The door seemed to almost break as the fierce pounding continued, and it issued a harsh metallic protest. No, it was better to describe that the door would break, very soon.
Even seeing with naked eyes, it was difficult to believe that it was really happening; the thick metal door was struck only twice, yet it caved in as if it was made up of paper. Several thick metal hinges were hanging dangerously loose, ready to fall at the slightest impact.
“W, we need to block that!!”
Rather than shouting, it was more like everyone fell into a frenzy.
The movements of humans when their lives were under threat were remarkably swift. Yi Surl-Ah picking up her chair and running towards the door signaled the beginning; dozen bodies all rushed towards there, too.
Someone brought along unoccupied chairs, someone climbed up the stage to see if there was anything useful up there, while the rest simply used their bodies to push against the door.
The noisy, consecutive pounding on the door seemed to contain certain amount of anger, and the resulting impact force managed to knock four, five guys away as if they weighed nothing.
“Move out of the way!!”
Just in time, a group had brought down the pulpit from the stage and jammed it against the door. Although that alone wouldn’t be enough to completely block the door, it was still better than nothing.
Chairs got piled up alongside the pulpit in the blink of an eye. On top of that, twenty-odd men propped the door up with everything they had. Soon, the door no longer looked like it’d break down. And, after a man placed a chair below the door handle like an improvised door stop, the crowd began sighing out in genuine relief.
Yi Surl-Ah stopped propping the door with her back and squatted down on the floor as if she was feeling dizzy.
Maybe the sight of a young frail girl fighting desperately looked pitiful to him, a middle-aged man spoke to her while wiping the sweat off his brows.
“Hey, there. Even though you’re so young, you are very quick witted, indeed.”
He was speaking about her making the move first. People who acted after she had made hers nodded their heads in agreement. If it weren’t for Yi Surl-Ah’s quick actions, the door might have broken down by now.
Yi Surl-Ah didn’t know how to respond and shyly lowered her gaze.
“No, it wasn’t like that….” (Yi Surl-Ah)
“I froze up from the fear, myself. But boy, was I shocked or what, watching you react like that. When I realised, heh, I was also moving, you see.”
“Everyone did their best to help. I wouldn’t have been able to block the doorway by myself.” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Yi Surl-Ah’s embarrassed appearance helped to alleviate some of the tense atmosphere permeating within the assembly hall. Her gentle personality really did suit that bright and pretty appearance to a T. Also, the fact that she was an Invited, as well as the first person to respond, were enough for the group to develop a favourable impression towards her.
Unfortunately, the event that happened just now was far too shocking to instill a warm and cordial atmosphere.
“So, what should we do next, then?”
Someone’s resigned sigh-like muttering brought everyone back to reality. Some turned their expectant eyes towards Yi Surl-Ah’s direction, but even she was at a loss.
Soon, the collective gazes of the Contracted were focusing on the Invited.
Once the chaos had died down, Seol turned his attention back to his phone. Besides the message from the Guide, he had received two more. One of them happened to be the ‘diary of an unknown student’, his so-called bonus item.
….There was only one door in and out of the assembly hall. We did somehow block it up, but at the same time, we also ended up blocking our only way out.
Before long, the outside had become quiet.
Sadly, my classmates were divided into two groups.
One group wanted to wait and see for a while longer, while the other group wanted to go outside to take a look…
By the time the infighting became heated, we had forgotten about the existence outside the walls.
….We all got to learn that, that ‘thing’ was not a simple monster or a zombie soon enough, though.
It was pandemonium. No other words could describe it.
The door we had desperately blocked had become useless.
….During the mayhem, I was able to somehow discover the ‘hole’.
Seol was paying attention to the last line. By the time he raised his head, though, the group of Contracted had somehow inched closer to his general location, almost managing to surround him.
“Wowsers. It’s just the beginning, yet they aren’t messing around. Look at the goosebumps on my arms!” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok was busy rubbing his arm, but he seemed to have more than enough leeway as he spoke those words.
