Chapter 9. The Awakening 2
[Sender: The Guide]
[1. Escape from the assembly hall and arrive at the second floor waiting area of the main school building before the time runs out.]
[2. Remaining time: 03:59:38]
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 this 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 Seol-Ah picking up her chair and running towards the door signaled the beginning; dozens of bodies all rushed to the door.
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 a certain amount of anger, and the force from the resulting impact 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 doorstop, the crowd began sighing out in genuine relief.
Yi Seol-Ah stopped propping the door with her back and squatted down on the floor as if she was feeling dizzy.
Perhaps the sight of a young frail girl fighting desperately looked pitiful to him, as a middle-aged man spoke to her while wiping the sweat off his brows.
“You’re very quick-witted for someone who is so young.”
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 Seol-Ah's quick actions, the door might have broken down by now.
Yi Seol-Ah didn't know how to respond and shyly lowered her gaze.
“No, it wasn't like that….”
“I froze up from the fear myself. But boy, was I shocked or what watching you react like that. When I realized, 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 Seol-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 perfectly. Also, the fact that she was an Invited, as well as the first person to respond, were enough for the group to develop a favorable 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 Seol-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.
[#Assembly Hall (an excerpt from the Diary of an Unknown Student, page 2.)]
….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 became 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 forgot about the existence outside the walls.
….Soon, we all got to learn that ‘that thing' was not a simple monster or a zombie.
[#Assembly Hall (an excerpt from the Diary of an Unknown Student, page 3)]
It was a total pandemonium. No other words could describe it.
The door we had desperately blocked became useless.
….During the chaos, I was able to somehow discover the 'hole'.
Seol was paying attention to the last line. But by the time he raised his head, 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!”
Kang 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 we should do next….”
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.”
Kang Seok only took his lackeys, Yi Hyungsik and Jeong Minwoo, 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 Seol-Ah earlier — hurriedly stepped in front of them.
“E– excuse me.”
“Hey, Hyungsik, check out the back of the stage. And Minwoo, you should….”
“Excuse me, young man!”
Kang 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 Kang Seok did that deliberately.
“What are you all trying to do?”
“Uh…. Searching around the assembly hall?”
“Around the assembly hall?”
“Yeah. Like those guys.”
Kang Seok pointed towards the stage, where Yun Seora and the man named Hyun Sangmin — 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.”
“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?”
Kang Seok frowned slightly.
“Why are you…. Do what you want, mister. It's not like I'm the boss here or anything.”
“That's 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?”
The tone of Kang 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’s 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.”
“What do you mean, annoying?”
“Whatever. You take care of your own business, okay? The three of us, we will go our own way.”
Kang 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 Kang Seok didn't bother and kept on walking away.
“What a petty bastard.”
Kang 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 Sang-Ah.
“What did you call me?”
“You're a selfish bastard. You only care about your own neck.”
“What the hell…. Hey, you're wrong about that, though? I care about these two fellas too, you know?”
Kang Seok wrapped his arms around the shoulders of his lackeys as an oily smile formed on his lips. Shin Sang-Ah's eyes became even more hostile.
“Oww, man. Look at how she glares! You might kill someone with such eyes, lady.”
“Hey, isn't she that dumb woman who threw a tantrum just now? You know, asking for a bag of her own and shit.”
Yi Hyungsik and Jeong Minwoo 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'?
“Can't you see these people over here? There are women and children here!”
“I can see just fine. I've got good eyes, you know.”
Shin Sang-Ah shouted at him in anger, but Kang Seok didn't even bat an eye.
“And, and you three…. just want to survive all by yourselves?”
“What do you expect us to do when we're also in a hurry?”
“That's why we said we'd help, didn't we!?”
“God, 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.”
“Yep. You are nothing more than baggage. Even a blind fool can see that you're trying to leech off of us. So, shoo, shoo. Go away.”
Shin Sang-Ah became flabbergasted and her mouth gradually opened up in disbelief.
“You three…. are you even human beings?”
“Oh? Maybe you're all parasites, then?”
Kang Seok sarcastically retorted right until the end. Shin Sang-Ah couldn't hold her anger anymore and stood right up, getting ready to slap him. Kang 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 Seol-Ah.
“Please, both of you, stop!”
Shin Sang-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, Kang 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?”
“Working together, my ass.”
Kang Seok shot back with a shout.
“We three, we go way back. Even before we got here, you know? That's why we came here with a plan of our own.”
“But, but, but. Kiss my butt, instead. Hey, you're also an Invited, so you should've realized it by now, too.”
Kang Seok smirked and offered his hand to Yi Seol-Ah.
“Let's stop bickering over this, okay? Seol-Ah, why don't you join up with us? Your brother's Sungjin, right? I'll take him under my wings, too.”
“….Why are you willing to let us tag along with your group?”
“That's obvious, isn't it? Unlike them, you two are going to be very helpful for us.”
“You're a very callous person, aren't you?”
Yi Seol-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….”
Kang Seok shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and raised his hand up high.
“Hey, man! What about you?”
The ‘you’ he was referring to was a certain youth standing there minding his own business a short distance away from them— 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.”
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!”
Even Yi Seol-Ah pleaded with him.
“Please, help these people! Don't abandon them, please!”
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, Kang Seok and on the other, Yi Seol-Ah.
And on one side, the Invited, and the other, the Contracted.
One side talked about 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 a cacophony of colors.
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 colors of the blocked-up exit had changed from orange to green; instead, it was Kang Seok who was shining in orange now. There was no color shining from Yi Seol-Ah at the same time.
However, Seol couldn't afford to mind these changes in color at this moment. Why?
Because, the entire floor was dyed in the deep shade of red, that was why. It was as if he was looking at a sea of blood.
'…Immediate retreat recommended, wasn't it?'
….Just as Seol thought this, a loud alarm bell went off inside his head.
Suddenly, the wooden floor of the assembly hall quaked upwards. 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 gone 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.
The 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 Seol-Ah, proceeding to drag her down the newly-created hole.
Yi Seol-Ah’s 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.
Yi Sungjin pounced on the upside-down pair of legs kicking helplessly in the air.
That cry sobered up everyone right away, and the crowd rushed in to grab hold of Yi Sungjin, as he too was 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 Seol-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 Seol-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.
The scream was definitely from Yi Seol-Ah, yet the horrifying screeching tone made it seemingly impossible for a human to issue such a sound.
And from the hole, red 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 everywhere.
The crimson blood rained down like a small fountain.
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 everyone 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 the 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 half of that large head.
“Ah, ah, ahhhhaaaack!!”
The man couldn't hold it back 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 everywhere.
'….My, my thoughts are….'
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. And it had also gotten sticky.
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?'
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 the second hand of a clock and found a single man standing near the exit of the hall. It ran towards the man on all fours.
Seeing that the man wasn’t 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 odor 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 the desire to kill….
A relaxed smile broke out on Seol's lips.
The monster hurriedly retracted its neck.
His eyes still narrowed to a slit, he lightly kicked up the broken leg of the chair lying near the exit.
Whether to confront it or to show his back to it; 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’ve 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 of his eyes widened.