihu stopped.

He stared fixedly at the solitary, oval light that shone brightly inside the darkness.

It seemed what the alert said was true. He would eventually arrive at the exit if he walked blindly.

Seol Jihu turned around and looked back before heading to the light.

His grunting father and his silently-watching mother; Yoo Seonhwa, who was holding a kitchen knife dripping with blood; his older brother; his younger sister….

The five people who were chasing after him like grim reapers had all stopped and were glaring at him.

Seol Jihu met his mother’s eyes.

She was the one that he found most difficult to resist.

It would have been easier if she cursed at him and caused him pain like the others. But because she simply stood there and stared at him, all sorts of thoughts surfaced in his mind.

“…When this all ends…”

Seol Jihu opened his mouth and said with a hoarse voice.

“I’ll go back to Earth and call you right away. I promise.”

And then, his mother quietly took a step back. She didn’t say or do anything else, and her expression was still hard to read.

“Then…”

Seol Jihu laughed meekly and bowed.

“Take care.”

He turned around and jumped into the light.

In the next instant, the Chamber of Void crumbled down.

“…Ah.”

Seol Jihu exclaimed shortly.

When he came to his senses, a new scenery was spread out before him.

No, it wasn’t completely new.

He had seen it once before with Baek Haeju.

A flat ground blanketed with clouds, a lofty height that overlooked the entire Path of the Soul, and a lone altar placed in the center.

[You passed the third trial.]

Seol Jihu had climbed to the top, the summit, of the Path of the Soul.

“….”

He didn’t feel anything special. But looking down at the third slope, he did find it a little hard to believe. He felt like he walked for months inside the Chamber of Void, but the distance he climbed was actually quite short.

[First time taken to pass the trials: 1,672 days 17 hours 24 minutes.]

[If you want to reset the trials, roll the boulder down the mountain.]

[If you want to end the trials, please stand in front of the altar.]

Alerts that were as calm as Seol Jihu’s mind popped up in the air.

‘1,672 days… that’s four years and five months…’

Seol Jihu stared at the alerts for a long time. Then, when he finally turned to the altar…

“Congrats.”

A familiar voice entered his ears.

Black Seol Jihu was walking toward him with an odd expression.

“Let’s say you beat the trials in 167 days. You took almost two months by Earth’s time, but saying that would be too shameless.”

Seol Jihu laughed.

Finally feeling like it was real, Seol Jihu slowly took his hands off of the boulder, which had been like his shadow.

“You finally beat the trials… but what do you think about staying here a bit longer?”

Black Seol Jihu spoke.

“It’s not like you’re short on time, and it’s hard to come across a place like this.”

Right, Seol Jihu had no intention of leaving this place. He still had things he wanted to do here.

There were skills he wanted to practice, and he wanted to attempt the trials using different conditions for passing.

It just felt too regrettable to leave like this.

“I was planning to anyway.”

“Great, great. Rather than leaving after scoring 80, 65, and 100, wouldn’t it feel better to get perfect scores on all three before leaving?”

Seol Jihu nodded his head before pausing.

“I got 100 points on the third trial?”

“Yes. In my eyes, at least.”

Black Seol Jihu spoke apathetically.

“To be honest, it’s hard to evaluate your performance on the third trial. How could someone who is worse than the person taking the exam have the qualification to make any judgments? At least for the third trial, you’re much better than I am.”

Black Seol Jihu’s words carried a lot of hidden meaning.

Seol Jihu wanted to ask how his relationship with the family was, but then decided not to.

It was because the question was meaningless to both Black Seol Jihu and himself.

“Anyway, try setting your goal to be quicker. 1,672 days is honestly too much. If it were me, I wouldn’t have taken more than a minute.”

Assuming the third trial doesn’t exist. Black Seol Jihu murmured quietly, making Seol Jihu burst into laughter.

“A minute is too much of an exaggeration. But I’m not really sure what to aim for since I don’t know how long I took to climb the third peak.”

“It didn’t take you that long. Maybe about forty minutes.”

“Great, then I’ll show you a cool magic trick — reducing 1,672 days to two hours. Ah, I feel like there’s going to be another bento box if we go down. It might not be a bad idea to eat some fried chicken first.”

