On the morning of the 30th day.
As planned, Cinzia made the announcement of the deadline being extended by another two months. She sounded like she was being generous towards everyone, and that led many of the survivors to breathe out a sigh of relief. After all, most of them had failed to gather 1000 points until now.
Of course, not everyone displayed the same reaction.
"What is it, Hao Win?"
Cinzia knew that Hao Win was staring at her for a long time, but she decided to reply only now and shifted her own gaze towards the man in the black suit.
Hao Win’s eyebrows rose up ever so slightly.
"It’s nothing, really. Just that…."
"It’s different from what I’ve heard."
'Wasn’t it originally three months to begin with?' Hao Win seemed to have found a way to imply those words without saying them out aloud. Of course, he had no real reason to reveal the truth and get on Cinzia’s bad side.
"Is that so? What a shame. I don’t know which moron told you those things, but you must have not heard that I’m the general manager this time around."
"If you say something like that, then I guess there’s nothing more to say."
Hao Win shrugged his shoulders and turned around, breaking eye contact. Cinzia then casually swept her gaze across the rest of the survivors.
"So, how was the first month of your stay in the Neutral Zone?"
Her question was met with nothing but silence.
The reality of the survivors’ situation was that no matter how many of them gathered to form a team, none could crack a single ‘Normal’ difficulty mission.
"Unless you’re a complete moron, I’m pretty sure you began to realize the harsh truth by now. ‘Ah, I'm really worthless. If I leave this place now, I will die right away’. You must have thought about such things, no? Don't you think so, burrito?"
The burly Mexican man who complained about not being let into Paradise avoided meeting her gaze in embarrassment.
"Looks like you’ve all woken up by now."
Cinzia seemed to be satisfied by their reactions as the tone of her voice softened just a tad.
"Now that you’ve become aware of your own reality, surely you’re more willing to listen now than ever before. Most of you probably have amassed at least some Survival Points by now, correct?"
That was indeed the case. Pretty much everyone did nothing but complete missions like madmen. Even those who entered the Zone with 0 points had amassed a few hundred points at this point.
"Well, I’ve prepared a gift for all of you."
At the mere mention of a ‘gift’, the eyes of the survivors opened up wide in anticipation.
"For tomorrow only, the Chamber of Awakening will open up for you. And inside this Chamber of Awakening, you will get to meet the seven gods that rule this world. Not only that, you will receive ‘classes’ that best suit your situation as well as your disposition. Simply put, you will be able to use mana from that moment on."
The once-quiet theatre grew noisy in an instant.
"Once you receive your class, it should become easier for you to figure out what kind of missions you should take on or what kind of roles you should play during cooperative missions. Also…."
Cinzia’s eyes arched up.
"…The Survival Points you’ve earned so far will become even more valuable."
Several questions came flying at her from the audience seats. Unlike the first day, Cinzia patiently answered every single one of them.
Meanwhile, Agnes was sighing softly in the sidelines. She could already tell what would happen in the Neutral Zone after the Awakening.
Just as Cinzia suggested, the moment one’s class was assigned, one would be able to use mana. Naturally, that meant one would have to learn how to utilize it and receive specialized training tailored to their new class. This matter could be resolved easily through SP.
One just had to purchase ‘Ability’ and ‘Mana Application’ from the stores.
But that was the core of the issue - the survivors would become stronger too easily. But they would hit the limit to their growth just as quickly. It’d be more correct to say that one would forever be stuck at a certain level and never improve by relying on this method.
The gap between relying only on what’s shown on the Status Windows and perceiving the ‘truth’ on your own was absolutely huge. And that gap would only grow wider and wider as one’s levels increased.
Perhaps, Cinzia was aiming for this - to turn those who spend SP as soon as the Awakening was completed into a useable combat force as soon as possible. In other words, those who ‘knew what they were doing’ would be left alone, while those who had no clue at all would be, well, ushered around like that.
Cinzia’s methods of doing things were too ambiguous to truly label it wrong, and likewise, Agnes couldn’t definitely pick faults with her decision-making process. After all, it all boiled simply down to matters of differing opinions.
More importantly, since Cinzia was the general manager of the Neutral Zone this time around, it was her prerogative on how she’d ‘raise’ this flock of young hatchlings.
