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In a completely empty world, there is nothing but white.
I have come back to this wearisome world full of white.
“You have come, examinee Kim Hyun-ho.”
The baby angel greets me after I come through the exam door.
And maybe he does respect other peoples’ feelings because this time he doesn’t obnoxiously blow his horn.
I sit down where I was standing.
By coming through the exam door my physical body was completely healed, but not my exhausted mind.
With a forlorn tone of voice, the baby angel speaks.
“You have come alone.”
I am alone. There is only person that has returned to this place.
Only I have returned from that hell.
Joon-ho and Hye-su are dead.
I haven’t yet seen Kang Chun-seong’s death, but seeing as how he did not return, I am positive he has died.
That day, when I lost reason after Hye-su died, the one who rescued me was Kang Chun-seong.
‘Go on ahead. I’ll take this.’
At those words I had come back to reality.
But how could I escape alone?
We have to fight together.
But I was no longer any help. The summons time was over and Sylph had gone away.
Kang Chun-seong had already taken his attention away from me. His two eyes were focused only on the strong Leon Silver.
Leon Silver too looked like he had found a new enjoyment in Kang Chun-seong’s glare.
“Go. I will see an end to this with this guy and follow after. No matter how long it takes, I will return.”
Like that, I left Kang Chun-seong and ran away.
Regardless of day or night, I ran like mad. Thankfully, my physical strength buff entry level 4 was able to handle it.
The forest ended and when I arrived at a tall and steep mountain, the exam door appeared before me and I stared at it and collapsed onto the floor and sobbed.
Joon-ho, murdered in vain.
Hye-su, looking at me with her sad eyes in her moment of death.
Kang Chun-seong, sending me away and continuing the fight alone.
Now, at the feeling of loneliness in knowing that I am alone, I felt like going crazy. As the team leader, not only did I sacrifice the village people, but I survived by sacrificing all my team members too.
“You look sad.”
At the baby angel’s words, I come back from my flashback.
“But you did clear the exam so congratulations. Congratulations, examinee Kim Hyun-ho. You have gained the highest grade this time as well.”
“Man, you have no energy, this is no fun.”
The baby angel tried to delicately tease me, but I don’t have the energy to reply.
The baby angel stared at me, then suddenly says.
“Then an energy booster quiz!”
“When you used Sylph to shoot, how did Leon Silver know which direction the gun was shooting without seeing it?”
At those words my eyes open wide.
Yes, I found that strange too.
How did he know, with what and where, the gun was coming from?
He would not have known Sylph’s movements.
I think deep. And then one answer comes to mind.
“God damn it!”
It was smell.
Sylph, of course, has no sound or smell, but not the Mosin-Nagant. We had shot many times, so it must have been the smell of the gunpowder.
‘I was foolish.’
If only I had gotten that.
Using Sylph’s power, if I had eliminated the smell and then shot, we might have had a different result.
Because of Joon-ho’s death and the bastard’s pressure mind games, I had not thought about it clearly.
If only I had done a little better! Then Hye-su wouldn’t have had to die!
“I know, huh.”
The baby angel retorted after hearing my thoughts.
“If examinee Kim Hyun-ho had done a little better, examinee Lee Hye-su probably wouldn’t have died.”
I’m furious and glared at him but the baby angel went around in circles and laughed.
“Have you learned a little lesson now?”
“What lesson? That if you’re stupid, you die?”
“What do you mean stupid. Examinee Kim Hyun-ho did very well in this exam too. But still.”
The baby angel flapped his wings, flew towards me, and shoved his face into mine.
“But you need to do better than that.”
“In tense situations, even when close to death, examinee Kim Hyun-ho must be cool-headed and wise. Do you understand? Because I am rooting for you to make it to the end.”
“Now, now. You should hurry up and go. See you again in the next exam.”
As the baby angel flicks his finger, the exam door appears.
I opened the door and stepped towards the bright light.
And the third exam is over.
The research center is in a panic.
Including Cha Ji-hye, everyone is moving busily.
Lee Joon-ho, Lee Hye-su, Kang Chun-seong, are being pulled from their rooms.
The three of them have died of a heart attack. That is the last step of the those who died in the Arena. But in real life, their bodies are at least whole, which offers a little comfort. At least, here, they look peaceful.
“Are you okay?”
Cha Ji-hye comes to me and asks.
I weakly reply.
“Do I look okay?”
“I’m sorry. It was a useless question.”
“What will happen to Joon-ho and Hye-su now?”
“We are taking them to the hospital. They will be ruled as sudden deaths and we will notify their families.”
“I guess that’s what will happen to me too.”
“If you lose your life in the Arena, yes.”
I can picture it easily.
A scene with my family grabbing my corpse and wailing. To the family, it’s a shock out of the blue.
“Today, return to your family and rest. We can hear your 3rd turn report later when you are mentally recuperated and stable.”
