Chapter 228. Mystery Shuffle (3)

There was a lot he wanted to say, a lot he should say.
But he didn’t know where to start.
He had expected to run into her someday.
He didn’t plan on running away forever.
But he hadn’t prepared any excuse or pretext either.

“…It’s been a while.”

She had a lot to say to the man who finally offered her a plain greeting.
She also had a lot of feelings that she wanted to pour out.
But her thoughts were all jumbled inside her head.
She needed time to sort them out.

“You’re goddamn right. It’s been a while.”

She looked at the man she used to like.
The lump of emotions in her heart—the affection that she had for him, the question, and the hatred—beat violently.
The icy clang of the sword slit the awkward atmosphere in half.

She pointed at him with her longsword.
She raised her sword against the man who had once said, ‘A sword suits you better than a bow.’
His indifferent face, which had been engraved in her heart, was now at the tip of her blade.

“I have… a lot of questions to ask.”

She wanted to sound nonchalant, but the lump in her throat prevented her from forming a clear sound, and she loathed her tremor and sobs.

“….”

He looked at her straight in the eye.
There were a lot that he didn’t get to tell her, a lot he couldn’t tell her. But what he couldn’t say in the past, he couldn’t say in the present. Although it might seem as though he changed, he hadn’t. He was still scared and lost between the two worlds.

“I’ve thought about it every night.”

And because she knew that, she raised her sword. Her magic power clung to the blade and blazed up. A torrent of magic power raged in all directions.

“Sure, I’m not the brightest, but I still can’t figure it out even after all these nights.”

A line of tear ran down her cheek.

“I still don’t understand.”

She didn’t say much.
Thousands of sentences were condensed into one.
Overwhelming emotions were trapped in a single sentence.

“So, tell me yourself, in a way that I can understand.”

Her firm determination was upheld by the sword she lifted.

“Speak.”

“….”

He understood her. But he knew from his deep contemplation and mental anguish, which had started from the moment they reunited, that the only thing he could say right now was…

“Wait.”

…this cowardly remark.

“Wait for what?”

She let out a laugh.
For a moment, she was simply dumbfounded.
Life had been hard on her. She didn’t feel like she was alive, and she didn’t have a reason to live either. She thought about taking her own life, but she didn’t because she had to wait. Wait for him to tell her the truth someday.

“You’re gonna run away again?”

She clenched her teeth.
When her sadness choked her, she could have been comforted by Chae Shinhyuk.
Her father was prepared to abandon everything, even Daesung, for her sake.
When her rage blinded her, she could have consulted Chae Joochul.
Her grandfather would have found Kim Hajin and tore his body apart.
But she refused all those options and endured everything alone.
She carried everything—her rage, her sadness, her affection, her hatred—on her shoulders.
Just so that she could… hear him tell the truth someday.

“I’m not running away.”

He answered calmly, in a voice she still remembered.

“…Then take your weapon out. I’ll beat the truth out of you if I have to.”

At her remark, he took out his gun.
She nodded heavily.

“Be serious, or I’ll kill you.”

A cold mutter.
She lowered the longsword diagonally. Sssss… Immeasurable magic power blazed up from her body like vapor and also from the sword; she was now prepared to strike at any second.

“You shouldn’t have said what you just said.”

With that remark, her body leapt forward. Her intent to kill was sincere, and the magic power in her sword danced viciously as it changed its shape.

Tzzzzz…

The blade burned silently as it moved toward his side. But Aether’s barrier blocked its path. The formless Aether absorbed her magic power through ‘Extraction’.
But she wasn’t taken aback by it.
She didn’t have the time to.
She continued to swing her sword. Once, twice, thrice… The series of reckless attacks were fueled only by emotions. They were not even fit to be called sword techniques.
She continued to slash, so that he wouldn’t notice the tears streaming down her cheek.
Her attacks poured down like rain, accompanied by devastation and explosion.

Koong, koong, koong, koong….

Suddenly, there was a low groan.
She held her breath out loud and stopped.

