Just as Seol took a step forward while pointing the sharp, broken edge of the chair leg at the monster…
It flinched and cowered. The monster quickly retracted its head and pressed its crawling body flat to the ground. And when his airborne first step finally came down to the floor, it retreated in a flash, its reaction speed as quick as a boar that got stung by a scorching skewer.
The sneakily retreating monster looked like it was very confused right about now, as if it couldn’t quite figure out why it was running away like this.
When the monster accepted the fact that it was getting suppressed by Seol’s aura, phlegm gurgled loudly in its throat. Its instincts were screaming out danger warnings.
This human in front of its eyes was incomparable to everyone else. If it attacked this man, then it would die.
The monster had already filled its belly to some extent. Also, there were lots of other prey running loose outside. There was no reason for the monster to brave this danger in here.
As soon as the monster made this decision, it rapidly escaped through the open door. Truly, it possessed quick wits and just as quick reflexes.
The broken leg of the chair slipped out of Seol’s hand and fell. Seol looked around the assembly hall’s empty interior with a somewhat dazed face. He looked totally deflated right now.
Not a long time had passed, yet he could spot well over ten corpses lying on the pool of blood. Eventually, the hole that monster crawled out from caught his attention.
‘It’s the hole from the diary.’
So, that was it, then. The hole from the diary was that one.
Seol took another glance at the hall’s exit. There was some hesitation, but he still chose to cross the floor and cautiously peered over the edge, now dripping wet with blood. Then, he carefully stepped into it.
Seol arrived at the basement floor. He decided to walk forward, at least for the time being. He must’ve overused his powers a bit, since his mind and body felt quite fatigued.
The corridor bent 90 degrees up front, and he eventually arrived at the part where it was lined with doors set at a regular interval on either sides. It seemed that the school had used this underground floor as the space for club meetings and activities. Seol pushed open the door with a colourful banner proclaiming “Go, anywhere!”
The room beyond was small and intimate, only about three or four pyungs wide. Checking the posters hanging on the walls, it seemed that this room belonged to a travel club. (TL: 1 pyung = 3.3 square metres)
Seol lowered the golden bag from his shoulder and sat down against the wall.
As he sat there like a man in a trance, his once-hazy consciousness seemed to return to him, bit by bit. It was as if he was waking up from a long dream.
And, soon enough….
‘What was I even thinking….?’
The previously-forgotten terror and disgust came crashing, in that order. The smell of blood he had blocked out of his mind, with the help from the adrenaline rush, caused him to gag out reflexively. When he recalled the appearance of the so-called weakling monster, his entire body began shivering in fear.
However, all of this only lasted for a short moment. When he slowly gathered his breaths, the shivering and shaking came to a stop. Feeling his heart settle down, Seol couldn’t help but form a wry smile.
Was the demonic destroyer Seol of the dream the real him?
Or was the man shivering in fear right now the real him, instead?
It all felt like he was experiencing the Zhuangzi’s ‘the Butterfly Dream’ right now. (TL note at the end)
Seol gritted his teeth and focused his mind, trying to organise what had happened so far.
The first thing to figure out was the questions regarding his eyes.
The evolved ability called ‘Nine Eyes’…. Now this managed to give Seol quite a bit of mental shock. After all, he had been living under the assumption that seeing the green colour was all his eyes were capable of.
‘No, it wasn’t that there were no other colours, I just couldn’t see them.’
The newly-unlocked colours were yellow, vermillion, and crimson. Just as important, there were other colours yet to be unlocked.
Kahng Seok was shown in yellow colour, the so-called ‘Attention Required’; yet there was no colour for Yi Surl-Ah. That meant he couldn’t see her colour yet.
Thinking about that girl, his thoughts became rather complicated. Her pleading shouts of help still rang around in his head. If he didn’t take his time making up his mind, could that good-hearted girl still be alive by now?
‘They got there already?’
The sudden announcement helped clear out Seol’s mind somewhat.
I’ve somehow managed to hide in the basement, but tears keep pouring out of my eyes. I can’t stop crying.
I can’t forget the screams of my friends dying right in front of me.
What kind of a monster was that? And why…. Oh, God. Please, help me….
I cried for so long. Eventually, my stomach grumbled in hunger.
I knew this wasn’t the right time nor the place, but still, I’m so hungry….
