Chapter 38. Miss Foxy (1)

Mana.

If one were to talk about this mysterious power, there would be no end to the conversation. However, if one were to define it in the simplest terms, then it could be called a 'unique gift'.

After the invaders devoured the Chief Deity, this power was the only method of resistance the humans had against the alien races.

Excluding one or two extreme cases, all humans generally possessed some amount of mana. An individual’s growth potential was dictated by one's inborn talents or bloodlines, but without a doubt, humans were born with this power existing inside them already.

Pretty much everyone who used this power 'professionally' would say the same thing: it'd be for the best if one started training their mana as early in their lives as possible.

This advice wasn't simply meant to imply the fact that one's available amount of mana would increase from the training. One would also get to train the pathways in their bodies where the mana flowed, the so-called 'Circuit'.

Someone born with a great deal of this energy needed to pay close attention when they started their training. There had been several cases where the fragile Circuits couldn't endure the circulation of the mana and tore up. In some cases, their Circuits were destroyed completely.

Just as one would temper the steel repeatedly to remove impurities as much as possible, the 'Circuit' would also strengthen gradually as a manageable amount of mana constantly flowed through the pathway. Thus, training oneself from early on was indeed the right call to make.

However, the situation Seol faced was quite complicated.

His powers manifested when he was extremely young. A small pathway gradually formed when he followed his instinct and used his new-found power. Never did he once receive proper training; he didn't even consciously realize that he'd been abusing his power repeatedly.

And the moment he lost his power proved to be a critical point in his life.

Although he'd been using his mana almost subconsciously, he had been relying on it for almost 20 years. Inevitably, the amount of energy he could wield had grown by a lot. However, thanks to him suddenly abusing his power constantly, the Circuit that had been barely holding on was pushed to the brink and ended up breaking apart.

Thanks to 'Future Vision', his body instinctively 'remembered' new pathways that could be used alternatively. That led to Seol recovering his powers, but still, his old Circuit remained broken.

The reason why Seol chose 'Psychi's Tears' was because, after learning 'Mana Application', he regularly explored how the Circuit of his body operated while meditating and ended up discovering the broken pathway.

[Psychi's Tears]

The renowned alchemist of Scheherazade, Psychi.

He took pity on a woman whose body was ruined by disastrous mana training when she was still a young child.

For this woman, whose body continued to wither with the passing of every single day, Psychi relentlessly pursued knowledge and researched for a way to give back the life she yearned for.

He went on a long journey to procure all the ingredients for his elixir, and after conquering many arduous trials and tribulations, he was able to taste the fruits of success. However, when he returned to the city of Scheherazade, the woman he devoted his entire life to had already passed on from this world.

Many influential men desired to possess the results of his incredible journey, yet Psychi simply chose to head to the holy temple where the remains of the woman rested. There, he shed tears of sorrow and prayed.

He prayed that, even though he'd never see her again, at least let her receive this final gift from him.

The god was moved by this pure love that forsook one's honor and wealth that they saw fit to name this offering as Psychi's Tears.

And thus, the Psychi's Tears was born – the miraculous item that perhaps exemplified the purest essence of alchemy. The item that contained all of the knowledge a man gained throughout his entire life, from his youth to his old age.

*

“Mm….”

Seol's sight was blurry. He blinked several times, causing the pooled secretion there to glide off his face.

He could hear the wet, splashing noises every time he tried to move. It almost felt like he was wading in a puddle of water or thick mud. His entire body felt sticky and heavy. Seol cautiously pushed his upper body up from the bathtub, only to begin retching out urgently.

“Euuuph…!”

The bitter, acrid odor of dried blood and the rotting stench of filth combined to assault his nose. Seol continued to vomit for a while, and after recovering, he noticed all the filthy secretion and excrement filling up the tub alongside him. A deep frown formed on his face.

There was rotting black blood filled with remnants of his peeled skin; sickly yellow liquid that could be either his sweat or puss; real, bona fide crap; and finally, completely unidentifiable floating hardened pieces of something….

All these disgusting and smelly excrements were doing their best to throw a party inside the tub. There were so much of these “substances” in the tub, Seol could scarcely believe that they all came out of his own body.

'I made the right call, sleeping in the bathtub….'

Seol held his breath while opening the taps. The warm water rushed out and managed to dislodge the hardened excrement, slowly washing them away.

