Side Story 10
5. Your daily routine (5)
Woo Jin-Cheol led Jin-Woo to the end of the school corridor. He only stopped walking once they got to a distance far away from the classroom where their conversation wouldn’t be overheard by someone else.
Jin-Woo, quietly following behind the detective, also came to a stop as a result. He sneaked a glance towards the classroom.
For some reason, this sense of distance he felt by being a student that was looking into the classroom from the outside seemed rather large.
Perhaps Woo Jin-Cheol was conscious of that too, because the first thing he did was to apologise to Jin-Woo who was still looking back at the class.
“Sorry about dragging you out in the middle of class like this.”
“No, it’s fine.”
Jin-Woo held back the words of ‘I wanted to escape from there anyway because it was so boring’, in consideration of the teacher doing his best to teach the classroom full of kids.
Rather than say anything, Jin-Woo looked up at Woo Jin-Cheol, instead.
The detective was young.
Since Jin-Woo had changed his physique to match that of a high school freshman, Woo Jin-Cheol was now actually a good head taller than he was, with much broader shoulders, as well.
‘A guy who looked like he’d give a gangster a run for his money was actually working as a detective.’
A smile abruptly bloomed on his face after seeing a friend’s face in what felt like aeons.
It had been years – no, decades actually, if he added the time spent wandering around the gap between dimensions – since he last saw the Association President Woo Jin-Cheol.
Even though Jin-Woo didn’t want to show anything outwardly, there was not much he could do about his expression betraying him with a hint of happiness.
However, Woo Jin-Cheol was immediately beset with confusion after discovering the smile on the student’s face.
There would be only a handful of people alive who’d remain unflustered after suddenly being visited by a cop, and not only that, a detective with such a threatening face like his.
More than that, was there a reason to say anything else when the person in question was just a high school student?
However, this kid in front of his eyes was actually smiling.
‘This boy…. Something’s different about him.’
Woo Jin-Cheol felt it the moment he stepped into that classroom – this kid was different.
Thanks to his job being what it was, he had run into his fair share of murderers who killed many people, or gangsters that lorded over the backstreets with iron fists.
However, not even once had he meet anyone with a pair of eyes as calm as this boy.
‘How can a student possess eyes like that?’
Unbeknownst to him, Woo Jin-Cheol swallowed back dry saliva from all this tension in the air. Starting from the moment he saw the boy, his heart was still violently pounding away for reasons unknown to him.
To dissolve the many questions swirling and circling inside his head, Woo Jin-Cheol pulled out his memo pad and began looking into it.
“By any chance, Shadow… no, wait. Ants….”
Woo Jin-Cheol was looking at the contents of his memo pad, but no matter what he did, he just couldn’t form any coherent sentences. So, he pulled out a pen from his inner pocket, instead.
While Jin-Woo watched on with an interested gaze, Woo Jin-Cheol quickly drew something on the page of the pad and presented the resulting artwork.
Jin-Woo inwardly praised the detective’s effort.
‘This dude, he’s actually a lot more talented in art than I thought.’
What Woo Jin-Cheol sketched just now was the general appearance of Beru.
Although it couldn’t be called exact description, still, he got right the head of an ant, human-like hands and feet, the sharp claws, as well as the ant’s wings on the back, etc, etc.
Anyone who knew what Beru looked like, they would recognise him from this drawing in an instant. Woo Jin-Cheol asked his question then.
“By any chance, can you think of something when you look at this image?”
Jin-Woo looked at the drawing for a bit before raising his head and spotted Woo Jin-Cheol and his slightly-blushing face. Even he should be aware of how ridiculous this whole thing must’ve looked.
But regardless of all that, he seemed to be desperate to recover the memories of things that happened to him, but were later taken away, even if that meant he’d have to resort to doing something like this.
Containing all of his desperation….
“….Do you know what this is?”
….Woo Jin-Cheol asked one more time.
Before the hints of embarrassment, as evident in the detective’s voice, could grow larger, Jin-Woo quickly answered him.
Woo Jin-Cheol’s heart powerfully rocked and pounded on his chest.
“Y-you know what this is??”
The detective’s voice grew louder. But, Jin-Woo’s expression was utterly calm in his demeanour, a complete contrast to Woo Jin-Cheol’s.
Woo Jin-Cheol’s eyes trembled violently.
He finally found it.
His breathing quickened considerably, and his voice picked up just as the greatly urgent questions flew out of his mouth.
“What is this ant monster? And what is your real identity?”
Jin-Woo took a step back in order to avoid the agitated Woo Jin-Cheol. The latter realised that he made a mistake and quickly calmed himself down.
“Ah, I got too carried away there for a second. I’ve been chasing after this case for a while, you see.”
One by one – he would dig into what this student knew, step by step. Didn’t he have to go through so much hardship to find this clue already? So, there was no need to be too hasty now.
Woo Jin-Cheol managed to tide over his pulsing heart with those thoughts and spoke up with a much more calm voice.
“Alright. So, you know something about the creature in this image?”
