Side Story 26. That Man, and That Man

Hugo woke up after being unconscious for a long time. A pang of drowsiness swept through his head. He furrowed his brows, tossed and turned, and then realized that his body didn’t seem to be in such a bad state.

Only after confirming that his right arm, which had been pierced by a bolt, was fine did Hugo realize that he was in an unfamiliar room.

As he laid there blinking dazedly, he saw some makeshift soundproofing on the other side of the wall. Hugo peeked at the hallway from the small gap in the door.

“The treatment is done. It wasn’t like I went easy on him either…. I still vividly remember how he moved. It was like watching a panther.”

“Fufu, I was surprised too.”

A familiar voice rang out.

Hugo knew who the two voices belonged to. The members of a team that supported Sicilia in the internal conflict, a team that owned a building despite their small size—Raison D'être.

The aged voice must belong to Jang Maldong, who was given the title of Master by Haramark’s king, and the deep, low voice must belong to Edward Dylan, Haramark’s elite Archer.

In that case, the woman who sent him flying must be Chung Chohong, the Slaughterer.

‘Why…?’

Why did they spare him and even treat his injuries?

Hugo wasn’t without questions, but his animalistic instincts told him to first eavesdrop on their conversation.

“By the way, are you acquainted with that friend?”

“No, I saw him for the first time today.”

“Then why did you go out of your way to save him?”

“Mm….”

Jang Maldong trailed off. Hugo was just as curious as the others.

“I don’t know. I did it without thinking.”

“....”

“The way he moved, he was like a wild animal. One that knows nothing and is struggling just to survive.”

Jang Maldong chuckled softly.

“Most importantly… he had clear eyes. Even in a life-or-death situation, they were crystal clear, so much so that I couldn’t see a hint of emotion in them. When I saw those eyes, my body acted on its own.”

Being a good person is enough…. That’s what you said in the past.”

“Well, we don’t know whether he’s a good person yet. You guys were right in that I acted hastily. I won’t deny that.”

Hugo blinked. He was a little confused.

“But it’s true that he’s an interesting guy. That movement… if we think about the future of Raison D'être….”

“...You mean….”

It was then. The door opened with a clunk, and Chung Chohong walked in.

“Oh, he’s up?”

Chung Chohong shouted while looking at Hugo. While Hugo was flustered, the two men walked in as well.

“Stay in bed.”

Jang Maldong offered, but Hugo kept himself up. He seemed to be staring blankly, but Jang Maldong could see strong wariness behind his eyes.

“A Priest from the Temple of Luxuria just left after treating you. There shouldn’t be any lingering problems with your arm. Try moving it.”

Hugo spun his arm a couple of times. Then, he glanced at Jang Maldong.

“...As you must know, Haramark’s internal conflict has ended.”

After a brief silence, Jang Maldong dragged over a chair and sat down.

“It seems you signed as a Red Mark…. I don’t know what you’re feeling right now, but I advise you to stay low without causing trouble. Don’t even think about avenging your comrades.”

“....”

“You can go back to Earth if you want. If you don’t have anywhere to go, you’re welcome to stay here. We have plenty of rooms to spare, you see.”

“What?”

Chohong protested. However, when Dylan signaled her with his eyes, she shut up immediately.

Hugo was still silent. He only gazed at Jang Maldong as if to examine him.

“By the way… what’s your name?”

Jang Maldong asked.

Hugo remained silent.

“Your name! Are you deaf?”

Only when Jang Maldong urged him again did Hugo open his tightly sealed mouth.

“It’s Hugo.”

Tak! Stars popped up in front of him along with a sharp headache. Hugo yelped, clutching his head and scurrying back.

“Did you throw your manners to the dogs? I’m a whole lot older than you are and also happen to be your savior. And what?”

Jang Maldong yelled with his cane pointing toward Hugo.

“Puhahaha! You’re such an overbearing, old man!”

Chung Chohong burst into laughter with her hands on her belly.

“What was that? An overbearing, old man?”

Jang Maldong turned his cane to the side, glaring.

“What are you laughing at!?”

Pak, pak, pak!

Hugo stared back and forth at Jang Maldong and Chung Chohong, the former swinging his cane and the latter screaming with each hit. Edward Dylan was standing near them, an embarrassed smile on his face and his arms crossed. They were scary, cold-blooded people as enemies, so this side of them came off as a bit of a surprise.

Chohong ran away after being beaten for a while, and Jang Maldong loosened his tie and sat down.

“Damned brat…. Anyway, what are you going to do?”

“....”

“You can leave if you want. I won’t stop you.”

“....”

“Or do you want to stay a little longer?”

Hugo did not give an immediate answer. Jang Maldong also waited without rushing him. Hugo organized his thoughts…

“...Yes.”

And he slowly nodded his head.

“Thank you for saving me. And please take good care of me.”

