Park Seon-Duk frowned as she switched the TV off.
Serial murders? Just the notion alone made her heart go cold.
“The world has become a lot more scary nowadays.” (mom)
Ye-Won stopped lazily rolling around on top of the couch and tilted her head slightly as she shifted her gaze towards mom. There was a phone in one of her hands to chat to her friends, while the other was holding snacks.
“….It’s nothing.” (mom)
Park Seon-Duk issued a long sigh.
For some reason, that wonderful sight of her daughter seemed oh-so familiar to her eyes.
After the family moved to the new location, it was nice and all to see Ye-Won stop dyeing her hair to that unnatural colour and roaming around outside in the middle of the night. But, the thing was…. It felt like she was going down the other wrong path, right now.
“Haven’t you gained weight lately?” (mom)
“Really?! Do I look fat? But, it can’t be?” (Ye-Won)
That T shirt you’re wearing as if it was a tank top, weren’t you complaining to me that it was too big for you a few months ago?
You think your mom has made a mistake there?
As soon as you come home from school, the first thing you do is lounge around the whole day, so if you didn’t get fat from that, then you aren’t even a human being, you dumba*s! (mom’s inner monologue)
Park Seon-Duk had been deeply deliberating whether a daughter with an energetic rebellious streak was better than one who was needlessly well behaved but was cooped up at home all the time.
But now, she could only despair at the despotic nature of being at the extreme ends of the scale, which knew no such thing as a ‘middle ground’.
Kids from other families all grew up seemingly nice and normal, so how come hers were incapable of doing that?!
‘Besides all that, that girl sure is a weird one.’ (mom)
It’d been not that long ago when she was trumpeting the tune of ‘I hate my Oppa, hate him to his guts’; yet, she was resembling him more and more with every passing day.
Park Seon-Duk was actually fearful that her daughter might end up Yi Ji-Hyuk No.2 at this rate.
Unfortunately for Ye-Won, though, her Oppa had this strange constitution that didn’t gain any weight no matter how much he stuffed his face. But she didn’t seem to share the same physical condition….
It was around then, the electronic door lock opened. Didn’t the wise old ‘they’ once say that speak of the devil and he shall appear?
Yi Ji-Hyuk pushed the door open and entered the house.
“Mm, son. Welcome ba….?!” (mom)
Park Seon-Duk forgot what she wanted to say and hurriedly took a penetrating sweep from her son’s head to his feet.
“S, son?! Why are you so tan? In less than a day, no less!” (mom)
Yi Ji-Hyuk replied as if it was par for the course.
“Mom, I told you, I was sunbathing.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“What are you talking about, sunbathing? In the middle of Winter? But, besides all that! Aren’t you supposed to look cooler when getting a tan? Instead of being cool, you just look like a foreigner now, you know?” (mom)
Yi Ji-Hyuk powerlessly crumpled to the floor before shouting out in a voice full of sorrowful anguish.
“It’s all your fault, you know!! Mom, you gave birth to me with this face! Hell, I’ve been called a monster on that side, too!!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Suddenly, all his accumulated sorrow burst out into the open!
Even if his skin colour was different, even if his hair colour was different, he might have been able to argue his case back then, if his eyes were just a little bit bigger and rounder, and his nose was a bit sharper and better defined!!
“….And where is this ‘that side’ now?” (mom)
“….Well, there is a place like that, but never mind.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“And also, accusing me of giving birth to you and your current face…. You’re misunderstanding something, son. Don’t you know how beautiful you were, when you were just a little boy? You had big, clear eyes and all.” (mom)
“But what can I do, when you turned out this way after growing older?” (mom)
“There can’t be only one responsible party when the result came out looking like this, you know! I mean, this isn’t politics, even!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“However, since you’re a man, don’t blame me, but blame your father.” (mom)
Ah…. dad. Right.
“Uhm, now that I think about it, I haven’t seen his face in a while, no….? Mom, when we were moving house, did we move together with dad? We didn’t abandon him there, right?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“What nonsense are you talking about? You even moved our stuff together with him!” (mom)
“Did I?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
How sorrowful to possess such faint and indistinct presence, oh the head of this modern family….
