“Remember when we discovered that hut and Oppa went out to explore the area? We talked about Oppa amongst ourselves.”
“What did you all talk about?”
“About the survivors, we met today. Remember that man who threw his sword at Yu-jung Unni and Oppa hit his hand with your bolt?”
I nodded. Back then, I was preparing for the worst outcome. If Wu Jung-min and Seon Yu-un was going to fight us to death, there was a chance that one or two of the party member dying if I didn’t show my true ability. That’s why I was prepared to take out one of the guys before a fight could begin.
“And An-hyun Oppa blocked the sword with his shield.”
“Everyone praised An-hyun Oppa, saying he was amazing, thanking him. But do you know what they said about you Oppa?”
I had a faint idea what she wanted to speak about but I did not want to hear it. Before I could speak, she preempted.
“No one spoke about it but it was clear that everyone was surprised. An-sol was on the verge of tears because she was afraid. An-hyun Oppa and Yu-jung Unni was shocked to an extent. That’s not all. They don’t like how straight forward you were with that woman.”
“Hmm. I see.”
I nodded calmly which made Kim Han-byeol look at me incredulously.
“It’s not okay. Isn’t this unfair? It’s to protect Unni, or you don’t have the right to speak to me this way when you forced me to take over everything. Don’t you at all feel this way?”
Was it? I must have been too deep in thought to notice this subtle change in the party. I wasn’t at all disappointed and didn’t want to spend the effort thinking about this issue. It didn’t matter as when we entered Hall Plain, early or later, there will come a time when they have to kill.
Kim Han-byeol tone showed her frustration at my current easygoing nature.
“Oppa, you always worry and think alone. You try to handle all the difficult task alone. I know Oppa doesn’t have any bad intentions.”
“I think there is some kind of misunderstanding. Can you hold on…”
“I didn’t mean this as any misunderstanding. I have told you this before but Oppa’s judgement was always dependable. I still think so.”
Hearing Kim Han-byeol’s words I felt a rock sinking in my heart. After leaving the city I saw her staring at me vacantly. Especially when An-hyun and I were discussing what to do next. I didn’t think much would come out of it so I left it alone but today I been thoroughly trapped by Kim Han-byeol.
“It isn’t so. We…”
“Oppa. Speak comfortably.”
I stopped my fumbling as Kim Han-byeol cut into my words. I looked at her with wide eyes, seeing her shooting me a dissatisfied expression.
“Talk more crudely. You speak comfortably with Unni and Oppa but why are you so polite with me?”
Though it was for a moment, I had lost my nerve. Me, me that was a Player in Hall Plain for ten years…
I give up. Whenever I see Kim Han-byeol, my heart shakes as I remember Han So-yung. One couldn’t dismiss her Unique Ability Charisma. Whenever I see Kim Han-byeol I felt a subtle emotion rising in my heart. So much so, that her image resembled someone so closely from the beginning.
Clearing my throat I continue where she cut me off.
“I haven’t alway laid down the decisions. You, me, An-hyun, An-sol. We are all thinking this through.”
“Please don’t lie. You at least have some decency seeing you didn’t include Yu-jung Unni.”
“Isn’t Hyun struggling more? He was quite amazing fighting those monkeys today.”
“You are doing it again. This might work on An-hyun Oppa or Yu-jung Unni but please don’t do it to me. Please don’t try to change the topic like that. Me and An-hyun Oppa barely managed to kill two of those by working together. But Oppa kills two of them alone and if that wasn’t enough you even helped Yu-jung Unni’s fight.”
Han-byeol prickled my sensitive spot. The resemblance was really there. I couldn’t take her lightly. The gazes she held on me at times was in the end, gazes that was monitoring me. She had only approached me now after preparing firmly as possible.
I sighed deeply inside. I decided to hear her out a little bit more and if it wasn’t going the way I liked I would throw her a fastball.
“It’s always like this. In the forest, in the City and even when we met those strangers today. You are always in the background but when it gets really dangerous Oppa steps in. If you assume us to be one team, the leader and the pillar is Oppa. Not An-hyun Oppa, you. So I was furious. Why Oppa has to listen to those words.”
‘Was she doing this for me?’
“Perhaps. But I disagree. An-hyun is superb, he is motivated, driven, and decisive. And you don’t need to think so deeply about it. Because if you think about it, we are all leaders, and Rite of Passage is a place where cooperation is important.
“Please stop. Why are you doing this Oppa?”
“I don’t get what you really want to tell me.”
Even when I said I didn't know, my heart was tingling. I was not able to meet Kim Han-byeol’s cold silent eyes anymore. There was a cold chill around her but I felt like an even greater storm approaching. It was getting bad.
“Stop lying! The person who is truly making the decision and leading us is you! You let An-hyun Oppa handle all the easy incidents while taking care of all the difficult situation by yourself. Why is everyone only thanking An-hyun Oppa and saying his amazing? Why are they all afraid of you when you take care of all the dirty work? And why are you trying to hide all of this?”
“At this rate, Oppa will do the same thing in again and again. And there’s the chance that the same is likely to happen again. The important thing is that behind the scenes we are all depending on you. No one will oppose you, so please Oppa, be our team leader. If there are difficult problems ahead that you are trying to solve by yourself, or talking amongst everyone else, please be involved. If Oppa is the leader, no one will complain.”
Kim Han-byeol was almost begging me now. Honestly, I still couldn’t grasp on my bewilderment. If the person in front of me was Lee Yu-jung, I would just smile and pass over the issue knowing that it was her personality shining through. Though I just couldn’t get an accurate impression of Kim Han-byeol. I was still mulling in my head what she had just spoken.
Our standoff continued and the chill of the dawn seeped into our bodies. However, Kim Han-byeol had no intention of leaving. No, rather she had no intention of letting me go without hearing my answer.
Biting my lips, I mulled it over and slowly opened my mouth to answer her.
The morning of the sixth day was bright. An-hyun, who was responsible for the last shift of the night watch, woke everyone up to begin preparation for our departure. My joints were quite stiff and my face felt sore with fatigue. I had hardly slept last night, having spent more time with my eyes open than close but my body could handle one sleepless night.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
I had deliberate greeted her brightly in the morning. An-sol was startled at my greeting. She ducked her face, looking uneasy, and ran away. Before I would just laugh at this apparent shyness but have that happen right in front of me, I let out a bitter smile.
Having discovered this, An-hyun scold An-sol for her lack of manners. Her head was down again, on the verge of tears. Then Lee Yu-jung came and comforted her. Lee Yu-jung started another squabble with An-hyun and with An-sol trapped in between she didn’t know what to do.
Stepping back, I watched the scene quietly. Warm. It was really a warm scene. Looking at the three, it would be fine to say the three were all siblings. This scene was warm and comforting enough to forget the hell that was the Rite of Passage.
But I had no place within that scene. I knew that truth better than anyone. They and I were fundamentally different people. When I slaughtered a hundred people in the past, this was what I thought. That I might no longer be human. Drunk in their moment, it was possible they may have forgotten about me.
‘If people who knew me in the past saw me now, they would probably faint in shock.’
I couldn’t help but laugh at this self-ridicule. Remembering the murky past, I felt a bit melancholic. Clueless about my state, An-hyun smiles happily as he approached me. Hearing the grumbling behind An-hyun, it seems that An-hyun was the winner of their verbal fight.
“Hyung. Do you think we can reach this War Gate thing today?”
“Then let’s get there quick. We don’t know if this might be our last meal here, so what do you think about a hearty breakfast? Hyung you need to eat a lot.”
I grinned hearing An-hyun speak so impudently. I shook my head at his suggestion of breakfast.
“No thanks, I am fine. Eat today’s breakfast amongst yourselves.”
“I have a habit of skipping meals on an important day. It can keep the mind sharp you see.”
An-hyun nodded begrudgingly and turned to face Kim Han-byeol. She still had that cold expression as she stared off into empty space. Suddenly the conversation I shared with Kim Han-byeol rose in the forefront of my mind.
“Han-byeol about breakfast…”
“I am not going to eat.”
“Huh? Don’t be like that…”
Without hearing An-hyun till the end, Kim Han-byeol cut him off with short answers. An-sol looked surprised by this spectacle as she fidgets by playing with her fingers. An-hyun looked on awkwardly between me and Kim Han-byeol before laughing bashfully and scratching his head. Lee Yu-jung, who was watching from the back, spoke cautiously unwilling to poke the awkward atmosphere.
“Ahaha… Then the three of us will eat.”
“Uh, nothing we can do. There is just more for us. Hoho… ho. Oppa, Han-byeol, we are really going to eat all of this… ?”
Of course, me and Kim Han-byeol was silent. Lee Yu-jung was shocked by our silence, opening and closing her mouth. I felt Kim Han-byeol shifting her gaze onto me. But I had no intention to face her and dismissed it. This just made the atmosphere one step colder.
An exciting morning of this sixth day.
After breakfast, the three people began to be more cautious around the other two.