Side Story 9
5. Your daily routine (4)
Didn’t someone say that the ground would harden after the rain had fallen?
Now normally, people would grow much closer when they made up after a big fight. But then, the bond between young boys created through sweat and drive to succeed was far hotter and stickier then any old saying could intimate.
“One, two! One, two!”
As the early dawn’s fog thickly covered the school’s athletics field, every member of the track team was energetically roaring out their rallying cries.
“Hey, Jin-Woo! How about it? Isn’t this doable?”
Before anyone had noticed it, Jin-Woo was now permitted to run alongside the captain of the team, Choi Tae-Woong. The former replied in a refreshing manner.
“Yes, it is doable!”
“Very goooood! One, two! One, two!”
Choi Tae-Woong raised his speed just a bit higher and shouted out.
“Our goal is to conquer the whole country!”
“Our goal is to…..??”
The members almost subconsciously chanted after their captain’s words, but they quickly caught onto the fact that their warcry had changed and began questioning their leader.
“Hey, captain! I thought our goal was the overall win in the regionals?”
“Uh-huh!! You’re aiming far too low in front of our new ace! Again! Our goal is to conquer the whole country!”
“Conquer the whole country!!”
“The whole country!!!”
The captain glanced at Woo Sahng-In, currently running behind him.
“Hey, Sahng-In-ah, are you crying right now?”
“Don’t give up yet, ace of the second year! Although the ace of the team has changed, how can we conquer the nation without your aid?!”
“I… I shall do my best, captain!!”
“Very goooood-!! Conquer the whole country!!”
“The whole country!! The country!”
“Conquer the country! The whole country!!”
While the members of the team lapped around the athletics field, positively buzzing with a heightened fighting spirit, only Oh Young-Gil’s complexion was turning blue amongst all the runners present. The poor kid ended up following after Jin-Woo and inadvertently entered the team as well.
“Pant, paaant, paaant….”
Jin-Woo, running out in front, heard Young-Gil’s heavy, rough breathing and tutted inwardly.
He wanted to improve the boy’s rather feeble constitution, so he said yes to the idea of one-plus-one admittance to the athletics club, but this….
….It was only a matter of time before someone keeled over at the rate things were going.
But then again, it’d not be an easy task to let Young-Gil escape in this atmosphere when the fighting spirit of the seniors had reached a brand new height that they had never seen before.
Left with no choice, Jin-Woo loaded just a little bit of Mana and sent it behind him. Like dandelion seeds being carried in the wind, the lump of Mana gently floated in the air and entered Young-Gil’s nose and mouth.
The effects of Jin-Woo’s Mana were an immediate stamina recovery, as well as a temporary boost to one’s muscular endurance, reaction times, flexibility, and to one’s rate of stamina recovery, etc….
Basically, it was a comprehensive buff gift set, filled with his desire to help out a friend.
Since it was a gift set straight from the Shadow Sovereign who reigned over in another world as basically a god, the effects of the buffs were rather incredible.
“Eh? Uh? Uhhh????”
Young-Gil’s eyes opened wider and wider as soon as he inhaled the comprehensive buff set.
‘Wha-what’s going on?! My body, it… It’s getting hotter?!’
Thick veins rose up on the boy’s legs as they powerfully kicked the ground away.
Paht, paht, paht!!
One by one, seniors running ahead of Young-Gil were left behind, and then….
Then, Young-Gil’s solo sprint began in earnest.
‘N-no, hang on a minute…?’
Choi Tae-Woong was instantly impressed by Young-Gil who managed to shoot past ahead of everyone. The captain loudly shouted out in excitement.
“Look at our newbie’s fighting spirit burning up like that! How can us folks calling ourselves his seniors remain lukewarm when things are like this??”
“No, we can’t!!”
“We chase after the newbie with everything we’ve got! Let’s go!”
“Let’s do it!”
Jin-Woo was inwardly worried whether he had given Young-Gil too much energy or not, but that only lasted for a brief moment.
The bright flames of the athletics team swept across the track today, as well.
While performing his duties of guiding incoming students from next to the school’s gate, ‘Venomous Snake’ Teacher Park Gi-Sool was keeping tabs on the track and field team diligently going through their morning training regime at a distance.
Contrary to his initial worries, it seemed that Student Seong Jin-Woo was getting used to the life in the track team without any problems whatsoever.
Heck, the headmaster even thanked Park Gi-Sool out of nowhere, too.
– I heard from the director of the track team that you, Park Teacher-nim, is always watching over Student Seong Jin-Woo.
– Ah, that…. Yes, more or less….
– Isn’t the problem child behaving himself so well a fruit of your hard labour? With you around, Park Teacher-nim, I can truly rest easy.
