Chapter 354 . Confession (1)
Seol Jihu screamed at the top of his lungs .
It wasn’t like he asked for fame or wealth or anything of that sort . All he wanted was for the goddess to not put the word ‘mana’ in his class name .
Even as lightning bolts continued to pour down, he kept on punching the unshakable wall with fists charged with mana .
It was a desperate struggle .
Their fight finally came to an end when the frightened Luxuria intervened .
Only after Luxuria promised to persuade Gula even if the heavens split in half did Seol Jihu stop punching the wall and leave the temple .
Meanwhile, an untimely celebration was underway at Valhalla . Members who had returned from the temple were laughing and chatting with each other .
Everyone was busy bragging about their new classes, but when they saw Seol Jihu trudging into the room, their smiles turned into a confused look .
At their morning meeting, he looked neat and tidy . But now, after a visit to the temple, suddenly he was charred from head to toe .
His filth could definitely earn him a spot among beggars .
“What the… Why do you look like that? Did you get struck by lightning or something?”
Chohong muttered in surprise . Though she wasn’t serious about it, her conjecture was spot-on .
“I just had a fight . ”
“A fight? With who? Who’s stupid enough to pick a fight with you in Eva?”
“With Gula . ”
“Ah, whatever . I had some doubts, but… . Ugh, maybe I’ll take this opportunity to really change my god . I seriously can’t take it anymore… . ”
Seol Jihu’s voice thinned as he panted for breath .
Chohong shook her head, dusting him off .
“First of all, I think you’re lying . But if you’re not, you’re seriously insane . Did your fight with the Parasite Queen mess your head up or something?”
“I couldn’t even say my class name out loud until I was Level 5 because I was too embarrassed . What do you know about this pain?”
Seol Jihu snapped, and then glanced at Chohong from top to bottom .
Chohong flashed a broad smile .
“…That smile tells me you’ve succeeded . ”
“Of course I did! I leveled up!”
She raised her chin and made a peace sign with her fingers .
“Listen well . From now on, I’m not just a Templar, but a High Templar . ”
“High Templar? Does that mean you can use Psionic Storm now?”
“Ah, stop being so Korean . ”
Chohong gave Seol Jihu a light slap on the shoulder and giggled .
“High Templar, High Templar… . ”
Seol Jihu murmured to himself, clearly envious .
She liked the attention, but his reaction seemed a little over the top . Chohong asked him curiously .
“What are you so jealous of? I became Level 6, sure, but didn’t you get more rewards than me? Since you’re one who led us to victory and all . ”
“That’s true… but I’m too embarrassed to tell you . Maybe I’ll switch over to Ira . ”
Seol Jihu answered weakly and turned his eyes to the side . There he saw Hugo doing a forward roll, shouting at the top of his voice .
He rolled forward, then wiggled his arms and legs towards the ceiling, then rolled again from side to side . He was expressing joy with his entire body .
“…What’s wrong with him?”
“What do you think? He finally became a High Ranker . ”
“Ah . Right, Hugo was Level 4 . ”
“Yeah . He used to be a Barbarian . Now he’s… . What was it again? Barbarian Champion . ”
“Barbarian Champion… . ”
This class name wasn’t bad either .
Ira seemed to have a good naming sense .
Seol Jihu was seriously considering switching over when suddenly… .
A nasal voice interrupted his train of thought as if he didn't have enough things on his mind .
He looked up to see a blonde girl with chubby cheeks twisting her body with her hands behind her back .
“Oppa! Did you know that I also leveled up?”
“Ah, congratulations . You were a High Priest, so that must mean you’re a Chief Priest now . ”
“Yeah! I’m now Level 5 Chief Priest . Speaking of which… . ”
Maria tapped the floor with her left foot, then put her hands forward with a radiant smile .
She was holding a piece of paper .
Seol Jihu’s brows furrowed .
“Yup, yup . But don’t get me wrong . It’s just that since I’m now a High Ranker… and a valued Chief Priest at that, I was thinking maybe we could throw out the old contract and sign a new one that’s befitting of my new… . ”
Suddenly Maria’s voice cracked and thinned .
