I clenched my teeth and walked forward. I felt like I’d forget how to face forward if I turned back, so I only walked forward.
Was this the right method?
I didn’t know. This question itself might be a trap, so I just kept walking.
I put more strength into the hand that was holding Boss’ hand, even though I wasn’t able to confirm it due to my missing sense of touch.
Soon, the concept known as time scattered.
I walked for an unknown amount of time with only my sight intact.
I seemed to have escaped the maze before I noticed, as I started hearing my breath once again.
I then found myself covered in sweat and blood. Not long afterwards, a scorching pain struck me. It seemed I stepped on some traps while my senses were gone.
“I think we’re done.”
“But I still can’t see~ …Ah, wait, what’s this!? Something’s wrong with my wrist!”
Jain gasped when she came out of the maze. I recollected my breath and turned around.
“Potion, I need a potion, Hajin~!”
Jain’s hand was dangling on her arm. Her wrist was almost severed.
I sighed as I handed Jain a potion.
Feeling like we were missing someone, I glanced around. As I thought, someone was missing. Boss, Jain, and Jin Yohan were behind me, but the most noticeable one wasn’t there.
Cheok Jungyeong… even after I warned you so much…
“Wait, Cheok Jungyeong isn’t here.”
“Oh, you’re right~ I knew this would happen. That idiot.”
“…I’ll go get him. Stay here.”
I agreed with Jain’s comment inwardly and went back into the maze. Boss, who was still holding onto my hand, spoke.
“Hajin, let me go with you.”
“No, it’s better for me to go alone. You should stay here.”
[Warning! It is recommended that you stay still if possible.]
[Traveling through the maze in reverse comes with a huge penalty.]
[The administrator of the 10th floor is also hostile towards you. He is assigning harsher trials to your party.]
I set a three-minute timer on my smartwatch and let go of Boss’ hand.
She tried to grab my hand again, but her sense of sight was still restricted.
“Hajin, where are you… grab my hand… listen to your boss…” Boss flailed about before falling down.
“I’ll be back soon.”
I re-entered the maze. As soon as I took the first step, a strange feeling much stronger than before came over me. I moved my legs forward while I tried to keep myself from throwing up.
I continued to walk while I couldn’t feel a thing. But even after walking for a long time, I couldn’t find Cheok Jungyeong. When I finally turned around, feeling annoyed, I suddenly had a strange feeling.
Was this me?
Was I myself?
—Give me the Calamity Core, and you will be able to find your companion easily.
I snapped out of my stupor thanks to the damned administrator’s voice. I shook my head resolutely. I think I said something, but I couldn’t hear my voice.
—Fool, you will never escape this place.
The administrator then disappeared.
At that moment, a holographic window popped up from my smartwatch. It was the alarm signaling that three minutes had gone by.
No matter what the administrator did, I had a method of starting over.
[You used Time Reversal.]
[You return to the past three minutes ago.]
This was the first time I was using [Time Reversal] after obtaining the [Clockhand of Fate]. In an instant, the world seemed to undulate, as an odd sensation enveloped my body. Then, the world went back in time.
“Hajin, let me go with you.”
Seeing Boss who was saying the same thing, I shook my head. Then, I entered the maze once again. I remembered the path I just took. Since Cheok Jungyeong wasn’t there, I just had to choose another way. Experiencing this senselessness thrice was enough.
I headed to where I felt like Cheok Jungyeong should be. Guided by my luck, I ended up finding him.
He was fighting some monster.
Even with all his senses isolated, his battle instinct seemed to be working just fine. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I walked up to him and dragged him with me. Then, when the 15-second timer ran out, I left the maze once again.
Cheok Jungyeong looked confused, and I slapped his chest. Thwack! Startled, Cheok Jungyeong put his arms up and covered his chest.
“Why were you fighting, Cheok Jungyeong?”
“…Uh, I don’t know. Did I…?”
I wanted to say something, but before I could, an intense pain struck my chest.
My heart thumped. Immediately afterwards, pain that seemed to squeeze all my organs spread out, and my body helplessly fell backwards.
After that, I couldn’t think about anything.
My consciousness was swept away by a wave of overwhelming pain.
I could see Jain and Boss running towards me. They hit my cheeks and yelled something, but their voices didn’t enter my head.
A system message appeared before me.
[You reached the point before time reversal.]
[Warning! Be wary of the deterrent force!]
The side-effect of Time Reversal.
I could finally continue my thoughts.
I laughed inaudibly. Sure, the skill had charges, but using it three times in a row would probably kill me.
Thankfully, the pain in my body slowly faded away, as Aether activated the Orb of Regeneration after sensing the state of pain I was in.
I regained my sense of hearing, and Boss’ voice entered my ears.
“Hajin, are you okay?”
Jain also asked. I responded with a bitter smile.
Then, I turned and faced Cheok Jungyeong.
