After Gula’s shout, several messages appeared at once.
[As a reward for passing the first trial, the rank of Righteous Heart has been changed to EX, and its effect has been expanded from Mana Cultivation to Mana Technique.]
[As a reward for passing the second trial, you have gained the ability ‘Indomitable Will (Special)’.]
[As a reward for passing the third trial, you have gained the aptitude ‘Clear Mirror, Still Water’.]
[You have gained the Authority ‘Godslaying (Grade Unknown)’.]
Seol Jihu’s eyes remained fixed on the last message.
As much as he was intrigued by the first three messages, he knew that the fourth one was the most important.
Black Seol Jihu had stressed several times the importance of the Authority ‘Godslaying’.
[I… wasn’t chosen.]
The Unchosen One.
It was one of Black Seol Jihu’s many nicknames.
Although his martial prowess was top-notch, none of the gods had appointed him to be their Executor or had awarded him with a divine vestige.
[I understand the Seven Gods’ choice. I was half crazy at the time and didn’t really care about Paradise.]
[I did regret it later on. If I had the Authority of Godslaying or at least the Spear of Purity….]
Black Seol Jihu smiled bitterly, saying he had no choice but to rely on techniques based on Reinforced Sword Qi, which consumed a lot of mental energy when confronted with the Army Commanders.
Seol Jihu tightened his grip on the Spear of Purity.
Mortals couldn’t defeat immortals.
Because immortals, by definition, were undying.
However, Seol Jihu had just become an exception to that absolute rule.
Godslaying was an Authority that only gods could bestow, giving its holder the power to kill a god, or, more precisely, the power to destroy a god’s divinity.
This meant that Seol Jihu now had the means to kill not only the Army Commanders but also the Parasite Queen.
Of course, it didn’t guarantee his victory. Godslaying was only a right, and it was entirely up to Seol Jihu to exercise that right to produce results.
‘Other than Godslaying….’
Seol Jihu checked the remaining three messages one by one.
His eyes slowly became cloudy as they moved across the message window.
He seemed lost in thought.
[I can’t believe you.]
Gula smiled softly.
[You’re already thinking about training?]
‘Ah, I’m just thinking about how to apply these new skills.’
His choice of words had changed.
Previously he would have said ‘use’ instead of ‘apply’.
‘Use’ referred to the act of utilizing something for the purpose it was made for, whereas ‘apply’ meant molding it to fit one’s agenda.
The difference was subtle but clear.
This proved that his thinking abilities had grown enough to take into account not only the skill itself but also its connection to his current self.
[Would you like to enter the Path of the Soul again?]
Realizing what Gula was trying to say, Seol Jihu shook his head with a smile.
He felt tempted, but 8 months was not a short time.
‘I don’t think I should. Now, I’d like to acquire other skills.’
This meant that he wanted to acquire skills that he hadn’t yet learned, the skills that were opened when he reached levels 5, 6, and 7.
From level 1, Seol Jihu relied solely on training to master different techniques, so he was reluctant to use contribution points to easily acquire new skills.
However, talking to Black Seol Jihu had changed his mind.
[The hell? A skill that can alter the law of causality? Why the hell haven’t you learned it yet?]
[I understand why you’re worried, but you have a status window. What’s your goal? Achieving spiritual enlightenment? Are you trying to become a celestial being through thousands of years of training? Is that what you want?]
[Let’s make an impossible assumption. Suppose there’s a magical spear that automatically kills the Parasite Queen if you thrust it once in the air. It’s not like you won’t use it, right?]
[This game-like setting that the Seven Gods have bestowed to Earthlings is also a part of your power. Physical abilities, mental abilities, and setting. Your goal should be to achieve harmony among the three. Remember the Trinity Harmony that you love so much?]
[Learn it as soon as you get out of here.]
Seol Jihu recalled Agnes had made similar remarks in the past, and the slightest doubt he had was now gone.
Of course, just because he was acquiring new skills using contribution points didn’t mean that the seven years of brutal training were meaningless.