Her eyes trembled faintly as she glanced over Seol Jihu’s shoulder .
There, Kim Hannah was giving her an icy stare .
A corner of Kim Hannah’s lips slanted upward, drawing what looked like a sneer across her face .
Maria’s face twisted into a scowl .
“Ah, n-nothing! So I wrote this new contract… but who cares? Once a contract, always a contract! Damn it, I’ll see you after my contract period ends!”
Maria quickly disappeared, yelling a bunch of things that Seol Jihu couldn’t understand .
“She never changes, does she? For her, everything is about money . It’s pretty amazing if you think about it . ”
Audrey Basler gave an amused smile as she entered the room .
She must have overheard their conversation, for she was an archer and had good ears .
“I successfully became a Level 5 Sharpshooter . It feels a little strange because I haven’t done much . ”
“You must have earned a lot of points for your participation in the Spirit Realm expedition . ”
“I don’t know . Normally it’s what you do that matters more than the participation itself… . Well, from the Spirit Realm to Tigol Fortress, I killed as many enemies as I could . So I think I managed to make the cut just barely . ”
“Still, congratulations on becoming a High Ranker . ”
“Thank you . It’s all thanks to you, Representative . The truth is, I had already given up on becoming a Level 5 . ”
Audrey Basler muttered sheepishly, still feeling surreal .
Suddenly she looked back at the door .
“Ah, that’s right . The Archer of Steel and the Swallow Archer also successfully leveled up . They both seemed over the moon . They’re usually so calm, so that was new . ”
He recognized the nickname Archer of Steel and assumed that Swallow Archer that Audrey was referring to was Kazuki .
“Did you happen to catch their class names?”
“I’m not sure about the Archer of Steel, since he has a unique class and all . The pretty boy used to be a Great Pathfinder… so my guess is that he became an Archranger . ”
Sharpshooter, Archranger… .
Seol Jihu struggled not to feel bitter .
He knew he should be celebrating their raise but couldn’t help envying them .
“I am— the great— Barbarian Champion—! Come at me!”
Hugo was still jumping with joy, clearly oblivious to Seol Jihu’s feelings .
Chohong looked at Hugo with a sour face, then gave a snort .
“Okay, next Level 5 . ”
Hugo stopped .
“What do you mean ‘what’? I’m Level 6 . ”
Chohong snickered .
“I just don’t understand why Ira acknowledged you as a High Ranker . You’re dumb as a post . ”
“Fuck you . I don’t want to hear that from someone who had to switch from Priest to Warrior because she couldn’t memorize a single holy spell . ”
“Uh-huh~ You’re Level 5~ I’m Level 6~”
Hugo clenched his fists, gritting his teeth .
He seemed ready to attack at any time .
“Look who’s talking . ”
That was when a raspy voice interrupted the two .
“Level 6? As if I wasn’t surprised enough when you became Level 5 . I might get a heart attack from the shock . ”
“What? Damn it . Who said that? Wanna die?”
Chohong grabbed the Thorn of Steel which was leaning against a wall and looked around .
But then she immediately stopped because an old man in a navy suit was staring at her with a wooden stick in his hand .
Jang Maldong glanced at the mace .
“Are you going to hit me with that?”
Startled, Chohong hid the Thorn of Steel behind her back .
“You’re no different than him, yet you brag about yourself… . ”
“Come on, why do you have to say it like that? I admit I got beaten up pretty bad, but I still put my life on the line . ”
“And Hugo put his on the line as well . ”
Jang Maldong replied, and Chohong blushed in embarrassment and let out a grunt .
Hugo began massaging Jang Maldong’s shoulders with a big smile on his face .
“The way you speak… one would think you were a Unique Ranker . ”
Jang Maldong clicked his tongue and turned his eyes away from Chohong .
It was then that he noticed the young man standing across from him, and the frown on his face slowly faded away .