He seemed to be sorry and embarrassed, as he was scratching the back of his head, unsure of what to say. It really did feel like he was reflecting on his mistake.
“This is all because of that son of a bitch.”
I pointed at Cheok Jungyeong with my trembling finger. Boss, Jain, and Jin Yohan all faced him with serious expressions.
…In the next week, we breezed through the 11th and 12th floors.
I ended up taking the rewards that should have been Suho’s, but they weren’t anything special anyways. Anyways if Suho ever needed something, I could always give it to him later.
For the record, the 11th and 12th floors were solo stages that could be repeated multiple times. A Player only had to beat it once to climb up, and they could revisit it and try the stage at a harder difficulty to advance their skills.
In any case, we were now on the 13th floor.
The 13th floor was peaceful, and we stayed in a small log cabin with a living room and one bedroom.
“How high does this Tower go?”
I retorted curtly at Cheok Jungyeong’s question. He didn’t say anything because of what happened on the 10th floor.
“…Really~? I think Hajin knows everything.”
Jain grinned and said. At that moment, Boss’ voice suddenly rang in my head. ‘Is Hajin really a Regressor? The knowledge and experience he’s shown until now can only be explained by that…’
I tilted my head and looked at Boss, who was gazing at me while stroking Spartan’s head.
I understood easily. I was connected with Spartan, and Spartan’s senses had transcended a human’s long ago. When he was in a good condition, he could probably guess someone else’s thoughts.
As for what I just heard, it was probably Spartan reading Boss’ mind.
“I’m not a Regressor.”
Boss shook when she heard what I said. Technically, I did go back in time by three minutes, but that obviously didn’t count. It almost killed me too.
Boss’ thoughts rang in my head once again, ‘He can even read my mind because of all his experiences…’
“…W-What am I wrong about? Explain that first.”
“Just know that you’re wrong~”
I shook my head and lied down. A clock was ticking up above.
[13F, Area of Rest, 63:23:34]
The goal of the 13th floor was simple.
[Enduring a mental trial.]
For 100 hours, we were free to rest here. The only catch was that we would be struck with a horrifying nightmare if we fell asleep.
I’ve stayed awake for about 37 hours now. If I were alone, I probably would have fallen asleep a long time ago. I was grateful that I had companions to talk to.
“Ah~ I’m so bored—! I’m gonna— work— out—!”
Cheok Jungyeong roared and shot up. Jin Yohan looked up at him sharply.
“…Sure, follow me.”
The two of them went away, and Jain also left to watch.
They were full of energy even after staying awake for more than 37 hours. In the first place, they were the type of people who could stay awake for 100 hours without problem.
“…I’m so sleepy.”
I was different. Not only was I used to getting ample sleep, because I used [Time Reversal] once on the 10th floor and once on the 12th floor, my body was in terrible shape. Because Aileen’s party and Kim Suho’s party were both catching up, we had to focus on climbing the Tower without a moment of rest.
Boss, who was looking at me intently, asked.
“Are you sleepy?”
“You’re the one who said we shouldn’t sleep.”
I already explained that sleeping here would result in a nightmare, dragging out the most painful and sad memories.
It seemed I wasn’t the only one who was bored, as Boss crawled to a drawer in the corner of the log cabin. She took out a deck of playing cards from inside.
“…Want to play a game?”
“No, I can’t lose, so it’ll only make me sleepier.”
I thought about sparring with one of the members but quickly put the idea away. I might be awake during the spar, but I was sure to faint afterwards.
I spent the next three hours in a daze.
At this point, I wasn’t sure whether staying awake or sleeping was a challenge.
I yawned and looked up at the ceiling. I forced my slowly closing eyelids open. ‘Don’t sleep. Don’t sleep….’
I opened my eyes.
A white ceiling was above me. I immediately thought, ‘I have to write the next chapter.’
“What time is it….”
I picked up my smartphone that was next to my pillow. It was 6 p.m. There were only 5 hours until the deadline. I should have more than enough time to finish the chapter.
“Auu, I slept for 8 hours?”
I groaned and raised my body. Although I was in a hurry, there was a wake-up routine I never forgot to do – browsing the internet on my phone.
—Hajin~ Are you still asleep?
I voice rang out from outside the door.
I tilted my head, then looked around. It was indeed my one-bedroom, apartment room. The bed was comfier than usual. So who was outside?
While I was thinking, the door opened, and a familiar silhouette appeared with the smell of cigarettes.
My eyes opened wide at the sudden guest.
“Stop sleeping during the day and get up. I brought food.”
Dad’s face looked a bit blurry. I didn’t hear anything about him visiting, but I wasn’t too surprised since this wasn’t the first surprise-visit from Mom or Dad.
Suddenly, my vision turned blurry.
‘What’s wrong with me…?’
I rubbed my eyes.
Tears. I was crying.
Why was I crying?
And why did my heart hurt so much?
