My body felt heavy and dizziness swept through my head.
In this situation where I could barely hold on to my sanity, a strange suspicion rose up inside me.
Was this world a novel or reality?
Suddenly, the sentences I wrote in my novel popped up in my head. The contents of my novel came to life, and Chae Jinyoon’s heroic tales flashed before my eyes. The Tower of Wish, artifact scrambles, and the Tower of Miracle…
However, these things could no longer happen.
For the first time, I was overcome with the realization that I killed a person. I could hear the sound of something breaking inside me.
This world was just a novel…
It was the sound of that subconscious belief shattering.
Black boots descended on the sleet covering the ground. I raised my head in a daze. Boss’ dark pupils entered my sight. Her body was fluttering on the snowy field.
“Take care of the corpse.”
Boss muttered. I stared at Chae Jinyoon, who was lying tragically with half of his head blown up.
He had partially transformed into a devil. Demonic energy still remained in his body, which would soon combust into a huge explosion.
Boss helped me up. In that instant, I noticed that my body was half-burnt. The thin clothes I was wearing for Jain’s Disguise had burned up when I fired my gun.
Although my feet were on the ground, I couldn’t stay standing. Staggering, my head fell on Boss’ shoulder. Boss stood still and accepted me.
Soon, a Portal appeared nearby. Jain and Khalifa walked out from inside, and when they saw what happened, their expressions turned grave.
At that moment, demonic energy shot up from Chae Jinyoon’s corpse.
That was where my memory ended.
January 3rd, a particularly cold, dark night.
Chae Shinhyuk threw the door open.
Inside a resting place of corpses, he met a familiar face.
“…Hello, Chae Shinhyuk-ssi.”
Forensic scientist, Kim Joongho.
They were united 11 years after the death of Chae Shinhyuk’s wife.
Without sparing any time to offer a greeting, Chae Shinhyuk approached the corpse lying next to Kim Joongho.
When he saw the corpse, he clenched his teeth.
A cold corpse of a man whose face was half blown up. It was his son, Chae Jinyoon.
“Do you have any leads on the suspect?”
Chae Shinhyuk maintained his composure as much as possible.
“Not yet. An isolation barrier must have been around the scene of the crime. There isn’t a single trace of the incident remaining.”
Investigators nowadays had all sorts of supernatural Gifts: psychometry, cold reading, etc… However, not even the most competent investigators of Korea could find any evidence.
“Was it the Djinns?”
“…We aren’t sure.”
“But there’s demonic energy right here.”
Chae Shinhyuk pointed at the black energy coalesced around Chae Jinyoon’s right arm.
“Do I look like a fool?”
From Chae Shinhyuk’s reddened eyes, tears began to flow.
Kim Joongho sighed softly.
He had no choice but to say what he didn’t want to say.
“This demonic energy… came from Chae Jinyoon’s body.”
Chae Shinhyuk’s face contorted frighteningly.
Kim Joongho stared at him with downcast eyes.
“This demonic energy came from his body, but was stopped in the middle of traveling through his veins. And that must be because he died.”
Chae Shinhyuk was unable to understand Kim Joongho’s words.
No, he refused to accept it.
Demonic energy came from his body? That was impossible… unless Chae Jinyoon was a Djinn.
“If it is you, it should be easy to find the accursed murderer who killed your son.”
Kim Joongho continued to speak as Chae Shinhyuk stared at him with widened eyes and rough breathing.
“With Daehyun’s power, with Chae Joochul’s power, even rampaging through Pandemonium shouldn’t be difficult. However, we are no longer living in the 80s.”
Kim Joongho’s gaze fell on Chae Jinyoon’s right arm.
“…Jinyoon became a Djinn. No, this is the first time I’ve seen such an arm. This is even more elaborate than the Djinns’ Devil Transformation. You can see that it’s persisting even after his death.”
Chae Shinhyuk’s breathing became even more disheveled. Killing intent could be felt from his eyes looking at Kim Joongho.
“I can only surmise that something happened four years ago during the Djinn suppression operation…. To discover the exact reason and search for the culprit, an autopsy will be necessary. However, an autopsy will reveal Jinyoon’s true state.”
Chae Shinhyuk looked down at his son.
The gaze of the father scrutinized the body of the son.
A face half blown up, an eye forever closed, a frail boney body, and… a right arm devoured by a mysterious existence.
Chae Shinhyuk slowly closed his eyes.
An emotion flowing from the depth of his heart ate away at him.
“This right arm.”
After a momentary silence, Chae Shinhyuk spoke up.
“Are you the only one who knows about it?”
Kim Joongho maintained his silence and nodded.