– Oh, uh…..
The only thing Park Gi-Sool had done so far was to watch Student Seong Jin-Woo until he fell or lost consciousness. He became so embarrassed that he’d rather become a potted plant that the headmaster was watering at that moment.
That happened earlier in the morning.
Park Gi-Sool tasted this bitterness deep within his core whenever he thought about the headmaster’s high expectation of him versus his own pathetic situation where he couldn’t even look Student Seong Jin-Woo straight in the eye.
And that was why… Because of his circumstances, he ended up getting p*ss drunk and unloaded all the useless stuff off his chest to a couple of people he’d never even seen before in his entire life.
‘Now why did I have to go and do something like that….?’
Just from recalling that night’s events, Park Gi-Sool felt like tearing out all of his hair.
A few days ago, in a certain diner he stopped by out of sheer frustration….
“T-those ant monsters, are they monsters with the heads of ants, but bodies that look like humans??”
With their conversation being interrupted rather rudely like this, the two men shifted their curious gazes at the same time towards Park Gi-Sool, and that helped the school teacher to sober up real fast.
“Ah…. What on Earth am I saying… I’m very sorry. Looks like I must be really drunk. Both of you, please don’t mind me and carry on.”
Park Gi-Sool politely bowed his head and turned around to head back to his own spot, but then, Woo Jin-Cheol actually called out and stopped him in his tracks.
The school teacher turned his alcohol-reddened face behind him and saw that Woo Jin-Cheol had gotten up from his seat to pull a chair closer to his own table.
“That tale of the ant monster…. Can you tell me more about it?”
Just where would anyone be able to safely tell the story of a teacher seeing strange things when looking at a student?
After being admitted to a mental hospital? Now, which parents would entrust their kids to a teacher who frequented the mental health institution’s hallways?
Park Gi-Sool had been silently suffering all by himself, unable to tell a soul what he saw, but now that he was given a chance, he came completely clean as teardrops formed at the corners of his eyes.
“You see, I am someone who teaches his students with his charisma. Charisma, you know? So, where can I possibly go and speak of these things?”
Still, he felt a bit more refreshed, a load off his shoulders, now that he got to say the things he wanted to say. With that, he was given enough leeway to take a gander at his surroundings.
Even though what he said sounded like a lame joke, the two detectives next to him were listening to his tale with serious expressions on their faces. It was at this point that Park Gi-Sool grew quite curious as to what these people’s story might be.
“By the way…. Why were two police detectives like yourselves discussing stuff like monsters in a place like this diner?”
Woo Jin-Cheol exchanged glances with the junior detective before explaining their circumstances – minus the bit about him actually witnessing the real monsters, of course.
“….And so, the brass ordered us to look into this matter, but well, it’s really difficult to even find a single clue, you see. Right now, I wouldn’t mind grasping at straws if that will help us.”
Woo Jin-Cheol pulled out his business card and handed it over to Park Gi-Sool as he continued on.
“That’s why, I’d like to stop by at the school sometime later on, but will that be fine with you?”
“Ahh, of course. Of course, we must help with the police’s investigation. You can come and visit us at any time.”
And so, the booze-shared diner experience came to a rather friendly end in that manner, but now…
Some time had passed since then, and after thinking about it for a little while, Park Gi-Sool couldn’t help but wonder if he had unnecessarily made the situation even worse than what it was.
‘How can a student have anything to do with the case of missing suspects…?’
Especially a boy who was wholeheartedly focusing on the club activities since early dawn?
Fearful that he might see another weird thing again, Park Gi-Sool couldn’t stare for too long in Jin-Woo’s direction, so he could only afford to sneak quick glances at the boy, instead. Eventually, he shook his head in resignation.
Then, he spoke to another teacher manning the school gate alongside him.
“Teacher Yun, my apologies, but I had a bit too much to drink last night and my innards are….”
“Ahaha, come on now, Park Teacher-nim. No need to apologise for that. Please, go back inside and take a break. I’ll cover for you and keep an eye out here.”
“Mm, thank you.”
Before he went away, Park Gi-Sool took another quick glance at Jin-Woo and slunk off into the school building.
Only then did Jin-Woo shift his gaze towards the departing teacher, even though he hadn’t shown any signs of noticing the glances right up until then.
Recently, a teacher was staring at him in a rather open manner. He couldn’t just gloss over what was happening here. From inside the darkness of his shadow, Grand-Marshal Bellion’s quiet voice entered his ears.
[My liege…. Wouldn’t it be better to erase that human’s memories and take away his abilities?]
Back when he returned home from the gap between dimensions, after ending the war – as Jin-Woo stepped onto the ground of his home, feeling rightly emotional about his return, a proxy of the Rulers showed up and left behind some advice of sorts.