Cha Ji-hye says a quick farewell and perhaps she is in a rush, because she disappears off to somewhere.
And then, the Yoo Ji-soo team finishes their exam and comes out.
Yoo Ji-soo, Cha Jin-hyuk, Lee Jin-yong.
19th turn, no, now the 20th turn team, all three have safely returned. I envy them.
“Wow! Long time no see! I totally forgot about you! What was your name?”
The dyed-blonde Yoo Ji-soo makes a fuss when she sees me.
‘It’s been so long you forgot my name?’
I find her behavior to be strange.
The kind-hearted Lee Ji-yong explains my confusion away.
“You guys are 3rd turn so at the longest, your exam would have been, 2 weeks? We had to clear a 3-month long mission.”
I spent ten days in Arena. They spent 3 months. And yet to all wake up the same day, it feels odd. That we have returned to the same time but lived a different amount of it.
“Your other members?”
Asks Cha Jin-hyuk.
“… you called it the 2nd and 3rd turn jinx?”
That answer was sufficient.
Yoo Ji-soo and Lee Ji-yong’s faces freeze.
Cha Jin-hyuk scratches his head.
“Everyone died but you? A team like yours? Impossible! What kind of shit exam was it? That fellow Kang Chun-seong, his skills were incredible!”
Said Yoo Ji-soo, unable to believe it.
“It’s all my fault.”
“Shit, now what. So no you have to clear the exams by yourself?”
“I suppose so.”
Then Lee Ji-yong came to me and patted me on the shoulder.
“Don’t give up because you’re alone. There is a way to get the help of other examinees in nearby areas.”
“Yea, other examinees in nearby area sometimes rescue teams in difficult situations like you. The research center will probably see if there’s a team for your rescue nearby.”
“Or sometimes they just give up on the teams with no prospects too.”
Said Cha Jin-hyuk.
Scolds Lee Ji-yong.
Cha Jin-hyuk paid no heed and continued.
“Don’t trust the research center too much. These people aren’t a volunteer organization. Even though it seems like they are giving their whole-hearted help for the examinees, they aren’t nice enough to invest labor and resources into a team with no prospects. Even more so for a team like you with all your members dead and a lone 3rd turn rookie.”
“Hey! Stop saying your useless shit!”
Yoo Ji-soo yells angrily at Cha Jin-hyuk.
“I’m just letting him know. He shouldn’t get stabbed in the back a step too late, he should prepare himself.”
Cha Jin-hyuk keeps talking to me.
“Listen carefully, your manager Cha Ji-hye is a sincere woman, but the people above her aren’t like that. She’s in a position where she has to periodically send in her performance reports to the politically powerful above her, so they won’t do anything that will put themselves at a loss. They’ll probably destroy your contract and discard you.”
“Prepare your heart for it, and no matter what, try your hardest to survive. Before you go home today, ask Cha Ji-hye to give you all the information she has on the Arena. Cause if you get dropped, there’s no way for you to have access to that information.”
Cha Jin-hyuk’s advice is cold but a big help to me.
After hearing it all, it makes sense.
There doesn’t seem to be a good chance for the research center to pour in lots of money, time, and effort into a team, into me, with a high chance of dying.
On top of that, it’s not a long term contract but a 1-year contract, so that’s that much easier to get rid of.
I bow deeply to Cha Jin-hyuk.
“Thank you for your advice.”
“You’re welcome. Go on now.”
“Hold on, wait!”
Yoo Ji-soo grabs me.
She hands me her phone.
“It’s good to keep in contact with fellow examinees, you know.”
I obediently input my number into Yoo Ji-soo’s phone.
She pats me on the shoulder.
“Hang in there. There’s nothing else I can say but that.”
With Cha Jin-hyuk’s advice, I immediately go to find Cha Ji-hye.
But Cha Ji-hye doesn’t seem like crafty woman, so I tell her truthfully.
“Tell me honestly. What are the chances that the research center will continue to support me?”
Cha Ji-hye’s expression grows dark. Indeed, Cha Jin-hyuk was right.
“Please give me all the information you can on the Arena. If it so happens that I no longer receive the help of the research center, I have to keep clearing the exams and live.”
“… I cannot definitively say what decision the upper authority will make regarding you. Even though you have a very special main skill, you are now your 3rd turn and have lost all your team members and they’ll see that very negatively.”
“I will give you all the information I can offer. Even so, I don’t have the high-ranking information, but it will be better than nothing.”
Cha Ji-hye took out her notebook and started it and moved some files over to a USB and handed it to me.
“For now, take this. Regardless of what the research center decides, I will continue contact with you and do my best to help you.”
“No. As your research center manager, it was my insufficiency that produced this result. I can only say sorry.”
At times she is impudent but I can tell Cha Ji-hye is a sincere person.
I say goodbye and get on the helicopter and then the car and arrive back in Cheonan.
The time passed in the real world time has only been a day, but I feel as if I haven’t been home in years.
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