“Are you certain?”
“…Yes, but it is something we will have to reveal one day. For humanity.”
Chae Shinhyuk placed his hand on his son’s cheek. His skin was already cold and dry.
Caressing what felt no different than a fish, Chae Shinhyuk muttered with a somber tone.
“…I never thought I’d see the day where my son woke up.”
He thought Chae Jinyoon had died four years ago.
He was pained by the debt he couldn’t pay.
But two weeks ago, when his son miraculously woke up, he felt like he was on the top of the world.
“Today, I lost my son a second time.”
His son passed away too quickly, almost as though he woke up to say a final goodbye.
That was enough of a heart-wrenching pain, one that Chae Shinhyuk would bear for the rest of his life.
“…But I don’t want to lose him a third time. For Nayun, I want to bury him peacefully.”
Chae Shinhyuk spoke, looking at Kim Joongho. Because of the deep sorrow in his voice, Kim Joongho couldn’t say anything.
Tears flowed down from Chae Shinhyuk’s eyes.
Kim Joongho bowed with a sigh.
“…I will do my best. I will take my leave now.”
With that, Kim Joongho gave Chae Shinhyuk some time alone with his son.
In an empty room with only the coldness of steel and a corpse, Chae Shinhyuk caressed his son’s face with his trembling hand.
Because of the tears clogging up his throat, he was unable to say anything.
He only had one wish.
‘Son… my son… I hope you have a better father in your next life….’
It was a memory from the past.
Although lacking color and missing several bits and pieces, it was a piece of memory I dreamed often.
After watching me practice archery for a long time, Oppa called my name.
—…You can take a break if it’s too hard.
He walked up to me carefully and held up my hand. When he saw my hand bleeding with blisters and cuts, he put on a sad expression, but I shook my head.
—I’m going to try even harder. I want to become an even greater Hero than Oppa.
Hearing my arrogant and daring remark, Oppa smiled and stroked my hair.
His hands were warm and reliable.
—I hope you do too. By the way, you didn’t forget about next week, right? We’re going to an amusement park.
A trip to Korea’s most famous amusement park, Foreverland. Instead of being happy, the me in my memory shook my head with a troubled face.
—Um, I can’t go. I’m going somewhere else with my friends.
Although he looked disappointed, he quickly grinned.
—Then I guess we’ll have to go some other time. Oppa is going to work now, so don’t overwork yourself. You won’t grow taller if you do.
—Un~ see you later, Oppa~
This morning remained so vivid in my memory for one reason.
That night, Oppa came back in a coma.
Tears flowed down from my eyes the moment I woke up. Dazzling sunlight shone through the window and poked my eyes.
Baekdu Mountain’s morning had arrived. The air of Yoo Sihyuk’s martial art school was clear and refreshing. Mana phenomenon like fog and barrier were nowhere to be seen today.
I shot up and looked beside my bed.
The precious pictures I took with Oppa were lined up in frames.
A smile emerged on my face.
After looking around the room to make sure no one was here, I took out a picture I kept hidden below them. It was the picture of me and Kim Hajin.
“It came out so well.”
I wasn’t looking at this picture for any particular reason.
It was just because it came out really well.
It definitely wasn’t because Kim Hajin was in it.
After putting the picture back, I stretched. Smiling at the warm sunlight outside the window, I headed to the bath.
“You’re here, Unni?”
As soon as I entered the bath, a small 10-year-old girl greeted me.
“Oh hey, you’re up early too.”
Yoo Sihyuk had 16 official disciples, eight male and eight female.
They received training under Yoo Sihyuk and five others.
However, Kim Suho, me, and the 10 other ‘camp members’ weren’t included among the official disciples. We would only stay here for the winter break and disappear afterwards.
“Auu, so good.”
After taking a shower, I hopped in the hot spring. Nothing could go wrong with staying in a mana-rich hot spring.
I came out after about 20 minutes of resting.
Switching into my uniform, I went out to the front yard where morning training was held.
“Yo, Chae Nayun.”
Shin Jonghak and Kim Suho came up. They seemed to have taken a bath too.
I snickered and spoke.
“Isn’t it a beautiful morning?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“I feel like I can beat you up today, so you better watch out.”
Was it because of the clear sky? I felt particularly good today.
Kim Suho looked at me dumbfoundedly and laughed.
“Why are you so energetic today? Is it because today’s the letter day?”
It was their tenth day here.
There was one special event in today’s schedule.
“N-No, that has nothing to do with it.”
Electronics didn’t work on Baekdu Mountain, so it was impossible to communicate with the rest of the world. Although this problem could be circumvented, Master Yoo Sihyuk left things the way they were.