Seol decided that he might as well take a bath too. He had a feeling that, once he leaves the Neutral Zone, taking a warm bath like this would be a luxury he might not be able to afford in a long, long while. Also, he wanted to get rid of all the dirty things off him as soon as possible, too.

He proceeded to pour the bathing supplements that aided with one's natural recovery and dipped his body down in the warm water. He stayed there for over 30 minutes and scrubbed his whole body clean twice. Only then did he feel fully refreshed.

Seol felt a lot more satisfied after seeing his much-cleaner reflection in the mirror. Before long, though, he fell into quiet contemplation. Now that he got rid of all the disgusting things off of him, it was time to confirm the effects of Psychi's Tears.

'Mm…'

He realized that the flow of his mana had become even smoother. Even though he never felt the flow was slow to begin with, it was still akin to someone who used 3G finally moving to LTE and discovering a brand new world out there or some such.

Seol soon figured out the reason from checking out his Circuit. Not only was his previously-broken Circuit fixed, but the overall length of his Circuit had become far greater as well. Also, the impurities blocking the pathway had been cleared away, which effectively meant that the overall width of the Circuit had increased several folds, too.

More importantly, since the amount that could flow through the Circuit increased, the vigor at which it flowed also strengthened in turn.

If he were to compare his previous flow of mana to a cute little stream of water trickling out from a valley, now it was like a majestic river that snaked and raged around quite freely.

And indeed, he found it even easier to control his mana. Goosebumps broke out from his skin after he realized how refreshing it felt as the energy spread around and enter even the tiniest acupuncture points all over his body.

From hereon, Seol would be able to output far more mana than what his current stats alluded to.

[Your Status Window]

[4. Abilities]

3. Other abilities (1)
—Reinforced Circuit (Superior)

'I wonder if this is what the famous Bone Marrow Cleansing feels like.’

Seol grinned after he checked his Status Window.

A strange set of coincidences led him to this point in time. If his Job had been a Sorcerer, he'd probably think that this was one of the greatest lucky chances he encountered in his life, something he'd most likely never encounter again.

However, Seol could only think about the recovery of his old pathway and remained oblivious of the actual truth.

*

As soon as morning arrived, Seol ended up facing a storm of chaos. Odelette Delphine went around advertising the fact that he managed to successfully clear the Impossible mission, that was why. Thanks to her, he had to repeat the same line over and over again as he made his way down to the first floor.

“What is the meaning of this chaos?”

If it weren't for Cinzia making her timely entrance along with all the maids on the first-floor plaza, Seol would've spent the rest of his day explaining things.

But after receiving an explanation on what happened, even she got stunned. She took a quick look at the completely-empty noticeboard and a wry smile broke out on her lips.

“Looks like I owe Agnes an apology.”

Overhearing that, the corners of Agnes's lips curled up a little.

A little bit of time later, a simple exit procedure commenced.

Cinzia offered a short praise for everyone, complimenting them for all their hard work for the last three months. Afterwards, the survivors paid 1000 SP and returned their smartphones.

After all that was said and done, the first floor was filled with the noises of heavy steel doors being dragged open.

“Go through there and the Paradise you've all been itching to enter will be waiting for you.”

Cinzia spoke as she pointed towards the dark corridor.

“There won't be anyone guiding you out since we'll have to remain behind and deactivate the Neutral Zone. But I’m sure you lot are more than capable of walking through a corridor.”

Perhaps realizing that she was making a joke, some survivors began chuckling in response.

“Well, nothing will happen anyways. We even prepared an open banquet area for you outside and all. All you have to do is to wait for those coming to fetch you. After that, negotiate, sign a contract, whatever…. In any case, you'll find simple meals ready for you on the tables placed outside. Quietly enjoy your breakfast and wait there.”

Cinzia then pulled out a packet of cigarettes as if she was done with her speech, before opening her mouth again.

“Oh, and a request, if I may…. at least for today, don't fight.”

She momentarily stopped talking in order to pull a cigarette out with her teeth, then continued on with a surprisingly serious tone of voice.

“I'm advising you to let the events of the Neutral Zone be bygones. Today's a day to celebrate, isn't that right?”

She lit the cigarette up, inhaled deeply, and a little while later, let the white smoke ease out from her nostrils and open lips.

“Especially you, the Invited…. I know very well how powerful your backers are. Being able to flaunt one's right to mobilize that many Marks, I'm sure they possess quite a bit of influence here.”

“….”

“But it would be better for you to abandon petty grudges you have before leaving this place. Remember that.”

There was a sound of someone snorting derisively coming from the crowd.

