Seol spent a bit of time explaining to Yi Seol-Ah that Competence wasn’t a drug, that he wasn’t doping or anything like that. After convincing her somehow, he headed to the gym on the third floor.
For some reason, Agnes hadn’t shown up for a while, but he figured that it didn’t really matter. Even if she wasn’t around to supervise him, Seol still faithfully stuck to the diet and training regime she laid out.
After ending the physical training, he returned to his quarters and practiced mana application while taking a break at the same time. Seol was a human being just like everyone else, so he found it easier and several dozen times more enjoyable to sit and meditate than do squats with barbells resting on his shoulders for hours on end.
As for mana application, the more he practiced, the faster the speed of the energy flow became. The sense of unfamiliarity also gradually lessened until it was gone for good. Since moving it from the get-go wasn’t an issue, he instead focused on accepting this energy as a part of his own body as well as exerting finer control over its flow.
It would be past midday when he finished with meditation. Seol would head back down to the first floor, this time for the class-related training.
This was the last training task for the day, and Seol looked forward to it the most. Sometimes, when he swung and stabbed his spear, his mind became free from all distracting thoughts. He felt that the hours were figuratively flying away in a blink in this state.
He even went and bought a spear to use during training. It cost him a grand total of 580 Survival points.
A short spear was already provided for the class-related training missions, but he found it a tad too short for his personal taste. Also, the fact that he couldn’t bring it out of the missions played a key role in the decision to buy a spear of his own. If he were to continue using it at a later date, it seemed like a prudent thing to get used to the weapon as early as possible.
Seol focused on mastering three spear techniques - the thrust, the strike, and the cut.
Although there were more techniques available, Seol chose to stick to these three only. Stabbing, swatting away, and slicing apart - he knew that the Seol of the dream managed to kill and destroy countless enemies with just these three techniques.
While partaking in the training missions, Seol always adhered to four rules.
First, as Agnes said, he never used his mana. Not even once.
Second, if he wasn't satisfied with his posture, then that practice move wouldn't count, and he would redo the move again.
Third, he would perform the same basic move at least 1250 times during the missions.
And finally, even if he was in the middle of hard training, he would never neglect to eat healthy food and proper rest.
He settled on the number 1250 simply because of Special Competence. Since it gave 8 times the boost to the training’s effects, wasn’t it the same as him performing the move 10000 times in a single day?
By the time he was done with these training missions, his smartphone’s clock would display past midnight. The end of the day’s routine had come to an end at this point. He would return to his quarters completely drained, but his complexion remained bright. This continued on for several days and weeks. Of course, he had a good reason to smile all the time.
[Your Status Windows]
[1. General Information]
Summoned date: March 16th, 2017
Marking Grade: Gold
Height/Weight: 180.5 cm/72.8 kg
Current Condition: Good
Class: LV. 1 (Warrior)
Nationality: The Republic of Korea (Area 1)
Alias: ‘Top of the pile’
– Patient. (Will endure and overcome pain and/or hardship)
– Average. (Normal in every way; possesses no particular talent or qualities)
[3. Physical Level]
Strength: High-Low ↑2
Endurance: High-Low ↑2
Agility: Low-Intermediate ↑2
Stamina: High-Low ↑2
Remaining Ability points: 1
1. Innate Abilities (2)
– Future Vision (Grade unknown)
– Nine Eyes (Grade unknown)
2. Class Abilities (2)
– Mana Application (Intermediate)
– Basic Spearmanship: Thrust (High-Intermediate), Strike (Intermediate), Cut (Intermediate)
3. Other abilities (0)
[5. Level of Cognition]
Moderate (Actions and thoughts are sensible; hard-working) / Intense Yearning / Chaotic (Many things are jumbled up and is impossible to unravel)
Seol’s mood as he checked his Status Windows was one of contentment. His physical stats had risen by nine times. Just by relying on physical exercises, he had achieved the exact same results as drinking 9 Elixirs. He’d need 270,000 Survival points if he wanted to match that.
While he was happily checking out his Status, the stinging pain coming from his hands made him deeply frown. He didn’t have to look to see why it hurt - his hands must’ve been bruised badly again.
He began washing the aching hands with cold water, and his teeth began clattering all on their own.
‘Damn it, I thought my hands are calloused enough by now….’
Although he was complaining inwardly, he still appreciated the progress he had made; the first day he practiced with a spear, the skin ruptured and he was bleeding all over the place. He was in so much pain that day, right up to the moment he hit the sack and passed out.
‘Should I take a shower, or just go to sleep as I am?’
While Seol was wondering what to do next, he heard someone knock on his door.
"Who is it?"
Seol opened the door, only for his eyes to open wide in surprise.
Past the doorway stood a woman wearing a French maid get-up, her hands demurely gathered in front; he could see her cold, strict eyes behind the pair of glasses and her slim, athletic figure as well her hair cleanly pulled up to a bun.
"It’s been a while."
"What brings you here at this late hour….?"
"There is something I’d like to talk to you about."
"Of course. Please come in."
"Thank you," Agnes said in a polite manner and entered his room in a dignified stride.
"Oh yeah, Agnes."
Seol was guiding her into the room before turning towards her direction as if he had remembered something just now.
"How is your little teddy bear doing nowadays?"
Her lightning-fast fist landed squarely in the pit of his stomach. Seol toppled over and began wheezing in pain.
"You and that stupid teddy bear!!!"
Agnes cried out in anguish, which was quite unlike her, and her entire body began to shudder.
"I, I can’t, breathe…."
"Goddamn it!! Do you have any goddamn idea what showed up in my Status Window's Alias column because of you?!"
"S, still, my stomach…."
She must’ve been royally pissed off because she raised up her elbow very high in order to land an elbow drop on his back. However, she stopped after spotting something odd in the way he was clutching his stomach.
Seol wasn’t using his palm but the edges of his hands to press onto the stomach. Only then did she notice his bruised and messed up hands.
"….Aren’t you going to heal your hands?"
He managed to raise his head somehow and eked out a pained whimper. Agnes spat out a lengthy groan and shook her head.
"I see that you’re still persistent with your foolish ways. It will be better if you at least get some kind of basic treatment on the injury."
She dragged Seol and sat him down on the bed, then pulled out a bottle of antiseptic, healing salve, and some bandages from a closet nearby. Seol didn’t even have a clue such things were there, so he was understandably stunned.
"Give me your hands."
Seol obediently presented his hands. She knelt down in front of him.
"This room will aid you greatly in recovering your vitality, but has only a minimal effect on healing injuries. At least, if you were to take baths with the special ointments I’ve recommended, then…."
While opening the bottle of the antiseptic, she continued to talk to him. Watching her expertly clean his wounds, apply the salve, and bandage them in one go, a thin smile crept up on Seol’s lips.
He felt rather happy at the moment. Actually, it had been a rather long time since he felt this way. He enjoyed this new life of his, where he got to spend the whole day engrossed in the things that interested him and still have someone to take care of him. It felt… ‘comforting’.
Even his personality was changing for the better. When he was still addicted to gambling, he was constantly on edge. The victim mentality took center stage in his heart and caused him to choke up over nothing important; often, he’d get defensive and angry even if he was in the wrong.
However, Seol was changing gradually the longer he stayed in the Neutral Zone. Perhaps, it might be more correct to say that the old personality, the one Ypp Seonhwa fell for all those years ago, was finally returning.
Whatever the case may have been, a new problem had risen up along the way; his mischievous side came back, too.
Agnes focused solely on wrapping the bandages around Seol’s hands, allowing him to stare at the top of her head for a while. He then asked her a question out of the blue.
"I’m curious - how old are you, Agnes?"
As she was almost done with the treatment, Agnes focused on that and didn’t pay attention when she answered him.
"Oh. You are a noona to me by one year, then."
"I’m only 26, you see."
A frown quickly formed quickly on Agnes’s face. She was quite clearly taken off guard. She stared at Seol with a pair of eyes that seemed to imply, 'Where are you going with this now?'
Actually, the word noona was as unfamiliar as it could possibly be for her.
Seol scratched his cheek in an awkward expression.
"It’s nothing, really. Only that, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to call you noona from now on."
"Let’s talskd t, traeeming…."
Agnes hurriedly spat out some incomprehensible words before she quickly covered her mouth with an expression that screamed, 'Oh, no.'
"Forgive me. I bit my tongue. I was talking about your training."
Agnes cleared her throat with a fake cough and spoke properly this time.
"Ah. My training, is it?"
At the mere mention of training, Seol’s eyes began gleaming brightly. Seeing this, Agnes inwardly felt relieved. She didn’t know why she felt that way, though.
She succeeded in changing the subject, but she still kind of resented Seol - her thoughts had been complicated for a little while now, yet he just had to say something totally unnecessary and make her feel even more conflicted than before.
A short while later, Agnes opened her mouth to speak.
"I’ve carefully considered this matter for a while."
Agnes never stopped caring about Seol’s daily training, no. On the contrary, she couldn’t appear before him precisely because there was nothing further she could do for him at this stage.
"Is it time for the new type of training?"
Initially, there was no reason for her to be this meticulous on someone else’s training. However, her pride as Seol’s teacher played 30% of the decision, while 20% belonged to Cinzia’s provocation.
"….Well, I wonder. You could say this is indeed a new type of training, in a way."
As for the rest, though - that was the fault of her own desires. A wish, a desire, that any Earthling in this place would harbor at least once in their lifetime.
Perhaps, she was seeking to find fulfillment through a substitute - for instance, ‘only if I did things like this when I first arrived in the Neutral Zone’, or ‘only if I did things that way, then I’d have…’
She was pouring out her own avarice of pursuing the ideal perfection, the one she had failed to achieve herself.
"In a way… you say?"
For the period of one month since Seol got his class, she watched him train by himself. Seeing him get better and better all alone, she felt envious, and….
….And also, thankful.
She was thankful that he gave her the opportunity; she was thankful that he was patient enough to not partake in any other missions; she was thankful that he didn’t give up halfway through; she was thankful that he didn’t complain - much - and followed her advice without questioning it.
The youth sitting in front of her not only satisfied her avarice, she also satisfied her pride as a teacher as well. Perhaps that was why she no longer felt the need to compare Seol to Sung Shihyun.
This youth was his own person. And that man was his own, too.
Simply put, the Seol she knew now was a survivor who had properly tread on the steps of the Neutral Zone, one at the time. Indeed, that was who he was.
And finally, the ends of those steps were within sights.
"Cutting to the chase, I believe you have performed enough training by now."
The role Agnes performed so far could be compared to being an automobile’s steering wheel and its gear lever. Now, it was time to hand the control back to the owner.
"You’ve done truly well. You’ve endured wonderfully until now. I am being honest."
The chassis of the said automobile had been replaced with something even sturdier than before.
"But, from now on, it’s time to increase your combat experience."
The engine had been a high-performance unit, to begin with.
Seol erased the smile off his face.
His voice was soft, almost inaudible.
Agnes adjusted her glasses.
The only thing remaining to do…
"It’s time to start doing the missions."
….To storm the Autobahn and run free.