However, today was the day where it was possible to communicate with the outside world.
Today’s ‘letter time’ was exactly that.
“She’s right, Kim Suho, the only one she’d want to write a letter to is here, so cut the nonsense.”
“You shut up… geez.”
I smacked Shin Jonghak’s shoulder. He kept making me curse when I was in the middle of trying to fix my way of talking.
Yoo Sihyuk was walking towards us with his hands behind his back.
We stood straight in a line.
How long would today’s training be?
10 hours? 12 hours?
…14 hours later.
The sun had long set and the hellish training had finally ended.
Currently, Chae Nayun was lying on her bed, staring at a piece of paper.
[Hi, I’m in Baekdu Mountain.]
“…That doesn’t sound right.”
She already wrote the letter to send to Chae Jinyoon.
Following her heart, 30 minutes was enough. However, she needed more time with this particular letter.
[I’m in Baekdu Mountain ㅋㅋ Training is so easy ㅋㅋ;; What are you doing? ㅋㅋㅋ]
“No, that’s not any better….”
In the end, Chae Nayun ruffled her hair and threw her pen down.
‘I should have read some books. I don’t know how to write at all!’
Chae Nayun sighed. But unwilling to give up on this chance that came once every ten days, she picked her pen back up.
While Chae Nayun was deep in thought…
Someone knocked on her door, and the door burst open.
Startled, Chae Nayun hid the letter with her body. When she raised her head slowly, she saw Yoo Sihyuk looking down at her.
His voice was low and somber.
Chae Nayun put the letter in her pocket and slowly got up.
“Yes, Master. Um, you should really knock before entering a lady’s room.”
“…Come outside for a minute.”
Yoo Sihyuk was uncharacteristically serious.
“…Just come outside.”
He sounded kind, unlike his usual self.
As Chae Nayun followed him out, she racked her brain to remember if she did something wrong.
The day tragic news was announced was a clear day. After receiving the news from her father and mother, Yoo Yeonha quickly ended a meeting and got in her car.
Chae Jinyoon died.
Her parents didn’t tell her anything else.
Yoo Yeonha felt her head turn blank as she sat on the car seat.
Suddenly, she thought of Chae Nayun.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that she was exhilarated at her brother waking up….
When she remembered this, she felt her heart sink. Even though it wasn’t her business or something she experienced, she felt her heart tighten.
“…Let’s get off.”
Yoo Jinwoong spoke softly.
Yoo Yeonha followed her parents out of the car.
No reporters dared to besiege Daehyun’s funeral home, making the venue quiet and lonely.
Yoo Yeonha stopped while trudging up to the entrance.
Under the shade of a nearby tree, she could see a familiar person.
He was smoking a cigarette and staring at the funeral home with a complicated expression.
“Why isn’t he going in? …And he’s smoking?”
“Yeonha, what are you doing?”
At that moment, her mother called her.
“Ah, yes, I’m coming.”
For now, Yoo Yeonha followed her mother inside.
As soon as she entered the small funeral home, she looked for Chae Nayun.
Chae Nayun was sitting in a daze. Her hollow eyes were filled with despair. To her, Chae Nayun was always bright and cheerful. It was the first time she was seeing this side of Chae Nayun.
Swallowing her sigh, Yoo Yeonha stood in front of the family of the deceased.
“…Ah, Yeonha… you came.”
Chae Nayun greeted Yoo Yeonha. She tried to smile cheerfully, but that made her look all the more pitiful. Her lifeless eyes seemed to ready to burst into tears. However, she was holding herself back desperately.
Yoo Yeonha understood.
That was the kind of girl Chae Nayun was.
“Yeah, wait just a minute.”
After adjusting her dress, Yoo Yeonha stood in front of Chae Jinyoon’s portrait and bowed with her family.
“…Oh, you’re here.”
While the two fathers talked, Yoo Yeonha walked back to Chae Nayun. She looked into her eyes and held her hands softly.
“Um, Nayun… where are the others?”
“…I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell them, so don’t call them here.”
Chae Nayun sounded desperate. However, Yoo Yeonha thought of Kim Hajin, who was waiting outside smoking a cigarette.
“Even if you say that… that person is already outside.”
Chae Nayun asked meekly.
Hearing the name Yoo Yeonha mentioned, Chae Nayun fell into a daze.
She sat motionless, as though she was struck with great shock.
“I, I’ll be back soon.”
Then, she walked out of the funeral home.
Chae Nayun couldn’t even walk properly. Her legs were trembling.
The way Chae Nayun staggered forward was too different from her usual energetic self.
Yoo Yeonha could only feel sorry.