Seol read the diary of an unknown student carefully, before discovering that there was a file attached to it as well. Things were quite hectic not too long ago, so he must’ve missed it. When he clicked on the file and opened it, Seol’s eyes became wide in surprise.
The attached file was actually the blueprint-like map of the entire school grounds. When he clicked on the ‘main building’, that portion of the map expanded in size and Seol could easily check out the building’s interior layout.
His gaze fell on a spot by the second floor. This particular room was in a rectangular shape, and there were six blue blinking icons located on or near the edges and lines demarcating the walls. However, he saw one of them changed to red colour, before ceasing to blink altogether.
Seol was trying to figure out what those blue blinking icons could mean when he heard the sounds of knocking on the door. Surprised, Seol turned around to look, and found the door briefly being bathed in green hue before the colour vanished completely.
“….He’s not in here, either?”
“Who’s there?” (Seol)
Seol’s sharp voice stopped the noise on the outside from moving away.
“Whew, finally found you. Hey man, can I come inside? Oh, right. I’m not trying to threaten you or anything, so please, relax.”
“If you don’t feel comfortable with me joining you, just say so. I will leave you alone in peace.”
“….Come in.” (Seol)
The door slowly creaked open.
“Thank you! I was actually worried just now that you’d tell me to scram or something.”
The man entering the club room while speaking in a jovial tone was one of the eight Invited – he who wore a green baseball cap over his slightly long hair; his softly tanned complexion was slightly covered by a pair of sunglasses.
“Man, I had to work hard just to find you. I mean, the bloody footsteps were getting faint, and there were so many of these rooms here too…. Oh, right. You also want a smoke?”
The man put his bag down on the floor and raised a small fuss, before suddenly presenting Seol with a packet of cigarettes. Wordlessly, Seol fished out his own packet. He still had one cigarette left.
“You smoke a hybrid? I don’t like them. Hate those weird flavours, man.”
He then proceeded to light Seol’s cigarette. Soon enough, two men were staring at each other while blue smokes lazily drifted in between them.
The man slowly opened his mouth.
“Should we introduce each other? Name’s Hyun Sahng-Min.”
“Seol? Kinda girly name, don’t you think? Is it a single syllable name?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“How did you find me?” (Seol)
Seol changed the topic. Hyun Sahng-Min didn’t seem to mind. He simply flicked the fingers holding the cigarette.
“I saw you at the assembly hall, entering the hole in the floor.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“You remained in the hall, too?” (Seol)
“No, no. I also ran for the exit, you see. But I came back…. Huh, you were in there the whole time?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol nodded his head silently. Seeing this reply, Hyun Sahng-Min simply scratched his head. He then quickly continued on with his explanations.
At the critical juncture between life and death, the crowd was able to remove the pulpit and the piled up chairs to yank open the exit door. The escaping people then scattered to everywhere. Some headed off towards the front gate of the school, but the majority followed Kahng Seok and ran to the front entrance of the main school building.
However, they encountered a new problem: the entrance was locked.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t have any time on our hands, though. You see, that monster looked like it would chase us down right away, but for some reason, it didn’t.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min took a look at Seol for a short while, and then carried on.
“But, no matter what we did, kicking, pushing, shoving…. Whatever the f*ck we did, the door didn’t budge. And we were getting all damn anxious and everything. And to make matters worse, the monster showed up, too. I’m telling you, it was no damn joke back then.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“So, what happened?” (Seol)
“Dunno. I was trying to pick up a rock or something in the nearby flower garden to crack the windows open, but when I saw the monster, I took off, man. I took a long way around and came back to the assembly hall.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min lowered his sunglasses and smirked slightly.
“Since it attacked there once already, I figured it wouldn’t show up there again.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“And you happened to see me, and then decided to follow me.” (Seol)
“Yep. Never in my wildest imaginations did I think you’d enter the hole. I was understandably hesitating on what to do. But, when I got down there, you were long gone. So, I’ve been looking for you until now.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“What the? You asking cuz you don’t know?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min prattled on. Of course, Seol too could more or less figure out the reason.
“It’s simple, really. I want to join you. That’s why I searched for you…. So? What do you think? You want to ride alone or with me in tow?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“If you are willing to let others tag along, well, how about me? But, I’m telling you this right now, I’m not planning to leech off you or anything like that.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
When Seol remained silent, Hyun Sahng-Min became more anxious than before.
