Chapter 91. Fake and Real (3)


“…Hm.”

Thursday, after end of classes.
Currently, I was standing in front of the Dorm 2 entrance.
Dorm 2 was the girls’ dorm, so it was the last place I expected to visit.
But I had no other choice. If I didn’t get it over with today, it would be too late. Class Competitions were starting tomorrow, and once that was over, everyone would be busy preparing for the midterms in two weeks. It wasn’t that I would be busy, but the person I was planning on meeting was.

After taking in a deep breath, I walked into Dorm 2’s pretty entrance.
Not long afterwards, I ran into someone unexpected.
Wearing comfortable clothes, she seemed to be on her way to the library. I greeted her.

“Rachel-ssi!”

When Rachel saw me, she stopped in place and swallowed hard. It didn’t look like she planned on moving from that spot, so I approached her first.

“Are you going to the library?”

“Y-Yes… what are you doing here?”

“Ah, I have something to do.”

I replied with a smile. Then, I examined her carefully.
During exam periods, she looked a bit different. Her hair seemed more disheveled and unkempt. She seemed to be pushing herself because I was her competitor.

“Oh right, you haven’t been asking me any questions lately.”

“…I thought I should try to solve them myself before going to seek help… Also, Hajin-ssi needs to study too.”

“Oh really? If you’re having trouble, you can always ask me. I’m fine with it.”

In response, Rachel nodded silently.
I wanted to go with her to the library, but I didn’t have time.

“Then you should get going. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes…”

Rachel trotted off. She seemed to be in a haste to get to the library. Did she want to study that much?
In any case, I headed deeper into the dorm.
My destination was a pavilion near room 201. Someone was waiting there by the time I arrived. I walked up to her. She seemed to have seen me too as she lightly waved her hand.

“You’re here.”

Yoo Yeonha spoke with a bright smile. Just like always, her casual clothes were black. Her white skin suited her black blouse and black skirts.

“Yeah.”

“So, why did you call me?”

Yoo Yeonha looked at me with eyes full of interest.
The reason I came to her was simple.
It was because of the ginseng I found when I went to Suwon with Kim Suho. It was a five-year-old ginseng, and I thought carefully about how to use it.
I didn’t plan on selling it as I now had more than enough money.
The best use of it would be to produce medicine, but I didn’t have the connections and equipment to do so. I tried using Stigma’s magic power just in case that was possible, but it seemed two streaks of Stigma was nowhere close to being enough.

“You made a pharmaceutical firm, right?”

“….”

Yoo Yeonha flinched at my straightforward question. But anyone could have found out about it. Most people in Cube already knew that Yoo Yeonha was doing business.

“…It’s been about two months. My close acquaintances all know about it. What about it?”

Yoo Yeonha’s pharmaceutical firm was destined to succeed.
I had Hosup do a quick background check, and it seemed it wasn’t going so well currently. Although she had the researchers and necessary equipment in place, she was lacking materials.
It was understandable. For the current Yoo Yeonha, finding a proper ginseng digger would be difficult. Most skilled ginseng diggers already had exclusive contracts with giant pharmaceutical companies, and these companies were true giants that wouldn’t flinch at Essence of the Strait’s name.

However, ‘pharmaceutics’ was a huge industry in this world, so Yoo Yeonha wouldn’t give up.
Eventually, her pharmaceutical firm would become one of the top three pharmaceutical companies. Thanks to the ‘connections’ Yoo Yeonha was always obsessed about, it would only take ten years.

“Here.”

I threw her the ginseng. Yoo Yeonha received it with a confused look. Once she identified it, her jaws dropped.
With this, I hoped I could be considered one of her ‘connections’.

“T-This….”

“It’s a five-year-old ginseng. Use it for research, and you can pay me back later with a high quality medicine.”

