Once I walked past a cave-like pathway, I could see two women sitting down on chairs.
Boss and Jain.
I could feel powerful magic power emanating from the two. It was the level of magic power possessed by those who surpassed a certain threshold.
I took a deep breath and walked up to them.
“You’re here, Little Apprentice.”
I bowed. However,she was looking at me with eyes asking for more. I did as she wished.
Along with a satisfied hum, black magic power flowed out of Boss' body, forming a chair. I sat down on it and stared at Jain. She was scanning me from top to bottom.
“…This is Jain. Think of her as a fellow member.”
Once Boss gave the introduction, Jain smiled and waved her hand.
“Yes, nice to meet you.”
Other than the times I saw her in disguise, this was the first time I was meeting her. I bowed as respectfully as possible.
“You see, Hajin-ssi, I have so many questions for you.”
“…Yes, what is it?”
She likely wanted to know my motive for wanting to kill Chae Jinyoon.
“Those clothes, did you copy them from a fashion magazine?”
What kind of a question was that?
“Unlike other male cadets your age, you have excellent fashion sense.”
To be honest, I put a lot of effort into my clothes. As an average-looking person with an average-height in his mid-20s, fashion was the only way to make myself more attractive. Since I didn’t have to worry about money now, it was only natural that my clothes were better than other cadets, who rarely wore anything other than their cadet uniforms.
“I’m just a bit interested~”
Boss leered at Jain, who narrowed her eyes and murmured, ‘okay, okay’.
“I want to know why you want to kill Chae Jinyoon.”
I pondered. Could I tell them about the mysterious existence known as Devil’s Seed? Would they believe that such a calamitous thing existed, when I had no way to prove it?
“If you don’t want to tell us, you can keep it to yourself.”
However, Boss cut off my worries. Putting aside Jain who was smacking her lips disappointedly, Boss continued with a serious face.
“But the price you’ll have to pay is clear.”
Boss’ eyes flickered with a strange fervor.
“You will become our strength, not forgetting this debt and… signing this contract.”
The last part made me chuckle.
“Good, then I’ll explain what’s going to happen.”
Jain immediately spoke up.
She created a triangular table with her magic power and put her arms on it.
Jain’s explanation began.
After Chae Jinyoon regained his consciousness, Chae Nayun visited him every day. Chae Jinyoon’s condition continued to improve by the day. Although he still spent more time sleeping than awake, he was recovering fast enough that he’d be able to walk in a month.
Today was the fourth day since Chae Jinyoon woke up. Chae Nayun visited Chae Jinyoon with her friends, and I was among them.
Chae Jinyoon scrutinized Chae Nayun’s friends, then pointed at one person.
“You’re Kim Suho, right?”
“Y-Yes, I’m Kim Suho. How did you know?”
Kim Suho widened his eyes.
“Chae Nayun used to talk about you a lot when she was in Agent Military Academy.”
Chae Nayun flinched at Chae Jinyoon’s words. She peeked at me for a moment before explaining herself.
“Y-Yeah, I said how you were a delicate-looking boy acting like a know-it-all.”
“What? Isn’t that too harsh?”
“Haha, I agree with you, Chae Nayun.”
Shin Jonghak chimed in, laughing heartily.
“Jonghak looks just as delicate as Suho though.”
“No, no, I look manly.”
Shin Jonghak reacted strongly to Yoo Yeonha’s point.
However, I couldn’t focus at all on their conversation. Their words practically entered through one ear and out through the other as I stayed seated on a chair, deep in thought.
According to the Book of Truth, the Devil’s Seed was 97% grown.
Assuming 100% was somewhere between 4 to 5 years, I only had two months or maybe even one. It was certainly not a long time.
“Why are you so zoned out?”
At that moment, Yoo Yeonha tapped on my shoulder.
I smile bitterly.
“Nothing, I’m just a bit tired.”
“Ah, you’re Hajin, right?”
Chae Jinyoon suddenly pointed at me. Our eyes met, and Chae Jinyoon’s gentle smile entered my sight.
“Thank you for coming every day. You’re making me ashamed, really.”
“Eh? He came every day?”
Yoo Yeonha asked in surprise. Shin Jonghak made a disgruntled face, while Kim Suho shrugged with a smile.
“Of course~ he’s been coming with Nayun every day.”
“Ah, d-don’t say that, Oppa.”
Chae Nayun was only allowed to visit him once a day for about three hours. It was also when Chae Jinyoon was awake.
For the past four days, Chae Nayun pleaded that I go with her, and I agreed, thinking I could maybe talk to Chae Jinyoon privately.
“…He’s, um, Oppa’s fan.”
“Yeah, he used to talk about you all the time. Right? Remember last semester?”