“Alright, let me say this out loud. Me, I can endure unfairness, but I can definitely not stand losing out, man.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol stared back somewhat confused by this statement. Hyun Sahng-Min killed off his cigarette and sat up straight.
“Listen, man. What I’m proposing here isn’t an equal partnership. No, it’s more like a vertical relationship.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“A vertical relationship?” (Seol)
“That’s right, man. You let me tag along, then I’m gonna carry out your orders, man. And yeah, I’m willing to take on some amount of danger for you if you ask me to.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min’s proposal was simple and easy enough to understand.
‘It’s fine to use me.’
‘I’m a pretty useful guy, so believe me and utilise me.’
Seol could just about understand why this man was willing to go this far, in this manner.
It was all because of Seol’s golden Mark. There was also the possibility that Hyun Sahng-Min had figured something out back in the assembly hall, too.
However, Hyun Sahng-Min wasn’t a selfless good Samaritan. Obviously, he would want something in return.
“What do you want in return?” (Seol)
“Well, lots of things, but…. For now, surviving and making my way to the Paradise. That should suffice.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol studied Hyun Sahng-Min for a while.
“If you’re a lone wolf, I will respect that. I also don’t want to force the issue. I told you this before, didn’t I? You don’t want me, then I’ll quietly go away.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
He spoke up to here, and slowly offered his hand.
To be perfectly honest, Seol wasn’t feeling “it”. If it was someone like Yi Surl-Ah, then he wouldn’t even hesitate and said yes in a heartbeat, but, as for Hyun Sahng-Min, well…. Nothing really seemed to pull Seol’s attention.
However, there was one point about Hyun Sahng-Min that was rather similar to that now-deceased girl.
‘I can’t see his colour.’
If his colour was yellow – the ‘Attention Required’ – then Seol would have refused right away. But the fact of him not being able to see Hyun Sahng-Min’s colour really played on Seol’s mind.
Thinking to himself that it wouldn’t be so bad to wait and see, Seol grasped the offered hand of Han Sahng-Min and shook it.
“Nice!” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min smiled brightly as if he was genuinely happy.
“Nice, very nice! Now, I’m also a member of the best team in the world!” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
If left alone for any longer, he might have broken out in a song and dance. Hyun Sahng-Min eventually stopped making a fuss and got closer to Seol.
“So, what are you going to do now? Mind telling me what your plans are?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol fell into a deep contemplation. Since he possessed a map, going to the second floor waiting area would be a walk in the park if he decided to head there right away. Although that monster was still roaming around, as long as he used his ability, they’d be able to avoid any danger.
Out of the blue, Seol recalled the words of Kim Hahn-Nah and nearly burst out in a fit of laughter. She was right. She indeed made it so much easier for him already, so he’d better survive this event or else.
Seol grabbed his bag as he stood up. Hyun Sahng-Min stared at him without saying anything.
“For now, let’s get out of here.” (Seol)
The two of them left the club room and continued down on the long corridor. The door at the end of the corridor led to the underground parking lot. Of course, they couldn’t spot a single parked car there.
While they crossed the parking lot, Hyun Sahng-Min continued to yap on and on. He asked about what Seol got from his box, he got 500 Survival points or something, he had no idea where to even spend that so it must’ve been garbage, etc, etc.
Meanwhile, Seol walked forward while checking the map every now and then.
When Seol didn’t even reply once, Hyun Sahng-Min became somewhat embarrassed and hurriedly cleared his throat.
“So, where are we going? Are you looking for a staircase?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“Eh? Aren’t we supposed to go to the second floor?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“Sure, we are.” (Seol)
Seol shook his head while looking at his phone’s screen.
“However, there’s no need for us to go there right away.” (Seol)
“How come? Isn’t it better to get there as soon as possible?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“As soon as possible? Were we told anything regarding the order of arrival dictating things?” (Seol)
“That is…..” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
That was a no. The message simply stated that they had to arrive at the destination before the time ran out. And they had over three hours and thirty minutes remaining.
Seeing Hyun Sahng-Min continuously blink his eyes in confusion, Seol felt a need to explain himself a bit more.
“Think about it. How long do you think you will need to get to the second floor waiting area from the assembly hall?” (Seol)
“Dunno. If you ran with everything you had…. less than a minute, maybe?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“That’s correct. This school’s assembly hall is constructed pretty close to the main building.” (Seol)
The objective of the mission was far, far too easy. Even a normal, unprepared person would be able to clear it.
“Don’t you think that’s a little strange? Even if you were delayed, the whole trip wouldn’t have taken more than five minutes.” (Seol)
“Isn’t it because the door was locked?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“A locked door could be broken into, and that would be it. And you heard that announcement before, right? Those three must’ve succeeded somehow. In other words, clearing this mission wouldn’t take that long of a time.” (Seol)
“Then, what about the monster?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“Even if you consider that variable, you wouldn’t need more than one hour. Two hours, tops. Four hours for a minute’s worth of distance is just too much.” (Seol)
Didn’t the Guide Han say something similar before, too?
….It’s not very difficult to get here….
He did say that. Truthfully, ten minutes were more than enough for Seol to find and arrive at the assembly hall. In the end, Seol only needed around four minutes to make his entrance, so it was as if he was given twice of the time he might need in order to accomplish his task.
So, what Seol found odd was that the distance he needed to cover got shortened, yet the time limit grew by several folds. There must’ve been a reason for that – a reason for four hours long time limit.
Hyun Sahng-Min wasn’t a fool, either. As if he too had realised something, he stopped talking and began rubbing his chin.
“So, what you’re saying is, although the mission itself is simple and easy, we have been given way too much time…. Is that right?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“Also, we’ve been told that this is just the first mission. Which means, there will be a second mission, a third mission, so on and so forth. And….” (Seol)
Also, the fact that they were told to gather on the second floor and not anywhere higher…. While walking, Seol added more of his thoughts.
“In any case, the main point is, there isn’t a real need to get there as soon as possible. It’ll be fine for us to get there after procuring what we might need later on. There are multiple ways to get to the second floor, as well.” (Seol)
“And how do you know that?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol showed him the phone’s screen. Hyun Sahng-Min came closer to take a look, and spat out a loud snort.
“What the! Isn’t this a map? But, I didn’t receive one, though?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“I got it as my bonus. Okay, this is where we are going.” (Seol)
Seol tapped on the screen, and the map of the basement floor expanded.
“This underground level is connected to the entire school premise. Below the assembly hall, there are the club rooms. After we cross this parking lot, we will arrive at the main building’s basement.” (Seol)
Seol soon stopped his steps. He then proceeded to open wide a glass door, which led the two to see what lay beyond. Hyun Sahng-Min couldn’t help but shout out in glee.
They saw a long and straight corridor. To the left, there was a staircase going up, while on the right, three doors labelled ‘Library’, ‘Convenience Store’, and ‘Stationery’.
Hyun Sahng-Min’s entire attention was devoted towards the convenience store. Only now could he fully understand the point Seol had been making, the one that was teasingly within his reach but eluded him until now.
There were three things that a human couldn’t do without, if one wanted to continue living. One, three minutes without air. Two, three days without water. And three, three weeks without sustenance.
In other words, Seol came here with the purpose of solving the most basic need for one’s survival.
‘Well, I guess he’s not a gold Mark for nothing, huh.’ (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min’s gaping mouth didn’t want to close. He couldn’t hide his shock at all, since he was only thinking of quickly getting to his destination ever since the details of the mission had been announced.
‘I gotta stay with this guy. Doesn’t matter what happens, I gotta, definitely. Kahng Seok can’t even lick this guy’s boots, for crying out loud!’ (Hyun Sahng-Min)
It wasn’t as if Hyun Sahng-Min carried any ill feelings towards Kahng Seok and his crew. But there was an undeniable difference between Seol and those guys who simply ran to the main building. Should he say that the thought process was on another level altogether? It was to the point where Hyun Sahng-Min had to question whether Seol was the same human being as the rest of them.
“I thought it would be a tuck shop, but it turns out, it’s a convenience store. The students of this school must’ve had it real good.” (Seol)
“Hold up!” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol was about to enter the convenience store when his shoulders were grabbed by the visibly excited Hyun Sahng-Min, who then proceeded to lightly pound on his chest like a proud gorilla.
“Good. Great! Freaking amazing! I get it now. Let me handle this from now on.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“You were planning to go upstairs after sweeping this place clean, right?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“Something like that. So?” (Seol)
“What if there’s something inside? It’s times like this you’re supposed to use me.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Declaring so, Hyun Sahng-Min sneaked inside the convenience store. However, most of the corridor’s right side wall was made up of glass, so one could literally look inside the stores from the outside.