That’s what I said.
The person in charge of Yoo Yeonha’s pharmaceutical firm… if I remembered correctly, his Gift was ‘Researcher’.
With this Gift, he never forgot a technique he acquired. I wouldn’t have to wait long until I could receive high-intermediate rank medicines.
Yoo Yeonha looked back and forth between me and the ginseng, then put the ginseng away.

“Where did you get this? Ginsengs don’t appear often in the market these days….”

Immediately after saying that, Yoo Yeonha flinched. The market she was referring to was Violet Banquet, a black market. She started to sweat a little bit, and I smirked.

“It’s possible, right?”

“…Ah, yes, of course. I’ll even pay you back with interest. It will take a while though.”

“That’s fine.”

I gave her a thumbs up. Yoo Yeonha stared at me calmly, then made a mischievous smile.

“…By the way, have you prepared for the singing competition?”

“Yeah, I picked a song, and I went to a rehearsal this morning.”

“This morning?”

“Yeah, that’s why I wasn’t in class for the morning announcements.”

Cube even hired professional musicians for the Class Competitions. They were all people with Gifts related to music, and they arranged the song I chose in under an hour.

“Huhu, then can I look forward to it?”

Yoo Yeonha seemed to be laughing at the thought of me singing, but I retorted confidently.

“Yeah, look forward to it. It’ll go beyond your expectations.”

Then suddenly, Yoo Yeonha’s smartwatch vibrated. It was a call. Yoo Yeonha glanced at her smartwatch, then looked back at me.

“I’ll take my leave now.”

“Yes, thank you. I’ll return today’s favor two… no, threefold in the future.”

When I tactfully turned to take my leave, Yoo Yeonha picked up the call with earphones.
But suddenly, I grew curious of its content, so I strained my ears. My Gift, Observation and Reading, activated, making me eavesdrop on Yoo Yeonha’s call.

—…Yes, I’m in Daehyun hospital. Nurses are saying that Chae Jinyoon’s finger just moved. I stopped by to check if it was true.

When I heard this voice, my feet suddenly stopped in place.
I quickly turned around and faced Yoo Yeonha.

“Really?”

—Yes, but…

“Ah, hold on a minute.”

Yoo Yeonha put the call on hold and glanced up at me. I asked without caring about being tactful.

“…What is it for?”

“Uh, well, just networking.”

“…I see.”

“Um… what’s up with that face?”

I turned around without answering her.
I felt a stinging pain on my temple. I pondered as I walked in a daze.
Chae Jinyoon’s finger moved.
Of course, it might have been a mistake by the nurses, or even a simple convulsion. But regardless, this news made my heart beat harshly.

“….”

After walking for a while, I came across a bench. I sat down.
I fell in thought, almost soullessly.
The point the seed germinates.
I needed to know the specific time.
Now that my feet were on fire, I remembered the Book of Truth. I immediately opened it and asked.

‘When will the Devil’s Seed in Chae Jinyoon germinate?’

The Book of Truth didn’t tell me the answer, meaning Stigma’s magic power wasn’t enough.
I broadened the scope of the question and asked again.

‘Give me an approximate estimate on how much the Devil’s Seed in Chae Jinyoon has developed.’

This time, all two streaks of Stigma were sucked away.
Then, the number 89% was engraved in the book’s page.
89%.
Assuming that the seed has a five-year incubation period, I only had half a year left.
Half a year.
Six months.
Before the end of winter and the return of spring… that was it.
I didn’t have much time.

With a stiff face, I held up my smartwatch.
‘When will you contact me again?’
Boss’ message entered my eyes.

**


—Cube’s first-year Class Competitions begins now!

The first-year cadets’ long awaited Class Competitions finally began.
The first day of Class Competitions started with a soccer tournament. Everyone from Veritas class went out to cheer for the eleven classmates who were participating. While most cadets were rejoicing at the fact that there would be no Phenomenon Realm Analysis class, the soccer match began.

“…Wow.”