[You have gained a new Class Ability: ‘Nemesis: Misfortune-delivering Curse Spear (Lowest)’.]
[You have gained a new Class Ability: ‘Nemesis: Punishing Vengeance Spear (Lowest)’.]
[You have gained a new Class Ability: ‘Berserk (Lowest)’.]
The parade of messages was followed by another procession of messages informing him that ‘Grand Cosmic Shift’ responded to the Punishing Vengeance Spear and that the ‘Future-Gauging Nine Eyes’ and the aptitudes ‘Clear Mirror, Still Water’ and ‘Heart and Soul as One’ responded to Berserk.
As a result, the ranks of the two newly acquired skills, except for the Cursed Spear, rose quickly.
‘So even aptitudes affect skills.’
He was a little confused at first, but then he remembered what a peculiar awakening skill Berserk was.
Seol Jihu smiled softly.
He felt as if all his past efforts had been repaid.
[Where are you going?]
Gula’s voice stopped him, as he was about to take his leave.
[I have one more thing to give you.]
[Yes. Surely you’re aware that you are now a Unique Ranker.]
[You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this day.]
Seol Jihu tilted his head to the side, curious, before suddenly pausing.
He realized what Gula was about to do.
[That and the trial are separate.]
Gula responded calmly.
[More precisely, the trial is something that we give to a child who rejects us, but you replaced it with the Divine Stigmata.]
[If Eun Yuri served me, I would have hesitated because of her future potential. But of all of my children, you have made the greatest contribution. Seeing you go through the trials only convinced me of my own decision. Now that you have gained the Authority of Godslaying, I see no reason for further delay.]
Gula delivered her thoughts in a long but articulate monologue.
Thanks to the goddess’ show of determination, it was really starting to sink in that the moment he’d been waiting for was finally here.
‘…Are you sure?’
[Of course, I am.]
Gula then asked in a slightly prim tone.
[Could it be that you don’t want to serve me?]
Seol Jihu gave a small smile at the seemingly restless goddess.
‘Of course, not. It’s an honor.’
Although the pretext was that it was a reward for his passing the trial, it was true that Gula gave him the power to kill her.
His Authority was proof that the goddess trusted him, which in turn made him more trustful of the goddess.
[Come closer, my child.]
A dignified voice echoed throughout the temple.
Seol Jihu slowly approached the stone statue and bowed his head before it.
[From this day forward….]
Gula gently placed her hand on Seol Jihu’s head.
[In the name of goddess Gula, I hereby bestow Seol Jihu the right to receive the trial of ‘Apostle of Gula’.]
[Upon your successful completion of the trial, you shall be known as my Executor, the bearer of my name!]
Seol Jihu’s mirror-like eyes gleamed brightly.
After leaving Gula’s temple, Seol Jihu opened his status window for the first time in years.
[Your Status Window]
[1. General Information]
Class: LV 7. Star Seeker
—Self-command (Suppresses emotions, greed, and impulses with the rational will)
—Competitive (A desire to win)
—Superhuman (Unbelievably exceptional in enduring pain and hardship when compared to an average human being)
—Effort (Endeavors with both body and mind to achieve a goal)
—Clear Mirror, Still Water (Possesses a calm, clean mind resembling a shining mirror and still water.)
