Episode 3: Age of Ghosts / Chapter 44: Colonize (1)
Only ¼ returned from the first mission.
The small groups under the Leaders of Hundred had died fighting each other for the limited number of return codes.
The groups of hundreds to thousands under the Leaders of Ten Thousand had been dropped into the fierce battlefield and had received a crushing blow.
A lot of things changed after the mission ended. It was a relief that both the military and police, who had disappeared, returned, however, the situation didn’t change in the way that everyone had wanted. First, the military and police had significantly decreased in number. Not even 1 in 10 had survived. Only 40,000 members of the military and police combined had returned. Of course, the original troops and ranks had long since collapsed, and many soldiers protested against its restoration. In a life where no one knew when they would die, there wasn’t anyone who wanted to die in the military. The government still couldn’t gain control.
There were a lot of societal problems as well. The awakenees (also known as the returnees) had all become dreary as if they had come back from hell. They would often fight with each other, and each time they did, the streets would become demolished.
To make matters worse, global abnormalities started to arise.
[Even accounting for the lack of rainfall, the ground is extremely dry. “This… it’s that. It’s not the lack of rain that’s the problem, I’m telling you the ground is drying up and the fertility of the soil is declining!” “There have been no records of a global decline in soil fertility up until now. That is why the academia is conducting an epidemiologic investigation…” We expect that there will be a food crisis from this abnormal global drought phenomenon.]
[Continuing from yesterday, there have been reports of a large-scale disappearance of people. Civilians are becoming increasingly worried along with the rumor that these disappearances may be caused by new awakenees. On the other hand, the domes, which produced the very first awakenees in Mapo District, Seongbuk District, and Kangdong District among others, are still impossible to enter, the authorities…]
The world was filled with signs of doom.
“Repent! The end is coming!”
Doomsayers erupted on one side of the street.
“What, you bastard!?”
“If you’re going to get drunk, do it in moderation.”
On the other side, drunken returnees started to fight. With a single punch, trees along the side of the street were smashed and a concrete wall was punched through. These were common occurrences since the first day they returned.
Groups of awakenees, like the Alliance of Comrades in Arms, received significant benefits from the government in order to maintain order. Although this may have been possible against normal civilians, they lacked the ability to intervene in the fights between the returnees. It was because they would receive criticism like, ‘Who are you to butt in?’ and, ‘Go to hell!’
So most fights between returnees would only either end after they fought until they were satisfied or when a nosy person intervened.
Like what Lee Jinhee was doing now.
“You, misters. Do it in moderation.”
Lee Jinhee came between the two fighting returnees. She lightly pushed their shoulders and separated them.
“Who is this bitch?”
Usually, one would become further agitated the more someone tried to stop them. Since she came up and pushed them apart, there was no way they were going to say anything nice. Mister A’s eyes bulged.
However, Lee Jinhee’s eyes became even wider than the man’s.
The other man, Mister B, realized who she was. He was from Kangdong District.
“Hey! Where are you going! Bastard! Come back here!”
Mister A attempted to chase after Mister B who slowly stepped back and ran away. However,
His right shoulder was grabbed by Lee Jinhee.
“You fucking bitch!”
Mister A tried to push her away, but after his left shoulder was grabbed, his arms wouldn’t move. She only looked to be a young female student, but her arms were pressing down on him like a machine press.
Only then had Mister A realized that the girl wasn’t as simple as he had thought. However, it was too late. He shouldn’t have sworn at her so easily.
She jumped up and smashed her head downwards while pressing down on his shoulders! Lee Jinhee’s regular forehead turned into a lethal weapon as it smashed into the man’s forehead.
“Who are you swearing at? I feel restless even without you adding to it”
She tidied her disheveled hair.
“Lunch is almost over!”
Chu Youngjin called out from afar.
“Ohya! I’m coming!”
Lee Jinhee ran towards Jamshil Stadium. This was something that occurred during their third day of training after they had returned.
“You should have just eaten something nearby, why did you go so far?”
“I was craving Naengmyeon today.”
She brushed off Baek Seoin’s complaint with familiar expertise.
“I can only endure if I eat something good!”
She shouted before gritting her teeth.
With a red face, as if she was taking a shit, she flew off in all directions like a deflating balloon and slammed into something.
And spurted blood.
Baek Seoin clicked his tongue whilst looking at her figure.
“Haa. Is this something you can do just by recklessly using your strength?”
It was the third day since they had returned. They trained in the main stadium of the sports complex every day. It was to strengthen their lacking offensive power.
On the first day of training, Choi Hyuk said,
“Our enemies are at least 2-star and there are some who have even reached 3-star. In other words, it means that there is a high chance that we’ll fight those with higher stats than us.”
And the two skills that allowed him to fight them and win were ‘Karma Blade’ and ‘Flaming Wing Tribe’s Karma Heart Discipline’.
