His friends suspicion was a logical response. After all, if he hadnt played DIO, Yongno would have felt the same. And even when he logged in, it still took some time to wrap his head around the virtual world, so he couldnt imagine how others would react.
‘An interview… Did someone go on television and do an interview?
This wasnt necessarily unexpected or hard to understand. Since articles stating,A virtual reality game is coming out! had been written, it was natural for people to look for beta testers to get firsthand testimony and initial reviews.
While he was thinking, raindrops started tapping on the classrooms windowpane.
“Ugh, its already so cold, and now its raining?!”
“Its mid-December, but its raining rather than snowing. What is our world coming to?”
“This is all because of global warming. Did we finish our university entrance exams only to see the world melt and become destroyed?”
With such abnormal weather for the season, all the students gathered around the classroom windows and chatted noisily. Fortunately, it wasnt pouring, but since rain wasnt expected, no one had brought an umbrella. Mumbled complaints and curses rumbled throughout the classrooms.
“So, what are you going to do about university?”
“If I can, I dont want to go to university.”
Despite Yongnos bored, unbothered response, his friend could tell that Yongno wasnt joking, and they couldnt help but look exasperated.
“What? Hey, how can you attend a university prep school for three years and then say that? I understand that university is a waste of time and money compared to what we receive in return, but still, as long as were living in Korea, a degree is necessary. Otherwise, youll be treated like a bum.”
“I dont really care.”
“Wait, how can you not care? What did your parents say?”
“No idea. I havent spoken to them since I took the entrance exam.”
While this statement could be interpreted in many ways and might have sounded weird, it was the truth. To be more precise, Yongnos last conversation with his parents took place long before the exam.
“Huh? Why? Isnt this when parents are most interested in their childs pursuits? My parents call me all day asking about the universities Im applying to, my chances of getting into certain schools, and whether Im keeping up with my grades and required paperwork submission. Your parents havent done any of that?”
Yongno understood where his friend was coming from, so he merely smiled and replied, “I guess they feel that theyre not in a position to ask such questions. Theyve abandoned me once already.”
Until now, Yongnos friend had been casually talking without much thought, but this unexpected reply startled him. He turned to look at Yongno, finding a twisted smile that hed never seen before.
“Huh? They abandoned you? What do you mean?”
Yongnos twisted smile instantly vanished and was replaced by an unbothered expression, happening so quickly that an observer would miss it if they blinked.
“Eh? What was abandoned? What are you talking about?”
“… Huh? I said something like that?”
When Yongno said that he wasnt aware of such a thing, his friend couldnt help but frown with a puzzled expression. At that moment, a student walked through the classrooms entrance.
“Chang-jung, theyre asking for you at the guidance office.”
Yongnos friend, Chang-jung, turned back to look at Yongno once more before getting up. His priority was getting into a university, so the guidance counselor meeting took precedent. With a wave toward Yongno, Chang-jung left the classroom. In any case, after the brief uproar at the unexpected rain, the other students had returned to their normal activities. Some watched television, while others slept with their heads on their desks or read comic books. No one engaged Yongno in any further conversation.
“… What is this?”
Yongno had a perplexed expression as he thought. He felt that something was off; there was something weird. An odd scene played in his mind.
“Its best if you dont have this sort of memory, right?”
The speaker was a middle-aged man, but Yongno couldnt make out his face. However, the man felt familiar; Yongno just couldnt quite remember who he was.
Yongno felt a headache coming on, which surprised him, as hed never had a headache before.
“Huh? Youre planning on leaving already?”
“Mhm, Im going to say Im sick and call it a day.”
“Yeah, I bet youre sick, sick of school, that is. Its nice to have no stress at school, but… theres really no reason to come. Should I also stay home after meeting with my guidance counselor?”
One of Yongnos classmates mumbled before laying his head back on his desk. Meanwhile, Yongno walked out of the classroom, his mind filled with complicated thoughts. That odd, vague scene kept circling in his mind.
While walking, Yongno heard the rainfall as it started coming down harder. It was so cold that the ground would freeze when the temperature dropped in the evenings, but Yongno didnt even feel chilly. This wasnt because he was preoccupied with his thoughts. He truly wasnt cold.
Yongno opened the door to a convenience store. He didnt eat breakfast, so he was hoping to buy a snack.
“Huh? Isnt it raining?”
The woman working here seemed to be a part-time employee, and when she saw Yongno enter, she asked this question. However, it was more hypothetical since the woman could already see that it was, indeed, raining. Like most convenience stores, the doors and walls facing the street were mostly taken up by glass windows.
“It is raining.”
“Ah, so it is. Right. Wait, but…?”