“Now that the door is all blocked up, I wonder what should we do next….” (Kahng Seok)
His words and attitude raised hopes in the hearts of the Contracted that a quick solution to their problems would be found soon. However….
“Let’s go. Let’s just poke around here and there, see what’s what.” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok only took his lackeys, Lee Hyung-Sik and Jeong Min-Woo, along with him, prompting those waiting for an answer to their prayers to be dumbstruck, instead.
The bespectacled middle-aged man wearing a worn-out business suit – the man who praised Yi Surl-Ah earlier – hurriedly stepped in front of them.
“E, excuse me.”
“Hey, Hyung-Sik, check out the back of the stage. And Min-Woo, you should….” (Kahng Seok)
“Excuse me, young man!”
“….What, me?” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok’s reply arrived some breaths later.
The middle-aged man couldn’t be sure if he made a mistake or not, but he felt that Kahng Seok did that deliberately.
“What are you all trying to do?”
“Uh…. Searching around the assembly hall?” (Kahng Seok)
“Around the assembly hall?”
“Yeah. Like those guys.” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok pointed towards the stage, where Yun Seo-Rah and the man named Hyun Sahng-Min – the man with the green baseball cap – were busy searching around, their heads turning this way and that while doing so.
“To find what, exactly?”
“Not really sure. Now that the exit is all blocked up, I guess we gotta find something, right? We don’t know what might happen next, anyways.” (Kahng Seok)
“Right, right. That’s right. Of course.”
The middle-aged man nodded his head quite enthusiastically, necessitating him to catch the falling glasses and put it back on his nose.
“So, you want us to help as well?”
Kahng Seok frowned slightly.
“Why are you…. Do what you want, mister. It’s not like I’m the boss here or anything.” (Kahng Seok)
“That’s true, true. But, you guys, well, how should I say this… Hmm. You guys are different from us, isn’t that right?”
“Sure, we’re different. So, what is it that you want to say?” (Kahng Seok)
The tone of Kahng Seok’s voice remained curt. He even sounded quite similar to how the Guide sounded when talking to the Contracted.
“What I’m trying to say here is, we should help each other out. That is all.”
The middle-aged man ignored the hostile tone and pleaded his case, but all he got back instead was a dismissive chuckle.
“I’ll have to politely decline. It’ll get very annoying with more people clinging on us, so I don’t want to.” (Kahng Seok)
“What do you mean, annoying?”
“Whatever. You take care of your own business, okay? Us three, we will go on our way.” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok refused the middle-aged man’s offer without hesitation and turned around to leave. The middle-aged man shouted out, “Hey, wait a minute, young man!”, but Kahng Seok didn’t bother and kept on walking away.
“What a petty b*stard.”
Kahng Seok’s steps came to an abrupt halt. He stared at the ceiling for a moment or two, spat out a long sigh, and turned his head to look at the source of that name-calling.
He found a woman sitting with her knees tucked under her staring at him with venomous eyes. It was Shin Sahng-Ah.
“What did you call me?” (Kahng Seok)
“You’re a selfish b*stard. You only care about your own neck.” (Shin Sahng-Ah)
“What the hell…. Hey, you’re wrong about that, though? I care about these two fellas too, you know?” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok wrapped his arms around the shoulders of his lackeys as an oily smile formed on his lips. Shin Sahng-Ah’s eyes became even more hostile.
“Oww, man. Look at how she glares! You might kill someone with such eyes, lady.” (Lee Hyung-Sik)
“Hey, isn’t she that dumb woman who threw a tantrum just now? You know, asking for a bag of her own and sh*t.” (Jeong Min-Woo)
Lee Hyung-Sik and Jeong Min-Woo giggled hoarsely at her expense. Didn’t the old saying go along the line of ‘the sister-in-law trying to stop the mother-in-law is more hateful than the mother-in-law beating you up’? (TL note at the end)
“Can’t you see these people over here? There are women and children here!” (Shin Sahng-Ah)
“I can see just fine. I’ve got good eyes, you know.” (Kahng Seok)
Shin Sahng-Ah shouted at him in anger, but Kahng Seok didn’t even blink an eye.
