Side Story 8
5. Your daily routine (3)
Ding, dong. Ding, dong….
From the elementary school kids who’d find the embrace of their mothers more comfortable than their respective classrooms, right up to those teachers with greying hair and only a little bit left on their clock until retirement…
….The sound of the end-of-school bell, capable of re-energising pretty much everyone who heard it, rang around noisily throughout the school.
Most of the kids in the classroom formed expressions of ecstasy as if they were about to fly away. Meanwhile, Jin-Woo, sitting among them, carried a carefree face as he greeted the end to his school day in this place.
“Everyone, don’t go home late because you want to hang out with new friends you made today, okay! Understand?”
After the token replies, half consisting of mischievous voices of the male students and the other half high-pitched tones of the girls were made, the classroom became empty in no time at all now that the day’s schedule had come to its end.
Jin-Woo deliberately took his time packing up his bag, before he spotted Young-Gil hesitantly and slowly approaching him like a full-bellied tortoise.
Jin-Woo stopped packing his bag when Young-Gil cautiously asked him a question.
“Uhm… I’m heading off in the direction of the ‘Gigamart’, but what about you?”
‘Ah, I guess he wants to get close to me.’
An easy-to-read relaxed smile formed on Jin-Woo’s face.
‘A minor favour shown when young can also become the start of a relationship later on like this, huh?’
Jin-Woo smiled for a little while, before shaking his head.
“Well, yeah, it’s in the same direction, but there’s something I gotta do first.”
As Young-Gil stood there in disappointment, Jin-Woo lightly tapped the boy on the shoulder and grinned brightly.
Not too long afterwards, both of them exited from the school building.
“What? Track and field club??”
Young-Gil asked with a surprised voice, while Jin-Woo nodded calmly as his reply.
The reason why Jin-Woo chose this school, far from his home, instead of those nearby was because it was only this particular one that happened to have a track and field athletics department.
Young-Gil could only tilt his head when Jin-Woo replied that he’d join the track and field team from today.
‘Was Jin-Woo good at track in the past?’
He remembered hanging around Jin-Woo for only about a month or so. The memories of him playing that game really well were the only thing that came to the boy’s head, but he just couldn’t recall Jin-Woo doing anything particularly outstanding during physical training or club activities.
No, Young-Gil simply remembered Jin-Woo doing pretty much everything at his pace – which was leisurely.
‘A high school track and field club should be operated by only the talented students, though….?’
The boy suddenly felt worried about Jin-Woo and found himself unconsciously chasing after his friend. Meanwhile, Jin-Woo crossed the athletics field and approached the group of athletes loosening themselves up in the corner of the field.
Their attention soon shifted towards the incoming duo of freshmen. They initially expected the two to walk past them or change their heading, but their expectation turned out to be off the mark. The senior with the biggest physique took a step forward and ‘greeted’ the duo.
“What do you two want now?”
Jin-Woo briefly scanned the atmosphere of the team members and replied with a smile.
“I’d like to join the athletics club.”
The senior with big physique, the captain of the track and field team Choi Tae-Woong, alternated his gaze between Jin-Woo and a shorter kid with a rather unhealthy complexion.
“You wanna join the club?”
“Both of you?”
Jin-Woo looked behind, and Young-Gil hurriedly shook his head.
“…No, just me.”
After seeing Jin-Woo’s continuously-smiling mug, the seniors grew interested and gathered around the freshmen.
“Ohh, what’s this? We have an applicant wanting to join us?”
“This is my first time seeing a freshman barging in here and wanting to join the team, though.”
“He’s not playing around, is he?”
Choi Tae-Woong scratched the top of his head and scanned Jin-Woo from top to bottom before asking another question.
“You a student-athlete?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Okay, you have experience running track in middle school?”
Although Jin-Woo was rather experienced in running all over the gap between dimensions to kill Sovereigns, that wasn’t something he could refer to as his middle school days, or running track competitively, so he could only shake his head with a wry smile.
“No, I don’t.”
The seniors in the athletics club were ready to welcome this enthusiastic newcomer right up until that answer. But now, their complexions were hardening drastically.
A freshman who hadn’t even run track competitively wanted to enter the athletics club comprised only of student-athletes?
