There was something unnatural about the streets for Seol to simply describe them that way. For one, he couldn't spot a single person or a moving vehicle.
What he saw was a dreary and bleak cityscape without a single ant in sight. Even the sky above was a shade of dull grey.
'So it wasn’t a dream? It was all real?’
Realizing this, Seol practically flew towards the smartphone and picked it up.
[Identity confirmed. The registration of the user has been completed.]
A robotic voice came from the device and the screen lit up next. He hurriedly tapped on the mail icon blinking on the corner, and texts appeared on the screen.
[Sender: The Guide]
[1: Arrive at Paradise High School's assembly hall before the time runs out.]
[2: Remaining time - 00:09:45]
The content was simple, but the sender had also kindly attached an image that turned out to be a map. He took a look and found that his current location wasn't too far from his new destination.
Seol slapped his own cheeks, hard. Of course, his face stung quite a lot. He was trying to see if that would wake him up, but he mainly wanted to use the pain to reaffirm that this was indeed happening for real.
He rubbed his aching cheeks and cautiously pushed the front door open to leave.
While he walked, an unexplainable tension continued to rear its ugly head. Besides the loneliness born out of feeling like the last man on earth, it felt like he was walking around while the world around him was frozen in time.
Finding his way around wasn't difficult at all. He simply followed the direction indicated on the map and needed only two minutes to arrive at the destination.
The eye-catching plaque shouting out 'Paradise High' hung next to the wide-open front gates of the school.
'What a funny name.'
“That name stinks.”
An unexpected voice surprised Seol, and he quickly looked to his side. He didn't even know when she had arrived, but a girl with a hoodie was standing there.
Their eyes met. Her flawless pale skin indicated her young age, but her arched up brows seemed to indicate her rather fierce personality.
Just as Seol got this impression of uncaring disinterest from her expressionless face, she brushed past him. Both of her hands were shoved deep within the pockets as she quickly stepped past the open gates. She seemed to be in a hurry for some reason.
'The white roof, right?'
The attached map said this was the location, but that didn't mean this very spot was the meeting point. Seol looked around and found the assembly hall. As he approached it, he could hear the murmurs of the people within.
Seol climbed up the steps, only to come to an abrupt halt. An unexpected person was standing by the entrance of the hall.
To be more specific, a blonde woman wearing a full-on maid outfit was graciously waving her hand at Seol. It was as if she was saying, “please, over here, welcome, sir….”
“Uhm… Am I supposed to enter through here?”
The blonde woman silently nodded her head and smiled brightly. But when Seol tried to walk past her, she trotted to his front and blocked his path. She quietly stared at him and suddenly reached her hand out.
Seol tilted his head in confusion. Then, the blonde woman's lips opened without letting out a sound. She used both the index fingers and thumbs of her hands to form a rectangle before reaching out to him again. It was as if she was telling him to hand something over. Unfortunately, Seol could only stand there, blinking his eyes in further confusion.
“Do you need something from me?”
As if Seol was making her frustrated, the blonde maid narrowed her eyes in an elegant manner. Her cheeks even puffed up, and her lower lip stuck out in a slight pout. This only caused Seol to fall further into his state of confusion.
“She wants your Invitation letter! Or your Contract paper!”
As he stood there wondering what to do, someone shouted out from inside the hall. Seol took a look and found a guy sitting on a chair inside the assembly hall, giggling while spectating what was happening out here. Finally going ‘Oh!’, Seol pulled his Invitation letter out from the pocket and handed it over.
The woman received the letter and opened it while carrying a prim expression. While Seol stood next to her wondering whether that hmph was her trying to say something or simply her short snort, the maid's expression gradually froze up.
She looked at the Invitation letter. Then, she looked back at Seol.
Her wide-open eyes slowly closed shut. She carefully folded the Invitation letter, gathered both of her hands in front of her chest, and slowly lowered herself in a deep bow. It was an elegant yet dignified greeting.
Suddenly, the entire assembly hall fell silent. The attention of everyone who had arrived here before Seol focused on the newest arrival. Completely disregarding all those stares, the blonde maid pointed towards the left side of the hall and guided the flustered and even more confused Seol there.