He said that, even if it was only a tiny bit of the Sovereign’s powers, it’d end up causing a humongous change to this world. And that was why Jin-Woo had been avoiding interfering directly unless it was something utterly necessary.
‘For now…. Let’s just observe him for a little while longer.’
[I understand, my liege.]
Jin-Woo wordlessly stared at the entrance Teacher Park Gi-Sool had disappeared to, before turning around to leave himself.
The members of the athletics club who were heading off to the club room before him were waving their hands towards him.
Woo Jin-Cheol found himself hesitating several times in front of the school gate.
It had been a week already since he was gifted an unthinkable piece of a lead in a gopchang diner. Starting from then, right up until now, all sorts of thoughts crisscrossed in his head.
He could have treated that testimony as a crazed teacher rambling on about some incoherent nonsense. However, every now and then, a link would suddenly be established between two seemingly unrelated cases and that would lead to an untangling of a dark web that seemed impossible to unravel initially.
‘The suspects that encountered monsters, and the monsters of a student that only one teacher can see….’
Woo Jin-Cheol found a vague link between these two disparate incidents. This was from the instincts of a detective, something that couldn’t be explained by logic.
However, there was a problem – there was a massive hurdle to overcome here. If there was indeed a link, then what should he say exactly to the student in question?
He couldn’t just bet everything on that drunken teacher’s words and start questioning this student named Seong Jin-Woo about monsters and stuff, now could he?
As for asking a question in a roundabout way, the nature of the question itself was too broad for that, too.
– By any chance, do you know anything about these Shadow Monsters? What about ants that stand up and walk around like people?
No matter how hard he practised it in his head, he just couldn’t picture the interview going down well at all. Woo Jin-Cheol pored at the memo pad containing detailed records of the investigation so far and spat out a long, long sigh.
‘It’d be a miracle not to be labelled as a madman while asking around these sorts of questions….’
At the end of a long, long dilemma, Woo Jin-Cheol turned around to leave. He might come back later after thinking up another pretext, but for now, it didn’t seem like the time was right.
And so, as Woo Jin-Cheol took steps to get out of there, he lowered his gaze to the ground without thinking much about his actions.
If it wasn’t him, famed even among the fellow detectives for possessing a pretty keen pair of eyes, but someone else not as sharp, they would have missed a faint movement on the ground.
Without a shred of doubt, he noticed a blob of shadow move from the shade of a tree towards the school’s wall.
He definitely saw it.
Goosebumps broke out all over his body and he hurriedly spun his head back towards the school.
‘There is… there is definitely something here!!’
Woo Jin-Cheol’s determination firmed up, then. He no longer cared if people pointed at him, calling him insane.
As long as he could find out the reason for this sense of loss that continued to plague him every now and then; as long as he could find out the exact cause why he felt his mind relax for a little while after encountering those ant monsters, then he’d not hesitate to pay any price.
With a hardened expression, Woo Jin-Cheol began walking towards the grounds of this high school.
At the same time.
Jin-Woo was spinning a pen with his fingers as he listened to the droning sounds of the geography lesson while the heads of many kids were dozing off all around him.
‘Did he see the sentry I posted there?’
As expected of Woo Jin-Cheol, the former President of the Hunter’s Association. He should no longer have any memory of his previous life, yet his sharp eyes must’ve remained intact.
Jin-Woo closed his eyes and recalled the very last image he had of Woo Jin-Cheol.
The image of him tearing up when Jin-Woo revealed his plans of waging war against the Sovereigns all by himself remained vividly etched in his brain.
Back when the late President Goh Gun-Hui died, the voice requesting for revenge also remained, unforgotten, in Jin-Woo’s mind, as well.
Was that why?
Even though this ‘visit’ would prove to be rather troublesome in his efforts to maintain his current lifestyle of pretending to be a normal person, the smile etched on Jin-Woo’s lips didn’t want to leave him all that easily.
Soon enough, the knocking on the classroom’s door resounded out, followed by the surprised voice of the geography teacher.
“It’s not a big issue, actually. It’s just that, I have some questions to ask a student named Seong Jin-Woo.”
At the announcement that a detective had shown up, kids let out gasps of amazement and shifted their gazes to Jin-Woo.
The thing that was coming had come.
Jin-Woo’s eyes remained closed throughout, but then, with that grin getting deeper, they opened calmly again.
At that moment, Woo Jin-Cheol was entering the classroom’s door and his gaze met with a certain student’s. Even though the geography teacher didn’t specifically point the boy out, the seasoned detective knew that student was Seong Jin-Woo with just one look.
Ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump….
Woo Jin-Cheol’s heart began pounding away, as if it wanted to explode.