—Heart and Soul as One (Unfaltering and unwavering when concentrating on one thing)
—Average (Normal in every way; possesses no particular talent)
[3. Physical Level]
Strength: High (Low)
Endurance: Intermediate (High)
Agility: High (Low)
Stamina: High (Low)
Mana: High (High)
Luck: Intermediate (Intermediate)
Remaining Ability Points: 19
1. Authorities (1)
— Godslaying (Grade Unknown)
2. Innate Abilities (1)
—Future-Gauging Nine Eyes (Grade Unknown)
3. Class Abilities (10)
—Awakening Skill: Berserk (High)
—Basic Spear Techniques: Thrust (Pinnacle), Strike (Pinnacle), Cut (Pinnacle)
—Mana Spear - Multiple (Pinnacle)
—Secret Art: Sword Qi Wave (Pinnacle)
—Secret Art: Mutilation (Pinnacle)
—Ethereal Shift (Pinnacle)
—Righteous Heart (EX)
—Nemesis: Misfortune-delivering Curse Spear (Lowest)
—Nemesis: Punishing Vengeance Spear (High)
—Perfect Harmony (Pinnacle)
4. Miscellaneous Abilities (6)
—Reinforced Circuit (Special)
—Grand Cosmic Shift (Pinnacle)
—Indomitable Will (Special)
—Hell Severing (Intermediate)
—Thousand Thunder (Intermediate)
‘So many things changed.’
That was all he could think of.
He didn’t feel particularly proud of his achievements.
Rather, because he had gained many new abilities, he’d have to train harder….
Seol Jihu grabbed his head and shook it.
Ever since Black Seol Jihu and Baek Haeju left, Seol Jihu had been in a constant state of Heart and Soul as One.
He had spent every waking moment thinking about how to fix his flaws and improving his techniques.
It had developed into a habit. It wasn’t a bad habit, but he needed to learn to turn it off at his will.
‘What should I do first?’
It was then that his stomach let out a loud grumble.
Hunger came rushing at him like a tsunami. He hadn’t realized until now that the level-up process had taken up all his energy.
He could probably hold out a little longer if he had to, but he didn’t want to.
Seol Jihu paused while walking down the stairs, rubbing his belly.
He remembered the promise he had made just before he first passed the third trial.
He had momentarily forgotten about it because it happened years ago.
Seol Jihu immediately spun around and went back inside the temple.
The first thing Seol Jihu did was to return to Earth.
251 Paradise days were identical to 84 Earth days. Nearly three months had passed.
“Yes, Mother. It’s me. Yes, yes. I came home today. Of course, I’m doing well.”
As soon as he got home, Seol Jihu called his mother.
“Right now? No, it’s fine. Your timing is great. I was actually starving. Okay. I’ll see you and Hyung there.”
His mother told him she wanted to see him, so they made an appointment for dinner.
Later that day Seol Jihu met his mother and brother at the restaurant they had agreed upon. They ordered food and picked at it, talking and listening.
A strange sensation swept through Seol Jihu.
It was three months for his mother and brother, but seven years for him.
Still, he wasn’t allowed to show it. He couldn’t let them know.
“Are you okay?”
Seol Jihu looked up from his fourth bowl of cold noodles.
His mother seemed rather worried.
“Hmm? Why do you ask?”
Seol Jihu asked, swallowing another bite of his noodles.
“Well, it’s just that….”
His mother continued carefully, pausing before replying.
“It’s like you aren’t my son.”
“Yes. I feel like I’m watching Wooseok.”
Seol Wooseok flinched at his name as he moved a big chunk of his noodles to Seol Jihu’s plate.
“But Hyung is also your son.”
“You know what I mean. You seem different somehow.”
His mother tilted her head to the side, blatantly confused.
Seol Jihu glanced at his brother.
“Well, in my opinion….”
Seol Wooseok muttered, cutting the noodles with scissors.
“His aura feels different. It’s like he’s suddenly five years older.”
“Yes, that’s exactly it.”
His mother clapped in approval.
“Is it because of that confidential project you mentioned before? Is the company mistreating you?”
Seol Wooseok asked, and Seol Jihu licked his lips nervously.
He hadn’t expected them to notice, but the family was family after all.
“The company isn’t mistreating me. I just got off of a… very unique job. Anyway, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
With a broad smile, Seol Jihu lowered his face to the bowl again.
After dinner, the brothers headed for the restaurant’s smoking area with a cup of vending machine coffee in their hands.
“Is everything really all right?”
Seol Wooseok asked cautiously as he watched his brother sip hot coffee from his cup.
“Everything’s fine. Why do you keep asking?”
