The next morning, Seol Jihu groaned as soon as he woke up.
A headache accompanied by strong dizziness made his head ring.
After tossing and turning for a while, Seol Jihu staggered up from his bed and walked out.
The welcoming party from hell that made even a Unique Ranker run away had continued throughout the night. Seol Jihu wanted to wash up to get rid of its lingering effects.
After arriving at the first-floor lobby, Seol Jihu became speechless.
“Hey, hey, my cup is empty.”
The sun had come up, but the welcoming party was still going on.
To be more precise, a few members were still alive. The rest were sprawled on the floor, snoring loudly.
Bits and pieces of food were littered everywhere, and the entire place reeked of alcohol. It was easy to tell that all hell broke loose here.
‘Are their livers made of titanium alloy?’
Seol Jihu stared in astonishment as Chohong drank straight from the bottle and Hugo laughed and chatted with Audrey Basler.
Feeling like he would be forced into joining them if he was spotted, he hid his presence as much as possible and headed to the underground hot springs.
Once he soaked himself in hot water, his hangover went away to a degree.
Seol Jihu enjoyed his bath for about two hours before happily coming back up to the lobby.
Then, he became speechless again.
It was a mess when he came down in the morning, but now, the lobby was cleaned spotless. Not even the last group of survivors could be found.
Seol Jihu scanned the lobby, wondering what happened when he saw Phi Sora walking down the stairs while dusting off her hands.
“Whew, it’s finally clean. Those idiots, do they need to drink until they collapse to be satisfied?”
She grumbled while wiping off beads of sweat from her forehead. Then, after seeing Seol Jihu, she stopped.
“Did you clean the whole place alone?”
Seol Jihu asked first.
Phi Sora nodded her head with an icy expression.
“Don’t misunderstand. I only did it because I hate seeing a mess.”
“It must have been hard.”
“No, it wasn’t too bad thanks to someone taking all the empty bottles. Did they take it to a recycling center for pocket change? How can there not be a single bottle left?”
Seol Jihu laughed softly. If he hadn’t gone to the cafeteria last night, he would have thought Phi Sora was no different than usual.
She was indeed a strong person.
“Miss Phi Sora, can we talk for a bit?”
“About this and that. Let’s go for a walk.”
As Seol Jihu pointed to the door, Phi Sora narrowed her eyes and hesitated.
“I want to wash up too… I worked up a sweat.”
“It won’t take long.”
Phi Sora replied meekly as if she had no other choice.
Soon, the duo slowly strolled through the garden.
Phi Sora followed behind Seol Jihu at some distance. Her eyes were still cast downward, only staring at the ground.
Seol Jihu pondered how to start the conversation and then calmly began.
“Can you section out an hour every day starting today or tomorrow?”
“An hour every day? Why?”
Phi Sora asked unenthusiastically.
“I beat you, so you’re mine now. Is that what this is?”
Seol Jihu closed his eyes. He was just about to say, ‘It’s not about the spar.’ But he got rid of this thought.
Just what did she think of him to worry about something so absurd?
“Of course not.”
“…Then what is it.”
Seol Jihu took a brief pause before carefully continuing.
“You must have felt it too. Like you were being sucked in during the battle. Or how you struck with full force, but I was unaffected. You might have even felt that I got stronger.”
Phi Sora didn’t reply.
Taking her silence for a yes, Seol Jihu cut to the chase in her consideration.
“Don’t you want to learn it?”
“I’ll teach it to you. Not just that, but other techniques too.”
Phi Sora’s feet stopped.
“But, there’s a condition.”
Seol Jihu also stopped with her and then turned back. After seeing Phi Sora glaring at him, he closed his mouth. He could hear her breathing getting rougher.
“Are you pitying me?”
Her voice was like a sharp knife.
“No. Could you hear me out first?”
Phi Sora’s cheeks reddened to the color of her hair. She clenched her teeth and then crossed her arms.
“The reason I said I would teach you… is simple. It’s to prepare for our future fight against the Parasites.”
Phi Sora furrowed her brows.
“The Parasites suffered consecutive defeats. Even a mouse will bite a cat when it’s cornered. There’s no telling what a cornered tiger would do…”
Seol Jihu trailed off, but Phi Sora could guess what would have come next.
For whatever reason, the Parasites had left humanity alone all this time.
It wasn’t as if there were no battles between them, but it was negligible compared to the battles they fought with the Federation.
However, there was a huge chance that this would no longer be the case.
The Parasites would throw their previous stance away and properly attack humanity from various angles.
Although the Federation would feel more at ease without so much pressure, humanity being in greater danger was an undeniable truth.