The same thing happened to Seol Jihu .
A bright smile spread across his grim face .
“Mm-hmm . ”
“When did you come back?”
“I just arrived . When I heard you were coming back, I immediately left Haramark… . By the way . ”
Jang Maldong stopped and blinked .
He pointed his cane at Seol Jihu .
“You… Why do you look like that? Did you get struck by lightning or something?”
“… . ”
Seol Jihu scratched his head .
The lobby was so noisy that Seol Jihu and Jang Maldong had to move .
Seol Jihu was very happy to see Jang Maldong, for he hadn’t seen his master since his last visit to Haramark .
“I’ve heard the rumor . You left a long scar on the Parasite Queen’s face?”
“It was just a scratch . When the spear left my hand I was sure I could get her, but then she raised her head at the last minute… . ”
“Haha . ‘Just a scratch’ he says, even after wounding a god . Well, tell me how you feel . I’m ready to hear the speech of the great war hero . ”
“Oh come on . Not you too, Master . Everyone’s exaggerating . The first thing I did today when I woke up this morning was to thank god for being alive . ”
“Huhu . I guess that isn’t much of a surprise, considering everything that’s happened . ”
Seol Jihu and Jang Maldong smiled at each other .
Whatever the reason, talking to his master calmed Seol Jihu down .
“By the way, is something troubling you?”
Seol Jihu flinched .
He was being careful not to reveal his worries, but Jang Maldong saw right through him .
“You just won a very difficult war and achieved all you wanted . So there shouldn’t be much for you to worry about right now . ”
“It’s… complicated . ”
Seol Jihu muttered, slowly averting his eyes .
“Complicated how? Tell me . ”
Jang Maldong pressed him with a curious look .
After a moment of hesitation, Seol Jihu told him about the incident at the temple .
“Hmm… . ”
Jang Maldong tapped his finger lightly on his armrest before tilting his head .
“You’re right . The essence of the World Tree is fine, but I’m not sure how we can utilize Temperance’s divinity . ”
“Right? We need tremendous holy power to revive a god, but I don’t think we can gather the amount needed . ”
“If the Seven Gods feel burdened by the amount, it must really be a lot . Perhaps we should just keep it for now . We might come across offerings holding large amounts of holy power later . Or it could be useful when we need a huge amount of contribution points in a short period of time . ”
“I agree with you . I’ll discuss it with the rest and store it away . ”
“You must keep a close eye on it . It cannot fall into the hands of the Parasites ever again . ”
“Of course . I’m going to keep it inside the temple storage . ”
Seol Jihu nodded at Jang Maldong .
“That should be safe enough . Anyhow, about your level… . ”
Jang Maldong stroked his chin .
“I can see why you’re troubled . You haven’t fully mastered Level 5, and suddenly the path to Level 7 opened up… . Your mind and body remain the same, but your technique is rising infinitely . ”
Seol Jihu smiled bitterly .
That wasn’t what was bothering him .
But he couldn’t tell his master that he was upset about his class name .
Moreover, the problem Jang Maldong pointed out was indeed a big one .
“But that problem can be fixed . ”
Seol Jihu straightened himself and clasped his hands .
Jang Maldong narrowed his eyes .
“For you to speak so confidently… . Are you planning on using that?”
“Yes, I think it’s the right time . The war convinced me that I needed it . What do you think?”
Seol Jihu asked cautiously .
“Not a bad idea . ”
Contrary to Seol Jihu’s expectations, Jang Maldong answered without hesitation .
“In fact, I was thinking the same thing . It would’ve been a waste to use it at a lower level . But now that you’re a Unique Ranker, things are different . ”
“You think so?”
“Yes, but you must brace yourself . ”
Jang Maldong continued .
“Level 5 to Level 7 . The trial will be proportionately difficult because the power you seek is so great . Will you be able to stand it?”
“Do I have a choice? Actually, I’d like to spend some time preparing for the trial… but I’m not sure where to start . ”
Seol Jihu gazed at Jang Maldong with eyes burning with passion .