“The noodles today weren’t nearly as good as before. Knowing you, I thought for sure you’d refuse to eat. But you didn’t even complain.”
…His doubt was well-grounded.
Seol Jihu was extremely, unbelievably particular about noodles. Seol Wooseok had every reason to suspect something was wrong.
“It wasn’t that bad. And you know how everything tastes good when you’re hungry.”
“No, you can’t fool me like that. I know you. You’re stricter than top chefs when it comes to noodles. Even when you’re starving to death, you won’t even look at the noodles that don’t meet your standards.”
His brother was right, and Seol Jihu was forced to come up with a different excuse.
“The food there was bad. You have no idea how much I missed outside food, Hyung.”
He answered calmly even though his heart was filled with guilt towards Baek Haeju.
“But you were gone for only a couple of months. How did you even survive the military?”
“A day felt almost like a month.”
“A month? So that’s about seven years in total…. Were you in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber or something?”
With a chuckle, Seol Wooseok pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket.
Out of habit Seol Jihu fumbled in his pocket before lowering his arm.
With a cigarette in his mouth, Seol Wooseok handed the pack of cigarettes to his brother.
Seol Jihu stared at it for a moment and then shook his head.
Seol Wooseok’s eyes widened.
“What’s wrong? I thought you didn’t care about brands?”
After a brief pause, Seol Jihu smiled.
“I quit smoking.”
After dinner with his mother and brother, Seol Jihu immediately returned to his apartment.
He gave them a plausible excuse for his absence so they wouldn’t worry about him for the time being.
As soon as he arrived in Paradise, Seol Jihu headed straight to Valhalla.
The dawn street was quiet and empty and so was the Valhalla building.
How much had Eun Yuri grown? Were Yi Seol-Ah and Yi Sungjin back? He knew that the Halep siblings and Seo Yuhui were back. How was everyone doing?
He had so many questions.
Quietly, Seol Jihu entered the building with a smile across his face.
The next morning.
At around 6 o’clock, Kim Hannah opened her eyes with a start, alarmed by the warmth next to her.
A familiar smell caressed the tip of her nose.
There was no doubt about it. It was him.
She had just awakened from a dream in which a puppy resembling Seol Jihu jumped into her arms. Could that have been a prophecy of some sort?
Kim Hannah asked with her eyes closed.
“When did you get back?”
She heard a sleepy, slightly hoarse voice.
Kim Hannah repeated his words to herself.
Perhaps she didn’t realize his arrival because reality was completely different from her dream.
In her dream, he was wagging his tail and rubbing his head against her face.
But now he was nothing but quiet. He didn’t cling to her as he did back at Scheherazade’s inn.
She could tell from the warm breath that touched her face— not the top of her head or her breasts but her face— that he was lying face to face with her.
Who did he think he was, crawling into her bed in the middle of the night like some husband back from a long trip?
Kim Hannah let out a stifled giggle.
“You should’ve woken me up, sweetheart.”
She slowly stretched out her arm and placed her hand on Seol Jihu’s back.
She moved it down slowly, impressed by the texture of his muscles under her palm.
It was like touching a beautiful sculpture born at the hands of an artist.
“That’s right. There’s something I want to ask you.”
Kim Hannah’s hands suddenly paused while stroking down his back.
“Am I the first person you came to see?”
“…This is my room.”
She received an unexpected reply.
It was indeed Seol Jihu’s room.
Exhausted from working until past midnight, she had stopped by the closest room to her office instead of her own.
As she recalled this, Kim Hannah opened her eyes slightly.
She then saw Seol Jihu, eyes closed, under the bright sunlight.
Kim Hannah leaned back and watched his face, her own head supported by the palm of her hand.
“Shouldn’t you be waking up? You are the representative.”
“Just a little longer.”
It was still early in the morning.
Kim Hannah watched him for a while before getting out of bed.
The clock was already pointing to 6:30 a.m.