“Okay, then. Where is he now?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“He’s obviously at work!” (mom)
“Oh, really? He found a new job?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“It’s almost been a whole month, since your father started working for the Korean Energy! How can you not be aware of that?!” (mom)
“….Mom, I’m not sure whether it’s me being aware or not.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Mm? What’s that supposed to mean?” (mom)
Yi Ji-Hyuk couldn’t bring himself to finish his words and simply averted his gaze.
Father, have you been well?
We’re supposed to share one roof, yet I miss you so much.
Are your new colleagues treating you well?
Ah, this is…. It’s a scary prospect, isn’t it?
What if you’re also invisible in your new company?
I hope you aren’t eating your lunch everyday all alone…. (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s apologetic inner monologue)
Yi Ji-Hyuk decided to pay a visit to dad’s workplace in the near future, and he steered himself into his room.
“Aren’t you going to wash up?” (mom)
“Done that already.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“When? And where?” (mom)
Yi Ji-Hyuk grinned brightly before answering.
“I think, it was the Maldives?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Hearing her son’s reply, Park Seon-Duk’s expression suddenly became unreadable.
“My child.” (mom)
“Yeah, mom?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Are you doing okay in your new job? Is it too difficult for you right now?” (mom)
….Mom, hang on a minute here! I haven’t lost my marbles, really!
I really, really went there! I did!
Wow, this is…. Really, holy moly. I’ve got nothing to back me up on this, and it’s driving me crazy here! (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
Yi Ji-Hyuk suddenly broke out in a smirk as he pulled out his phone.
“And what is this now?” (mom)
“A photo.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
When Yi Ji-Hyuk showed her a selfie with the emerald-coloured ocean serving as the backdrop, Park Seon-Duk responded with a snort.
“Nice photoshop.” (mom)
“Hey, you. I think you take your mom for granted, don’t you?” (mom)
No, it’s more like mother is taking your son for granted, instead!
I’m not supposed to receive such a bad treatment like this! (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
“Okay, fine, whatever, mom. I’ve washed up, so I’m going to my room now.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Oh, alright. Did you have something to eat?” (mom)
“I’ll just eat along with everyone later.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
As soon as Yi Ji-Hyuk entered his room, Park Seon-Duk beckoned Ye-Won to come closer. Ye-Won’s eyes glistened as she hurriedly made her way next to mom.
“So, did you see it?” (mom)
“Ng, mom. I definitely saw it.” (Ye-Won)
Right at the corner of the photo Yi Ji-Hyuk took, there was the unmistakable shape of Jeong Hae-Min.
The hawk-like eyes of the mother-daughter duo obviously caught on to that immediately.
“It wouldn’t be strange to say that you have gone to the Maldives with a teleporter in company, no?” (mom)
“Ng. You could go there in a jiffy, that’s for sure.” (Ye-Won)
“So, what should we call this situation, then? Could this be…. a romantic getaway for two?” (mom)
“Eii~, come on, mom. That’s just too much. But then again, you never know, right!” (Ye-Won)
Meanwhile, Yi Ji-Hyuk tilted his head in confusion after he heard the two females kyah~ kyahing outside his room.
Did something good happen or something?
Yi Ji-Hyuk switched on his computer, and perhaps for the first time in months, didn’t load up his game, but rather, searched for locations where Gates had previously appeared and marked them on the map.
After sussing out each location according to when they had opened, he began kicking his brain into gear.
‘They were really getting closer to my location.’
But, for some reason, the Gates stopped appearing near Yi Ji-Hyuk once he joined up with the NDF. Instead, various sizes of Gates opened up all over the peninsula of Korea.
It was now important to figure out whether this was because of some greater change in the unfolding situation that handily eliminated Yi Ji-Hyuk from being a target, or was just a part of the ongoing scheme to tighten the noose around his neck even further.