He was seeking advice .
“Here’s the first thing you should do . ”
Jang Maldong gave a little smirk .
“You need to rest . ”
“N-Nothing . It just feels weird to hear you say that I need to rest… . ”
“Haven’t I told you many times before that rest is also an essential part of training?”
Jang Maldong smiled faintly .
“Of course there are times when you must push yourself beyond your limits . But you’ve done enough of that already . All throughout the war, up until just a few days ago . ”
“… . ”
“You look fine on the outside, but you know that’s not really the case . You’re exhausted both physically and mentally . Am I wrong?”
Seol Jihu remained silent .
Jang Maldong stared at him, then emphasized again .
“If you continue to pull on a rope that’s already too tight, you’ll just end up breaking it . You need to loosen it a little and give it some time to recover so as to extend it longer the next time you pull it . So for now, take rest and recharge . Training comes after that . ”
Seol Jihu let out a deep sigh .
He wanted to refute but couldn’t find the right words .
“And… you’ve been here too long . Shouldn’t you visit Earth?”
Seol Jihu flinched at the unexpected remark .
His reaction was small and brief, but Jang Maldong didn’t miss it .
“Yes . When was the last time you went back? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Uh… I mean, of course as an Earthling I have to establish a secure access environment… but I think I’ve already done enough . Umm… . ”
Jang Maldong feigned a smile as he carefully examined Seol Jihu .
‘He’s doing it again . ’
This wasn’t the first time that Seol Jihu had such a reaction .
Whenever Jang Maldong brought up Earth, Seol Jihu looked hesitant .
Even when Jang Maldong sent him back by force, he would return to Paradise as fast as he could .
He found out Seol Jihu was a Paradise addict during the Arden Valley War, but the spearman’s symptoms seemed to have worsened since .
Seol Jihu acted as if he had completely forgotten about Earth . Jang Maldong sincerely hoped it was all his misunderstanding .
Addiction has no next step .
Seol Jihu could be nearing the point of no return .
For a while now, Jang Maldong had intended to talk to him about this matter .
Determined, the old man asked .
“Have you eaten?”
“What? No . Not yet . ”
“Okay, then let’s go for dinner . Why don’t we eat out today? We haven’t done that in a while . Hopefully, you’ll treat me, since we haven’t seen each other for a long time . ”
It was all too sudden .
Seol Jihu’s dazed eyes followed Jang Maldong as the old man got up from his seat with a smile .
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You’re a bit strange today, Master… . ”
“Strange how? We’ll have some food and wine and a nice talk while we’re at it . Or do you not want to spend time with an old man like myself?”
“Of course not . I’ll buy dinner . It’ll be on me . But first, I have to get ready . I’m not in the most attractive state right now, as you can see . ”
“Make it fast . I’ve been eating only dried meat and bread for days . I’d like to eat real food . ”
Jang Maldong turned around, saying he would wait for Seol Jihu at the entrance .
Seol Jihu took a quick shower but soon ran into an unexpected problem .
He needed money to eat out .
But he had none .
To be precise, he had tons of money in the temple storage, but couldn’t access it because he was currently barred from entering the temple .
Of course, there was a possibility that Jang Maldong might have some, but Seol Jihu didn’t want to take back his words after he proudly announced that he would be the one to buy .
So he had no choice but to borrow .
“Kim Hannah . ”
When he opened the door, Kim Hannah, who was working at her desk, threw a sassy look at him .
“Here you go . ”
She let out a sigh then took off her coat and threw it at him .
“Take that and go play outside . I’m working, so don’t bother me . ”
“No, that’s not what I’m here for . ”
“Give me some money . ”
Seol Jihu put his hands forward .
Kim Hannah frowned .
“Now? How much do you need? It’s kind of scary that you’re asking for money . ”
“Just enough to pay for dinner . I’m going out with Master . ”
Kim Hannah blinked rapidly .
“…It’s true what they say about the rich . Why don't you skin a flea for its hide and tallow?”