Seol was glad to hear about the extension of the deadline by another two months. Now he’d be able to use up all the Competence he had bought already without feeling the urgency.
He could use any items he bought here in Paradis, but that was outside these safe walls. The Neutral Zone was constructed solely for the purpose of ensuring the survival of newbies and the training of future combatants. There was no better place to use the Competence than here.
"Your class will be determined tomorrow in the Chamber of Awakening."
Agnes spoke as she cut into a slab of juicy T-bone steak. Seol had agreed to her suggestion and stopped eating junk food spirited away from the convenience store. He now ate proper meals from the restaurant.
Doing that caused him to feel deep regret over two matters. The first regret was all to do with him not coming here sooner.
Not only did the food taste amazing, but they also provided the right amount of necessary nutrients. It didn’t simply fill him up; he felt like his body was visibly getting healthier. Of course, the tastier the food, the more expensive it got, but such things didn’t matter to Seol at all.
The second was that he should never fool around Agnes when it came to food. There was this one time not too long ago when Seol inadvertently broke the promise of buying her a meal once every day.
She coldly told him, "You had your meal alone, I see. Why don’t we get started training right away?"
Then, she proceeded to not talk to him for the next four days. When he thought about how much he had to sweat while trying to appease her cold, simmering fury, well….
"What’s on your mind?"
"….Well, uh, the thing is, I’ve already made up my mind about which class I want."
Seol quickly came up with an answer. Agnes sighed softly.
"You don’t get to choose your class. It’s chosen for you."
"Oh… Is that so?"
"The seven gods that rule over this world debate among themselves before granting survivors a class out of these four beginner ones - Archer, Magician, Priest, and Warrior."
Hearing this, Seol tilted his head slightly.
"Only four? That’s not as many as I expected."
"That’s only in the beginning. Depending on how your level progresses, countless other class paths will become available to you."
Agnes elegantly chewed on the meat and swallowed it before continuing on.
"For instance, let’s say a level 1 Warrior uses a sword as his main weapon. Then, he levels up to 2. His class title will change to ‘Swordsman’ from then on. If he used an ax, then he will become an ‘Axe Warrior’ instead. It is the same for the Archer class. If you rely on short swords or daggers as your main attack weapon, then when you reach level 2, your class will become ‘Assassin’."
In other words, only the initial stages would be the same, and the evolution of classes would entirely depend on how one developed themselves. After carefully thinking about a few things, he couldn’t help but become curious.
"What would happen when you’re chosen as a Magician but you level up using a sword all the time?"
"You’d become a Level 2 Magic Swordsman, but I wouldn’t recommend going down that route. It's very difficult to dig just one well, after all."
Indeed, raising one’s stats accordingly to suit the class bestowed made sense. There was no point in becoming a jack-of-all-trades that wasn't good at any one thing. Seol nodded his head in agreement, while Agnes continued on with her explanations.
"Also, when you level up to 5, the dividing line separating the lower class and higher class combatants, you will be asked to choose which god you wish to serve. That is the moment when the class path you have chosen becomes critically important. It is the same story when you reach Level 7."
"I have to choose a god?" (Seol)
"Mm…. Think of it this way. Your class will either evolve or become even more specialized to suit the powers of the gods you choose. For now, this much information should suffice."
Seol’s brows furrowed slightly. He thought this whole ‘class’ situation would be something a bit simpler, but it turned out to be far more complex than he bargained for.
"As for our future training schedule…."
Seol thought that whatever the case may have been, he’d get to figure it out eventually as he carried on. However, as soon as he heard Agnes, he became quite tense. Whenever Agnes mentioned ‘training’, his body automatically reacted in this manner.
"You must inform me immediately as soon as your class has been chosen. We will need to tailor your training to match that."
"Are you talking about the class-specific training as well as mana training?"
"Yes. You know about them already."
"I heard about them today. If it’s only those…."
"I strongly do not recommend buying the Applications from the stores for that purpose."
Seol was slightly taken back by her sterner-than-usual tone.
"Learning how to use mana and basic skills related to your class - those can be learned via regular training. They aren’t difficult at all, so there is no point in wasting your SP on them. Not to mention, you also have the Special Competence so you will definitely learn them all in no time."