Unfortunately, as usual, he lacked information to make an educated guess right now. One of the reasons why he deliberately went overseas to train was to confirm his theory, actually.
After all, if another Gate opened up near where he was, then just like before, Gates were still following him around. But if not, then that meant there was a definite shift in the pattern.
Regardless of what, though – it wasn’t as if he didn’t have ways to deal with them.
The reason why he wanted to come up with appropriate responses now, was simply because he no longer possessed the luxury of ‘infinite time’. Things were somewhat different than in the past, when he didn’t mind waiting ten years to conquer a single castle. Back then, he never felt the urgent need.
Just how much time did he have to waste trying to escape from the aftereffects of that mindset? At least now, Yi Ji-Hyuk was able to regain the sense of time similar to what most people felt, so that was clearly something.
“Hmm. Neither here nor there.”
For now, there was some wiggle room.
Even if more high class monsters like Ogres and Hydras appeared, they weren’t really much of a threat to Yi Ji-Hyuk. Of course, there weren’t any guarantees that a creature of such level would cross over and over again in the future.
If a lifeform on the level of a dragon crossed over tomorrow, then this world was as good as finished. The Yi Ji-Hyuk of now would find it quite difficult to face off against a single dragon. So, what if a group of them crossed over?
‘How can science feel this inadequate all of a sudden…?’
If humanity were afforded more time, they probably would’ve been able to find a way to kill a dragon. But the current issue was that, seemingly no one in this vast world had considered the possibility of going up against a creature that powerful yet.
If a dragon did appear and humans began researching methods to combat it, who knows how many years they might need?
By then, the world would’ve been completely destroyed, anyways.
Yi Ji-Hyuk’s head slowly leaned this way and that.
There were two methods he could think of right now.
For the first method, there was a definite need to gather more ability users and develop their powers even further.
Not like now with the small numbers he’d been training, but pretty much every single one of them he could lay his hands on, in a power structure akin to a pyramid.
And the second method was….
‘I gotta do something about my Mana.’
This was the more pressing issue of the two.
For now, he made do with Mana absorbed during battle, but without a doubt, he’d reach the inevitable limit if he continued to rely on this method.
If he failed to kill a monster right away, then Yi Ji-Hyuk was not that much different to your average ability user.
“….It’s not like there is no solution to this problem, though.”
He knew of a certain-kill method to access an infinite amount of Mana, but there was a… small problem with that method; it might end up hastening the end of this world, instead.
In that case, he’d become the Bringer of Apocalypse of this world too, so that method was definitely out of the question.
So, that left him with….
‘Looks like I’ve got no choice but to increase my Ether value somehow.’
If accessing Mana was not practical, then that meant he’d develop his ability, instead. Whatever his ability was.
In order to achieve this goal, though, a more thorough and systematic research on how ability users operated was a must.
After all, they were full of unanswered questions, weren’t they?
Why did these special abilities manifest in the first place?
He’d been living for over a thousand years in a world where men spitting out flames was the norm, so he ended up easily adopting to this admittedly weird situation. But well, there was definitely a need to dig into the core reason of why such a mutation occurred among the populace here.
“Oh well. I guess I should put them through more wringers tomorrow, then.”
He felt a definite need now to research how the powers of these ability users operated. He wasn’t even worried in the slightest about procuring test subjects, though – since he had more than a handful of very fresh specimens ready and waiting already.
And just as Yi Ji-Hyuk’s lips formed a smile truly befitting the most sinister Dark Sorcerer there ever was, the unexplainable chill crept on the backs of the resting NDF agents, who had barely survived the first day’s so-called training. They couldn’t help but shudder involuntarily in fear.
The following day.
When Yi Ji-Hyuk stepped outside his house in the morning, he was greeted by the sight of the waiting Jeong Hae-Min.
‘And what is up with her?’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
For a regular idol, wasn’t it normal for them to place priority on their own personal or professional schedule first? Shouldn’t she hate being temporarily forced into this kind of a role?
