Seol asked back.
“Are you going to do it or not?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“Let’s hear it.” (Seol)
“Number one. You will swear to me right now that you have never ever set foot in that other world before. Right here.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“Of course, I will do that. I swear to you.” (Seol)
“Number two. I want you to tell me your secret when I hand over the Invitation – the secret to this… inconsistency in you.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“I refuse.” (Seol)
Seol immediately refused.
“Ask for something else. I will not entertain questions about that topic again.” (Seol)
“Even if I were to give you a very special Invitation?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
A special Invitation? Seol was slightly tempted, but still shook his head.
“Still no. If I get to trust you a little more in the future, then maybe. But no.” (Seol)
….But, since he couldn’t be 100% sure, he left the door open a little.
Kim Hahn-Nah leaned her head back and while staring at the night sky, spat out a long sigh.
“….The final condition. After you’re admitted, you will always negotiate with me first before anybody else, regardless of what. Understood?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“What if I’m not admitted?” (Seol)
“Unless you’re the most worthless scumbag as*hole and an unlucky son of a b*tch, I’m pretty sure that ain’t gonna happen. I’m gonna make sure of that.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Her voice trembled from the shimmering heat of anger. Hearing that declaration, Seol quickly punched some numbers on his mental calculator. It seemed that Kim Hahn-Nah would not concede on the last point. If they failed to see eye to eye here, then, never mind receiving an Invitation, not even signing a Contract would become possible now.
‘I can see that she’s really attached to this Invitation, isn’t she…?’ (Seol)
Hearing her say the word ‘negotiation’, she definitely had thrown away any and all thoughts regarding the slave Contract now. After assessing his options, Seol decided to go for it.
“I accept.” (Seol)
“….Good.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah put her phone away. She let off a consecutive number of sighs while searching her inner pockets. And judging by how much her hand trembled, she must’ve found using it a very, very unfortunate occurrence.
There were four stamps caught neatly between her fingers emerging out from the jacket. One was coloured red, the other ones were bronze, silver, and finally, gold.
“Since you said you don’t want to sign the Contract….” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah removed the red stamp.
“As for the bronze…. I can use it with my authority, but then again, that’s for the public assets. So, no. No need to even mention the silver, too.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
The way she spoke while accidentally waving around her middle finger got on Seol’s nerves a bit, but he endured. The sole remaining stamp was the gold-coloured one. That was her so-called precious Invitation.
She tightly grasped the stamp with frustration and anguish on her face, before approaching Seol as if she was ready to devour him right on the spot.
“W, wait?!” (Seol)
“What? Aren’t we finished talking now? You wanted an Invitation, right?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“What is that gold stamp, then….?” (Seol)
“It’s my life, you b*stard!! My life!!” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah shouted at him, and then snatched the retreating Seol’s left arm. As if she was stabbing him with a dagger, she planted the golden stamp on the back of his left hand.
Suddenly, a golden light exploded. This golden light shone upwards, but, just like the receding flood water, the light dissipated from the top and eventually became dark, instead.
Feeling completely mystified, Seol shifted his gaze down to the back of his hand. Right in the middle, a small, round mark was emitting a reddish golden light from there. Although it disappeared quite rapidly as if being sucked under his skin, the sight still remained quite mesmerising.
Before he realised it, though, an envelope slapped him in the chest. Seeing how luxuriously packaged it was, he guessed that this was the Invitation letter.
“The Gate will open at 10:30 PM, tonight. It’s around two hours from now, so if you want to sort out your personal affairs, then go and do it. I don’t really care if you read the Invitation letter or not.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
While clutching the bag full of money, Kim Hahn-Nah abruptly turned on her heels to leave. Just as she took several steps away, she trembled noticeably, and turned around to glare at him one more time.
“You…. No matter what, you gotta survive, got that? I don’t care what you do, you better survive and get admitted, understand?!” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“I did so much for you already, so if you die there, let’s see what happens! I’ll get back every little thing you owe me by whatever means possible, understand?!” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
She must’ve been really, really angry. Kim Hahn-Nah’s voice was laced thick with incredible killing intent. But still, she rapidly disappeared into the darkness.