When the part-timer stuttered, Yongno looked at her with a puzzled expression, so the woman soon spoke up, “By any chance… did you carry an umbrella with you?”
“Did I need to bring an umbrella?”
“No, that wasnt what I meant. Im sorry. I think I misunderstood something.”
The part-timer bowed in apology as Yongno passed her, making his way to the ready-made sandwich corner. Unlike usual, Yongno felt a little unsettled and had acted somewhat confrontational, but he didnt notice.
‘Lets get a sandwich and some milk.
With this decision, Yongno grabbed a sandwich and a pack of coffee-flavored milk. And as he walked, he glanced at the mirror wall at the back of the store and immediately froze.
The characterHeaven was stamped on his forehead.
In shock, Yongno approached the mirror to get a closer look, but, at some point, the character had vanished. Yongno assumed that he mustve imagined it or missaw something.
‘Did I spend too much time in DIO?
Yongno knew where he had seen that character before. It was what Mari had stamped on his forehead when he cleared all his initial beginner-level tests. Yongno never had a chance to look at a mirror in-game, so he didnt pay that much attention to the character, but he never forgot that it existed.
“How much is the total?”
“The two items bring you to a total of 2,200 Won. Would you like a bag? A plastic bag costs an extra 22 Won.?”
“No. Ill just carry it with me.”
After responding and paying, Yongno left the store.
The rain was still coming down, and after taking a few steps, his throbbing headache seemed to subside. Yongno realized that he probably needed an umbrella, though, so he turned around and went back inside the convenience store.
“I need to purchase an umbrella.”
“You dont have one?!”
“I told you I didnt have one before.”
When Yongno replied with a slightly annoyed tone, the part-timer frowned perplexedly. There seemed to be something she didnt understand. However, Yongno didnt care what others were thinking, and he simply paid for the umbrella, left the store, and opened it.
‘Lets go home.
He hadnt done much today, but he was feeling somewhat tired.
“Are you okay?”
Seyoung was at a hospital in a large, clean room with only one person residing in it. This hospitals facilities were a tremendous upgrade from the previous one.
“Yes, but this place….”
“Dont worry, mother. I didnt have to do anything extraordinary or overexert myself to get you into this hospital.”
Previously, Seyoungs mother was barely conscious, but now she was fully lucid, although she still had a pale complexion. For whatever reason, the hospital had rushed to treat Seyoungs mother and did everything they could; however, leukemia wasnt a disease that could be treated and cured overnight.
“Alright. Have you eaten?”
“Hahaha. Im not eating convenience food all the time like before. I actually ate bulgogi today!”
Seeing her son laugh in a relatively carefree manner, Seyoungs mother, Young-ran, couldnt help but smile.
“Its good to hear that youre eating well. Is everything alright? Can we really depend on and be indebted to a stranger like this?”
“Honestly, I dont know what his aims are, but it doesnt seem like he has any evil intentions. No, even if he does, I wouldnt complain after all hes done for us.”
“Im concerned that your future might be affected because of me.”
“Its fine, mother. I live for you.”
Seyoung spoke in a calm, measured voice. His eyes didnt shift, change in size, or tear up. Yet, Young-ran looked at Seyoung with a pitying gaze. Young-ran was concerned. Based on her own experiences and common sense, a stranger wouldnt have gone through this much trouble without expecting something in return.
“Ah… sorry, but can I sleep for a bit?”
“Of course, mother. Dont strain yourself. Rest up.”
“Yeah. Make sure to eat your meals on time and dont overwork yourself. Your health is the most important thing. Understand?”
With that, Young-rans eyes slowly closed. Of course, Young-ran was only falling asleep, but it made Seyoung feel as if his heart dropped. His mothers complexion was too pale.
After walking out of the room and closing the door behind him, Seyoung fell into thought. His mothers condition had definitely stabilized. In addition to his mothers older age, her leukemia had reached the late stages, so Seyoung believed that her chances of fighting and beating the disease were low.
In the past, when he saw his mother writhe and moan in pain, Seyoung had always cried. Though he often smiled and stated publically that his mother was simply having some minor health issues, Seyoung had felt that he was slowly devolving into madness.
“Ive gotten a lucky break; I need to ensure I dont lose this opportunity.”
Seyoung had already reached Level 15. His goal was to reach Level 20, so he still had five more levels remaining. Though he was making good progress, one thing concerned him. Once he got to Level 15, Seyoung realized that it was exponentially harder to progress as the level tests became much more difficult.
“I need to get stronger.”
As he muttered under his breath, his balled fists tightened so hard that his hands whitened.
“I need to get stronger.”
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