He had nowhere to go anyway now that UDD was gone.

“What a boring guy.”

Jang Maldong chuckled and then put out his hand.

“I’m Jang Maldong.”

Hugo bowed and carefully grasped Jang Maldong’s hand.

Then he flinched. He looked down fixedly at Jang Maldong’s hand. Then, as he slowly pulled out his hand, he felt a strange sensation on his hand.

“...I’m Richard Hugo.”

It was a warmth he had never experienced before in his life.


*


Hugo began a new life. Jang Maldong did not bother with him after he regained his health. Hugo didn’t proactively try to do something either. He stayed quiet as Haramark’s internal conflict wrapped up, and he spent his days helping out Raison D'être.

One day, Jang Maldong, who was secretly observing Hugo during this time, summoned everyone. He announced that the team would go on a trip to Huge Stone Rocky Mountain.

Hugo should have known when Dylan ran away, saying that important business came up, and Chohong screamed like a madwoman. At the very least, he should have noticed when the frightening Agnes, who had been inside the building at the time, gave him a pitying look.

Only after getting dragged to the mountain without knowing a thing did Hugo realize what kind of hell he had gotten himself into. Initially, Hugo only received training on the side while Jang Maldong focused on training Chohong, but even that was hellish.

“That damned old man!”

At the end of the first day’s training, Chohong’s eyes gleamed as she yelled in rage.

“Fuck! Fuck! FUUUUUCK! I’ll kill him! I swear I’ll kill him!!!”

She spat out all kinds of curses and then attempted to coax Hugo.

“Hey, do you have any money saved up?”

“?”

“Don’t tell me you’re just going to take his bullshit. Dylan’s not here. This is the perfect opportunity to get rid of that old man!”

Hugo stared at Chohong in a fluster. Kill him? He didn’t expect those words to come out of Chohong, who had been with Jang Maldong for far longer.

“There’s apparently a Priest at the Temple of Luxuria who will do anything for money. We should go ask this Priest to kill the old man.”

“...If you’re talking about casting a curse, shouldn’t we ask a Priest of Invidia?”

“I’m sure this Priest will take care of the details! How about it?”

“...No thanks. He is my savior. Besides, he’s doing this to help us get stronger. I don’t think this is something you should joke about.”

Hugo shook his head, saying he would forget ever hearing it. Chohong clicked her tongue.

“Listen, you can only say that because you haven’t experienced his focused training. He’s practically killing you!”

Hugo still did not buy into it. He was somewhat surprised with himself. His past, short-tempered self would have been running about, screaming to quit.

But something about Jang Maldong felt different. It wasn’t as if he didn’t feel a little rebellious, but he wanted to meet his expectations more than anything else. For himself, if anything.

However, this thought did not even last a whole day.

The next day, Hugo’s focused training began. By sunset, Hugo had gone looking for Chohong, sobbing. He regretted what he said yesterday and grabbed the olive branch Chohong offered.

After their training, the two of them really went to the Temple of Luxuria and paid a Priest to pray for Jang Maldong’s death. It must have been at least somewhat effective as trivial misfortunes began to strike Jang Maldong. Looking at these, they felt a little better.

Although Jang Maldong found out in the end and beat them until they were blue, it was still an enjoyable and satisfying experience. Hugo felt like he was living a completely different life than in the past.

Jang Maldong was strict, solemn, and serious but was also warm and caring. Dylan was prudent and calm while knowing how to have fun, and he got along the best with Chohong.

When Hugo was with them, he found himself laughing before he noticed. It was almost like they were family. As a result, Hugo forgot all about Earth and lived in Paradise for some time.

Then one day, when Hugo had gotten used to his new life, Jang Maldong quietly summoned him. He asked if he could see Hugo on Earth.

Hugo was puzzled but did not refuse. He wondered if they would even be able to talk to each other without Paradise’s automatic language translation, but Jang Maldong turned out to be proficient in English.

On their first meeting, Jang Maldong asked whether he could see where Hugo grew up. Hugo hesitated but still led him to Detroit’s slums.

Jang Maldong clicked his tongue.

“It’s not a very good place.”

That was his comment after seeing the dilapidated orphanage. There was no need to explain how run-down the building was, and he couldn’t hear any children laughing either.

“Well, I can’t deny that.”

To be honest, Hugo was uncomfortable with this place. Although he had gotten used to living here, it was because he had no other choice. Otherwise, he would have left a long time ago.

“I don’t have good memories of this place….”

“Good memories, huh.”

Jang Maldong smiled bitterly. Then, he spoke.

“Then you can start making them from now on.”

“...Pardon?”

“Those kids, I mean.”

Jang Maldong raised his cane and said while pointing at the gloomy children.

“Why not make good memories for those kids?”

“....”

“And those can become good memories for you too.”

Hugo was taken aback. He had not expected Jang Maldong to say such words.