That was my reaction after observing the match for just twenty minutes.
I was glad I wasn’t participating.
That was how intense it was. Although using magic power was forbidden, cadets were existences whose physical abilities had transcended those of humans. For these monsters who could run 100 meters in 3 seconds, it was impossible to hold a normal soccer match.
The soccer ball flew back and forth, as did the players. I watched this wuxia world soccer match like I was watching a movie.
Then suddenly, Rachel, who was sitting next to me, poked my shoulder.

“Hm?”

When I turned around, Rachel looked at me and mumbled.

“Um….”

“Yes?”

“Today’s singing….”

“What about it?”

“What song….”

“What song am I singing?”

Rachel nodded. She seemed a bit worried, but also scared. Was she worried that I would fail? How kind.
I replied with a smile.

“Have you heard of If?”

“Yes?”

It didn’t look like she knew. I couldn’t blame her. If was a song released in 2008.
Perhaps because I mentioned a couple real singers when I was writing this novel, ‘Taeyeon’ existed in this world as well. Naturally, her song, ‘If’, also existed.
Although it was a song from a female artist, I chose the song because I empathized with the song’s lyrics, specifically the line, ‘I’m afraid to meet because of the goodbye that would come in the future’.

“Rachel-ssi probably hasn’t heard of it. It was released in 2008.”

“…2008?”

“I think so.”

I had to lower the key, but the musicians Cube hired made all the necessary arrangements. They even praised me, calling me a great singer.

“Whooa!”

At that moment, the crowd broke out into cheers. I looked at the match and saw Kim Suho doing a goal celebration. Now that I think about it, the Class Competitions was a way to make Kim Suho shine.

“….”

Then, I discovered Chae Nayun sitting in the front seat, happily cheering.
A part of me immediately felt uneasy.
Did Chae Nayun hear the news? Did she know that her older brother would wake up in half a year?
At that moment, Chae Nayun turned around and met my eyes. I gave her a weak smile, then turned away.

…Time passed by, and the 90-minute-long soccer match ended.
Our class was the obvious winner.
Kim Suho and Shin Jonghak scored three goals and two goals respectively, and the opponent didn’t score a single time thanks to Yi Yeonghan’s miraculous saves and Kim Horak’s stalwart defense.

**


Outdoor competitions continued until 5 P.M. Afterwards, cadets moved to the indoor auditorium to watch today’s final event, the singing competition.
In the auditorium that had a maximum capacity of 4000 people, second and third-year cadets could also be seen.

“Oh right, Class Competitions are only for first-years. That’s why there are so many seniors here.”

Chae Nayun, who was looking around the auditorium wondering why there were so many upperclassmen, finally came to a realization. Yoo Yeonha retorted lightly.

“Yeah, our second-year seniors can’t participate even if they wanted to, so they’re spectating instead.”

“Is Kim Hajin really going to represent our class?”

As she said that, Chae Nayun looked around. Kim Hajin was nowhere to be seen. He was likely in the waiting room, and Chae Nayun couldn’t help but worry.
No matter how much she thought about it, Kim Hajin didn’t look like the type who could sing well. He looked like a stereotypical tone-deaf person. Wouldn’t he just embarrass their class?

“He looked confident. He told me to look forward to it, so I am.”

Yoo Yeonha snickered and turned her gaze to the stage.
The emcee appeared at that moment.
He exchanged small talk with the audience, then started the singing competition at exactly 6 o’clock.
The first on stage was Neilee, a female American cadet from the World class.

—I… chose a song called Promise.

Neilee sang an R&B song called Promise.

“Oh, I know this song.”

Chae Nayun got excited as it was one of the songs she liked.
Neilee met Chae Nayun’s expectations, heating up the atmosphere with her explosive voice and vibrations.

“…She’s gotta be the first place winner.”

“Yeah, she’s a great singer.”

Kim Suho suddenly replied to Chae Nayun’s mutter. He had approached her before she noticed.

“Kim Suho? When did you get here?”