Seol plopped down on his butt. It felt like a wild storm just swept by a second ago. He danced along to the tune being played at the time, but with it having ended, he sure felt completely drained now.
Seol clenched and loosened his left fist a couple of times before shifting his focus to the Invitation letter. There was one letter neatly folded inside the envelope.
For some reason, he ended up recalling his past while feeling rather proud of himself. He had never ever received an invitation before, either in his life or during that dream of his, but now that he held one, this was quite a different kind of feeling to him.
Seol carefully unfolded the letter.
We’d like to sincerely thank you for accepting the Invitation to enter the ‘another world connected to ours’, the Lost Paradise.
The Lost Paradise is a world just for the small number of chosen people.
A world full of heart-pounding adventure and blindingly-bountiful treasures! A world where the living, breathing legendary artifacts and fierce competition for them still exists!
This Invitation letter will guide the honourable guest to the steps of Eden, to leave behind the drudgery of everyday lives!
*This Invitation letter is only issued to an honourable guest with the approval of the golden stamp.
*The opening time for the gate is 10:30 PM, March 16th, 2017. We strongly recommend that by this time, the honourable guest should find a quiet area without any witnesses present.
*This Invitation letter is required during the confirmation of the Marking as well as the starting bonus giveaway. Do not lose this letter during the admittance, and please bring it along with you.
*This Invitation letter allows the honourable guest to bring along another person as an aide.
“Ah. C**p.” (Seol)
Seol stopped reading every little word of the letter, and took a look at the phone’s screen. The time was already well past eight and was racing towards nine.
‘I don’t have a lot of time remaining.’
Seol complained slightly, before a wry smile formed on his lips. Kim Hahn-Nah told him to sort out his personal affairs, but he didn’t have a lot to begin with. His family had disowned him, and there was no one he could call a particularly close friend, either.
Even if he didn’t contact anyone for one, two months straight, he knew that others wouldn’t care. No, maybe they would be happier in the knowledge that he wasn’t bothering them.
In any case, the remaining time seemed neither here nor there. She didn’t even tell him to prepare things beforehand, too.
It was around here that he recalled Yu Seon-Hwah.
Seol shoved the Invitation letter inside his pocket and got up from his seat. All of a sudden, he felt like there was not enough time left.
The first place he headed off to was a local dry sauna. He scrubbed every part of his dirty body clean, and got a quick haircut by the barber’s within the sauna. One hour flew by, just like that.
He couldn’t even get to enjoy this long-time-coming refreshed feelings before he arrived super-fast back to his rented room, fast enough to give superheroes a run for their money. He switched to the cleanest set of clothes he could find, stopped by an ATM to withdraw 2 million Won, caught a taxi, and headed off to Nonhyun-dong.
While on his way there, he was beset with a constant worry.
Did he have to go and meet her? She would definitely not want to see his mug ever again. Seol hurt Yu Seon-Hwah badly with his stupid and ill tempered words. But, before he left, he wanted to apologise to her. Even if that meant getting a well-deserved slap in the face.
His heart pounded louder and faster the closer he got to Yu Seon-Hwah’s place. But, he somehow reined in his wildly beating heart and pressed the doorbell. No matter how long he waited, there was no response, though. He knocked several times, but it was as still as an empty church.
He had less than ten minutes remaining.
‘Is she still at work?’
Seol fiddled around with his phone, before sitting down on the staircase leading to the corridor.
‘Am I doing the right thing, I wonder?’
Now that he had come this far, he could no longer call that dream a stupid, childish nonsense. Well, the things he saw and experienced in the dream had become reality, after all. He wanted to shout out in a fit of uncertain frustration, but his anxiety was far greater for that.
The proverbial milk had been spilt already; the die had been cast, etc, etc. Regardless of what would happen next, he had to brave it.