Chae Nayun growled jokingly and put me under a headlock. Because I didn’t have the energy to play along with her jokes, I silently squirmed out of her headlock.
“…I was just joking.”
Feeling awkward, Chae Nayun poked my arm and muttered meekly.
“Hey, I was just joking.”
Shin Jonghak cut in, clearly showing his displeasure.
“Follow me outside.”
“I don’t want to.”
Chae Nayun looked down at her watch.
“Ah, I’ll be back in a moment, Oppa.”
They seemed to have received a message as they left the room, leaving me alone with Chae Jinyoon.
I stared at Chae Jinyoon in silence. Chae Jinyoon also stared back at me.
Although I finally got the chance to talk to him privately, my head was in chaos with all sorts of complicated thoughts.
After organizing my thoughts, I spoke.
Hearing my stiff voice, Chae Jinyoon smiled gently.
“Yes, Kim Hajin-ssi?”
“…How’s your body?”
“Mm, I think I’m getting better.”
Chae Jinyoon’s soft voice rang out.
I asked another question.
“What about your head?”
Chae Jinyoon tilted his head.
“Yes, were you struck with a sudden urge to do something bad?”
“Like suddenly having horrible thoughts, or feeling demonic energy rather than magic power from your body.”
I could see my reflection from Chae Jinyoon’s eyes. I could see that I was afraid.
But I wanted to ask.
Will you believe me if I said you will become a devil?
Can you give up your life to protect your young sister?
“…Mm, I’m not sure. Are you perhaps talking about Operation Fireflake?”
However, Chae Jinyoon was still stuck in the past.
Unable to ask the questions I wanted, I dropped my head. I clenched my teeth and tightened my grip on my chair’s arms. As I sat at a loss for words, worries rising up from the depths of my heart shook my body.
Then suddenly… Chae Jinyoon placed his hand on my head.
“I don’t know what’s troubling you so much, but…”
At that moment, the door shot open.
“Ah, sorry Oppa… What?”
Seeing Chae Jinyoon’s hand on my head, Chae Nayun furrowed her brows.
“Hajin must have been a big fan of mine.”
But she didn’t think much of it and sat down next to me.
Chae Jinyoon asked.
“Where are the others?”
“I sent them back. You have to rest soon anyways.”
“Ah… that’s a shame. Did something happen?”
“Yeah, um, Master Yoo Sihyuk said he’d delay his camp for about four days. So I’m leaving on the 25th.”
Yoo Sihyuk was well-aware of Chae Nayun’s extenuating circumstance. However, Chae Nayun’s expression wasn’t all that good.
“…But Oppa, should I just not go?”
Chae Jinyoon didn’t reply. Instead, he slowly turned his head and faced me.
“I think she’s asking you, Hajin-ssi.”
“What? N-No, I’m obviously asking you, Oppa.”
“…What do you think, Hajin?”
Chae Jinyoon asked.
Yoo Sihyuk’s school was located at the peak of Baekdu Mountain.
Baekdu Mountain had one of the highest concentrations of spirit energy and mana in the world. As a result, it was impossible to reach its peak without being above a certain level of skill.
To arrive in Yoo Sihyuk’s school, you had to train your lungs forcefully. Chae Nayun, Kim Suho, and Shin Jonghak would be unable to step a foot outside of it until the end of winter break.
“…Should I not go?”
Chae Nayun turned to me and asked.
I responded resolutely.
“No, you should go.”
Chae Nayun had to leave for Yoo Sihyuk Camp.
“Eh? Ah… but it’s not the end of the world even if I don’t go…”
Chae Nayun’s face turned to a bulldog’s as she glared at me.
Thankfully, Chae Jinyoon seemed to agree with me.
“Nayun, I agree with Hajin. If it’s because of me, you don’t have to worry. You can see me any time you want, but this might be the only chance for you to go to Yoo Sihyuk-ssi’s school.”
“…I was going to go anyways. Oh yeah, I brought a camera.”
Chae Nayun changed the topic and took out a high-quality camera from her bag. Then, she pushed it toward me.
“Here, take pictures of us.”
Chae Nayun ran next to Chae Jinyoon. Although he was taken aback at first, he soon smiled happily.
I watched them silently, then murmured.
The number was 44, a jackpot.
What kind of photos would this camera take?
With a somber expectation, I raised the camera.
Chae Nayun and Chae Jinyoon made all sorts of poses. Chae Nayun was hugging Chae Jinyoon in one photo, giving him a peck on the cheek in another, and leaning on his shoulder in the next.
After about thirty or so photos…
“Now you should take some with Hajin.”
Chae Jinyoon made an unexpected suggestion.