“…!”

Beyond the vision blinded by tears, she saw a man whose face was distorted by pain.
His body was in tatters, and Chae Nayun only realized then that the gun in his hand hadn’t fired a single bullet.
She stared at him blankly. Her thoughts wouldn’t continue as though her brain had frozen.
Her hands were shaking. But why?
Was it because she had hurt him?
…But soon, she tightened the grip around her sword.

“You coward!”

This time, she didn’t keep any distance between them. She ran frantically toward the man on the other side, who was deceiving her even now.

KOOOONG—!

The sword, which swerved 180 degrees right in front of him, was extremely destructive. He raised his arm and stopped the blade.
Crack—
Despite Aether’s defense, his arm snapped in half.

“…Why!”

She yelled and kicked out at him. The kick landed on his stomach, and he was sent flying.
The sight of him holding his chest as he lay on the floor was pathetic. But he crawled back up and stood in front of her again.
She hated that.
So, with her sword in her hand, she jumped at him.
Their hands intertwined, and so did their bodies.
The hard ground below turned into a puddle… and finally.

“Haa….”

She breathed heavily as she looked down at him. He was below her, worn out, and the sword was in her hand.
The fight was over.
But she was still enraged at the unwavering aftertaste.

“…You son of a bitch.”

Her voice trembled, filled with rage, and she grabbed him hard by the collar.

“You think doing this will make me forgive you? By just letting me beat you up? You bastard…”

As he watched her murmur full of resentment, a thought crossed his mind. I can never be forgiven, nor can I apologize. But at least I can spare one death for her. He felted relieved by the thought and also disgusted at himself for thinking so.

“….”

“Do you even know what happens to me when I think about you?”

Her cry continued.

“My chest feels tight and my heart hurts. I want to see you but I can’t, I want to meet you but I don’t. I want to trust you but don’t. I really want to hate you, enough to kill you with my own hands, but I can’t do it. You hurt me so much that I want you by my side…. Just what did you do to me….”

She picked the sword up from the ground and raised it high.
Now, his heart was at the tip of her sword.
One single thrust and their ill-fated relationship would be over.
But one fact made her hesitate.
Death was absolute on the 20th floor.
But even so, I…

“I can kill you. I can!”

She cried as if asking him to dodge, while looking down at Kim Hajin.
Kim Hajin’s eyes were still fixed on her.

“——!”

A bestial cry resounded.
She thrusted her sword down hard.

Crack—!

Cold silence replaced the violent storm of emotions.
Haa… Haa….
Small, thin breathing filled the space.

“Fuck.”

She let go of the sword and collapsed forward.
Her forehead touched his warm chest.

“There’s no way… that I can kill you….”

The longsword had penetrated not his heart, but the cold ground beneath.
She trembled in his arms, crying sorrowfully.

“You cowardly son of a bitch….”

A raspy sound emerged from her mouth.
The slight tremor that touched his body almost broke him.
It was a shock that shook his heart.

**


Meanwhile, Jin Seyeon was standing in front of the sixth door of Aisle 8. She wasn’t alone but with a Ranker whose name was unknown.
This ranker, a man, kept glancing at Jin Seyeon as if he had something to say, then he finally decided to speak out when Jin Seyeon grabbed the doorknob.

“Um, the other two disappeared.”

“…Really?”

Jin Seyeon pretended she hadn’t noticed and glanced behind.
Her vision stretched far and saw the pair in the middle of a violent brawl. They were Kim Hajin and Chae Nayun, both unveiled.

“Hmm.”

Jin Seyeon had known who they were for a while. As the Divine Archer, she could dismantle a number of the Tower’s traps. She had been keeping her eye on them even as she walked.

“Wait a minute….”

Since she was peeking on them, she decided to do it thoroughly.
She focused her magic power around her eyes, turning them blue. Now, Chae Nayun and Kim Hajin were reflected on her retinae even more clearly.

“…Mm, I see.”