“And, and you three…. just want to survive all by yourselves only?” (Shin Sahng-Ah)
“What do you expected us to do, when we’re also in a hurry?” (Kahng Seok)
“That’s why we said we’ll help, didn’t we?!” (Shin Sahng-Ah)
“My good lord. How can you be this dense? Hey, listen up. We don’t need your measly help, nor do we want it in the first place. Stop trying to lump us with useless baggage like you.” (Kahng Seok)
“Useless baggage?!” (Shin Sahng-Ah)
“Yep. You are nothing more than baggage. Even a blind fool can see that you’re trying to leech off us. So, shoo, shoo. Go away.” (Kahng Seok)
Shin Sahng-Ah became flabbergasted and her mouth gradually opened up in disbelief.
“You three…. are you even human beings?” (Shin Sahng-Ah)
“Oh? In that case? Maybe you’re all parasites, then?” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok sarcastically retorted right until the end. Shin Sahng-Ah couldn’t hold her fury anymore and stood right up, getting ready to slap him. Kahng Seok snorted derisively and retracted his arms from the shoulders of his lackeys.
And just as the volatile situation was about to blow up, a young girl hurriedly jumped in between the two parties and intervened. It was none other than Yi Surl-Ah.
“Please, both of you, stop!” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Shin Sahng-Ah opened her mouth to say something, but must have thought that it was unwise, because she simply turned her head away instead and said nothing. But her clenched fists were trembling in rage. Meanwhile, Kahng Seok simply shook his head in derision.
“It’s barely enough to get through this even when we’re working together, yet why are you two fighting like this?” (Yi Surl-Ah)
“Working together, my a*s.” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok shot back with a shout.
“Us three, we go way back. Even before we got here, you know? That’s why, we came here with a plan of our own.” (Kahng Seok)
“But!” (Yi Surl-Ah)
“But, but, but. Kiss my butt, instead. Hey, you’re also an Invited, so you should’ve realised it by now, too.” (Kahng Seok)
Kahng Seok smirked and offered his hand to Yi Surl-Ah.
“Let’s stop bickering over this, okay? Surl-Ah, why don’t you join up with us? Your brother’s Sung-Jin, right? I’ll take him under my wings, too.” (Kahng Seok)
“….Why are you willing to let us tag along with your group?” (Yi Surl-Ah)
“That’s obvious, isn’t it? Unlike them, you two are going to be very helpful for us.” (Kahng Seok)
“You’re a very callous person, aren’t you?” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Yi Surl-Ah’s expression showed how disappointed she was, while her words slowly but powerlessly leaked out of her mouth.
“I thought you were a good person, too….” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Kahng Seok shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. And then, raised his hand up high.
“Hey, man! What about you?” (Kahng Seok)
‘You’ being, a certain youth standing there minding his own business a short distance away from them.
It was Seol.
“Don’t you want to get this stupid Tutorial over and done with as soon as possible? I’m sure we’ll finish up real fast if you join us.” (Kahng Seok)
Although the whole situation had turned out into a strange farce, it really didn’t matter in the end. Right now, even an idiot could figure out Seol’s unknown worth.
After all, he was someone not even the Guide couldn’t talk down to. He was, in other words, someone special.
“Please, help us!” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Even Yi Surl-Ah pleaded with him.
“Please, help these people! Don’t abandon them, please!” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Seol couldn’t help but feel like he was stuck in a rock and a hard place, what with being singled out like this.
On one side, Kahng Seok and on the other, Yi Surl-Ah.
And on one side, the Invited, and the other, the Contracted.