They were currently training with an emphasis on those two skills.
Every day, before they began their training, Choi Hyuk would repeatedly teach them the fundamentals of the karma heart. It was because they needed to know the fundamentals of the heart in order to form the karma blade. If their karma stats were monstrous, they could do it without the fundamentals, but if they wanted to form the blade with their lacking stats, they needed skill.
“I have said this many times, but the key point of the karma heart discipline is its ability to grant your karma a shape. Without a shape, it will flow however it wants, but if you invest your will into it, it can be fixed into a specific structure. And if you are able to make a karma heart from it, you will be able to use your karma much more organically. You just need to think that you are creating a karma pump in the middle of your dantian. You are going to connect all your karma to that pump. So that every time you press that pump, it spreads the karma in your body out to your four limbs, and so that you can recall it in a single breath when you expand it. The karma heart will be the secret that will allow you to focus and concentrate your strength more easily. And with that strength, you will be able to create a karma blade.”
Every time she heard that she would grumble.
“It’s too hard!”
Choi Hyuk simply shrugged his shoulders. Even if it was hard, this was the best he could do.
It would have been nice if he could teach them everything of the ‘Karma Heart Discipline’ without missing any points, but that was impossible.
The discipline he received as a reward for killing the Wyvern of Destruction was transferred into his mind through concepts and sensations. Concepts and sensations were difficult to explain with words. It would easily become a cock and bull story. Didn’t they say that the Tao could not be spoken?
It would be easy if there was a way to increase their endurance like in Martial Arts stories, but karma opposed each other so that was impossible.
Eventually, all he could do was teach them this key point and allow them to develop the method on their own.
“First, try to coil your karma into a spiral.”
Due to Choi Hyuk’s advice,
Every time she was unable to control the coiled karma, she would fly into the air and spew blood. This was because the coiled karma inside was rampaging inside her body as it was being released.
“Why are you like that when you have the highest Control stat among us?”
Baek Seoin teased.
“I don’t… Khoff. Cheat. Khoff. Like you cowards… Knoff.”
“It’s not cheating; we’re just doing it within our abilities.”
“That’s why Baek hyung is lacking!”
Even while blood flowed from her mouth, she didn’t lose a single bout. From the start, she didn’t know how to do it in moderation. It seemed that her mind was only filled with ‘giving it her all’ and nothing else.
Chu Youngjin was exhaling on the one side, concentrating on his training.
His body moved up and down. From the beginning, he had long since given up on coiling his karma into spirals as he only focused on raising his Power and Speed.
There would be sparring after individual training. It was an exercise employed to allow them to use karma blades in actual combat.
“Then, let’s start.”
Choi Hyuk stood in front of the three who stood in a line. Though it was practice, they all held real F rank swords.
Choi Hyuk extended his karma to just barely cover his sword.
Following him, Baek Seoin and Lee Jinhee formed their karma blades as well. They were a bit wonky until the second day, but by the third, they were able to create and maintain somewhat decent karma blades. Although they weren’t able to extend their blades to 5 meters like Choi Hyuk and were only able to cover their blades, this would be of great help when fighting against opponents with high Endurance.
However, Chu Youngjin didn’t create a karma blade. As he had already given up on Control, he chose to only extend his karma at the moment of attack instead of maintaining it constantly.
The first to move was Choi Hyuk.
He jumped in, and with his right foot as a pivot point, he rotated his waist and shoulders. A blitz attack that put Lee Jinhee within firing range! However, they had already read his preparatory actions.
Baek Seoin jumped into the attack’s path with his shield. A faint light flowed out from within his shield.
“It’s too simple!”
He said vigorously. However, the attack was a feint.
Choi Hyuk slid his left foot in front of his right and used the rotating force to contract his body. The blitz attack had changed into a stabbing motion aimed at Baek Seoin.
Just when Baek Seoin was taken back, Lee Jinhee jumped over his head and stabbed at Choi Hyuk with her short sword, though he ignored her attack and pressed forward.
He pierced a hole in Baek Seoin’s shield. It was because Baek Seoin had released his karma when he became flustered.
“Baek hyung, out. You have to maintain your karma.”
He said as he struck Baek Seoin’s shin. Baek Seoin flew high up into the air and smashed to the ground.
That moment, they heard the sound of lightning as Chu Youngjin rushed in from Choi Hyuk’s side. His sword seemed to possess an aura of shadows.
As the attack was too fast for him to dodge, Choi Hyuk met it with his blade.
Surprisingly, the one who was pushed back was Choi Hyuk. There was even a dent left on his F rank practice sword. Chu Youngjin had Power 100 (★★) and Speed 108 (★★) while Choi Hyuk had Power 220 (★★) and Speed 113 (★★).
As Chu Younjin hadn’t activated his Berserker skill yet, in terms of stats, Choi Hyuk was overwhelmingly superior. However, it was Choi Hyuk who was pushed back.