“It’s not like that . I just don’t have any money on me right now . ”
“Then go visit the temple . ”
“I’m temporarily banned… . ”
“Banned? From Gula’s temple? You?”
Kim Hannah looked dumbfounded .
“You… really had a fight with Gula? You weren’t joking about that?”
“No . ”
“Jesus, I… can’t even find the words to say anything . ”
Kim Hannah shook her head .
She slowly rose from her seat and leaned towards Seol Jihu .
“Jinah’s Dad, what are you doing, picking a fight with the goddess you serve? Please get your act together for the sake of our future daughter, will you?”
“Okay, but I do need some allowance . I sacrifice so much for this family, and you can’t even give me enough money to pay for one meal?”
“Enough with the stupid role play . Jeez . ”
Kim Hannah grabbed her purse with a sigh .
She then snatched the coat she threw at Seol Jihu, put it around her shoulders, and began walking towards the door .
“Where are you going?”
“You said you were having dinner with Master Jang . Let me come along as well . ”
“But I thought you were working?”
“Come to think of it, I haven’t eaten yet . ”
“It was just gonna be the two of us . ”
“I feel like I should join in . You’re going to be talking about something important, right? I know a nice, quiet place . ”
“What’s with that face? Neither Master Jang nor you enjoy drinking . But here you are, drinking in the middle of the day . So I just assumed it’s a cover for talking about something important . ”
Her wits were second to none .
‘Maybe she’s a nine-tailed fox with her tails hidden under her clothes . Maybe she’s really a Beastman . ’
Seol Jihu thought to himself .
When Kim Hannah asked Jang Maldong if she could accompany them, the old man didn’t turn her down . Rather, he gave a ready consent .
“Join us . It just so happens that I have a question for you as well, Miss Kim Hannah . ”
He didn’t sound excited, but he didn’t seem surprised at her appearance either .
Kim Hannah led them to a quiet restaurant, and the trio ordered food and drinks .
Their order arrived shortly .
It was then .
“Why do you hate going back to Earth?”
Seol Jihu, who was pouring wine into Jang Maldong’s glass with both hands, quickly raised his head .
He knew he didn’t mishear .
Today, Jang Maldong was acting rather strangely from the moment they met .
Still, he didn’t expect his master to be so straightforward .
Jang Maldong pulled his glass back .
Then he grabbed the bottle in Seol Jihu’s hands and poured the drink into Seol Jihu and Kim Hannah’s glasses .
Without a word, he raised his glass and poured the drink down his throat .
Startled, Seol Jihu also drank from his glass . He then gazed at Jang Maldong with a puzzled look on his face .
Jang Maldong was waiting for Seol Jihu’s answer .
“Master . I don’t particularly hate going back . ”
“But you do . ”
Jang Maldong’s voice didn’t waver in the slightest .
“My age is a symbol of my wisdom, and I’ve seen you long enough to see through your lies . More importantly . ”
Jang Maldong let out a cough and glanced sideways .
“The one who invited you to Paradise does not seem to be objecting either . It looks like she agrees with me . ”
Jang Maldong added quietly .
When Seol Jihu looked at her, Kim Hannah averted her gaze .
“Why… did you think so?”
“That is not of importance . What’s important is the reason you refuse to go back to Earth . ”
Seol Jihu drew a long breath and clenched his teeth .
He suddenly felt naked .
“Is there a reason why I shouldn’t hate going back?”
“It would be okay if you had a valid reason . For example, if your life is threatened on Earth . In that case, I’ll understand and gladly help you . But seeing as Miss Foxy is your Inviter, I don’t think that’s the case . ”
“…… . ”
“Now that it’s come to this, I’ll be straightforward . ”
Jang Maldong said in a frank tone .
“You’re… a strange one . It’s like you want to settle down in Paradise permanently . ”
“Paradise is a great place . ”
“You know that’s not what I’m trying to say . ”
Jang Maldong continued patiently .