One side talked the reality of the situation, while the other tried to appeal to his emotions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when faced with such a choice, Seol instinctively activated his ability. The entirety of the assembly hall was bathed in the cacophony of colours.
‘What the…?’ (Seol)
For a moment there, Seol mistakenly thought that he was sinking into a sea of blood.
And no, it turned out that he didn’t make a mistake.
The colours of blocked-up exit had changed from orange to green; instead, it was Kahng Seok who was shining in orange now. There was no colour shining from Yi Surl-Ah at the same time.
However, Seol couldn’t afford to mind these changes in colour at this moment. Why?
Because, the entire floor was dyed in the deep shade of crimson, that was why. It was as if he was looking at the sea of blood.
‘….Recommended to make a hasty retreat, wasn’t it?’ (Seol)
….Just as Seol thought this, a loud alarm bell went off inside his head.
Suddenly, the wooden floor of the assembly hall quaked upwards. And the aged wooden floorboards began tearing up, pieces violently flying off one by one. People had to perform unsteady dances while trying to regain their lost balance as the floor rumbled.
“W, what the hell?!”
That line of thought proved to be far too lackadaisical for the current situation.
It happened in the blink of an eye.
The floor exploded as if a bomb had went off. And from between the gaps of flying bits of wood, a lengthy and rotting arm shot out. There were six hook-like things attached to the end of this arm.
This arm drew a short but sharp arc in the air and came down to the floor, before grabbing the hair of the totally dazed and stiffly standing Yi Surl-Ah, proceeding to drag her down the newly-created hole.
“KKYAHCK!!” (Yi Surl-Ah)
Her head slammed into the floorboard with vengeance and bounced up, and like a golf ball rolling towards the flag hole, she got rapidly sucked into the gaping black hole on the wooden floor.
“Noonaaaa!!!” (Yi Sung-Jin)
Yi Sung-Jin pounced on the upside-down pair of legs kicking helplessly in the air.
“Heeeeelp!!” (Yi Sung-Jin)
That cry sobered up everyone right away, and the crowd rushed in to grab hold of Yi Sung-Jin, as he was also getting dragged into the hole as well. As the ten-odd pairs of hands tugged and pulled and yanked, shoes flew away, and then, even loose socks came flying.
Amongst the hectic chaos, somehow some people managed to grab Yi Surl-Ah’s flailing legs and ankles, and from there, a desperate tug of war unfolded.
“Hold on!! Don’t let go!”
“Pull up!! I said, pull them up!!”
The whole place descended into pure, unbridled chaos. Cries and shouts were roared out; no one dared to hold back, as they struggled hard.
Even with the combined strength of ten plus men, Yi Surl-Ah couldn’t be pulled out of the hole. They were being roughly rocked from side to side due to the sheer force pulling down from below, causing many to lose their grips and crash to the floor.
“Hey! Don’t let go!”
It was then.
*SFX for a loud, terrified scream of a woman*
The scream was definitely from Yi Surl-Ah, yet the horrifying screeching tone made it seemingly impossible for a human to issue such a sound.
And from the hole, crimson liquid exploded upwards. It was like seeing a blender stuffed full of tomatoes switching on but with its lid not closed, and then, crushed bits of flesh and juice were flying off to everywhere.
The crimson blood rained down like a small fountain.
“Noona!! Noonaaaa!!” (Yi Sung-Jin)
Her legs that were kicking and twisting until now, suddenly went dead straight and still. All of her ten toes curled up simultaneously; her thighs trembled; and then, just like a puppet with its strings cut, her knees folded. A certain sickening sensation of something being cut was transmitted to the hands of all trying to pull her back out.
The pulling force from below was suddenly gone. Everyone fell back hard on their rear ends with loud thuds.
Among them, a man was rubbing his aching butt. And while frowning, he took a look at his hands.
He was still holding onto a slender ankle. Below that, a smooth, rather shapely leg. Even further below, a blue skirt soaked in blood.
