Seol asked back.
"Do you want to hear me out or no?"
"Number one. You have to swear that you've never entered that world before. Right here, right now."
"Sure, that's easy."
"Number two. I want you to tell me your secret when I hand over the Invitation. About how you knew these things…"
"I can't do that."
Seol immediately refused.
"What makes you think I would? I have nothing more to say about them."
"Even if I give you a special Invitation?"
Special Invitation? The phrase piqued Seol's curiosity, but he shook his head.
"No. If I get to trust you a little more in the future, then maybe. But not now."
Since he couldn’t be 100 percent sure about Kim Hannah, he left room for interpretation.
Kim Hannah tilted her head back slightly. Looking at the night sky, she let out a long sigh.
"….The final condition. After you successfully enter that world, you have to negotiate with me first before anybody else, no matter what. Understood?"
"What if I fail?"
"Unless you're a retard beyond imagination, that won't ever happen. I'll forcefully drag you into that world if I have to."
Hearing Kim Hannah's heated declaration, Seol made calculations in his head. It seemed that Kim Hannah would not concede on the last point. If he didn't agree, not even a Contract seemed possible, much less an Invitation.
‘It looks like this Invitation thing really is precious….'
Since she used the word 'negotiation', Seol guessed that she had abandoned all thoughts of a slave contract. After assessing his options, Seol made his decision.
Kim Hannah put her phone away. She sighed yet again before reaching into her pocket and rummaging through it. Judging by how much her hand trembled, Seol guessed how reluctant she was to use the Invitation.
When her hand finally came out of her pocket, four stamps were locked between each gap between her fingers. One was colored red, the other ones were bronze, silver, and finally, gold.
"You said you won't sign the Contract…."
Kim Hannah removed the red stamp.
"As for the bronze…. I can use it with my authority, but it's still a shared asset. I don't even need to mention the silver."
The way she spoke while *coincidentally* waving her middle finger around got on Seol’s nerves a bit, but he endured. The sole remaining stamp was the golden one. That was her so-called 'precious Invitation'.
With an anguished look, she tightened her hand around the golden stamp. Then, she rushed towards Seol as if to devour him on the spot.
"What? Aren’t we finished talking now? You wanted an Invitation, right?"
"What is that gold stamp…."
"It’s my life, you bastard!"
With a frustrated shout, Kim Hannah snatched up the retreating Seol’s left arm. Then, she pressed the gold stamp on his palm as though it was a dagger. Immediately, a golden light flashed. The light shone upwards before dissipating like a receding tide and becoming grey.
Feeling completely mystified, Seol shifted his gaze down at his left palm. Right in the middle, a small, round mark was emitting a reddish-gold light. Although it quickly vanished in the next moment, Seol was still mesmerized by the sight.
Next, an envelope slapped him in the chest. Seeing how luxuriously packaged it was, he guessed that it was the Invitation letter.
"The Gate will open at 10:30 PM, tonight. It’s around two hours from now, so take care of your personal affairs. As for that letter, I don’t really care if you read it or not."
While clutching the bag full of money, Kim Hannah 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…. You better survive. I don’t care what you do, so survive and enter that world. Got it?!"
"If you die after all of this, let’s see what happens! I’ll get back every little thing you owe me even if I have to chase you to the ends of the Earth, understand?!"
She must have been furious as her voice was laced with incredible killing intent. After that little outburst, she quickly 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 now that it was over, he felt completely drained.
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 received an invitation before, either in his life or during that dream of his, but now that he did, he was somewhat moved.
Seol carefully opened the letter.
We would like to thank you for accepting our Invitation to Lost Paradise, a foreign world that is connected to ours.
Lost Paradise is a world for the select few.
A world full of heart-pounding adventure and dazzling riches! It is a world of living, breathing legendary ruins and fierce competitions!
This Invitation letter will guide the honorable guest to the steps of Eden and help you escape the drudgery of everyday life!
*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 recommend that the guest open this letter at that time in a secluded place.
*This Invitation letter is required during the confirmation of the Marking as well as the starting bonus giveaway. Do not lose this letter and please bring it with you.
*This Invitation letter allows the honorable guest to bring along another person as an aide.
Seol stopped reading every little word of the letter and took a look at his phone. The time was already well past eight and racing towards nine.
‘I don’t have a lot of time left.’
Seol complained slightly before a wry smile formed on his lips. Kim Hannah told him to take care of personal affairs, but he didn’t have much to do. His family had disowned him, and he didn't have any close friends either. Even if he didn't contact anyone for one or two months, no one would bat an eye.
In fact, they would probably be happy that he wasn't bothering them.
In any case, there wasn't much he could do with the remaining time. He wasn't told to prepare anything either.
It was at this moment that Seol recalled Yoo Seonhwa.
Seol shoved the Invitation letter inside his pocket and got up from his seat. All of a sudden, he felt like he was running short on time.
Seol immediately headed to a sauna. He scrubbed himself thoroughly and cut his hair at the barber's inside the sauna. Just like that, one hour flew by.
Before he could even enjoy the refreshed feeling he had been lacking for days, he raced to his flat 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 Nonhyeon-dong.
While on his way there, he worried constantly.
*Do I have to go? She probably doesn't want to see me ever again. She even said it herself!*
*Maybe it'll be better for both of us if I just send her the money through the bank.*
However, Seol soon realized that doing so would serve as self-satisfaction. Seol knew how much he hurt Yoo Seonhwa with his words. He wanted to apologize, even if that meant receiving a well-deserved slap in the face.
His heart pounded louder and faster the closer he got to Yoo Seonhwa’s home. After reaching the front door, Seol collected his breath and rang the bell. But no matter how long he waited, no one answered.
*Tok, tok.* He knocked on the door several times, but it was still dead silent. Seol checked the time and noted that he had less than ten minutes remaining.
‘Is she still at work?’
Seol fiddled with his phone and then sat down on the staircase leading to the corridor.
‘Am I doing the right thing?’
Now that he had come this far, he could no longer call that dream a fantasy. After all, the things he saw and experienced in the dream had become a reality.
Although he talked big to Kim Hannah, he was rather worried about the whole thing. Of course, he had already spilled the milk, and the die had been cast. He had no choice but to face the upcoming challenges head-on.
Seol decided to think optimistically. Since he was brave enough to consider drowning himself, he could surely use that bravery to accomplish greater things.
Just as he made up his mind, the clock reached 10:30. Seol looked around his vicinity and saw no one.
Almost at that exact moment, he heard a chime coming from the elevator. He saw a triangular green light indicating '1'. Someone was coming up.
Before he lost the chance, Seol hurriedly pulled out the paper bag containing 2 million won. Then, he got on his knees and shoved the bag inside the mail slot of the door.
Just as he finished, a circular light appeared above Seol’s position. The mysterious light swallowed him before vanishing without a trace. This happened in the blink of an eye.
Shortly afterward, the elevator door opened, and a lone woman stepped out. With a look of exhaustion and depression, Yoo Seonhwa unlocked the front door and entered her place.
She took an enervated step forward, only to gently kick something.
Her eyes widened after spotting a weighty paper bag by her feet. After checking its content, she quickly turned around in stunned silence.
However, she could only see the lonely darkness quietly settling down on the empty corridor of the apartment.
Seol felt cold, perhaps because of the chilly air tickling his toes. He reached out absentmindedly to search for his blanket, but the only thing his wandering fingers could grasp was a pillow.
He hugged the pillow tightly, but the chill remained. And 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 groggy, he took a look around. No matter how many times he looked, this place was still his rented flat.
Startled, Seol hurriedly looked down at his left palm. It was clean. He carefully studied it, but there wasn't a single indication of a mark.
A bitter chuckle escaped from his lips.
"It was all a dream?"
He chuckled hoarsely to himself before lying flat on the floor.
"Right, of course. Why would someone like me get the chance 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 time 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 what it was 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. Then, he changed the channel.
– Sinyoung Pharmaceuticals has announced that they have developed a new medicine….
Seol’s gaze chased away the faint grey smoke and landed on the TV’s screen.
The news channels were carrying the stories of new medications entering the market as their top headlines for the past few days. Since Seol’s 'dream' had been so vivid, he naturally ended up paying attention to the news piece.
– Located in the city of Seoul, Sinyoung Pharmaceuticals is a medical research firm established four years ago for the purpose of developing new medicine. 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….
Perhaps 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 his 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. Slowly, ever so 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.
[The message from the Guide has arrived. We recommend that all the Contracted & Invited guests confirm the message immediately.]
Seol instinctively stood up after that robotic announcement hit his eardrums. When he hurriedly looked outside his window, his jaw became slack.