“If you travel between Paradise and Earth regularly as all Earthlings do, I wouldn’t be here speaking to you about this matter right now . But you’re different . You look like you haven’t the slightest intention of going back . ”
His words hit the nail on the head .
Driven into a corner, Seol Jihu snapped .
“Is it bad that I don’t want to go back?”
“Yes, it is bad . ”
“Why? Because I was born on Earth? But I like Paradise better . I like this world better, and I want to live here . Is there a problem with that?”
“Paradise is an extremely dangerous world at the moment . ”
Despite Seol Jihu’s rebellious tone, Jang Maldong remained calm .
“In this world, your life is in constant danger . If you die here in Paradise, not only you, but also your friends and family will suffer greatly when you go back to Earth . ”
‘…defeated the Parasites . ’ was what Seol Jihu was going to say next, but he managed to hold back his words .
It was true that he defeated them, but he put his life in danger many times while doing so .
Above all, he was well aware of what Jang Maldong was truly worried about .
“…Jihu . ”
Jang Maldong let out a long breath .
“The day I decided to come back to Paradise, Ian said this . ”
“Yes . He said that you needed someone to teach you and guide you on the right path . ”
Seol Jihu’s complexion waned when he heard Ian’s name .
“Do you think of me as your teacher?”
Seol Jihu nodded without a word .
“If you truly think so, then please tell me . As your teacher, I wish to understand and help my favorite, most precious student . ”
“…… . ”
“Please . ”
Faced with Jang Maldong’s sincerity, Seol Jihu could no longer remain stubborn .
He bit his lips for a while before lowering his head .
And he muttered .
“I feel like trash . ”
“Yes . Trash . ”
Seol Jihu slowly raised his head .
His face looked neither solemn nor mischievous .
His dull eyes appeared void of life .
“I’m trash . You didn’t see that coming, did you?”
“Trash… . ”
Listening to his student’s remorseful confession, Jang Maldong stroked his chin .
“…Is that true?”
He gave a small smile .
The avoider had finally spoken his mind .
“Did you kill someone?”
“No . ”
A bitter smile touched Seol Jihu’s lips .
“I don’t know of your past or how bad it is . ”
“Master, I… . ”
“Sure . Perhaps you really were trash like you say . I won’t say the past is past . Wrongdoings of the past are wrongdoings nonetheless . But even if you committed a terrible sin, depending on whether you take that opportunity to learn from your mistakes or remain the same, you can either be recycled or become a waste . ”
“… . ”
“And I believe you’ve already been recycled . ”
Jang Maldong’s eyes penetrated Seol Jihu .
“Because… . ”
The old man continued solemnly, making sure to articulate every word .
“The man named Seol Jihu, whom I, Jang Maldong, have witnessed with my own eyes here in Paradise, is a man who knows how to confront his fears like a rock, how to be decisive like a wave when necessary, how to challenge the impossible even when others oppose it, and how to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow . He’s a great young man . ”
‘Though at times he’s too stubborn and childish… . ’
Jang Maldong’s solemn expression dissolved into a heavy smile .
Seol Jihu remained stunned .
But unlike before, a light flickered in his eyes .
He was apparently surprised to hear his master’s unexpected words .
“That’s why I… . ”
A gentle smile spread across Jang Maldong’s wrinkled face .
“…Would like to see you overcome your past . If you feel like you can’t do it alone, I’ll gladly lend you a hand . I am your teacher, after all . ”
Seol Jihu shut his eyes .
He felt like he couldn’t run away from Jang Maldong anymore .
Or rather, he didn’t want to run away .
Because he knew his teacher would truly understand and help him .
“… . ”
But laying one’s weakness out in the open takes a lot of courage .
“… . ”
Jang Maldong no longer pressured his pupil .
He only waited patiently .
And so, after a long silence… .
“I… . ”
Seol Jihu finally spoke .
“I was crazy about gambling . That’s right, I was a gambling addict . ”
He was lost in the world of gambling .
He turned his back on his family and even betrayed his lover .
He wasted every day of his life .
It was the life of a trash .