Seol Jihu said cheerfully as he started walking back.

It was then.

“…Man, I wanted to see your second record, but it looks like I won’t be able to. Same for the fried chicken.”

Seol Jihu paused in the middle of pushing the boulder downhill.

Black Seol Jihu was calmly staring at him with his arms crossed.

Seol Jihu was about to ask what he meant by that when he noticed something and rubbed his eyes.

A faint light was emitting from Black Seol Jihu’s body. Starting from the bottom, his body was being enveloped by the faint light and turning translucent.

“W-What happened? Since when—”

“Since the moment you passed the third trial and stepped onto the summit.”

Black Seol Jihu shrugged.

“It can’t be helped. Those were the terms of the contract that I made with Gula. That I’d make my exit once you stepped onto the summit with your own strength even once. Well… this is pretty much where my job ends.”

Hearing this for the first time, Seol Jihu held his breath.

Of course, he expected this moment to come eventually.

Black Seol Jihu was only a remnant of the future or Future Vision.

He couldn’t continue living in the present with the present Seol Jihu.

He knew this, but…

“But…”

Seol Jihu spoke with hesitation.

“It’s… too sudden.”

“What do you mean, sudden?”

“It is! There are still skills I want to learn.”

“I already taught you everything. The rest, you can pick up on your own… So don’t be like that.”

Black Seol Jihu smiled bitterly.

“Isn’t it about time you do things on your own?”

Seol Jihu shut his mouth. He was already rambling whatever that came to his mind, and now, he was at a loss for what to say.

Black Seol Jihu smacked his lips.

“Anyway, I’m going to disappear soon, but I want you to stay here a bit longer. Also… Hmm, what should I say…”

It seemed Black Seol Jihu also didn’t have much to say.

“Man, this is annoying. I can’t say anything that causes problems with the law of causality…”

He grumbled to himself before continuing.

“Use your contribution points to learn Dual Spear and Berserk. You remember what I said back then, right? Insisting on learning everything through training is being inflexible. But you should still try evolving your Mana Cultivation to Mana Technique. That doesn’t mean you should learn a Reverse-Flow Mana Technique like me. Be careful, extra careful, when you’re using Thousand Thunder. And…”

“….”

“Let’s see… I have nothing to say about our family… Ah, don’t make Yuhui cry. As for Haeju, make sure you… well, I guess this is irrelevant. Don’t ever lose to Sung Shihyun. Eun Yuri was a good catch. She’s the type who thrives on her own, so you can rely on her more. Be careful of Yun Seohui. And Kim Hannah… ah, she changed too.”

Black Seol Jihu mumbled and then suddenly laughed.

“I guess it’s useless for me to tell you these things, huh. The path you have walked is just too different than the path I walked.”

He then looked straight at Seol Jihu.

“…You know.”

He lowered his voice and then continued while hesitating.

“I’m saying this because I just thought about it. You remember how I said some harsh things to you using the trials as an excuse? I was probably so hard on you because… I was jealo… ah…”

It was then.

Black Seol Jihu’s eyes trembled slightly.

His pupils lost focus, his mouth opened slightly, and then his expression faded.

He swayed slowly, almost like someone who would disappear at a moment’s notice.

“Are you okay?”

“…Ah, yeah, I’m fine…”

Black Seol Jihu put his hand out while pressing his temples.

“My mind suddenly went blank…”

Before anyone noticed, the light had passed Black Seol Jihu’s feet and was shuffling around his chest.

It was consuming Black Seol Jihu faster than expected.

Black Seol Jihu staggered before barely grabbing hold of himself.

He let out a light sigh and then stared at Seol Jihu.

“…Did you know?”

“Huh?”

“That life is like a train.”

This seemingly came out of nowhere.

“I don’t mean that the world moves in parallel… I mean that your life and my life is connected like a train. For you, this moment might be the present, but for me, it’s the past. And if the past changes, both the present and the future changes.”

Black Seol Jihu laughed awkwardly after seeing Seol Jihu’s face.

“Kind of random, huh? Still, try to understand what I’m saying.”