He thought that she would be quite hostile, but yet, here she was, calm and collected. Also, besides her irritating cries of ‘recognise me, praise me!’ she didn’t even possess that much of the infamous bloated egos of a celebrity, either.
She was nominally an idol, but her disposition was more like an easy-going spinster, instead. Oh, except all that complaining and crying, of course.
“Okay, but besides all that – why are you wearing sunglasses today? And what’s wrong with your face, too?”
She was wearing a pair of thick sunglasses, as well as a big lower-face mask. And beneath all that, she even applied a thick coat of sunscreen, too. Jeong Hae-Min shouted at him with a sharp voice.
“It’s because my face got a tan!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“What? Were you expecting not to get a tan over there? Just give it up, will ya? There’s nothing you can do about those wrinkles, you know.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“It’s not the issue with the wrinkles! If I suddenly show up in public with a tan, then those articles gossiping about me going on a romantic rendezvous will pop up, you know!!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Huh. How complicated.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Just hurry up, will you? Even as we stand here wasting time, there might a pap nearby trying to take a pic right now.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“But, there’s no one here, though?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“How can you tell that?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“It’s fine if you don’t believe me.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Jeong Hae-Min stared at him with a pair of suspicious eyes, but still offered her hand out.
“Take it.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Without saying another word, Yi Ji-Hyuk took her hand.
Suddenly, they went poof! from the spot, and reappeared on yesterday’s island.
Yi Ji-Hyuk was seemingly the last one to arrive, as there were already quite a few people waiting by the beach.
“Good morning~!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
‘You rotten son of a b*tch.’ (Everyone)
If eyes could speak, then Yi Ji-Hyuk would’ve been showered with many colourful words by now.
“Well, okay. Yesterday, we were all trying to loosen our stiff bodies, so starting from today, let’s get more serious!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
A man stepped forward. He was Yun Hyuk-Gyu, the Spitfire.
He was one of the ability users who had been maintaining a certain distance away from Yi Ji-Hyuk at all times. It was like, they might be colleagues working for the same outfit, but no reason to get all friendly and stuff.
“Why are we forced into doing these crazy things?” (Yun Hyuk-Gyu)
Yi Ji-Hyuk tilted his head slightly.
“Isn’t it because you’re weak?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The Spitfire’s brows quivered in a deep frown.
“We’re? What? All of us here are the top Psykers of South Korea!” (Yun Hyuk-Gyu)
“But still, you’re all weak.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“…And you’re so full of confidence, aren’t you? I am aware that your ability lets you affect a wide area. But that’s a ranged ability, isn’t it?” (Yun Hyuk-Gyu)
“Ho-oh?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Are you brave enough to prove with your bare hands that I’m indeed weak?” (Yun Hyuk-Gyu)
As if he was confused about something, Yi Ji-Hyuk asked back while scratching his chin.
“I’m asking you here ‘cuz I wanna make sure of this.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The Spitfire wordlessly glared back.
“Are you trying to say that you don’t want to train here, or you simply don’t like me?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Of course, it’s the latter. I’ll say this, you having a time of your life while every one of us is going through hell, it’s an eyesore.” (Yun Hyuk-Gyu)
“Hmm. How manly.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
And he didn’t even beat around the bush, too.
Good, very good.
Unfortunately for you…. (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
A long smirk slowly crept up on his lips.
“A weakling with a big mouth, eh?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Back in Berafe, the weak was nothing more than fodder for the strong. However, this wasn’t Berafe, so Yi Ji-Hyuk was maintaining some modicum of respect for these people.
However, if they couldn’t appreciate that and acted like this, then well, what choice did he have but to take care of things his way?
“In that case….”
Yi Ji-Hyuk slowly clenched his fist and pointed at the Spitfire.
“Let me see how strong you are really.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
But, you better be prepared, man.
Why? ‘Cuz, I’m gonna do things my way from now on.
Yi Ji-Hyuk’s eyes gradually became bloodshot.
< 74. We’d like to scout you, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk (4) > Fin.