The maid guided him towards an empty chair, and bowed politely once more, before smoothly retreating away as if she was riding on skates while never turning her back to him. She still didn't say a single word, yet her attitude towards him had definitely changed.
“What's the matter with her? Why is she acting like that all of a sudden?”
“I wonder. She didn't do that when I showed up.”
The eyes of two particular men landed on the new arrival that was Seol. But all he could feel at that moment was the sense of being confused and flustered.
Even though he had come here in that super-vivid dream, in reality, this was his actual first time. And certain things were progressing rather differently compared to the dream, too.
So, of course he was flustered. That was why he decided to divert his attention and try to suss out his new environment instead.
The number of people gathered in the assembly hall was well over 30. What was especially noticeable was that they were divided into left and right sides as if to separate the two.
The left side with Seol in it only had eight people in total — six men and two women. They were furnished with chairs to sit on, and the general atmosphere was relaxed and easy-going.
On the other hand, the right side had almost thirty people, but they were either sitting on the floor or standing up. Seol could see that the atmosphere there was anxious as well.
“It must be fate, meeting in a place like this. Why don't we introduce ourselves to each other?”
A man suddenly spoke up. He looked bored from all the waiting. He was also the one giggling at Seol just now.
His loud and manly voice managed to attract the attention of everyone present. The front part of his hair was slicked back to reveal his equally manly face. A faint smile formed on his lips as if he enjoyed being the center of attention.
“Nice to meet you all. I’m Kang Seok. And these two guys over here…. Hey, guys, introduce yourselves.”
“I'm Yi Hyungsik.”
It was unclear if they were friends before coming here or became friends after arriving. The two men briefly introduced themselves. Seol inwardly assigned nicknames to both of them since their physical traits were rather distinct. He nicknamed the former, 'Skinny', and the latter, 'Fatty'. As for the first guy who spoke up, Seol gave him the nickname, 'Rock'.
“What's your name?”
Kang Seok's next target was the woman wearing the hoodie, the one Seol ran into at the school's gate.
She seemed to be completely uninterested. It was as if she wasn't even listening to what was being said around her, only immersing herself on the phone's screen. In other words, she was ignoring Kang Seok’s question.
Kang Seok scratched his head and awkwardly smiled.
“She must be one of those picky and arrogant women. Without a doubt.”
Yi Hyungsik chimed in.
“That’s kinda embarrassing… Is there anyone willing to save me?”
Kang Seok's gaze landed on the remaining woman of the group. She tightly squeezed the hand of a teen boy sticking close to her and awkwardly smiled.
“Oh… my name is Yi Seol-Ah.”
“So, it's Miss Seol-Ah. How about the gentleman next to you?”
“He’s my little brother, Yi Sungjin.”
Upon hearing the words ‘little brother’, Kang Seok seemed more interested.
“You two are blood siblings?”
“Yes, we are.”
“May I ask how old you are? I mean, you two seem a bit too young to be here. Oh, my apologies if that offended you.”
“Oh, no. It's fine. I'm eighteen and Sungjin is two years younger than me.”
Kang Seok let out a surprised gasp as if he found this fact quite surprising. He quickly formed a beaming smile and offered his hand.
“Oh, that means I can drop the formal speech. I'm twenty-nine this year. Since we all received Invitation letters, let's get along well. Think of me as a reliable uncle.”
“Oh, um… Thank you very much.”
Yi Seol-Ah bashfully shook his hand. Her graceful appearance and that shyness reminded Seol of a freshly picked beautiful flower. He couldn't take his eyes off her for a moment or two. Even Kang Seok didn't let go of her hand for a while.
The remaining two were Seol and a man wearing a green cap and a pair of sunglasses.
The cap-wearing man was busy moving his lips up and down as if he was chewing on a piece of gum, while listening to music through the earphones stuck to his ears. His legs also moved along to the beat, leading to an overall impression of him being a bit of a restless busybody. He also didn't introduce himself as if such things didn't interest him.
Seol quietly gathered his focus and stared at Kang Seok. The green light appeared on him for a brief moment before dissipating.
The odds of nothing good happening by mixing up with him were high enough. In the end, Seol turned his head away.
He got pretty flustered when entering the assembly hall, but as time passed, he had gradually calmed down.
The Seol of the dream was standing on the right side of the hall, which meant that things were different now. Just what was that golden stamp and why did it warrant such different treatment? He tried to go through his memories once more for answers, but he couldn't recall anything.
'I'll get to find out, eventually.'
When he checked his phone for the time, he saw the countdown tick from “00:00:01” to “00:00:00”.
Suddenly, a voice came from the front of the hall. On the stage, a tuxedo-wearing man walked up in a dignified, disciplined manner. Everyone present was quite surprised since there was no one there just a moment ago.
The stylishly dressed man sported a clean and neat hairstyle, as well as a monocle over his eye. He raised a hand towards the blonde maid standing by the entrance.
“Is this everyone?”
The maid shook her head softly, pointed towards the group on the right side of the hall, and then raised four fingers up.
“Four people…. Well, it's fine. We can't wait any longer, so just close the door and unleash it.”
When the blonde maid showed some sign of hesitation, the man who kind of resembled a head butler narrowed his eyes.
“I am the Guide. It's not like it’s difficult to get here. Those who can't even adhere to the schedule aren't needed here.”
In the end, the maid obediently lowered her head and quietly closed the door shut. She then produced a smartphone and tapped away for a little while.
Meanwhile, the man on the stage clapped his hands twice to draw everyone’s attention towards himself.
“Welcome. I am called Han, tasked with guiding all of you this time around. You can call me the Guide.”
Han spoke up to here and gestured at the maid with his index finger. She quickly ran to his side, while her blonde ponytail danced in the air.
“First of all, the Contract documents, please. How many do we have? Twenty-eight…. Quite a lot, isn't it? And we have eight Invitations this time?”
The Guide didn't even take a look at the bundle of the Contracts and simply shoved them underneath his jacket. However, he still held onto the Invitation letters tightly in his hand.
The Guide played with his monocle.
“Ehem, firstly, let us confirm the identities of those present today. Although we have the Invitation letters here, it's meaningless if we don't personally confirm.”
The silence still remained inside the assembly hall. The Guide simply smirked.
“I'm sure that you're curious about many things. But let us follow the protocol. Everyone present here, please, think of bringing up your Status Windows, or simply yell Status in your minds. It's fine to say it out loud, as well.”
'Status Windows? Status?' Just as Seol thought like this….
In the empty air right in front of his eyes, a sudden avalanche of texts came crashing down.
[Your Status Window]
[1. General Information]
Summoned date: March 16th, 2017.
Marking Grade: Gold
Height/Weight: 180.5 cm/80.6 kg
Current Condition: Good
Class: LV. 0 (Invited)
Nationality: Republic of Korea (Area 1)
—Weak-willed. (Possesses a weak will, thus unable to make decisions alone, nor sticks to ones already made.)
—Average. (Normal in every way; possesses no particular talent or qualities.)
[3. Physical Level]
Strength: Low (Low)
Endurance: Low (Extreme)
Agility: Low (Intermediate)
Stamina: Low (Low)
Magic: Intermediate (High)
Luck: Intermediate (Low)
Remaining Ability points: 0
1. Innate Abilities (2)
—Future Vision (Grade Unknown)
—?? (Grade Unknown)
2. Job-Related Abilities (0)
3. Other Abilities (0)
[5. Level of Cognition]
—Will be available after the conclusion of the Tutorial event.
“Wha, what the hell is this?”
People began gasping in surprise everywhere. Seol was no exception. Although he had seen this tens and hundreds of times before in his dream, now that he was experiencing it personally, it really felt quite a lot different.
“What’s this ‘Innate Ability’ thing? Hey, Hyungsik, what does yours say?”
“Excuse me? Do you perhaps possess an Innate Ability?”
The person who answered Kang Seok wasn't Hyungsik but the Guide, Han. Kang Seok didn't expect his words to be overheard from this far, so he got flustered while he shook his head in denial.
“N-No, I don't have one. I was just curious.”
“Oh…. Well, it's only normal for you to not have an Innate Ability. That's how it is with most humans. You don't have to mind that section of your Status Window.”
Han smiled brightly as he spoke.
“Well, then. Let's stop being surprised, shall we? This time, please reveal the grades of your Marks. Just like before, just think about it or speak it out loud, and it will be done. Don’t worry, I won't be able to see anything besides what's been revealed.”