Jang Maldong grinned.

“Give it a thought.”

He then turned around and walked away from the orphanage.

Hugo chased after him and asked.

“Hold on. I still don’t understand why you asked to see me here. Was it just to say that…?”

“...You know.”

Jang Maldong spoke while trudging down the street.

“You’re like a chameleon.”

“Chameleon?”

“When we met for the first time, you saw your comrades be obliterated right in front of your eyes, yet you didn’t try to resist or talk back. At the time, I thought you were either a quick-witted person or very adaptive one.”

“Well….”

“But after being with you until now, I realized something.”

Jang Maldong continued.

“I thought you were a brusque, indecipherable person at first, but I found you cackling and guffawing without a care.”

Jang Maldong smiled.

“That’s why I said you’re like a chameleon.”

Hugo still looked confused.

“I’m not saying that you don’t have your idiosyncrasies. But, you’re quick to get swept by your surroundings. A go-with-the-flow type of person, if you will. It isn’t that you’re quick-witted or adaptive. Your actions are very instinctual, almost like a habit.”

Jang Maldong continued.

“And this habit of yours… there is plenty of room for it to affect you adversely.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about the worst-case scenario. Let’s say you die.”

After hearing this, Hugo dropped his jaw, going, “Ah.”

He finally had an idea why Jang Maldong asked to see him separately on Earth.

“I see…. It doesn’t sound like a bad idea, then. Okay, I will give it a try.”

“Good. You will be doing good, charitable work. Not just for those kids, but also yourself.”

Hugo scratched his head. In the end, this whole thing had been for his sake. Was there ever anyone who cared about him so much? Hugo was moved.

“There’s something else I need to tell you.”

That was until he heard what Jang Maldong said next.

“I plan on leaving that world.”

Hugo stopped walking. He stared at Jang Maldong’s back with widened eyes.

“I already told Dylan…. And I’m sure Chohong noticed it too.”

Hugo was at a loss for words. This seemingly came out of nowhere, striking him speechless.

“B-But why so suddenly….”

“I decided long ago.”

Jang Maldong spoke calmly.

“Even after struggling so desperately… it turned out that I helped ruin that world’s future. Laughable, don’t you think?”

Hugo didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know enough about the old man to understand him fully.

“I thought about using your habit to impart my dream onto you, but….”

Jang Maldong glanced back.

“But I can’t possibly force you to shoulder such a heavy burden. Not unless you wanted it yourself.”

“If there’s something I can do—”

“No. It’s not something you can or should be entrusted with.”

Jang Maldong said firmly.

“I’m just… a little tired of it all.”

Jang Maldong turned back and pushed his fedora down.

“You can always take a little break….”

Hugo instinctively felt that Jang Maldong couldn’t be held back. However, he still did not give up.

“Who knows….”

Jang Maldong let out a deep sigh.

“There’s no such thing as never. So who knows? Fate works in mysterious ways, after all.”

Then, he suddenly raised his voice.

“What you couldn’t find after desperately struggling for years and years, you might run into one day through a miracle known as coincidence.”

“....”

“I learned that life lesson the hard way.”

He chuckled.

“If that really happens…. Then I might consider coming back.”

“...Are you really retiring?”

“Yes. But I’ll still come back and visit every now and then.”

Jang Maldong continued walking.

Hugo stared fixedly as the old man slowly grew farther away.


*


Jang Maldong left Paradise. It was an official retirement. Now, only three members remained in Raison D'être.

Dylan, who inherited Jang Maldong’s position, consoled the dejected Hugo.

“A day will come when you will understand.”

“....”

“Don’t think about it too deeply. Just enjoy the moment. Even if it’s just for today, have fun. So with that said, how does Carpe Diem sound?”

Just like that, Team Carpe Diem was born from the remnants of Team Raison D'être.

Even after Jang Maldong left, there wasn’t a huge change. Few could compare to Dylan as a leader, and Hugo had adapted to the new environment before he noticed.

Then one day, after making a fruitless trip to Scheherazade’s auction house, Hugo got on a carriage ride back to Haramark. While he was waiting for all the passengers to gather, a young man hopped on at the last moment.

“By the way, it hasn't been that long since you got here, right?”

“What gave you that idea?”

“There ain't a lot of Earthlings who reply to us politely like you, you see.”

The young man wasn’t particularly noteworthy. He looked like a complete newbie who just graduated from the Neutral Zone.

Hugo’s interest quickly moved to a female Archer with a longbow sitting on the opposite side.

“Giddy-up!”

Along with the sound of the coachman’s loud shout, Hugo’s body tilted slightly. He smacked his lips and only thought about how to strike up a conversation with the Archer.

It was just as Jang Maldong said.

The first meeting that would change Hugo’s fate forever, the relationship between Seol Jihu and Hugo, started by pure coincidence.

Unbeknownst to himself and the young man.

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