Beyond that…. he couldn’t see any other connecting body parts. All he could see was some remains of crushed intestines and bits of mangled flesh.
He saw a shape of something human slowly rising up from the hole in the floorboards.
Its long, unkempt hair seemed to dance around unrestrained, caked with blood and bits of human flesh from top to bottom.
Its head was at least four times the size of a grown adult man’s head. And there was a single giant eye that took up almost the half of that large head.
“Ah, ah, ahhhhaaaack!!”
The man couldn’t hold back it any longer and screamed. He got up as quickly as he could, and ran for his life. He didn’t know where to, but as long as he could get as far away from that creature as humanly possible, he’d be fine with that.
Soon, pure chaos descended on the assembly hall. There was no other fitting description. People got utterly, completely terrified by the creature’s grotesque appearance, and while screaming their heads off, they scattered to everywhere.
‘….My, my thoughts are….’ (Seol)
When Seol regained his own wits, he found himself running towards the blocked up door.
It should be normal to hear all that crazy chaos unfolding all around him, yet, the noise got progressively less and less prominent, fading into nothingness. Everything seemed to crawl down to slow motion as well.
Everything, even the man busy pulling and chucking away the chairs blocking the exit; even the nightmarish creature that had fully revealed itself from the hole, extending its long limbs like a spider and starting its assault on the fleeing crowd….
Every one of these little things, they were unfolding in slow motion for him to watch without missing anything.
He found it very difficult to breathe. Sweat drops falling on his eyes spread out like paint and blurred his vision.
How many would die here today? The footing was already slippery from the blood. It was also sticky, too.
His body became heavier and his running speed gradually slowed down. He even had to wonder if he was aimlessly flailing his arms and legs here. Everything was in a total mess.
In the end, Seol stopped running and stood still, even though the exit was only a few steps away.
Suddenly, the stuffed up breath exploded out. He could hear his own escaping breath; the cold wind blowing in from the now-wide open exit caused his own boiling, seething body to relax. His heart continued to pound away in his chest.
Seol was well aware how stupid and dangerous it was to ignore the warnings of immediate retreat. It wasn’t too late to run away, even now. Yet….
‘Why… am I so calm?’ (Seol)
The acrid air stung his nose; his body was burning up; and he felt dizzy. And then, the familiar sensation of vertigo assaulting him went away.
The dreamy haziness dissipated almost immediately, and the surrounding world became clear again. Seol slowly closed his eyes.
The monster was busy feasting on a corpse, but it stopped and abruptly turned its head around. It spun around in a manner akin to a second hand of a clock, and found a single man standing near the exit of the hall. It ran there on all fours.
Seeing that the man not budging an inch, it tilted its head in confusion and craned its neck. And like how a person might appraise a plate of food before eating it, the monster studied Seol with great interest.
The foreign, unknown matter brushed by his cheeks and the disgusting odour assaulted his senses.
It was a rather familiar feeling, and a welcoming smell.
His sensory perception became incredibly sharp. Seol’s closed eyes cracked open a sliver. In front of his nose, a huge black vertical slit of a pupil, with bloodshot whites surrounding it, was waiting.
And when his gaze met with that eye brimming full with desire to kill….
A relaxed smile broke out on Seol’s lips.
The monster hurriedly retracted its neck.
His eyes still in a narrow slit, he lightly kicked up the broken leg of the chair lying near the exit.
To confront it, or to show it his back; he already had his answer; the Seol of the dream told him.
He told Seol that a creature like this, it was nothing to him. He even asked Seol, you have overcome even more dangerous situations than this, haven’t you?
….Even the Seol from before the gambling, before he had lost his ability, said the same thing; now was the time to bet everything.
He snatched the leg of the chair spinning in the air. For some reason, it just felt right in his grasp.
And, even though it wasn’t a spear, he still held it like one, and got into a stance.
And shortly after that, both eyes of Seol opened up wide.