“Just now. So when is Hajin coming up?”

“I don’t know.”

After Neilee, a Chinese cadet from Cultivation class named Jin Harim came up. He sang a song called ‘Sad Day’, yet another song laced with high notes.
It was the same for the cadet after Jin Harim.
Cadets chosen as their representatives all chose songs with high notes and powerful climax.
The competition continued and eventually reached the ninth stage.

“Auu, my ears.”

Chae Nayun and many of the cadets in the audience were growing tired of hearing the same kind of songs. It was then.
Tak, tak.
Kim Hajin walked up to the stage with resounding footsteps.
He was dressed nicely unlike his usual self. His black jacket and jeans suiting him well, and he seemed taller than usual as though he had shoe inserts.

“Ooh, look at Hajin~”

The corners of Kim Suho’s mouth were practically hung on his ears as he looked at Kim Hajin. Chae Nayun was dumbstruck looking at such Kim Suho.

—Please introduce yourself.

The emcee told Kim Hajin.
Until then, the audience was still noisy. Perhaps because the eighth contender sang too well, everyone was busy talking among themselves to pay attention to Kim Hajin.
However…

—I’m Kim Hajin from the Veritas class.

A single sentence by Kim Hajin silenced the crowd. The way his voice rang on the microphone was surprisingly pleasant.

—I prepared a song called If.

—If?

—Yes. I don’t think many people have heard of it. It was released in 2008.

Then, the audience began to stir.

“What?”
“2008? Is it trot?”
[1]
“Is he an attention whore?”

2008.
That was when first-year cadets were born. Hearing that the music was from almost two decades ago, most cadets seemed to think it was old-fashioned.
However, Kim Hajin remained unperturbed and began.

—Then I’ll start.

The lights went off other than the stage light shining on Kim Hajin, and monotonous piano accompaniment rang out. Soon, Kim Hajin’s breath melted into the piano sound…

—If I were to go…

And the first line of the song rang out. That was enough. That single line scattered the audience’s complaints away.
His soft vocals seemingly embraced the auditorium.
First line, second line…. As the slow song progressed, the auditorium grew quieter until only his voice filled the huge auditorium.

—Because I’m like a fool, and can only watch you from afar…

With his eyes closed, Kim Hajin recited the lyrics like he was savoring them. There wasn’t a single high note or fancy technique. However, his impossibly beautiful voice captivated the entire audience. Heavy, delicate, sweet, and temperate; everyone held their breaths as they savored this moment.

“…His voice.”

Chae Nayun murmured in a daze. Sincere goosebumps rose up on her arms, while her eyes captured Kim Hajin’s singing figure. His voice seemed to flutter in front of her, shining brilliantly to the point that she felt like she could touch it if she reached out just a bit.

—Because I’m afraid of the sadness and hurt that comes after our meeting.

The final line of the song was the nail in the coffin. A cold falsetto perfectly melded into the heated atmosphere. Even after the song ended, the audience was in a daze as though they just woke up from a dream.
Soon, they applauded.
However, Chae Nayun stayed still without any motion.
The song no one in the audience had heard about was brilliantly perfected by Kim Hajin. Its lyrics were still lingering in her ears.

“Thank you.”

Kim Hajin made a bashful smile as he bowed to the audience.
At that moment, his eyes met Rachel’s. For some reason, Rachel’s eyes were wet with sorrow.

‘This music is pretty sad.’

Thinking so, Kim Hajin smiled lightly.
But behind Rachel was Chae Nayun. When he discovered Chae Nayun, the smile on his face disappeared, and he turned around feeling a bit uncomfortable.

Soon, he received an alert on his smartwatch.

[You obtain 98 SP!]
[Luck bonus activates! You obtain 15% additional SP!]


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FudgeNouget's Thoughts

Author’s note: The song Kim Hajin sang is this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrpDmvrBOX0

Taeyeon is the original singer, but Sung Sikyung’s version is my favorite.