The assembly hall got a bit noisy. However, Seol was still intensely staring at his Status Window.
The Guide definitely said it was normal to not have any Innate Abilities. However... the Window in front of Seol's eyes showed that he had them. Two, as a matter of fact.
'Future Vision? And what's with the question marks?'
He suspected that it was somehow related to his ability to see green colors, but what was up with the question marks?
“Let's see…. Since we don't have a lot of time remaining, I shall just directly move to the next step in the procedure. Miss Yi Seol-Ah, Mister Yi Sungjin, Mister Yi Hyungsik, Mister Jeong Minwoo, and Mister Hyun Sangmin? You all have the Bronze Marks, yes? Oh, indeed you do.”
Five people out of the left side's eight nodded their heads before staring at the Guide with somewhat befuddled eyes.
The Guide asked and answered his own question, then he threw five Invitation letters in the air. Suddenly, the letters shone brightly before transforming into five bronze-colored bags that fell down to the ground. It was all just like a fancy magic trick.
“The Bronze Marks will only receive one Random Box as per the regular bonus item rules. You could also have asked for the bonus of bringing along a helper, but I see that none of you have done so, regrettably.”
The blonde maid picked the five bronze-colored bags and handed them over to their respective owners. Meanwhile, the Guide unfolded two more Invitation letters. While reading the contents, he carried on.
“We advise you to immediately activate your bonus items right away. The Tutorial will begin soon, so it'd be a pity if you died without using them…. Ohh?”
The Guide's eyes always maintained a level of disinterest, but a small glint of surprise flickered in them now.
“Hoh. We have two silver Marks. I'm genuinely looking forward to guiding all of you. Mister Kang Seok? Miss Yun Seora?”
Kang Seok shouted out energetically. The hoodie-wearing girl, Yun Seora, simply nodded her head once.
“For the Silver Marks, two regular Random Boxes, and special bonus items unique to the Invited, will be provided. Mister Kang Seok won't receive the special bonus item, but there is one for Miss Yun Seora.”
This time too, the Invitation letters turned into bags as they fell down to the floor. If there was one thing different, it was that these bags were silver-colored rather than bronze.
The blonde maid moved busily. Meanwhile, the eyes of the Guide landed on one man. And that was Seol, still stupidly staring at the empty air in front of his eyes.
“Please reveal the grade of your Mark.”
Han's voice was low, but it contained an undeniable power. Seol was too preoccupied with the whole Innate Abilities thing until then, but when the voice powerfully reverberated within his eardrums, he quickly snapped out of his daze and asked back.
“R-Reveal my Mark's grade?”
“Yes. Oh, it's fine now, so…. Hmm!?”
The Guide suddenly stopped his words and stared hard.
His eyes widened as he stared at Seol, or to be more specific, his revealed Mark's grade.
The blonde maid, who finished distributing the bags, lightly trotted to the stage and used her elbow to gently poke the waist of the dumbstruck Guide.
Finally regaining his senses, Han lightly coughed and cleared his throat while lowering his gaze.
With the remaining piece of paper in his hand, he became overtly cautious as he slowly unfolded the Invitation letter. He read the contents from top to bottom without leaving anything out. Then, he breathed out a long sigh.
“We have a…. very important guest this time.”
His voice was quiet. But, still— the noisy clamor came to a dead stop, and dozens and dozens of eyes focused on one person. Seol could actively feel his cheeks reddening right about now.
“I'd like to apologize. It is my first time guiding a Gold Mark, after all…. No, even in history, there has been only one prior event like today's. I've only heard about it until now.”
Seol wondered if this Gold Mark thing was such a shocking matter. Han's words didn't even sound like an excuse, just some babblings of a stunned man.
When the blonde maid giggled softly, Han cleared his throat again.
“Alright, let's carry on, shall we?”
He lightly threw Seol's Invitation letter. The paper exploded into a brilliant shower of light before transforming into a single bag.
And there were six things written on the tag of the gold bag.
Three regular bonus items, plus three special bonus items unique to the Invited— quite unlike any other Invitation letters; Kim Hannah made sure to pack hers to the brim, it seemed.
“For the Gold Mark…. Oh.”
Han's jaw dropped after he read the list of bonus items.