“The Army Commanders aren’t our only concern either. We have to worry about the Parasite Queen. She personally appeared in the Tigol Fortress War, and there is a good chance that she will take matters into her own hands from now on.”
Phi Sora nodded her head unknowingly.
How could she forget the Parasite Queen who caused the heaven and earth to flip with her descent?
Close to a year had passed since then, and the feeling of having her body and soul turn upside down was still enough to send shivers down her spine.
“It’s not like learning this technique will guarantee a victory… but we still have to try what we can.”
Phi Sora’s scowling expression subsided, perhaps because she subconsciously agreed with him.
She blinked her eyes and pouted.
“…What’s the condition?”
“Nothing too hard. I want you to teach the technique that I’m going to show you to the rest of the members.”
Phi Sora’s eyes widened at the unexpected condition.
“I can teach them myself… but I think I will get busy again soon. Sorry for bothering you with this.”
No, that wasn’t the case. Of course, teaching someone was exhausting, but it was nothing compared to the price of learning a new technique.
In reality, it was not easy to hand down a Spatial Technique that was developed using one’s attainment in an independent realm. For someone to do this, they would have to bear a significant loss.
However, Seol Jihu wasn’t offering to teach only her, but also the rest of Valhalla’s members, all for the inevitable war against the Parasites.
Only now did Phi Sora feel his sincerity.
Perhaps feeling embarrassed about jumping to conclusions, Phi Sora lowered her gaze and murmured.
“It’s not a problem for me to do that… but are you sure?”
“If you want, we can start right now. It’ll be a good morning workout. What do you think?”
“Really? Okay, you said it. No takebacks.”
Phi Sora instantly regained her energy.
She had no reason to refuse Seol Jihu’s offer when it would only help her grow stronger.
“I’ll do it!”
Phi Sora shouted with her eyes twinkling in excitement.
After teaching Phi Sora in the morning, Seol Jihu came back to his office at noon and heaved a sigh.
As expected of an Earthling who stepped into an independent realm, Phi Sora was a quick-learner.
While she wasn’t able to learn the technique in just two hours, she seemed to have understood the principle.
At this rate, it shouldn’t take her long to learn up to Floral Substitution. After teaching her today, Seol Jihu became confident that she would have no problem until Grand Cosmic Shift.
‘So this is what someone with a Brilliant aptitude is like.’
Seol Jihu had chosen Phi Sora after taking her talent, current strength, and position within the organization into consideration. But now that he compared himself to her, he couldn’t help but feel a little bitter.
Seol Jihu smacked his lips before opening his status window. He wanted to check out the three skills he acquired as a reward from the trials.
The first was Righteous Heart.
Its rank increased to EX, letting it surpass the effects of a Mana Cultivation and display the effects of a Mana Technique. However, this didn’t mean that it became a Mana Technique right away.
Black Seol Jihu had advised him to try evolving his Mana Cultivation to Mana Technique, but Mana Technique, which was the final stage of mana cultivation method, was not something that was so easy to grasp.
Even Agnes had given up on trying to understand the complexities of Mana Techniques and acquired one using contribution points.
In any case, Seol Jihu had been racking his brain on how to evolve Righteous Heart to a Mana Technique, and thanks to this reward, the burden had been lifted off his shoulders.
‘I can feel the difference.’
Seol Jihu became stronger after receiving the reward at the temple. He couldn’t even imagine how powerful his skills would be if he used mana that came from utilizing a Mana Technique.
The second reward was Indomitable Will. This was a newly created Special-rank skill.
Translating its meaning directly, it would mean ‘a will that does not yield even in death’. However, after reading its effect in Paradise’s game-system terms, a gasp escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth.
Simply put, it was a skill that maintained his combat power at its peak state until death.
As a human, it was only natural for his combat power to decrease in a prolonged battle, especially if he was injured as well.
However, Indomitable Will allowed him to ignore fatigue and injuries that would build up during battle.
Of course, it wouldn’t protect him against exhaustion of mana or decrease in combat prowess caused by severed limbs, but its effect was still strong enough to be called broken even with such a state.
The third reward was Clear Mirror, Still Water. It was an aptitude that allowed him to calm his mind to the level of a tranquil lake at a moment’s notice.
To be honest, he wasn’t all that happy about this reward.
It was because he felt his emotions were being controlled forcefully.
However, he couldn’t deny that it would come in handy in battle. Rather than being flustered in a moment of danger, it was much better to think clearly and take appropriate actions.
‘I got stronger…’
Seol Jihu closed his status window and fell into thought. The conclusion he came to regarding his strength didn’t change no matter how he thought about it.
‘I need someone who can be my match.’
One of the biggest reasons Seol Jihu left the Path of the Soul was because he couldn’t find any more flaws that he could fix.
But this judgment strictly came from his own thoughts. Just because he couldn’t find flaws, it didn’t mean he didn’t have any.
That was why he wanted a proper sparring partner.
If he couldn’t figure out his flaws by examining himself, he figured he might be able to during battle or after a defeat.
‘It doesn’t have to be the Parasites…’
Perhaps there would be an Earthling or someone from the Federation that would fit the bill. Not just someone who could touch his toes, but someone who could be his direct match.
Seol Jihu thought carefully before turning to the door.
Clack, clack, clack. The sound of high-heels was ringing in the hallway.
Tok, tok. As expected, a knock was heard after a moment, and the door opened. Kim Hannah walked in, wearing a neat, grey suit.
“I brought the reports you requested yesterday. It took some time due to the sheer volume.”
“Not because of the welcoming party?”
“I’d love to make that excuse, but I left the party when things were starting to get out of hand.”
Kim Hannah smiled as she took out the clipboard that she was carrying under her armpit.
“It’s been so long that I feel strange doing this. Anyway, what would you like to hear first?”
“You can start with whatever. Ah, I already heard about Seol-Ah and Sungjin, so you can leave that part out.”
“Whatever I want…”
Kim Hannah flipped through the pages of the document lodged in the clipboard.
She glanced at Seol Jihu before starting.
“It’s about Miss Seo Yuhui.”
“Her first return was about two months before Representative’s.”
“She came back to Paradise, but she didn’t continue to stay. She couldn’t even come to Valhalla because of the state her body was in. I’m sure you know the reason.”
“To be more precise, Miss Seo Yuhui stayed for a day or two inside the temple’s recovery room whenever she came back and then would return to Earth when the offerings we prepared ran out. We would call her back through Miss Baek Haeju whenever we obtained more offerings.”
“Ah, those two know each other on Earth?”
“Yes. So she has been coming back once every two weeks for a total of four times. Unfortunately, she hasn’t shown any signs of recovery. In fact, her condition is getting worse each time.”
Seol Jihu calmly nodded his head.
Kim Hannah carefully studied Seol Jihu’s reaction. She had heard how strongly he reacted during the night raid in Haramark, rushing to the temple as soon as he heard about the incident.
But this time, he wasn’t showing any sign of being worried. If anything, he seemed calm to the point of being cold.
“In any case, I took care of everything you requested me to do…”
Kim Hannah had performed her duties excellently.
During the eight months that Seol Jihu was gone, she reached out to every auction house in the seven cities and bought up all the offerings. She then sent them to the temple where Seo Yuhui would return to.
It was easy to guess what the offerings were for.
Seo Yuhui had lost most of her power earlier from overexerting herself in the Valley War. Then, despite barely recovering to a decent state, she had overexerted herself again in the Spirit Realm and Tigol Fortress.
Because she borrowed holy power from future use, she had to pay the amount back through offerings. The problem was that this was like pouring water into a sieve. However, it was also a reasonable price.
Most people would think this after seeing it at face value.
But as an insider, Kim Hannah thought differently.
Looking back, Seol Jihu had always been at the center of everything that happened inside Paradise. But rather than consciously putting himself in these situations, his hands were usually forced from the Parasites’ moves.
It was different this time.
Seo Yuhui was hiding something, and Seol Jihu’s reaction was strange as well.
Her spidey, no, foxy senses were tingling. Something about this matter felt too strange to be taken at face value.
There had to be a scheme. A scheme that only Seo Yuhui and Seol Jihu knew about.
One was a legend of Paradise, and the other was on the path of becoming one.
With such people scheming together, Kim Hannah couldn’t help but wonder what huge incident and change would descend upon Paradise.
Suddenly, Seol Jihu’s voice was heard.
Kim Hannah’s silent thoughts had gone on for longer than she expected.
Doing a double-take inwardly, Kim Hannah cleared her throat.
“There are a few suspicious points I want to discuss…”
She carefully brought up the matter while continuing to observe Seol Jihu and then flinched abruptly.
A piercing gaze was being sent from a pair of clear pupils that were reflecting her appearance like a mirror.
She unknowingly swallowed hard.
That was what Seol Jihu’s eyes were saying.
1. I asked for clarification from the author. Special-rank is between Pinnacle and EX. The order goes Lowest -> Low -> Intermediate -> High -> Pinnacle -> Special -> EX -> Grade Unknown (abilities that cannot be ranked, e.g. Future Vision)