Since he was already neck-deep in this now, Seol decided to see his situation in a positive light. He thought that, wouldn’t it be fine to do something, anything, with that bravery he showed off back when he tried to drown himself?
Just as he made up his mind, the clock reached 10:30 PM. Seol looked around his vicinity, and saw no one.
Almost at the same time, he heard a chime coming from the elevator. He saw the triangular green light with ‘1’ coming up on the elevator panel. Someone was coming up.
Before he lost the chance, Seol hurriedly pulled out the paper bag containing 2 million Won. Then, while kneeling, shoved the bag inside the mail slot in the door.
As he finished doing that, a circular light appeared right above Seol’s position and swallowed him up, before vanishing without a trace. This happened in the blink of an eye.
Shortly afterwards, the elevator doors opened and a lone woman stepped out. Yu Seon-Hwah seemed slightly exhausted as she unlocked the front door and entered her place, her face looking depressed.
She took an energy-less step forward, only to gently kick something.
Her eyes opened wider after spotting a weighty paper bag by her feet. She checked what was inside – and proceeded to quickly look behind in stunned silence.
All she could find was the lonely darkness quietly settling down on the empty corridor of the apartment.
The cold air tickling his toes must’ve been the culprit for the chill the sleeping Seol felt. He absentmindedly searched for his blanket, but the only thing his wandering fingers could grasp was a pillow.
He hugged the pillow real tight but the chill remained. Unfortunately, now that his brain had woken up, it didn’t want to go back to sleep. It let this fact known with a small but insistent migraine.
In the end, Seol opened his eyes.
Feeling somewhat lost, he took a look around. No matter how many times he looked, though – this place was still his rented room.
Surprised, Seol hurriedly looked at the back of his left hand. It was clean. He carefully studied it, but not a single indication of any Mark being there could be seen.
A bitter chuckle escaped from his lips.
“It was all a dream?”
He chuckled hoarsely to himself before lying down flat on the floor.
“Right. But, of course. Why would a measly old me get to…. Damn it! Are you trying to make fun of me or something…?”
Like a man who had lost his mind, he stared at the ceiling for a long while, before switching on the television.
– ….The temperature was dropping below the freezing point before, but at the moment, Seoul’s temperature is hovering around 2.4 Celsius. It’s higher than same time yesterday….
The darkened screen gradually flickered into life and the clear voice of a weather-girl entered his ears. But rather than watching the TV, Seol grabbed his cigarette packet and lightly shook it. He pulled out one of the two remaining cigarettes and stuck it between his lips, before changing the channel.
– Sinyoung Pharmaceuticals has announced that they have developed a new medicine….
Seol’s gaze chased away the faint blue smoke and landed on the TV’s screen.
The news channels were carrying the stories of new medications entering the market as their top headline for the past few days. Since Seol’s own dream had been so vivid, he naturally ended up paying attention to the news piece.
– Located in the city of Seoul, the Sinyoung Pharmaceuticals is a medical research firm established four years ago for the purpose of developing new medicines. More expectations are being placed on them as they have shown concrete results today as well….
The image on the screen changed, and a man wearing an unkempt white lab gown showed up.
– ….It possesses the characteristics of antioxidants that suppress the origin of the inflammation, as well as boosting the level of testosterone in the blood….
Maybe it was because of the cigarette smoke, Seol’s dizziness seemed to intensify. He crawled towards the nearest window, reached out, and opened it wide. He immediately felt a bit better when the cold wind hit him in the face.
He leaned against the wall, before sliding down to a squat in a quiet, absentminded daze. He stared at the TV spitting out unimportant and indecipherable babble and almost out of habit, reached down to his pocket.
He flinched. His hand stopped. He felt as if every single cell in his left hand had woken up back to life.
Slowly, ever so slowly….
Very slowly, he pulled out the object caught between his fingers. A familiar paper envelope revealed itself.
It was the Invitation letter.
Seol abruptly raised his head as soon as his phone began vibrating.
Seol instinctively stood up after that robotic announcement hit his eardrums. When he hurriedly looked outside his window, his jaw became slack.