“Even though I made such a nice little request, you'd inevitably see some bloodshed on the first day…. Oh, well. The moment you step foot outside this place, you're no longer my concern, so do what you will.”

Cinzia clicked her tongue and continued on while brushing her bangs upwards.

“With that, I declare the official closure of the Neutral Zone.”

For the first time ever, she began smiling softly.

“It was a real chore to look after you lot. Let's not meet ever again.”

She then spun around and left.

'Is that the end?'

Seol stared at the departing back of Cinzia, before surveying his surroundings. Others around him were showing similar reactions.

“Why are you still here?”

It was then, that woman's sharp voice dug into their ear canals one more time.

“Why aren't you leaving already? Do we have to hold your hands, too?”

Only then did the survivors began moving one by one. They shuffled towards the direction Cinzia pointed towards.

'So, it's…. really ending.'

Seol stared at one of the maids following Cinzia. Maybe she sensed his gaze, Agnes turned to gaze back at him. He dazedly waved his hand at her, and she replied him with the usual – the dignified, silent bow.

“Let's get going~! Off we go!”

Yi Seol-Ah excitedly grabbed Seol's arm and tugged at him.

'Really, this is it?'

Even while being dragged away, Seol kept on glancing behind him. He didn't want to miss a thing.

Desperately, he took in the sights of the Neutral Zone.

'I did run on the track like crazy, didn't I?'

He saw the mission noticeboard, now empty.

He also saw the lounge tables where he sat together with his teammates to have a chat, or to discuss strategy for their next mission.

'I practiced the Strike, Thrust, and Cut like crazy, too.'

….The gym where he trained like there was no tomorrow under Agnes's guidance; the stores he'd been windowshopping, wondering if there was anything eye-catching; the restaurant that he always ate in; and even his sleeping quarters that had been filled with the laughter and voices of the Yi siblings staying with him….

The memories of the past three months rapidly entered and left his brain.

The place where he desired for a change – the place where he was finally able to change.

The place that would forever remain in his memories, got further and further away from him until it became small enough to be hidden from his view with just a single fist. And soon, the darkness of the corridor swallowed the lights from the plaza and nothing could be seen anymore.

“Ah.”

Seol was about to reach out, only to realize belatedly that Yi Seol-Ah was still holding onto his arm.

“….Orabeo-nim?”

Yi Seol-Ah tilted her head. Most of the survivors had left the corridor already, yet the youth was still hesitating to leave.

“Uhm…. Yeah, let's go.”

Seol turned around to leave, yet he remained conflicted.

'But, why?'

He had been waiting for the end of the Neutral Zone for so long, yet….

'Why….?'

Only a few steps more, and he'd be entering Paradise, yet….

'….Why am I not happy?'

Only then, Seol understood why: he was unhappy about the fact that he had to leave the Neutral Zone.

Before he could do something about this realization, the darkness was suddenly pulled back from his surroundings. The brilliant sunlight stung his eyes, and a warm, humid breeze brushed past his skin.

Reflexively, Seol narrowed his eyes and slowly raised his hand.

The first thing he saw was the sky dyed in soft reddish hue under the blazing sun. And below that, a vast expanse of desolate plain cloaked in the muddy brown hue of nothingness. The plain stretched so far and wide, Seol momentarily thought that he could even see the end of the world where the heaven and the earth met.

'So, this is….'

…Paradise.

Indeed, he was now standing on Lost Paradise, where there was nothing as far as the eyes could see.

“I thought as much – it was a tower.”

Yi Sungjin's jaw didn't want to close as he looked upwards behind him.

A lone white tower stood on this desolate landscape. Its massive size made one shrink back from its majesty, yet one also couldn't help but think it was also rather beautiful as well.

“Why don't we have breakfast, now that we took a look around?”

Hyun Sangmin suddenly intruded on the trio as Seol dazedly stared at his new environment.

Just as Cinzia said, there were several wooden tables set up outside the tower with food placed on top.

“Can you see the person coming to fetch you?”

Seol slowly swept his gaze over to the crowd. It was quite noisy there as if people coming to fetch the survivors were already mixed up with them.

Seol slowly shook his head while looking at some people bumping their shoulders while crying out, “Amigo!” He couldn't see Kim Hannah anywhere.

“I don't think she's here yet.”

“Me too. Well, let's go over there. Everyone's gathered over that side.”

At the table Hyun Sangmin directed the youth to, Shin Sang-Ah and Yun Seora were already waiting for them.