At that moment, a soft voice entered my ears. It was the kind of buzzing sound a mosquito made.
I frowned and pounded my ears.
“What do you mean, ‘what’? Get out here.”
“…Ah, yes, Dad. Anyways, you said you brought beef~?”
I asked in a cutesy tone as I jumped out of bed. Mom was sitting in the living room, cooking beef.
I ran up and hugged her. ‘You smell gross, go take a shower.’ Even as she said that, she had a smile on her face.
“What are you guys doing here? Dad’s here too.”
“We just had time. You always order delivery, right? We thought we’d give you a home meal. We also brought some side-dishes. …Go wash your face first.”
I ran to the bathroom and stood in front of the sink.
I was about to turn the faucet on… when I paused.
Although Mom and Dad were here, today shouldn’t be all that different from any other day. But still… for some reason, something felt wrong.
I slowly raised my head and looked at the mirror.
I was crying in the mirror. My tears seemed to have spread to my body as my hands were also shaking.
I couldn’t understand.
Why was I crying?
What was wrong with me?
At that moment, I began to hear things.
—How long are you going to stay in there? The meat’s done!
“Ah, yes, I’m going.”
Hearing Dad, I finished washing up and left the bathroom.
A hearty meal was prepared on the living room table. I just woke up, but any time was a good time to eat beef. I couldn’t be happier as I stuffed rice and beef into my mouth.
Eating with Mom and Dad made me happy. So happy that tears were coming out of my eyes.
After I finished a bowl of rice, Dad suddenly said my name seriously.
It was the tone he had when he wanted to discuss life with me. I sat up straight, preparing myself for a long lecture. If I wanted to escape, I could always use my deadline as an excuse.
However, Dad said something I didn’t expect.
“It’s time to go back.”
I tilted my head. Go back? This was my home, and Dad and Mom were here too.
A shout entered my ears.
“Go back where? Oh, you mean work? Don’t worry, my deadline is in 4 hours.”
“He’s right. He can stay a bit more. You’re the one who wanted to see him the most anyways.”
Mom nudged Dad’s shoulder as she said that. She seemed to want to talk with me more, as she nudged my shoulder too, asking me if I wanted another bowl of rice.
I was all too used to her habits by now.
“Yeah, I’ll take seconds.”
“Oh right, Hajin, you should come home at least once a week. You’re not that busy anyways.”
That was something she said every time she came over. I normally would have said I was too busy with my novel serialization to go, or complain that she was nagging me, but today…
“…I will, starting from next week.”
That’s what I wanted to say.
At that moment, Dad cut in.
“That’s great, but you should still go now.”
“…The deadline’s approaching, but I still have—”
“No, not that.”
Dad cut me off. ‘I can just tell my readers I was busy and delay the chapter too…’ When I glared at Dad with that thought, I was startled.
“Not that, Hajin.”
He was making a smile that was too lonely and bitter.
A clear shout rang out.
This time, it filled the entire room.
“It’s time to go back to where you are.”
“Kim Hajin! Wake up!”
In that instant, my eyes suddenly shot open. My apartment room and everything inside it were sucked into my eyes. My senses and breath all stopped.
I quickly drew a rough breath.
I couldn’t see anything because everything in front of me was hazy. My eyes were wet with tears that burst out unknowingly.
But soon, with someone’s sigh of relief, a rough hand softly touched my eyes. The hand wiped away the tears in my place.
Only then did I see the woman who protected me.
“Was it painful?”
“You can give up if you want.”
I looked at her in a daze.
I couldn’t think.
It seemed I had a grave misunderstanding. That if I fell asleep in this place, the most painful or sad memory would resurface.
Tears surged up from the bottom of my heart. The small yet happy living room I was in and the people I loved but couldn’t express my love to appeared in my head.
Happy dreams were sad precisely because they couldn’t come true.
Unable to endure this sadness, I cried.
I covered my eyes with my hand and cried.
I cried out loud for the first time since becoming Kim Hajin in this world.
Sounds that even I couldn’t understand came out of my mouth. It sounded like I was moaning. The sounds made both my body and heart shake.
…After an unknown amount of time passed, my crying turned to weeping, and unknown more time passed before my tears stopped altogether.
After coming to my senses, I made an awkward smile.
Boss was still looking down at me.
“Are you… okay now?”
I nodded with a light sigh.
“…Ah, how embarrassing… don’t fall asleep like me, Boss.”
Boss looked down at me silently. Her calm eyes were flickering with a complicated light.
“That was more painful than I thought.”
I raised my hand and put it on my chest. My heartbeats seemed to reverberate through my entire body.
Boss whispered my name and held my hand. Her warmth enveloped my hand.
Boss looked at me and said.
Her voice was trembling and choked up.
What was she sorry about? I looked into her eyes, confused.
Boss then put on a bitter smile and spoke with a low-spirit.
“…Don’t be hurt.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter