Yi Ji-Hyuk was completely absorbed in the act of staring at the passing scenery outside the car, as if he found it oh-so exciting and fascinating while being driven back to Seoul. Bearing witness to this nonchalant attitude that screamed ‘I’m going on a field trip!’, both the brows of Seo Ah-Young and Choi Jung-Hoon quivered and wiggled constantly.
“Excuse me… Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Yep?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Are you sure you don’t need to go to a hospital?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Hearing that, Yi Ji-Hyuk tilted his head slightly.
“Do I have to go to a hospital for something minor like this?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
‘A normal person would’ve died, you crazy buffoon!’ (Choi Jung-Hoon)
The youth was struck by the arm swung with the might of a monster that must’ve weighed at least a several dozen tons. If a normal person got hit by that, never mind getting killed on the spot, he/she’d become as flat as a pancake!!
“Getting your internal organs damaged is dangerous in the long run. How about we stop by at the nearest…?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“I’m fine.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“But, you’re….” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Really, I am fine. I know the best how my body operates. I’m good.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
….Actually, Yi Ji-Hyuk didn’t know. Not really.
Well, how should he know, when he never got wounded in the first place?
If one wanted to be pedantic, then sure, he got hurt plenty of times. However, never have he ever encountered a situation where that wound remained hurting for longer than three seconds in the past thousand years or so.
So, he didn’t know. But, he figured that, since his innards didn’t ache anymore, he must’ve been fine now. All fixed and stuff.
However, what was this odd feeling…?
“Is it okay to open the window for a bit?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Mm? Oh, sure. Feeling claustrophobic?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“No. It’s not that, but it’s like I’m getting motion sickness. My inside is going all topsy-turvy and…. Euph!!!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
As soon as Yi Ji-Hyuk gagged out reflexively, Choi Jung-Hoon quickly reduced the speed of the car. He planned to park on the side of the road and let his passenger recover first.
“Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk!!! You just vomited out blood!! That’s blood!” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young cried out in alarm after seeing the streams of blood leaking out from the corners of his mouth.
“Huh? That’s weird. Why is there blood?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“That’s why I said we should go to a hospital!!!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Choi Jung-Hoon angrily shouted out and stepped on the accelerator.
“So, uh, to clarify….” (Doctor)
The doctor was tilting his head, clearly troubled by something.
“We suspected the perforation of the stomach as the likely cause when judged from the manifested symptoms. But, through the extensive tests we have conducted, we can now confidently deduce that… the patient is suffering from a stomach ulcer.” (Doctor)
“An ulcer?!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Choi Jung-Hoon was dumbfounded as he asked back.
“Do ulcers normally cause that much blood loss?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“No, not at all. That much blood loss would normally point towards the perforation rather than the ulcer as the likely cause. However, since we have identified the cause through endoscope testing, there is no other way around this fact. I’m sorry.” (Doctor)
“Hmm. Then, is there a possibility that it was perforation, but the wounds have recovered somewhat in the meantime and became an ulcer, instead?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“If he possesses that kind of recovery rate, then he’s no longer a normal human being. Wait, now that I think about it…” (Doctor)
To the side, Yi Ji-Hyuk was smiling quite refreshingly. He was thinking of something else, though.
‘Since I’ve got no clue what to say here, might as well keep my mouth shut!’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The doctor glanced at Seo Ah-Young and Choi Jung-Hoon before taking another look at the medical chart.
“If he’s a rapid-healing type, then it’s quite possible. Let’s see, his Ether measurement is… Hmm, it’s 970, huh. It’s a bit so-so, this number. Even if he possesses an ability, with this low Ether value, it’d be too much to expect such a rapid healing….” (Doctor)
It was right then. Seo Ah-Young suddenly grabbed the doctor’s shoulders real tightly.
“What was the value again?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“E, excuse me?” (Doctor)
“The Ether!! The number!!” (Seo Ah-Young)
The doctor flinched as the burning eyes of Seo Ah-Young bore down on him.
“It’s 970. Is there s, something wrong?” (Doctor)
“970……..” (Seo Ah-Young)
“It has increased.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young and Choi Jung-Hoon exchanged deeply meaningful gazes and then, slowly turned their heads towards Yi Ji-Hyuk’s direction.
They were very much looking forward to sharing this wonderful bit of news with the youth.
“Whatcha want now?!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk’s expression was full of dissatisfaction and unhappiness as he made his reply.
“What do you want me to say?! Pah! Sh*t!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The duo turned their heads away.
Sure, it was nice that the Ether number had gone up, but what meaning was there when things had progressed this far already, anyways?
Most importantly… this youth, he remained a scary individual regardless.
“In other words, there aren’t any other major headaches we should worry about, yes?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Just take the prescribed medication as scheduled, that is all. Oh, and no alcohol.” (Doctor)
“Okay. Thank you very much.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
As they stepped outside the hospital, Yi Ji-Hyuk was tilting his head slightly.
‘My Ether number went up?’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He thought of Ether as this world’s Mana. And if he were being perfectly honest here, then well, it wasn’t as if he couldn’t utilise it at all.
Abilities used by the so-called body enhancement type users, and Yi Ji-Hyuk’s own body fortification technique, couldn’t be used if one didn’t know how to store Mana in one’s body. Yi Ji-Hyuk originally couldn’t do that.
But still, he taught himself how to absorb and then change the Mana from outside his body to suit his needs – which naturally allowed him to figure out the way to do the exact same with Ether – so he could use the fortification technique when necessary.
However, even the amount he converted for that purpose had been really, really tiny. Which meant that the techniques he could use were limited to second grade or so.
But now… his Ether value had increased, somehow.
‘No, hang on. Isn’t it only natural? Unlike before, my body’s growth is no longer frozen, right?’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
If he thought about this carefully, then he might find a new way to get much, much stronger than he was now. No, even if he didn’t actively search for the method, his body would gradually get stronger as Ether accumulated within him. And all those wonderful, powerful skills he knew but couldn’t use until now would become available in no time.
Up until now, he had wrapped himself with Mana and fought his close quarter battles that way. But the inherent limitation of this method was that, although he might be able to demonstrate an amazing destructive power, his overall speed would remain unchanged.
This Ether value rising thing? It was no doubt a good news. But, then again….
“Do I really need that now? In this world, even?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He wasn’t planning to dive head first into the middle of a battlefield, so, really now, why on earth…
Luxury cars were a different breed altogether.
Not only were the driver’s and the front passenger seat quite different to each other, the creature comfort found in the rear seats would improve even further the higher a car’s price tag climbed. Meaning, Yi Ji-Hyuk was mindlessly enjoying the comfortable back seats of Choi Jung-Hoon’s expensive imported saloon.
“Well, I’m kind of curious.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Yes?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“How does one increase the Ether value?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Choi Jung-Hoon tilted his head and looked at Seo Ah-Young.
“I haven’t heard of a method to increase one’s Ether numbers that actually works. Normally, it increases by itself.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Oh, that’s how it is.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“So, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk will soon go past the 1000 mark as well. When that happens, he’ll be recognised as an ability user in the eyes of the law.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Ahh, that’s how it is.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Isn’t that wonderful?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Of course.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Really?!” (Seo Ah-Young & Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Yep. It’s as wonderful as you say. But, I’m debating on whether it’ll get even more wonderful or not, if those who know about this matter mysteriously disappeared from the face of this planet.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Ha…. haha…” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young chuckled awkwardly. To her, those words definitely didn’t sound like a joke.
“Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Yeah?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Choi Jung-Hoon spoke up in a dignified voice.
“I was thinking that, perhaps now is the right time for you to consider the direction of your future more seriously, instead of cracking jokes.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“I’m sure you have realised this by now. We’re not such bad people, as some others may have claimed. We do our best to look after the ability users, and we also lend our support to those who wish to blend into society.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“You guys do that?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Until now, you haven’t been making too many waves out in the world, so no troubles came knocking on your doorstep yet. But, as you continue living in society, you will find yourself unable to avoid these troubles as they continue to pop up.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Troubles, you say…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“The gazes of normal people when they look at ability users are a lot colder than you might’ve realised, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Yi Ji-Hyuk groaned out. He had been expecting something like that – even back in Berafe, sorcerers and knights were the objects of respect, after all. There, those folks were of the ruling class, so the populace feared them. But, what about here?
What would happen if a man capable of burning you to cinders in less than a second walked by you without a warning?
What if one of your closest friends turned out to be capable of making a literal mincemeat out of you, when he gets p*ssed off?
Would you be able to live as you had until now?
The ‘unrestricted’ strength was no different from a ticking bomb.
That was why Yi Ji-Hyuk didn’t think of the KSF’s existence as a waste of time. He was more than well aware that, the annoying things these KSF people have been doing until now, was incomparable to the crap that might have gone down if they weren’t around at all.
“Oh, and there’s something I wanted to ask you….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Sure.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Haven’t there been crimes committed by the ability users? I mean, even normal people go around breaking windows and beat someone to death after, say, get themselves p*ss drunk. So, wouldn’t it be weird if there ain’t no crazy a*sholes like that among the myriad of users out there?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I am not allowed to tell you much about it, but…” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Choi Jung-Hoon lowered his voice.
“Of course, it is as you said. But, we do our very best to prevent such things from happening.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“It seems like most people don’t know such things are happening, though…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“We regulate the flow of information.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Indeed, the media had been silenced quite effectively by the KSF.
Getting the rough picture now, Yi Ji-Hyuk nodded his head.
“Oh, so that’s how it was.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Actually, the country of Korea is an easy place to regulate information flow. Even before the advent of the Black Monday, our country did boast one of the best public order and safety ratings in the world, after all. Unfortunately, in places like Europe, there are plenty of crimes being perpetrated by the ability users as we speak. As a matter of fact, the number has been increasing rapidly of late, as well.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
What an irony that was.
The problems that didn’t show up during the bloody battles against the monsters, began rearing their ugly heads once the Gate subjugation tactics had been firmly established and the society as a whole regained some semblance of normalcy.
“We aren’t simply trying to borrow your powers, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk. You also need our protection, as well.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“I do?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Yes. You need protection. You are not fully aware of the position you find yourself in right now, Mister Ji-Hyuk. My apologies for being blunt, but from the point of the Korean people’s view, you’re no different than a bomb, ready to go off. If the story of an ability user who can evade the restrictions of the government gets out, there will be pure, unbridled chaos, I promise you. Mister Ji-Hyuk, you’re standing on a very delicate precipice right at this moment.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“What the…. I haven’t even done anything wrong, though?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“That’s why it will be a bigger problem, since you have done literally nothing wrong. Can you be sure of yourself not snapping when others start oppressing you? Especially when you haven’t done anything wrong?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“You will eventually end up crossing the line when one too many craps lands on you. Then, there will be, literally, no end to it.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Choi Jung-Hoon was very serious and sombre as he spoke. He was being sincere here. He wasn’t trying to coax his target, but was genuinely warning the youth, and at the same time, pleading with him.
“Either the world as we know ends, and the rule of the order is reestablished as you, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk, as its centre. Or, it ends with you getting killed. Either way, simply thinking about those scenarios scares me. Whichever direction things go down, there will be a lot of blood being shed, that’s for sure.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“We had prepared quite a few things to pull you in. We made plans, and were thinking of gradually drawing you in. However…. I’ve realised it earlier today that all of those were a total waste of time. I’ve realised that things like favourable terms and conditions don’t really matter. In the end, you will be the one to make the final decision. I’ve also realised we were trying to appeal to you with things you weren’t interested in.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Did you guys have a hand in getting my dad fired?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“No, well, unfortunately, that wasn’t our intention…. We thought we might find tax evasion or things like that…” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“I guess I should apologise for that….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“No, that’s not something you should be apologising for, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk. In any case, I am being truly honest with you here. Please, trust us. I believe that working with us is the best choice you can make for your own future. I’ll make sure of that. So… that is why, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk!!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
Choi Jung-Hoon parked the car on the side of the road, and concluded his pitch.
“Would you like to work with us?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
How should one put this…. This question, that suspiciously sounded like a man confessing his feelings to another man…
Yi Ji-Hyuk’s expression remained somewhat unconvinced as he raised his own question.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask since the beginning.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Yes, please ask away!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Yeah, so, like… You guys have been trying to hire me, right? And well, it worries me when I think about it. That’s why I’m asking you this. Really, I gotta ask you.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Yes, it’s not a problem!! Please, speak to us!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“Okay, it looks like you’re dead-set on hiring me. Fine. But, will you be able to cope after you hire me?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I mean, if you hire me, doesn’t that mean we will be working together? Everyday? In the same office and all?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
There once was a kingdom called Karo.
And it was managed by a Prime Minister named Rudd Brencia, noted in the annals of Berafe’s history as the centre of this powerful kingdom that rapidly grew in influence; so much so, they could even threaten the dominance of the Divine Empire at its heyday.
Also referred as the Iron-Blooded Minister, he was known for his near-transcendent ability to manage many disparate characters and individuals working under him.
Even such a man died of a stress-related illness after getting mixed up with Yi Ji-Hyuk.
If it weren’t for those unfortunate dealings with Yi Ji-Hyuk, then the Karo Kingdom would’ve probably rewrote the history books of Berafe, for sure. But that wasn’t important.
What’s important was the fact that such a shrewd and cunning politician couldn’t cope with the natural disaster otherwise known as Yi Ji-Hyuk, and he died of stress.
However, you want to give that a shot?
You really want to stick close to me? (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s bemused inner mumblings)
“With what guts, I wonder?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Choi Jung-Hoon’s eyes were trembling quite violently by the end of Yi Ji-Hyuk’s words.
Now that Choi Jung-Hoon thought about it….
He needed to work alongside this guy? And get mixed up in his business?
With… this youth?
Choi Jung-Hoon’s expressions and facial colour changed quite splendidly several times in a second. However, he suddenly began smiling brightly, and murmured under his breath.
“Why don’t we forget that I ever mentioned this at all….” (Choi Jung-Hoon)
“What the hell?!”
Indeed, Choi Jung-Hoon was dead serious.
Yi Ji-Hyuk climbed out of the car while being on the receiving end of unnecessarily enthusiastic goodbyes. He pulled out another cigarette as he started walking towards his home.
‘They weren’t entirely off the mark, were they.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He knew very well, already. No, if he was being honest here… Then, he’d probably know the truth better than anybody on this planet. He had experienced so many times how a not-normal person would be isolated and looked at with contempt. He was genuinely sick and tired of it.
Of course, this world wouldn’t be the same as the other side. Surely, the entire world and its in inhabitants wouldn’t devote their entire being just to kill him. Probably.
Right, there was no way to be sure that such a situation would never occur here. Way back in the distant past, he tried really, really hard to blend in and live like a normal person. He even altered his own appearance and all.
But, in the end, ‘it’ would still pop out.
Just like a round peg forced into a square hole, he couldn’t blend in with the rest, and in the end, he’d lose it and pop out again.
‘Will it be the same here, too? I wonder.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
No, it should be different, this time.
First of all, this world had a different enemy they had to worry about. Until the world managed to defeat that one first, it would not want to create another one.
“But, what about after that?”
There was no guarantee that these Gates would continue to open up in the future.
So, what would happen after the Gates stopped showing up?
Yi Ji-Hyuk shook his head.
Not yet. It was too early for this to matter.
It was still too….
Right then, Yi Ji-Hyuk’s eyes trembled in a slight shock.
“What the hell? Really now?!”
Right in front of him, the air began to ripple like the surface of the water.
As if someone had cast a stone on the calm surface of a lake, ripples spread out and sure enough, a blue mirror-like Gate began to form in the middle of the empty air.
“It’s a damn Gate?!”
So, it’s appearing right in front of my nose, now?!
If it was just a Gate opening up, then he wouldn’t have been too surprised. You see, he was expecting something like this to happen eventually.
Accompanied by the resonant booming sound effects, other Gates begin opening up, with Yi Ji-Hyuk as the centre.
“…It’s not only one this time?”
It was as if these Gates were trying to surround him.
Seeing this, Yi Ji-Hyuk’s gaze became colder by many degrees.
“Hoh. So, you want to play, huh.”
Well, he really wanted to live the rest of his life as quietly as possible.
He had been raising hell for far too long, so for this time at least, he wished to live a quiet, stress-free life.
However, if fate wouldn’t let him be even in this world, what was a man supposed do now?
He had no idea who was pulling the strings.
He didn’t have enough info to figure out who was behind this annoying situation. But!
Yi Ji-Hyuk looked at the Gates and spat out the exact same words he said to Choi Jung-Hoon earlier on.
“Will you be able to cope, I wonder?”
With me, of course.
< 45. Please, have some common sense! -5 > Fin.