“I—”

“It doesn’t look like I have much time left…. Also, well, I know I kind of have a shitty personality, and you’ve stuck with me for a long time… argh, what the hell am I saying…”

It was time to part.

“Anyway, there’s something I’ve really been wanting to say…”

Black Seol Jihu looked like he wasn’t at all used to such a situation. He scratched his cheek bashfully and slowly approached Seol Jihu.

“You sure took your time, but you never gave up and climbed to the summit with your own strength.”

With a deep breath, he spoke loud and clear.

“You also walked a completely different path than me. For that…”

Black Seol Jihu stopped in front of Seol Jihu.

He raised his hands and put them on his shoulders.

Then, he gently embraced Seol Jihu, who was at a loss for what to say.

“Thank you.”

A tiny whisper rang out in Seol Jihu’s ears.

Seol Jihu turned his head unknowingly.

Black Seol Jihu was staring at him too.

“It’s true. I’m really grateful.”

And he was smiling.

It wasn’t a smirking or a sneering smile like the ones he usually had but a soft, gentle smile.

Perhaps because the light had climbed above his neck and encompassed his face, his smile looked radiant.

“Whew, there, I finally said it. I guess I’m really not suited for this. So, don’t you have anything you want to say to me?”

Seol Jihu opened his mouth and then closed it.

No, I should be the one who’s grateful. I never would have reached the summit alone. I should be the one to say thank you. For various things.

“…I guess you don’t. Anyway, this is it. Good luck, buddy, past me.”

He had to say it. He had to. But for some reason, his words hovered inside his mouth.

“Oh right! There’s another thing that I've been wanting to say! I just remembered it.”

At that moment, Black Seol Jihu spoke as if he just recalled something.

He looked at Seol Jihu and grinned.

“Quit smoking, ya bastard. You know it’s not good for you.”

He sniggered.

Then, just as Seol Jihu was about to eke out the words stuck inside his throat…

In that split second moment, the light completely engulfed Black Seol Jihu and shot up towards the sky.

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

“Wait…!”

Doing a double-take, he tilted his head up.

However, the light that was Black Seol Jihu just a moment ago was already disappearing into the distant sky as a tiny speck.

Soon, it burst into a fierce light like a firework and illuminated the sky.

Almost like candlelight that was on the brink of being blown out.

As the light slowly faded away, Seol Jihu’s pupils trembled ever so slightly.

“Ah….”

When he closed his eyes, the recent events flashed by in his head.

Four years and five months had passed since their first meeting.

In a way, his alternate self was the one who spent the longest time with him since he entered Paradise.

But during these 1,672 days, Seol Jihu never once thought Black Seol Jihu was himself.

That was how different he was.

He was strong beyond comparison.

Seol Jihu was afraid of Black Seol Jihu, annoyed by him, and at times so angered that he wanted to kill him. But also…

“….”

…He liked him.

He was someone who taught him passionately like Jang Maldong.

He was someone who supported him devotedly.

He was someone who stood by and watched over him whenever things were hard and painful.

…Right.

During their time together, Black Seol Jihu was like a reliable older brother and like a close, irreplaceable childhood friend.

[What do you think about staying here a bit longer?]

[Wouldn’t it feel better to get perfect scores on all three before leaving?]

Seol Jihu felt like he could still hear Black Seol Jihu’s voice.

He felt like Black Seol Jihu would be standing next to him if he opened his eyes, saying that it was a lie, mocking him for being so gullible, telling him to hurry up and restart the trials, and asking him to see if the bento boxes had fried chicken.

But when Seol Jihu opened his eyes, all he could see was a single alert.

[Innate Ability, ‘Future-Gauging Nine Eyes’, which vanished temporarily has…]

Seol Jihu closed his eyes without reading the entire alert. He clenched down on his trembling lips, almost as if to hold something back.

How much time went by?

The cold wind of early winter brushed past the mountain peak.

After standing for a long time like a stone statue, Seol Jihu wiped his sweat-ridden eyes.

He rolled the boulder and trudged back down.

Although he passed the trials, he went back to the starting point.

Then, clenching his teeth, he began to push the boulder back up.

In a place that lacked company.

All alone.

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