Jin-Woo replied briefly with a nod of his head, before an ‘innocent’ expression formed on his face.
“Isn’t that a monster that pops out from one of those special effects dramas that kids like to watch? Like, Kamen Rider?”
Woo Jin-Cheol was immediately overcome with this sense of despondency, akin to watching a sand castle he built all day long get washed away by a single incoming wave. A small but heartbroken sigh leaked out of his mouth.
Since his expectation had been great, the ensuing disappointment was just as great, too. His hand holding the memo pad naturally dropped lower.
He looked so fatigued right now, so tired that he couldn’t even hold that little pad up anymore.
For a brief moment there, he grew angry at this boy for needlessly stringing him along with his vague answers. But, well, what crime did this student commit exactly, when he spoke only of the things he knew about?
Woo Jin-Cheol forced a smile on his face.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes. I spoke to your teacher, so there shouldn’t be any issues when you go back.”
Woo Jin-Cheol spoke up to here and was about to pocket the memo pad, but then, Jin-Woo quickly addressed him.
“That image of a monster, can I have it as a souvenir?”
The detective looked at the student’s bright expression, and a genuine smile floated up on his face. He opened his memo pad and stared at the sketch for a little while, before tearing the page out cleanly and handing it over to Jin-Woo.
As if he didn’t want to get arrested by any lingering emotions, Woo Jin-Cheol spun on his heels and jogged down the steps as soon as the student bade him goodbye.
Jin-Woo remained in his spot and listened to the detective’s footsteps echoing down the staircase. In the meantime, his shadow sneakily expanded to the side like spilt water and Igrit quietly emerged from there.
[Why… didn’t you tell that person the truth?]
Igrit retained his memories from back when he was still a human, and thanks to that, he knew better than anyone just how sad and difficult it was for a person to be forgotten from the minds of those he cared about.
And that was why he thought of the Detective Woo Jin-Cheol’s entrance as perhaps the most ideal opportunity that came knocking so far. Even if it was just one individual, wouldn’t it be a good thing for the Sovereign to let someone know how he had saved this world?
There was this distinct hint of rueful longing in Igrit’s voice.
Still, Jin-Woo shook his head.
“Being able to forget is supposed to be a god’s gift to humans, you know.”
Even if that was an artificially created result after using a Tool of God; Jin-Woo thought that he didn’t possess the qualifications to choose which memories to erase and which ones to keep.
Only a god should do something like that. That was why he decided to let the former Association President Woo Jin-Cheol go in this manner.
[Are you sure about this, my liege?]
It was then, Jin-Woo abruptly looked down on his left hand.
There it was, the evidence of the Dragon Emperor’s powerful attack.
The burn scar on this left hand, earned from blocking the ‘Breath of Destruction’ head-on, couldn’t be healed no matter what he tried. An unpleasant memory that couldn’t be forgotten was rather similar to this scar – a wound that couldn’t be healed.
Even if the person in question wanted it, was there really a need to deliberately bring those painful memories back?
Right now, not a trace of pain and misery that was suffered at the hands of the monsters and Sovereigns remained in the memories of people living on this planet.
And that was why Jin-Woo didn’t want to let the memories of the past remain in the mind of the former Association President Woo Jin-Cheol.
[I understand, my liege.]
Igrit silently submerged back into the shadow, as if he accepted the explanation.
Jin-Woo remained standing on the spot looking down at the bottom of the stairs before turning around to enter the classroom.
Once the break came, the boiling interests of the kids finally focused on Jin-Woo.
Seriously now, just when would these kids get to experience a TV drama-like situation of a police detective suddenly barging into their classroom? It was only obvious that their unbridled attention would be focused on the protagonist of that tale.
Even the girls who were interested in Jin-Woo before but couldn’t say it outright hurriedly rushed towards him and soon, a rather sizeable horde of people formed around his desk.
“What happened just now?”
“Hey, Jin-Woo? Why did a detective-nim come to school??”
Jin-Woo grinned softly at the burning curiosity of his classmates and spoke of the fresh excuse he just cooked up on the spot.
“Well, he’s someone that I know, and he just stopped by to ask me about something, that’s all.”
“Wowsers, that’s awesome.”
“You’re an acquaintance with an actual detective?”
“Jin-Woo, I’m so envious, you know?”
Jin-Woo found it hard to keep his laughter in check as the kids’ interest began heading down a slightly unexpected direction.
‘Young-Gil-ah, why are your eyes sparkling like that now?’
Still, thanks to the detective-nim’s unannounced visit, it felt as if the invisible wall these kids felt around Jin-Woo had crumbled just a little. Girls took this opportunity to ask about those things they were dying to know.
“I heard from other boys that you got a killer body?”
“Really? Are you an athlete or something?”
“Ahh! I saw Jin-Woo running on the track with the seniors from the school’s track team the day before yesterday.”
“Wahh, look how broad his shoulders are.”