Each day she went to bed at two and got up at six. For someone as meticulous as her, this was an unforeseeable delay.
“Sleep tight. I have so many things to discuss with you when you wake up…. Ah, this is for you.”
Kim Hannah threw what she had in her hand, and a layer of soft fabric covered Seol Jihu’s face.
It wasn’t long after she left that Seol Jihu opened his eyes.
His vision was filled with light gray.
Unsurprisingly, it was Kim Hannah’s coat.
“…I’ve already graduated from this.”
Seol Jihu put the coat aside and rolled across the bed and down to the floor.
The touch of the hard floor made him feel more comfortable, perhaps because he had gotten used to sleeping outside.
“This is bad.”
Seol Jihu smiled bitterly. Suddenly he felt two pairs of eyes on him.
Little Chick and the ghost were staring at him from the doorway. The sound of Kim Hannah leaving seemed to have woken them.
Seol Jihu let out a short exclamation.
Little Chick looked different than before.
The feathers covering his body had become longer and softer. They looked chewy.
On his forehead were two feathers, one scarlet and one indigo.
He seemed to have undergone another evolution.
“Long time no see.”
Seol Jihu greeted them.
There was no reply.
Both seemed perplexed.
Seol Jihu made clicking sounds with his tongue and reached out his hand to Little Chick.
Little Chick finally opened his beak.
Offended by Seol Jihu treating him as a pet, the chick tried to protest but instead asked reluctantly.
“By the way, what… are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“What even are you? What the hell happened?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Seol Jihu snorted.
Then he turned to Flone, who was fluttering in the air.
“Flone? Did you miss me?”
Flone hesitated before nodding reluctantly.
She didn’t sound so sure.
Seol Jihu spread out his arms.
He waited for a hug, but Flone was still hesitating.
Eventually, she hid behind Little Chick like a child that was shy of strangers.
He could still see her, of course, but it was clear that she felt awkward around Seol Jihu.
[I don’t know—]
[It’s weird. Your body and soul are the same… but your soul resonance is totally different from before.]
[Yeah. I can see it. And it’s not just your wavelength. Your soul is also faintly shining, like a person who’s training to become a saint…. Who are you, really?]
Seol Jihu’s eyes spun around in a circle.
And then he shrugged.
The warm sunlight shone down on the city.
Phi Sora was walking down the stairs with a belly full of breakfast.
“Don’t~♪ call me~♪ a cruel woman~♪”
She was singing merrily but suddenly stopped.
A familiar young man was climbing the stairs towards her.
The unexpected encounter wiped her head clean of thought.
The young man, too, noticed her coming down the stairs and waved his hand with a broad smile.
“Ah, Miss Phi Sora.”
A familiar greeting.
“Did you sleep well last night?”
A familiar voice.
Phi Sora clamped her mouth shut.
She blinked rapidly and furrowed her brow.
Nothing was out of the ordinary. Everything was familiar.
No, but something was off. She just couldn’t point out what.
“Did you have breakfast already?”
“…Huh? Oh, um, yeah. I just had one.”
She blurted out in confusion.
Seol Jihu nodded his head.
“That’s too bad. I was hoping to eat with you. Well then, I’ll see you later.”
Seol Jihu bowed his head once and climbed the rest of the stairs.
Phi Sora stood in place for a long time.
A look of confusion crossed her face. It was the kind of expression one would see when the long-awaited food finally arrived at the table, but its taste was neither good nor bad.
She exhaled, for she had unconsciously held her breath. ‘Whatever.’ She then shook her head and began descending the stairs again.
“Nya nya nya nya~ Nyo nyo nyo nyo~”
Suddenly, she felt better for no reason. At the end of the staircase, Phi Sora turned right, humming.
Just a little later.
Tak, tak, tak, tak!
Less than 30 seconds later, the sound of hurrying footsteps filled the hallway.
The woman running through the hallway, fluttering her crimson hair in the wind, was none other than Phi Sora.
She rushed up the stairs, taking multiple steps at a time.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter