Her stats were lower than he remembered, which made sense. She’d passed three tests before they’d met.
“Is he here?”
“In the Lingering Garden Palace.”
She nodded to Du Hong. Then her eyes caught Seol-Hwi and she paused for a moment.
“I feel like I am seeing someone I don’t kno—”
“I am from the Supreme Pavilion. I clean the warehouse.”
“Ah, is that so?”
Once again, Seol-Hwi could only stand there dumbly, transfixed by her heart-stopping beauty.
“You don’t have to worry about him. He’s no big deal.”
“Right. He’s no one you need to think about.”
These old men liked making fun of him.
“Ah, is that so?” Seo Ryeong nodded but then looked at Seol-Hwi and smiled.
…Ah! She smiled! Seol-Hwi groaned. Her clean white teeth were enough to send him into ecstasy.
Seol-Hwi came back to his senses and noticed Du Hong and Lee Byeok looking at him.
“Your name?” she asked him.
“Seol-Hwi. That is a good name. I don’t know how you ended up in the warehouse—ack.” Seo Ryeong covered her nose.
She must have smelled it. No matter how many times he washed, the smell refused to come off his skin.
Those dogs… One more reason to kill the old bastards.
“There has to be a reason. Right.”
There was some meaning behind her words, but the men’s questioning gazes could not make her elaborate further. Seol-Hwi had a feeling, though.
This woman already figured out my skills. This Seo Ryeong had eyes that could see everything.
She gestured, and Seol-Hwi instinctively raised his hands—and then he was startled, but not because Du Hong and Lee Byeok were glaring at him.
What? Where did that come from?
No, that’s totally absurd.
Why are they all like this?!
But no matter how much he hated it, he couldn’t change his options.
This isn’t simple… It was always like this. The choices were random, and the consequences were quick. It was like immediate danger for a decent reward later. Sometimes—not now—they’d help him in his next life.
I don’t know!
Seol-Hwi held his breath.
The old men stared.
She laughed again. She smiled. His rude comments hadn’t made her hate him.
Wow… all in. More choices, and unavoidable consequences.
Wait, no. Seol-Hwi had his doubts. But what if the lesser evil became the worse, and the worse choice was his best option? It had happened before.
Maybe something will change.
Seo Ryeong’s face went stiff. Anyone would think he was crazy.
Why were the old men blushing?
“I knew it. Talking like this is definitely not normal.”
He didn’t want to hear anything from those drooling old men. At least he had the courage to say it, after a fashion.
Still true, though.
“I struggle to improve every day, but, as you can see, this is what I look like.” Seol-Hwi desperately tried to ward off her anger. “I was covered in shit all day—I couldn’t think of anything else.”
Maybe she’d feel bad for him.
“...So, I just said it even though I know it can’t happen. I just wanted a reason to live. It might be greatly insulting to you, but I consider myself lucky to have met you.”
Seol-Hwi had no idea he could talk like this—speak his deepest feelings like this.
…Did it work?
“I’m not insulted.”
“...huh?” Seol-Hwi doubted his ears. Not an insult? Truly?
“I just thought you were overly honest.”
It was incredible. How could such a beautiful woman be so kind?
She walked closer to him, and Seol-Hwi could hear his heart thumping in time with her footsteps.
W-When did she get so close?
Over he shoulder he could see Du Hong and Lee Byeok laid out across the floor.
“Be as mighty as your goals,” she whispered in his ear. “So we can escape this hell together.”
Hell—who in the Demonic Sect would describe this place that way?
But her words were shocking in another sense: it was like he’d been given a new life.
“See you again. When we get the chance.”
And then she turned around.
Life is the sum of countless choices. When you collect the results, it becomes destiny. It is often said that fate doesn’t change, but Seol-Hwi felt like he had changed his fate. In the past—no, never. Such a thing had never happened.
“Wow, this is exhausting.” Seol-Hwi walked out of the back door and rubbed his swollen face.
Nothing had changed. After Seo Ryeong had left, the old men had introduced him to their fists.
Seol-Hwi hung his laundry on the clothesline and then opened the toolbox.
“Damned old men. Do they think they’re the only ones with good things?”
Seol-Hwi had stolen this out of Lee Byeok’s closet while he was bathing.
He found this under the bed. He didn’t steal it, slipped into his Toolbox as he was moving it around.
Seol-Hwi slipped this off of Du Hong’s desk after he’d left the room.
“Everything will be taken care of in a few days so even if they find out it doesn’t matter.”
The counter had gone up after he’d fetched bathwater for them; it almost felt like too easy of a task.
“By the way…” Seol-Hwi looked up at the setting sun. He felt strangely good, even though it was as lonely as ever. “I’m sure there are people who feel the same as me…”
Demonic Arts—a martial art that abandons reason in the pursuit of power. The sect accepts that teaching, because their greed is strong. They become addicted to power, brainwashed with that idea, and keep seeking the Demonic Arts.
But there were others; those who refused to be brainwashed. Mutants, who doubt everything and always look for better. He just never expected Seo Ryeong to be one of them.
“Can we meet again?” The idea made his heart pound.
He became strong so he didn’t have to see the filthy, dirty things. Now he had something better: become strong so he could escape with her.
“When I get stronger, you will definitely see it.” Thusly, he swore to the sky.
He was not so great, but it would change someday. One day, no one would be able to ignore him. No one would be able to stop him from breaking free of the chains of the Demonic Sect.
Then he could go with the woman named Seo Ryeong. He hoped that day would come soon.
He longed for it.
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