It was due to Chu Youngjin’s unique karma utilization method. He had given up on forming his karma into spirals and controlling them precisely and, instead, solely focused on explosiveness. Like an internal-combustion engine, he would gather his karma up before it exploded out! On top of that that, he was able to use the concentration of karma from his skill, [Bisect].
The moment his extremely compressed karma exploded out at the precise location,
Sounds of lightning could be heard. At the moment of impact, he had exploded karma collected in his foot and in the tip of his sword. His impulse and destructive force instantly increased sharply.
“It’s a good method, but…”
Choi Hyuk admired as he met the attack with his blade.
The karma heart he created in his dantian sucked in all the karma in his body. Choi Hyuk then opened the ‘karma pathway’ connected to his arm. It was a vision contained in the ‘Flaming Wing Tribe’s Heart Discipline’. First to create a heart and then to create hooks or pathways connecting to the heart. The long structures that were connected to the heart were normally used as muscles and tendons that reinforced his body, but it was also used as a pathway which accelerated the speed he could release and recall his karma.
During this training, all he did was faintly created a ‘karma pathway’ in his right arm, but its effect was surprising. The karma released from the heart accelerated and shot out towards his sword.
Karma quickly rotated as it wrapped around his blade. The blade became transparent. As it was only a spar, he matched the amount of karma to Chu Youngjin, but as he had finer control, he refined it to be sharper.
Choi Hyuk’s sword and Chu Youngjin’s sword clashed.
Chu Youngjin’s practice sword was cleanly sliced in two.
“Chu Youngjin, out. Maybe it’s because you explode your karma, but when you attack consecutively, your karma loses a noticeable amount of density and your attack becomes erratic. It can’t help but be cut by a sharp weapon.”
Even while he was turning his body to guard against Lee Jinhee, Choi Hyuk pointed out Chu Youngjin’s weak points.
“You consume a lot of stamina. If my guess is right, it probably puts a lot of pressure on your joints?”
Chu Youngjin nodded his head.
“It might be good to use it when you’re in danger but try to find a safer technique.”
After listening to Choi Hyuk’s comments, Chu Youngjin fell deep into thought.
On the other hand, Lee Jinhee couldn’t stand Choi Hyuk.
“Eek! Leader, are you looking down on me?!”
‘For him to dodge my attacks and guide Chu Youngjin at the same time! Am I that much of pushover?’
She shouted as she aggressively rushed forward, however, her sword was blocked every time. She couldn’t beat him with swordsmanship. Though she wanted to break his cocky sword in two, as long as karma was wrapped around it, she couldn’t.
“Jinhee nuna, you’re quite good at maintaining your karma blade. I was worried when I saw you practice.”
When Choi Hyuk complimented her with the word, ‘quite’, she became even more vexed.
Was it because she was too angry? Lee Jinhee started to move instinctively. She gathered her karma into the middle of her body, her dantian. She set up a wick and created a whirlwind around it. To her utmost controllable limit. She then broke through her limit and gathered even more. If she lost her control here, like during practice, she would fly off spurting blood.
However, she didn’t stop. Instead, she moved the karma that was twirling like a whirlwind to her left hand.
When Choi Hyuk saw this, he frowned. It was because the karma on her blade was released due to her karma gathering at her left hand.
‘Did she fail to maintain it?’
Choi Hyuk, slightly disappointed, swung his practice sword out to end it.
That moment, Lee Jinhee’s left hand struck out like lightning. It rushed towards Choi Hyuk’s oncoming sword.
Baek Seoin and Chu Youngjin became shocked. To their eyes, it seemed as though her left hand would be cut off.
However, the one who was more shocked was Choi Hyuk.
A storm burst out from Lee Jinhee’s left hand. Her tightly coiled karma exploded out like a whirlwind. Choi Hyuk’s karma, which was loosely wrapped around his sword for practice, was ripped apart and pushed back by the storm Lee Jinhee created.[After endless consideration, you have realized a new way to use karma. Retribution Points increased by 20.]
Lee Jinhee heard an alarm, but she didn’t have the time to care. She was almost halfway into a trance. She felt the world slow down. She really felt she could beat Choi Hyuk.
Lee Jinhee’s left hand grabbed Choi Hyuk’s karmaless sword. Though she was barehanded, an F rank weapon couldn’t pierce her Endurance. The scene was like magic.
At the same time, her sword flew towards Choi Hyuk’s neck.
“… Wow… For the karma blade to be blown away.”
As Choi Hyuk admired,
He lightly kicked her shin. Lee Jinhee flew up in the air and fell on her back.
Lee Jinhee vented her anger by flailing her arms on the ground. However, Choi Hyuk was very surprised.
Before they went to explore the land they needed to colonize, from the training he started to increase their overall strength, Choi Hyuk once again realized the limitless uses of karma.
 Korean Cold Noodle Dish https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naengmyeon