“Anyways. For a place called Paradise, it's nothing much to look at, right?”

“Do you know where we are? Besides the tower, there's absolutely nothing around here.”

As the meal commenced, people began chatting amongst themselves. Hyun Sangmin complained that the guy who invited him was running late, while Shin Sang-Ah revealed her worries of being a Contracted, but then, said she was reasonably confident of her chances since she was now a Priest.

Seol didn't eat anything, only fidgeting the wooden cup containing some sort of a drink.

Only Yun Seora quietly studied Seol's bitter mood for a while before gently poking him with her finger.

“?”

Seol flinched and turned to look, and Yun Seora cautiously pointed behind him. Hao Win, sitting alongside his teammates, was waving at him.

Seol asked for others' permission and left the table to head over there.

“Your guy hasn't arrived yet?”

“Yes, she's not here yet. What about you, Hao Win?”

“I told them to take their time. I thought I might get a bit emotional today for some reason.”

Seol immediately identified with that sentiment and nodded his head.

“In any case, can you do something about this little lady over here with her head turned all the way around? She's been like this for a while.”

The little lady Hao Win referred to was naturally Odelette Delphine. Her arms remained locked across her chest while she didn't even spare Seol a glance. Both her cheeks were puffed up unhappily, too. Anyone could easily tell that she was royally pissed off from this sight.

“Miss Delphine?”

“Hmpf.”

“Are you still angry?”

“HMPH!”

Odelette Delphine continued to snort unhappily, leading Tong Chai to roar out in laughter.

“Honestly, I can't still believe it. You actually cleared the Impossible mission with nothing more than a single talisman.”

“I wasn't entirely sure about it. You could say that I had no plan, actually….”

Seol subconsciously rubbed his left cheek and shuddered. That thing, whatever it was, brushing past his cheek was probably meant to scare him.

However, what if the enemy aimed for his vital spots from the get-go?

He wouldn't even be able to stand in this place right now.

No matter how many times he replayed that scene in his head, he knew that he was this close to death back then.

“I nearly died…. And I can't even remember what the hell I was thinking of back then, when challenging that mission.”

“So he says, Delphine. How about you stop being angry now?”

“Even then!”

Odelette Delphine spun around on her seat and stared at Seol and slammed the table with her hands.

“You could've said something!”

“But, if you died, then I….”

“Even then~~!!”

She jumped up from her seat, and….

“I also wanted to do that Impossible mission, too~!!”

She then ran up to Seol and grabbed hold of his arms before clinging onto him.

“I also really, really wanted to get my hands on the VIP store coupon~~~!!”

“….”

“You're so cheap, doing it all alone~. My VIP coupon~~!”

“…Ahahaha…”

Laughter burst out from Seol's mouth as he watched her cute whining. She reminded him of a little sister whimpering and complaining bitterly, and he just couldn't help himself.

“You're such a dummy, Seooooolllll….”

She looked so adorable while complaining like that, so Seol lightly pinched her cheeks and pulled. She stared at him with unhappy eyes, and a sound of leaking air came out from her mouth.

“Buoooo…. Uh?”

And then, as if she discovered something, her eyes opened even wider, and she jumped up and down. She waved around her hands and called out.

“Here!! I'm over here!!”

She ran away in airy steps. Seol thought that the person who invited her must've arrived. With a content smile on his lips, Hao Win retracted his gaze from Odelette Delphine and chuckled loudly.

“She's so full of energy, isn't she?”

“She sure is.”

“And you finally smiled.”

“Pardon?”

Seol quickly touched his face. Did he just smile?

“Well, you see, I thought that your face had this really depressing look for a while now~.”

“…Me?”

Now that he thought about it, the depression he felt after leaving the Neutral Zone seemed to have elevated just a tad. Just like how Hao Win implied – through Odelette Delphine's boundless energy and enthusiasm, he was now feeling just a bit better.

“Well, well, well. I won't make you stay for long, so let's just share a drink or two.”

“I will. Thank you.”

Seol nodded his head.

Although he got to make many good memories in the Zone, he couldn't stay there for the rest of his life, either. If there was a beginning, then naturally there would be an end, as well. And now, it was time for a new adventure to begin.

His mind felt much lighter when he thought like this.

“Very good. Now, everyone, cheers~.”

Although Odelette Delphine had left, Leorda Salvatore, Tong Chai, and Hao Win was still here.

And, just as four cups were about to clang together….

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