Wasn’t this kid taking high school track & field way too lightly?
One of the seniors blessed with a short fuse suddenly jumped into the conversation from the side.
“You haven’t run track before, so why do you want to enter the team?”
Jin-Woo’s reply was rather simple.
“There’s someone I’d like to meet during the athletic meet, you see.”
She was still in the middle school division, but without a doubt, she possessed enough talent to participate in the regional competition.
Well, she used to be an excellent athlete before she had to give up on that dream after becoming a high-ranked Hunter, didn’t she?
If it was an athletic meet featuring participants from both middle and high schools, then wouldn’t he be able to naturally run into her there?
Jin-Woo judged that, rather than forcibly get close to her and insert himself into her life that way, this might be a far better approach for both of them.
However, judging from the expressions of the seniors, it seemed that they didn’t share his thought process.
The expression of the senior with the short fuse, Jeong Gu-Shik, hardened like stone. Even if one was to look down on running track, there was a line one shouldn’t cross.
Jeong Gu-Shik’s anger shot up to the top of his head and he was about to roar out some choice words to chase away the freshmen, but then, captain Choi Tae-Woong formed a grin and gave his permission.
Jeong Gu-Shik looked back at his captain with an expression of a man failing to comprehend the situation.
“However, there is a condition.”
Choi Tae-Woong used an expression that said ‘Be quiet’ to defeat Jeong Gu-Shik, and pointed at a glasses-wearing student busy stretching his muscles over yonder.
“You see that friend over there?”
Jin-Woo followed after the pointing finger and nodded his head.
“That friend is the worst runner in our team, a reserve from the second year. Meaning, you gotta at least beat that friend to earn the right to enter our team.”
That was a bold-faced lie.
Even before he heard the explanation, Jin-Woo had already analysed that particular second-year student’s abilities, and as a result, he began chuckling inwardly.
‘At first glance, that student’s thighs and calves look lean and thin, but they are actually hard and well trained. And confidence simply oozes from the rest of his body….’
Spying from the student’s steady, relaxed breathing or his upright posture, Jin-Woo knew immediately that he was looking at no ordinary athlete here.
Meaning, the third year seniors were trying to make fun of him. How could Jin-Woo not laugh when their intentions were so easy to read like this?
Jeong Gu-Shik also belatedly realised what Choi Tae-Woong was trying to do and quickly changed his expression.
“Ahh, right! You said that you’re aiming to enter the athletic meet, right? Well, in that case, a simple little admittance test like this is no problem for you, right?”
Jin-Woo didn’t like the way this guy was grinning slyly like that, but still, asked back in a calm manner nonetheless.
“That senior…. Is he really a reserve?”
“I guarantee it.”
Choi Tae-Woong replied in a confident voice, and the rest of the athletic team members had to try their best to hold back their laughter.
‘He’s a reserve, alright. Well, the truth is, he did finish third place in last year’s regional meet, but he sprained his ankle during winter training so he’s been demoted to a reserve spot, for the time being.’
If he were to get technical here, then Choi Tae-Woong wasn’t really, really lying by saying that the glasses-wearing guy was the worst ‘runner’ here due to the lengthy unscheduled lay-off, and that he was in the reserve spot because of the injury.
Jin-Woo then replied in an easy-going manner to captain Choi Tae-Woong and his insidious smile.
“Very well, I understand. Let me try.”
This b*stard, he fell for it!!
Not just Jeong Gu-Shik, but everyone in the athletics club shouted out “Hooray!” in their heads.
‘A guy who can’t even recognise the third-place finisher from the regionals last year wants to join the track and field team? Gimme a break.’
Choi Tae-Woong, standing in front of the group to deal with Jin-Woo, did his utmost best to hide his laughter threatening to break through his lips.
“Very good. However, just running the track like that wouldn’t be any fun, so…. How about this? If you win, you get to join the team, but if you lose, you do the team’s laundry and cleaning for one month, free of charge.”
Young-Gil tried to stop him, but Jin-Woo simply formed a smile that said: “It’s fine.”
‘Let’s see how long you can keep that relaxed face of yours.’
Choi Tae-Woong looked towards the ‘reserve’ student and shouted out loudly.
“Hey, Sahng-In-ah! Looks like you’ll have to take to the track for this one.”
The ace of the team, Woo Sahng-In finished his stretching exercise and raised his body up.
“It’s not a problem.”
He took off his glasses and entrusted it to another member of the club, suspiciously ominous aura shooting out from his eyes. Jin-Woo held the senior’s fierce gaze while handing over his school bag and his jacket to Young-Gil next to him.
While the members of the track and field club were thinking that here was a chance to let a freshman taste the bitterness of life, Jin-Woo was deeply pondering inwardly just how seriously he should run so that the sheer mental shock his seniors no doubt feel wouldn’t be as high.
“Hey, freshman, are you ready?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Sahng-In, what about you?”
Jin-Woo and Woo Sahng-Min stood side by side on the starting line.
The former assumed a posture that best optimised one’s ability to rapidly change directions and enter a battle at any time, while the latter assumed a posture solely designed for track competition.
This time, the team members didn’t bother to hide their ridiculing laughter at Jin-Woo’s weird posture.
“What the hell is up with this idiot?”
“And he still wants to join the athletics club? But, isn’t he a d*mn beginner who doesn’t even know anything about running track?”
Jin-Woo didn’t pay any attention to their mocking words and controlled his breathing.
Soon, Choi Tae-Woong’s baritone voice signalling the start could be heard.
“Teacher-nim? How are you feeling now?”
“Ah…. yes, well….”
‘Venomous Snake’ Teacher Park Gi-Sool replied half-heartedly at his colleague’s question after they ran into each other on the corridor, and with hurried steps, he quickly walked past the confused-looking fellow teacher.
Park Gi-Sool’s crumpled expression easily spoke of his current mood.
‘I ended up making a fool of myself in front of all the gathered students today….’
He definitely must have made a mistake. Without a doubt, his strange hallucination was the fault of not eating a proper breakfast earlier today.
It felt as if every student was laughing at his expense. He quickly evaded their gazes and slipped into the teacher’s lounge, before spitting out a sigh rushing out from the deepest part of his chest.
‘Should I smoke to take the edge off?’
Since almost every teacher was a smoker, smoking in the lounge was permitted, which meant that this place was like a safe haven for the current Park Gi-Sool.
He stuffed a cigarette between his lips and stood next to the windows while lighting it up. Just as he mindlessly shifted his gaze down to the athletics field…..
….His eyes grew extra large and he hurriedly lowered himself below the windows while spinning around.
‘W-what the hell?! Why is that kid running around the track with the rest of the athletics club members??’
It was then, the director of the track and field team entered the lounge and discovered crouching Park Gi-Sool.
“Ah, Park Teacher-nim!”
Wondering if the dizzy spell from the morning had come back again, the director hurriedly ran over to Park Gi-Sool and helped him up.
“Are you alright? You sure you don’t need to stop by at a hospital?”
“I, I’m fine, thank you. Just feeling a bit dizzy, that’s all….”
Park Gi-Sool made an evasive answer before asking back.
“B-by the way…. Why is the student named Seong Jin-Woo running together with the kids from the athletics team?”
“Ahhh…. That? So, that student’s name is Seong Jin-Woo?”
The director took a look outside the window over Park Gi-Sool’s shoulder and formed a wry chuckle as if he still couldn’t believe it.
“It seems that a freshman just showed up and said that he wanted to join the team. Kids tested him out, and as it turned out, he has a talent, so they just couldn’t chase him away. Apparently, what they are doing now is to test his stamina.”
“H-his stamina, you say??”
“Yes. That’s his 20th lap already. Just watching him going around is exhausting, so I quit first and came up here.”
Sports, and sports clubs.
There was no better alternative to get rid of one’s overflowing hot-bloodedness of youth than sports.
Several thoughts crisscrossed within Teacher Park Gi-Sool’s mind, then. Student Seong Jin-Woo, the one he pre-judged to be a troublemaker, seemed to be trying his best to discipline himself by joining a sports club.
‘It’s possible that…. That I have been holding the wrong idea about him….’
Now that he thought about it closely, there was simply no way that a boy walking around with monsters would exist in reality.
Student Seong Jin-Woo was just another exceedingly normal learner still searching for a place to call home within the fields of academia and sports, after a lengthy spell of aimlessly wandering around in his life.