Shortly thereafter, Hyun Sahng-Min raised his hand and sent an okay signal, as if he had finally ascertained that everything was perfectly in order. Seol had already checked the place out with his ability, so he could only chuckle softly as he entered.
The first place they checked out was, of course, the convenience store. The place was smaller than they expected, but still, each of the shelves were stocked to the brim with various food items.
“Keh. This is so good, man. So dayum good!” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min popped open the lid of a can of Cola and gulped it down.
“Hey, let’s hurry up. It’ll get very awkward for us if we take too long and the monster shows up.” (Seol)
“Roger that!” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself while robbing this store. Seol too began stuffing his bag with things like canned foods, sealed instant Gimbaps, and others that were small but packed with energy. (TL: “gimbap” = rice balls stuffed with veggies and meat, wrapped in sheets of nori/laver)
And while they were busy sweeping everything away…
“Mm? What’s going on?” (Seol)
“What? What happened?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol realised that something was off when he was about to stuff the bag with a bottle of water.
Although he was carefully arranging things as he shoved them inside the bag, there seemed to be a lot of space left over still. It was a similar story with the weight, too. Since he had stuffed the bag with lots of things, it should weigh a ton by now, yet all he could sense was only a slight increase in the overall weight.
“….I guess even our bags got discriminated, huh.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min was envious, seeing that his bag was already bursting at the seams.
In the end, Seol even had to sweep the daily necessities away into the bag just to make it seem near full. After they ransacked the convenience store clean, they began going through the library and the stationery store separately.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t as encouraging. A map of the basement was discovered in the library, but they already had one, so it was of no use. It was the same story for the stationery shop; well, they certainly didn’t need a notebook or a pen right now. They did pick up a few cutting knives just in case, and soon, they left the underground corridor for good.
Hyun Sahng-Min was whistling a tune as they climbed up the staircase, but when Seol gave him the signal, he quietened right down.
When they got to the first floor, they ran into a huge ivory-coloured metal door. The acrid odour of blood assaulted their noses when the door was creaked open ever so slightly.
T/N: For all the readers from Europe, Korea follows American way of assigning floors. 1st floor in Korea = ground floor in EU, 2nd floor in Korea = 1st floor in EU, etc.
“I think that’s the place.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
“What place?” (Seol)
“You know, the locked entrance I told you about. The door was locked, but I could look inside just fine, you see. I’m pretty sure of it now, seeing that staircase right over there. However….” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min deeply frowned.
“God d*mn it. A lot of people must’ve died here. They did gain the entry somehow, though, by the look of things.” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
It was as he said; Seol could see through the open gap bits of broken glass and splashes of blood lining the floor. The steps of the staircase going up were painted in such a thick amount of blood that it was hard to tell what their original colour might have been.
The friend who stepped out first screamed. Another friend following out right after tried to stop in a hurry, but slipped like someone being swept away.
Only after we lost two more of our friends did we realise the trick to the staircase….
“You know, those stairs gives me the creeps. How about we forget about those, and carry on with our staircase, instead?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Seol agreed with Hyun Sahng-Min’s suggestion. Besides, they already had a staircase behind them that led up anyways, so no real need to utilise that one over there.
Most importantly, though – those steps were shining in deep orange glow within Seol’s vision – do not approach, in other words.
Seol carefully closed shut the door and turned around. They quietly but quickly mounted the stairs and soon, their destination came into view.
However, what greeted them by the entrance to the second floor wasn’t another ivory-coloured metal door. No, for some reason, several thick metal spikes stood there, blocking their progress.
‘It shouldn’t be like this.’ (Seol)
Seol checked the map one more time, but they were on the right path. This was the most direct route when considering the convenience store’s location.
“Do we need to press something?” (Hyun Sahng-Min)
Hyun Sahng-Min looked around but couldn’t find anything resembling a button nearby.
Seol stared at the metal spikes for a bit, before his brows furrowed slightly.
‘They don’t have any colours to them?’
If they were not in green colour, then it meant they were not ‘normal’.
Seol tilted his head a bit, before reaching out with his hand.
And at the exact moment his hand touched the metal spike….