As the girls surrounded him from all sides, Jin-Woo began pondering how he should go about making them quietly return to their seats, but then…
The quartet of the hooligans found one person hogging all the attention quite displeasing and decided to interrupt the fun.
“Hey, you. Aren’t you getting really popular now? Even a cop came to see you and all.”
Once this quartet entered the scene, the boys quickly retreated to their seats, while the girls began to quietly back away.
A boy named Nam Joon-Shik, the one with the highest position within the quartet, began slapping Jin-Woo’s shoulder that played host to the curious touches of high school girls not too long ago. The corners of his eyes began curling up.
“Does me being mischievous like this count as school bullying? Are you going to report me to the detective-nim now?”
‘….It’s your hand that’s gonna hurt if you keep hitting me like that, though.’
Jin-Woo stared at the dumb kid with apathetic eyes, and sure enough, Nam Joon-Shik’s complexion began reddening gradually when he realised that his hand hurt like hell, but despite his efforts, his target’s reaction seemed way too lukewarm.
“Argh, just why the hell are this punk’s eyes so sh*tty, man?”
Nam Joon-Shik then swiped everything away on Jin-Woo’s desk. Textbooks, notebooks, and his pencil case, plus a couple of other things tumbled to the floor.
Ten million-strong Shadow Army hiding in Jin-Woo’s shadow all roared out in anger after they witness this show of force from the teenaged fool.
The teen hooligan didn’t stop there and reached out to grab the collars of Jin-Woo, whose complexion had hardened just then.
“What? You wanna have a go? You better loosen up while I’m still being civil, got it?”
It was then.
A massive arm suddenly pounced from above and wrapped tightly around Nam Joon-Shik’s throat.
The hooligan grabbed at the thick arm as he began choking pathetically, and in the meantime, a familiar face revealed itself above the pale-faced kid.
“You have business with our beloved ace of the track and field club, boy?”
That face belonged to none other than the captain of the club, the third year senior Choi Tae-Woong, and he was being accompanied by another third year, the senior with a short fuse, Jeong Gu-Shik.
All four members of the quartet found themselves trapped in armlocks and headlocks of their seniors, their complexions paling gradually from the lack of oxygen.
Jin-Woo wordlessly got up from his seat and picked up the pencil case. Jin-Ah bought this case as a gift to commemorate his successful admittance to the high school, so these four hooligans wouldn’t have gotten away scot-free if anything had happened to it.
He dusted the case and placed it back on the desk before asking his question.
“Seniors, what brings you all here?”
“We showed up to dissuade our ace from beating the living crap out of four idiots.”
“No, please. Be serious.”
Choi Tae-Woong’s large framed quaked as he roared out in a peal of loud laughter before he continued on.
“I forgot to tell you guys that we were planning to hold a welcoming party for our new members later today, you see. You and Young-Gil both have free time today, right?”
Jin-Woo glanced at Young-Gil and the latter nodded his head.
“Yes, we do.”
“In that case, see you both after school.”
Still smiling, the seniors began leaving one by one, but then, Jin-Woo called out to them to stop their march out of the classroom.
“Seniors? Where are you taking those four still stuck under your arms?”
“Ahaha, these idiots?”
Choi Tae-Woong exchanged some knowing glances with Jeong Gu-Shik.
“Well, what should we do with them?”
“How about we do an easy lap around the track, captain?”
Soon afterwards, the loud shouts of “Conquer the whole country!” slowly got further away from the classroom’s interior.
Ding, dong. Ding, dong.
Several end-of-school bells rang around, and then, quite a few more bells later.
Jin-Woo stepped out of the school’s gate along with the rest of the track and field club members.
Young-Gil had now grown to appreciate the joys of sweating after getting used to the training regime of the club, although he did receive a few timely boosts from Jin-Woo every now and then.
While Young-Gil was listening to the advice of the seniors as he walked among them, Jin-Woo remained a step behind and eavesdropped on the unfolding conversations.
It was, without a doubt, a peaceful sight of a normal day.
Jeong Gu-Shik walking up ahead and turned his head towards Jin-Woo and asked.
“Ah, right. Hey, Jin-Woo? What was up with those idiots earlier in the day? Should we the seniors speak to them ‘nicely’ so they won’t start anything stupid later on?”
Jin-Woo replied with an unconcerned expression.
“Nah, it’s fine.”
“I’m not doing this because I’m worried about you. No, I just don’t want to see problems suddenly crop up and prevent you from participating in the regional meet because of those idiots.”
Jin-Woo grinned refreshingly.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let that happen.”
It was then.
Someone suddenly popped out from behind the shadow of the gate’s wall and called out to Jin-Woo.
“Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.”
It was as if time itself had come to a standstill, just then. Jin-Woo froze up on the spot, and slowly shifted his head in the direction of that voice.
Detective Woo Jin-Cheol had been waiting for Jin-Woo until now.
The latter’s voice trembled slightly.
Having finally gotten his confirmation from Jin-Woo’s reply, Detective Woo Jin-Cheol’s eyes began tearing up.
“As I thought… you are him.”