But here was a teacher busy going on about seeing monsters and phantoms and whatnot from a regular student like that…. The reputation of the ‘Venomous Snake’ had been thoroughly stained with this matter, indeed.
Park Gi-Sool chuckled meekly, stopped hiding, and stood back up.
‘That’s right…. I should look at him without judging him first. I’m sure that will help resolve all the misunderstanding.’
Seeing Park Gi-Sool form a serious expression before breaking into a chuckle, the director looked at him with a concerned face.
“Ah, no. It’s fine now. I don’t feel dizzy anymore.”
“Oh… In that case, that’s a relief.”
Park Gi-Sool successfully made the director withdraw and slowly turned around to look behind him. He could now see a boy, covered in sweat and running diligently around the track while being showered by the bright, warm spring sunlight.
How could anyone point fingers at such a boy?
He focused his gaze on Jin-Woo, currently running steadily and unflustered even after lapping the panting and breathless members of the track and field team several times already.
‘Indeed, this morning was….’
Too bad, even before he could celebrate himself…
….Without any warning whatsoever, Park Gi-Sool’s entire field of vision was dyed in black and the spectacular sight of the Shadow Army stretching on endlessly entered his eyes.
He nearly toppled over from fright, but he forced his legs to steady himself and gritted his teeth.
‘This, this is a hallucination. This isn’t real!!’
It was then.
A certain ant monster standing in the front-most row of the soldiers kitted out in black armour, gazed straight at him and opened its maw wide.
In the end, Teacher Park Go-Sool did fall on his butt and lost consciousness.
Within the subspace in Jin-Woo’s shadow, Igrit watched Beru’s action and used his elbow to rib the former ant king in the side.
[I told you to stop that, didn’t I?]
[Kiieehh…. That human can really see us, can’t he?]
Beru lightly scratched the side of his head and before his liege could order him to, planted his head firmly on the ground first.
Late at night.
Detective Woo Jin-Cheol and the youngest detective in the squad stopped by a diner that served ‘gopchang’.
Once enough alcohol entered their bloodstreams, stories they found hard to talk about during the day came out – mostly from the youngest’s mouth, actually.
“Excuse me, Senior Woo….?”
“You’ve been investigating that missing prisoner case until now, yes?”
What was this guy trying to say here?
Woo Jin-Cheol tipped his glass filled with booze, his head beginning to develop an ache already.
Unfortunately, completely oblivious of his senior’s wishes, the youngest detective continued with his questioning time.
“That day… you really did see something, didn’t you?”
Woo Jin-Cheol played dumb deliberately, but the youngest simply grinned and replied.
“Eii, senior, you… You already know, don’t you? I’m talking about that day when the suspect went missing. Didn’t you really see something that day?”
This kid, he had this habit of catching people off-guard when they least expected it.
‘Well, that’s a good talent to have as a detective.’
Woo Jin-Cheol recalled his own newbie days and formed a slight chuckle as he replied.
“What if I did?”
The youngest looked to be adequately drunk until then, but his eyes suddenly began sparkling and his ears even physically perked up. That wasn’t so surprising, considering that the youngest was closer in age to being a student than a full-fledged member of society, anyway.
That was probably why he applied to the Violent Crimes Investigation Unit of the National Police Agency, reputed to be the worst paid but with the highest amount of workload.
Maybe the power of the booze circulating in him was to blame, or maybe, he just wanted to use this opportunity to get some stuff off his chest – Woo Jin-Cheol began speaking of things that he’d never even think about uttering in normal times.
“An ant…. Ant monsters.”
The noise of saliva sliding down the throat of the youngest detective could be heard from where he was sitting.
“Even I can’t tell for sure what I saw back then. In any case, those things looked like ants.”
“Ant monsters, is it? Are you saying that giant insects like ants came out?”
“No, not that. Well, they were ants, but….”
It was right then.
Just as Woo Jin-Cheol spoke up to there, a certain man unsteadily tottering about, as if he had one too many to drink, stopped walking past the duo and addressed them.
“T-those ant monsters, are they monsters with the heads of ants, but bodies that look like humans??”
The heads of the two detectives, Woo Jin-Cheol and his junior, raised up towards the owner of the voice.
< Chapter 251 > Fin.