It felt like there was another reason for her to forbid him from buying the Applications, but Seol decided not to pry. One of the things he learned during the last few weeks under her tutelage was that he'd end up with gold in his pocket if he just listened to her.
"From now on, your fitness training will only take place during the morning. During the afternoon, you will learn how to use mana."
Seol was about to ask her when he’d get to start doing the missions but stopped.
He already made up his mind that he’d only do so once his lost confidence returned on its own. Although there was a certain sense of anxiety, a sort of urgency, he endured and told himself to wait for a little while longer.
‘I won’t be able to come back here again, remember that.’
There should be a good reason why Agnes was ordering him like so. Since Seol knew next to nothing about the world outside, it wasn’t wise to disregard her recommendations at all.
Seol slowly licked his lips, before lowering his fork.
"I guess we’ll only decide after my class is chosen tomorrow."
Agnes nodded her head as if she was satisfied with that answer.
Next morning, the Chamber of the Awakening opened up.
Every single survivor was told to come to the eighth floor and stand in a queue. The corridor wasn’t long enough to accommodate everyone, so the queue had to snake down the staircase, as well.
The process seemed rather simple. People who entered first emerged from the chamber not even after 30 seconds passed by while looking a bit lost and dazed. Although there were some differences among the survivors, the shortest time was 15 seconds, while the longest took around one minute.
The queue decreased quite rapidly as a result. Yi Seol-Ah was deeply worried about not receiving a class, but once she emerged from the Chamber, she seemed to be in a strange state, just like everyone else before her.
"I’m an Archer now."
As Seol chatted to her, over half of the survivors had already received their class. It was not a definite thing, but from what Seol overheard, most of them had received the class that favored close-quarter battles - in other words, the Warrior class.
Next up was the Archer class. There were a few survivors with the Priest class assigned as well. However, Seol hadn’t heard of a single Magician so far.
If there was one odd thing about this whole process, it was that different classes equated to different reactions when exiting from the Chamber. While those with the Warrior class walked around seemingly fine, those with Archer classes like Yi Seol-Ah looked quite troubled by something. In the case of Shin Sang-Ah, who received the Priest class, she looked to be in a sorry state as she exited from the Chamber.
"What about mana? Can you sense it?"
"Uhm, not sure yet…. It feels like my body is a little bit warmer than before, but…."
Yi Seol-Ah rubbed her chest and stomach while tilting her head this way and that, looking somewhat unconvinced. It was at this point in time that Seol got jolted by the loud, abrupt opening of the door and the sound of someone falling over in a heap.
When he lifted his gaze to see what happened, Seol saw a young female barely standing on her two feet coming out from the Chamber. She couldn’t walk properly and swayed uneasily, before falling on her knees and hands. She started heaving for breaths uncontrollably. Her entire back was soaked in sweat.
She needed a little bit of time, but eventually, Odelette Delphine managed to stand back up. She leaned her head back slightly and placed her hands on her chest and stomach. It was as if she was standing there contemplating something.
‘Could she have….?'
While Seol was pondering about Odelette’s class potentially being a Magician, his turn finally came.
Before he entered the Chamber, his eyes met Odelette’s. Her curiosity filled eyes seemed to be egging him on to enter already. She seemed to be waiting around to find out what kind of a class Seol would end up with.
"Are you feeling alright?"
Seol asked out of courtesy. Odelette Delphine giggled.
"It’s like I’m pregnant or something."
Seol smiled back and entered the Chamber.
As soon as he closed the door behind him and turned around….
The Chamber’s interior changed.
Everything was white. No, it was more correct to say that this space contained no color at all. It was to the point where he couldn’t tell if he was standing on something or was floating in the empty air.
Since he teleported around countless times all thanks to the mission parchments, Seol was able to get used to this abrupt change pretty quickly, but he could not get rid of the wonderment he was feeling at the moment. Still holding the door handle with one hand, he slowly surveyed his surroundings. Suddenly, several large things appeared in this space and entered his view.
And they were stone statues. The doorway was right in the middle of the encirclement of the seven 10 metre-tall stone statues.
[He is finally here.]
[Let us commence with his Awakening first.]