She was already aware of Chae Nayun and Kim Hajin’s relationship from the rumors.

‘I really want to hate you, enough to kill you with my own hands, but I can’t do it. You hurt me so much that I want you by my side….’

But from the looks of it, the rumors were wrong. Those emotions were far too deep for a relationship that ended as just a fling.

“….”

She quickly glanced to the side. Fortunately, the Ranker was only vaguely aware of what was happening through the obvious clash of magic power and the sound of air being cut.

“It looks like they’re busy, so let’s just move along.”

This man didn’t have the ability to listen in on them.
Jin Seyeon decided to stand down.
Her goal was the skillbook, so her top priority right now was to reunite with Aileen.

**


…I was lying still.
I wasn’t sure how much time passed. It could have been only a moment, or it could have been very long. But I came back to my senses when I heard footsteps approaching me.

“….”

What approached me swiftly like the wind soon became a shadow. The dark shadow then took on the shape of a human, and she silently stared at me who was covered in blood and barely breathing.

“Boss.”

Boss stretched her shadow before I could say anything else. The shadow blade stopped at the back of Chae Nayun’s head who was on top of me. Boss looked at me with eyes filled with rage and question.
I said briefly.

“Put it away.”

“….”

Boss gazed at me in silence. A staring contest began unexpectedly, but she soon withdrew her killing intent, and I put Chae Nayun down on the ground.
She had fallen asleep as soon as she finished crying that left me distressed.
Boss looked at Chae Nayun and asked.

“Who is this woman?”

I stared down at the woman who was sound asleep with blood and tear clumped together on her face.
…Suddenly, the aftermaths of my past mistake came back to me as a sharp blade and thrusted my heart.
I swallowed a sigh and took my robe off.

“3 years.”

I made up my mind after seeing her today.
3 years.
The time left in the original timeline.
My original plan was to continue letting myself be hated by her until then. But now, I decided otherwise.
Though it was far too late, I realized that hating somebody was extremely difficult. I had unknowingly put Chae Nayun through tremendous pain.
Even if the result turns out to be an imperfect understanding, even if we can never be what we were in the past.
Even if it’s too late, I’ll try from now on, so….

“Wait a little bit.”

I bent my knees and placed my robe over Chae Nayun’s cold body. Using Stigma, I cooled her head, which was boiling hot from spending too much magic power, and adjusted her to a more comfortable position.

“Kim Hajin.”

At that moment, Boss called me.
I looked up at her, and she asked worryingly.

“What happened?”

“….”

I shook my head and stood up.
We were inside the last compartment of Aisle 8, which meant it was unlikely that anyone would find Chae Nayun here and harm her. As such, I left her there and walked. Boss followed me in silence.
She seemed to be wondering about what happened, but I was too exhausted to explain.
My body was telling me to go lie down just like Chae Nayun; that continually moving wasn’t something a human should do.

“That woman,”

I was in search of a place to rest as my body commanded when Boss broke the silence.

“Is she, like, precious to you?”

“….”

Why did she want to know that?
I clutched my burning head in my hands. I was feverish in all parts of my body. Rather than answering a stupid question like that, I needed to find a place to rest.
Fortunately, we had arrived at the next compartment.
I opened the door with the Mystic Key.
No one was inside.
I sat down sluggishly on the couch.

“Kim Hajin.”

Boss sat next to me and called me worryingly.

“Yes, what is it?”

“…It’s nothing. Looks like I wasn’t being considerate. Rest well for now.”

“….”

When I saw Boss step back, slightly sullen, something inside me wavered. My heart throbbed and shook my whole body.
It was a compulsion of unknown origin; the influence of nameless emotions.
I forced my exhausted body to move.
My body moved as if it wasn’t mine, and I stared at Boss.

“Boss.”

“Hmm?”

“I, um, know.”

“Know what…?”

A single sentence came out of my mouth.

“That you were the one who brought me to the orphanage.”

…At that moment, my vision darkened, my consciousness blurred, and my entire body collapsed forward.

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