Path of the Soul. It was an isolated space created for the purpose of testing Earthlings.
What caught Seol Jihu’s attention was its flow of time. Time flowed ten times faster in this world than in Paradise. Meaning, ten days in this space were equal to a single day in Paradise.
Seol Jihu used his last Divine Wish in using the Path of the Soul as a training ground. Given the vastness of the place and the number of people that would enter it, there were many things he had to leave out to make this possible.
First, the rewards one could get by passing the trials were all removed. Even if a participant were to reach the summit with their own strength, they would not be able to receive the Godslaying Authority.
There was also no need to eat or drink in the Path of the Soul, but this effect was removed as well. After all, food could be brought in from the outside.
Moreover, as the purpose of using the Path of the Soul was to train and not test, Seol Jihu’s intention wasn’t to drive everyone’s body to the limit. Jang Maldong always said eating and resting well was also a part of training after all.
Phi Sora revived at the starting point after dying again. She glared at the mountain with a look of frustration. Currently, there were six, seven others training there.
Chohong and Hugo were pushing boulders up the first slope, and Yi Sungjin was blocking the boulders that rolled down with his shield on the second slope.
Of course, like Teresa, some weren’t going up the slopes but were practicing the Grand Cosmic Shift, which Seol Jihu taught.
“I don’t get it.”
Phi Sora furrowed her brows as she looked at Yi Seol-Ah, who was running around with Aura on the second slope, having fun dodging the boulders that rolled down.
“I know there are differences between Warriors and Archers, but how….”
“The Path of the Soul doesn’t affect everyone the same way.”
Seol Jihu spoke calmly.
“The condition of the person taking the trial is what determines it. Everyone has their own desires and limits, after all.”
Phi Sora bit her lower lip at Seol Jihu’s reasonable explanation.
“Chohong and Hugo are still climbing the first slope for a similar reason. They must have higher Strength stat than Miss Phi Sora, but they’re still working on pushing their boulders up, right?”
“Well… that’s because we don’t need to go through all of the slopes….”
Phi Sora pouted, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t understand. Soon, she sighed and glanced at Seol Jihu.
“…Were you really in this place for seven years?”
“Yep. But you don’t need to do it like me. I’m sure you won’t take that long anyway.”
“Dear, thanks for believing in me, but can’t you give me more realistic advice or something? You know, like I did this, I did that.”
Seol Jihu made a troubled expression. After observing for the past few days, he already noticed Phi Sora’s weakness. She was a near-flawless all-arounder as the leader of a charge, but she lacked agility.
“Why aren’t you saying anything? Can’t you tell me a thing or two?”
It was then.
“Should I tell you?”
A snarky voice cut in. A man clad in black armor was walking in from the left. He looked like a total delinquent the way he bit off chunks of meat from a skewer.
It was Black Seol Jihu.
None of Valhalla’s members were shocked to see him, only a little startled. It was because Seol Jihu had told them about him before they entered the Path of Soul.
Although Black Seol Jihu was really a manifestation of Future Vision, everyone knew him as a helper arranged by Gula for the trials. The problem was, no one was attempting to get his help.
“That’s enough whining. You’re the one who can’t do it. What do you want him to do about it?”
“What was that? Whining?”
“Yes, whining. What else would you call it? Listen, why do you think you can’t climb the second slope even though you have a basic understanding of Grand Cosmic Shift? Don’t tell me you don’t know. Your agility is already bad, and your reaction speed is generally slow.”
Black Seol Jihu spoke snarkily with a beaming smile.
“How can your legs move fast when your body is slow to react? If I were you, I would focus on dodging and raise my ability to react to quick changes. In fact, I would set everything else aside and do that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to sleep!”
“You don’t even know the condition of the trial and whine about doing worse than Seol-Ah… And you’re greedy on top of that.”
“Listen here. Do you think you can learn Ethereal Shift by just running like a brainless bull? Hmm?”
Black Seol Jihu shrugged.
“If you think I’m criticizing you unfairly, keep at it. I’ve actually seen one guy do that. He just ran day in and day out until he finally mastered it. If it’s you, I’m sure it will only take you two years of non-stop running.”
“You’re so amazing, huh?”
Phi Sora glared. She couldn’t find anything wrong with what Black Seol Jihu said, but his tone was simply too provocative.
“Yeah, I’m amazing. I can say this since I’m more amazing than you.”
Black Seol Jihu was unfazed and continued to be snarky.
“You’re welcome to take my advice or throw it out. And if you’re unhappy with me… you know what to do, right?”
Black Seol Jihu pointed at the spear hanging on his back. Phi Sora grunted. She wanted to beat him to a pummel, but…
She didn’t dare to start a fight. It was because, on the first day, she saw Hugo get killed dozens of times after reacting strongly to his sour remark, ‘A dog who can’t understand needs to be taught with a stick.’
“…How very humble.”
Phi Sora spat on the ground and turned around. Black Seol Jihu chuckled.
“That’s a lot of temper for someone who’s going to be saying, yes, honey~ in the future.”
Phi Sora shouted as she ran up the slope. She looked like she was about to break out into tears.
‘I knew this would happen.’
Seol Jihu sighed.
“…What are you eating?”
“This? Fried chicken on a skewer.”
Black Seol Jihu put out a plate of chicken skewers as he bit another one off a stick.
“Haeju brought it. You should try one too. It’s crunchy, and the flavor is out of this world.”
“Come over here for a bit.”
Seol Jihu dragged Black Seol Jihu to an empty spot and spoke quietly.
“Can’t you be a little nicer?”
“Nicer? I’m already pretty nice. Don’t you remember what I said when you were in their spot?”
“But I wasn’t in the same situation as them. Besides, the training only just started, so they haven’t gotten used to it yet. You have to be mindful of that.”
“It’s not like I said anything wrong. Besides, that Sora needs this kind of criticism. Otherwise, she won’t get fired up and try harder.”
“But… haa, never mind. Just don’t make fun of them. Honey was stretching it.”
“…Did you think I was kidding?”
Black Seol Jihu’s voice suddenly sunk. Seol Jihu jumped in a startle. Black Seol Jihu emptied the plate before Seol Jihu noticed and was putting a cigarette in his mouth. He looked somber all of a sudden, like he aged by ten years.
“…Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Cigarette… didn’t you tell me to quit?”
“Why do you think I’m smoking?”
Like the saying, getting angry at others for your own mistake, Black Seol Jihu got mad.
“Fuck, I can’t even curse you out because it would be like spitting at my own face. I’m thankful that the future changed, but the result… just how….”
Black Seol Jihu sighed uncharacteristically and dropped his head.
Seol Jihu tilted his head.
According to Black Seol Jihu, they were like different compartments of a single train. Meaning, the choices Seol Jihu made would affect the future of Black Seol Jihu.
Of course, as Black Seol Jihu was a manifestation of the ‘future’, his body remained the same as his original future self. It did not reflect the choices Seol Jihu made in the present time. Even so, he was still capable of finding out how the future changed.
“Did… did something bad happen?”
When Seol Jihu asked carefully, Black Seol Jihu raised his eyebrow.
Then, he spoke.
“Be careful with this.”
He tapped Seol Jihu’s crotch with the spear shaft. Seol Jihu stepped back, asking what was wrong.
“For Yan, Squishy, and Miss Pink… Fine, they came at you determined, so let’s say it was inevitable. Knowing you, there probably wasn’t a way to escape anyway.”
“And then there’s win-in-daytime, lose-in-nighttime Hannah and Miss Pervert… but let’s set them aside too.”
Seol Jihu couldn’t make sense of what Black Seol Jihu was saying.
“But you’re no saint either. There’s no excuse for Honghong and Hughug…”
“I can tell who Honghong is, but who’s Hughug?”
“Charlotte Aria, obviously.”
Black Seol Jihu smacked his lips.
“But… be nice to Hughug. She’s a real sweetheart. When things get hard, she’s the only one who’s always there for you.”
It was around this time that Seol Jihu began to understand what Black Seol Jihu was talking about.
“I thought Haeju would be the only one for you.”
He knew that Black Seol Jihu was his future self, but he couldn’t imagine such a thing happening as Seo Yuhui was the only girl in his mind.
“Why weren’t you more careful? Just how did things turn out that way?”
It was at that moment that Black Seol Jihu went beyond being incensed and straight-up glared at Seol Jihu with a fiery gaze. He looked furious but also frustrated because he couldn’t say anything in detail.
Black Seol Jihu lowered his voice and growled.
“You’re the real problem here. Why are you like this?”
“What? What? Haa. I wouldn’t be saying this if it only happened once or twice. You go with someone without knowing they’re preying on you, and then you get devoured. You get drunk and make a mistake, you get swept away by the mood, and that leads to another…”
“That’s you, not me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m you, you!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll change that future for you too.”
Black Seol Jihu burst into laughter as if he wasn’t even amused.
“I’m sure you will. Oh right, now that we’re talking, let me say something else. Supernova Explosion. What the hell is Supernova Explosion? Aren’t you embarrassed?”
Seol Jihu’s expression quickly turned cold. He gripped the Spear of Purity unknowingly.
“…Take that back.”
His naming sense being ridiculed was the one thing he refused to take sitting down.
“What, you want to go at it?”
Black Seol Jihu also gripped his spear, delighted.
“Iya~ Mister Seol Jihu, you sure grew up.”
“Take back what you said.”
“You’re a big boy now, huh. You think having a high physical level is it? Hmm?”
“I warned you.”
“Shut up and come. Did I teach you to fight with your mouth?”
The two Seol Jihu’s fixed their posture.
Then, they simultaneously kicked off the ground, disappearing from the naked eye.
Only their afterimages flashed here and there, metallic rings resounding out.
With spearmanship alone, Black Seol Jihu certainly might be superior. And the experience and application of skills he gained from countless battles was something that was enough to make up for his lacking physical level to a certain degree.
The problem was to what degree.
Black Seol Jihu created an opening in Seol Jihu’s defense and attacked, but Seol Jihu struck down with his elbow and counterattacked.
When Black Seol Jihu tried to strike back and Seol Jihu suddenly appeared behind him and hit him with his spear shaft, he almost fell backward from surprise.
This couldn’t be helped as Black Seol Jihu’s only EX-rank stat was Mana, while Seol Jihu’s Mana was at the Divine Beginning-rank. Since the rest of Seol Jihu’s stats besides Luck were at EX-rank, it made sense that Black Seol Jihu wouldn’t be his match.
“Indeed… you’re in a much higher realm than Sung Shihyun. I’m pleasantly surprised.”
Seol Jihu spoke truthfully. He planned to beat Black Seol Jihu down from the start, but the latter’s flawless spearmanship and movements had made him miss his chance each time.
“…You son of a bitch.”
When Black Seol Jihu saw that Seol Jihu was genuinely looking down at him, a terrifying killing intent rose from his body. He roused his mana, intending on teaching Seol Jihu a lesson, but he regretted it in the next moment.
For Black Seol Jihu, lightning bolts gathered to the tip of his spear when he used Hell Severing, but for Seol Jihu, the sky itself rumbled. And when Black Seol Jihu was hit with a Supernova Explosion that he made fun of, he experienced first-hand just how ridiculously powerful it was. Forget countering, he had to spend all his effort just to avoid it.
…Having a high physical level really was the be-all, end-all.
“You really want to do this?”
Black Seol Jihu, who was charred black, gritted his teeth and released reinforced sword qi. However, the reinforced sword qi that shot out of Seol Jihu’s Spear of Purity was much larger and denser and even radiated a brighter light.
Black Seol Jihu became speechless for a moment at the purity of the light.
“…You son of a bitch!”
Black Seol Jihu shouted as if he was wronged.
It was inevitable for the disciple to one day surpass his master, but he couldn’t help but think, isn’t this too much!?
Kwang, kwang, kwang…!
“Monsters… they’re monsters….”
Watching the fight that shook both heaven and earth, Phi Sora shook her head and shuddered.
She had failed to climb the second slope again. She was hungry, and since Baek Haeju just brought some food, she decided to take a breather and get some rest.
Not long afterward, the wafting aroma made several others gather around it. Four or so women chatted about this and that.
[It’s true! I saw it!]
There was Flone, talking passionately about something.
And there was Seo Yuhui, who was gasping with her hand over her mouth, and also Baek Haeju, Chohong, Teresa, Phi Sora…
…Of course, none of the women present knew yet. That this would become the start of what would become known as the ‘Court Gathering’.
“Hey, why is it so noisy there? Can’t they see we’re trying to eat?”
Chohong grumbled while cupping her hands over her ears.
“I don’t know. The two of them were chatting and then suddenly started fighting.”
Phi Sora picked up a fried chicken skewer and bit down on it. She couldn’t hide her astonishment even as she watched Black Seol Jihu get beaten up with schadenfreude.
“…I still can’t believe it.”
“Can’t believe what?”
Phi Sora continued while stammering.
“I can’t imagine ever being like him. How did he get so strong even as a human, like the rest of us?”
Seol Jihu had once said he respected Phi Sora. Phi Sora also respected Seol Jihu. Not as a person, but as an Earthling.
“He’s really amazing, and I’m not just saying this because he’s our representative. Who would have thought that an Earthling capable of crushing an Army Commander would appear?”
Phi Sora stared with a look of admiration before suddenly tilting her head.
She then began to giggle, making Chohong blink in confusion.
“Why are you laughing all of a sudden?”
“Think about it. Who would have thought he would become like this when we first saw him?”
“Ah, I see….”
“What are you two talking about?”
Teresa stealthily joined their conversation. Baek Haeju, who was sitting a distance away from the rest of the group, also perked up her ears.
“He’s actually gotten a lot better these days. He was no joke in the past.”
“You mean how he searched for breasts like a baby whenever he slept?”
“Ah, that too. Listen, the two of us were drinking on Earth, and because he got really drunk, I took him to a motel. You wouldn’t believe how much he…”
Phi Sora raised her head in the middle of her story. Baek Haeju was coughing quietly with her hand over her throat. She looked uncomfortable, to say the least.
“Are you choking on something? Do you need some water?”
“…I got it.”
Baek Haeju poured water into a cup with an impatient look.
“Anyway, setting that aside, I think his gifts are what really needs mentioning. Back in Haramark…”
Phi Sora shrugged and continued with her story.
“Ah, I got one too. Everyone got the same thing, huh?”
“Yep. I’m still struck speechless whenever I think about it. Why the hell would he gift women that?”
“His taste is strange for sure…. What was funny was that everyone got the perfect size.”
“Why would he give that in the first place, though? I just couldn’t figure it out, so one day, I grabbed hold of him and asked why he gave those to us and what thoughts went behind it. His answer was really something. What do you think he said?”
“Ooh, I’m curious. What did he say?”
“Don’t be surprised.”
Teresa and Phi Sora chatted excitedly. Meanwhile, Baek Haeju drank water from the cup, pretending not to care.
“Dear god, he said his girlfriend was happy to get underwear as a gift, so he thought all girls would love it!”
The conversation came to a halt again. Chohong, Teresa, and Phi Sora turned their heads simultaneously.
Baek Haeju, who spat out the water in her mouth, was coughing violently.
“Are you okay?”
“Hold on. I think there’s a misunderstanding.”
“…Misunderstanding? What do you mean?”
“No, I mean…!”
Baek Haeju waved her hands in a hurry. The Chohong, Teresa, and Phi Sora trio tilted their heads as Baek Haeju was rarely this flustered. Only Seo Yuhui made a bitter smile.
Soon, Baek Haeju quietly got up and left with her Tathagata Spear, saying she needed to have a talk.
Seo Yuhui took her eyes off of Baek Haeju and turned to Flone.
Fanning her cheeks, which had turned red for some reason…
She leaned over slightly…
And then asked while spreading out her arms to the side.
“Was it really thiiiis big?”
[Yeah! I saw it!]
Flone put her hands on her hips and answered.
[I saw it with my own eyes!!]
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