As these powerful voices resounded in his head, Seol felt as if a giant hand came to rest on top of his head. He flinched as all his nerves felt like they were being pricked. All the hair on his skin stood up.
Was this how it felt like to be sucked in by a vacuum cleaner? Seol could feel his pores opening up one by one.
This sensation of being sucked in lasted only for a short while.
Something changed within him.
Inexplicably, the place just below his navel became quite itchy. It felt like a seedling of energy was slowly blooming there, before it rapidly boiled over and began enlarging in size. It didn’t even take five seconds for the sapling to turn into a thick vine.
[Ho? With this much mana… he should at least be 'High-Intermediate', no?]
[He has an Innate Ability.]
[I see. I get it now!]
[He must have opened his eyes when he was still young.]
[There is a trace of him losing his power at least once before.]
[How regretful, how regretful….]
Several different voices resounded in his head - a voice that sounded supremely arrogant; a thunderous voice seemingly filled with rage; a lazy voice filled with annoyance; a sensuous voice that stirred one’s hidden desires….
However, Seol didn’t even have enough leeway to mind the voices. That energy was rising up like a wiggling wyrm and proceeded to course through every nook and cranny of his body.
As the unfamiliar sensation of the unknown energy stormed throughout every orifice and hidden depth of his entire being, he couldn’t even think straight.
[Indeed, it is a waste. During the time he lost his ability, his mana had also regressed a great deal. If only that didn’t occur….]
[He might have surpassed 'Low-High’ by now.]
[It can’t be helped. He wouldn’t even have been cognizant of mana in that planet of his.]
[Let us make our decision right away. Without a doubt, it is Magician, yes?]
[Agreed. No debate necessary.]
[Two Magicians in a row…. A rich harvest. A rich harvest, indeed….]
It felt like the world around Seol was spinning endlessly. However, even though his head felt like it was stuck in a dizzying loop, he still clearly heard the word ‘Magician'. He summoned what little willpower he could and pinched his thigh real hard.
When he managed to murmur out a sound, the surroundings fell silent for a while.
[What a peculiar man. He wishes to become a Warrior.]
[Now that I took another look, he does possess a great potential as a Warrior as well. I am unwilling to give up on this path.]
[Mmm. Certainly…. I can see his compatibility. He might not suit the class of ‘Magician’, after all.]
[What are you all talking about? With his talents, he can become a Unique Ranker in no time!]
[Difficult. It is truly difficult….]
Goddamn it. I don’t care what it is, just make up your minds already!
Seol fervently prayed in his head. He wanted to get out of this place as soon as possible. His body didn’t feel fatigued, yet, the longer he remained here, the harder it was to stand upright - like, he was under some kind of hypnosis or something.
[Why don’t you all stop? Have you forgotten that the longer one stays, the higher the cost of the contribution?]
[Why don’t we bestow the class this child wants?]
[That is enough. We shall decide with a vote.]
Seol forced his eyes to open after realizing that they were about to come to a decision. His vision was blurry as if the liquid had gotten into his eyes.
Three ‘Magician’ votes, and three ‘Warrior’ votes.
[….Gula. Why haven’t you said anything?]
Gula? Even though he was barely standing there, Seol tried to comb his memories. That name sounded way too familiar….
As Seol got to hear the rest of the voice, he instinctively knew that it was finally over. He grasped the door handle and barely managed to turn it.
The cold air outside cooled his body down rapidly. He had no idea that the Neutral Zone was this cold until now. Seol leaned against wall and flinched in shock after sensing the cold wetness on his back. His entire body was soaked in sweat.
He felt encumbered. Meanwhile, that energy stirring and wildly roaming inside his body was settling down in the spot between his heart and just below his navel. He felt drowsy as well, but just by the virtue of being able to breathe freely, his condition was gradually improving.
Seol opened his eyes to find dozens of pairs of eyes dazedly staring at him. Now that he thought about it, his exit from the Chamber was no different from how Odelette Delphine made hers.
"I knew this would happen."
Odelette Delphine was waiting for Seol while sitting on the floor.
"I’m guessing that you’re now a Magician as well."
Perhaps she was feeling a lot better now since she could ask him while forming an expression that said, 'I knew it.'
Seol carefully regulated his breathing and quietly opened his mouth to speak.