“Ah, no, I’m fine….”
“Well I insist. Nayun, go stand next to him.”
As soon as Chae Jinyoon raised his voice, Chae Nayun walked up next to me embarrassed.
“Alright, say cheese~”
Chae Nayun bashfully made a peace sign.
Thus, the only photo of me and Chae Nayun was taken.
The visiting period ended, and it was now night time.
While Chae Jinyoon slept, Chae Nayun and I walked around the hospital’s garden.
Under the faint moonlight, Chae Nayun was skipping through the garden, calling my name. Her expression could only be described as the happiest expression in the world.
“Kim Hajin, Kim Hajin.”
“Kim Hajin, Kim Hajin, Kim Hajin.”
“Nothing. I just wanted to thank you.”
Hearing Chae Nayun’s calm voice, I became speechless.
“…Kuhum, as if you have anything to thank me for.”
“You came here with me every day.”
Chae Nayun continued as she slowly strolled through the garden.
“To be honest, I was scared to come by myself. I love Oppa so much and I’ve been wanting to see him for so long… but it’s almost been five years since I last talked to him. I didn’t know what to say, and I was afraid what he might think about me all grown up.”
She then poked my shoulder.
“But it wasn’t awkward at all with you around.”
By the time she was done, we were at the front entrance.
My bike was parked next to a wall.
I retorted unenthusiastically, leaving Chae Nayun behind. Then, I got on my bike, put on my helmet, and turned the engine on.
“…Are you free on Christmas?”
When I was about to step on the gas, Chae Nayun spoke.
I turned toward her.
“That’s the day you’re leaving.”
“I want to see you before I go.”
I didn’t answer.
However, Chae Nayun continued to speak unperturbed.
“I’m leaving at 6, so I’ll meet you at noon in front of the hospital.”
“…Yeah, good night.”
I smiled bitterly and stepped on the accelerator.
As my bike raced through the road, I could see Chae Nayun looking at me from the side mirror.
Seocho District, Gangnam.
When I opened the door to the luxury apartment complex I bought, Evandel and Hayang greeted me.
I picked up Evandel with one arm and Hayang with the other.
Seeing them smiling as brightly as ever, I did my best to smile and asked.
“How did ordering food go?”
“It went well! We ate steak! Steak!”
“You did as I said?”
“Yeah! I told the delivery man to put the food in front of the door, then I brought it inside after he left!”
I put them down on the couch.
It was nice to have a big house. The spaciousness of the room gave me comfort.
“Oh right, did you take Hayang on a walk?”
Recently, I’ve been making Evandel practice going out. I made her wear a smartwatch just in case, but with Hayang as her guide, I didn’t need to worry too much about her getting lost.
I patted Evandel and Hayang. Evandel smiled brightly and enjoyed my touch.
At that moment, I received a message.
[Little Apprentice, we are done with all preparations. January 3rd will be the day. Be ready.]
My face immediately stiffened up.
“Watch TV for a bit.”
I went into the bedroom and took out the Jar of Greed, which I kept outside of Evandel’s reach.
As soon as I obtained the Jar of Greed, I put Aether inside it. Aether was certainly worth enough to receive an upgrade.
That was December 10th. More than ten days had passed since then.
I slowly opened the jar’s lid.
It was then.
My hands emitted a powerful golden light.
I’ve experienced this before.
This meant that ‘accumulation of luck’ activated.
I quickly opened the lid.
Golden light rose up from the jar.
Aether was inside the jar, carrying a strange pink light.
With a sense of foreboding, I turned on my smartwatch.
The desire to seek beauty has been attached to Aether.
—Its user’s invariable charm stat will increase by 0.002 points every 24 hours, up to a maximum of 1. (Note, the charm stat cannot be increased beyond 9).
—Aether will now react to beautiful things.
—Aether’s Detail Materialization becomes more exquisite.
I became speechless and stood still in a daze.
From an objective standpoint, it was undoubtedly fantastic.
After all, it permanently raised an invariable stat.
Furthermore, as the charm stat was directly related to one’s physical beauty, it not only affected their outer appearance, but also their musculoskeletal balance and height.
With a full one point increase, I should grow at least 2~3cm taller.
It was a change worthy of triggering accumulation of luck.
Why couldn’t it have been intelligence rather than charm?
In fact, I would have been happier with an effect that increased my variable stats by 2.
As regrettable as it was, there was nothing I could do about it.
Of course, it was possible to change the setting with my Gift. However, erasing an already existing functionality and adding a new one had the possibility of causing unnecessary consequences.
So I decided to be happy with what I got.
I reached out to Aether.
As though it missed me, Aether shot toward me like an arrow and coiled around my body like a snake.