Chapter 44 — First Class (2)
Seo Ina was desperately doing her best to keep breathing.
They were now in Mana Room Level 9. The highly concentrated mana was endlessly piercing through her lungs, suffocating her.
Every time she inhaled, her chest and abdomen hurt while her head spun. It felt like her breath was stuck in her throat and her blood had mixed with mana and was circulating in reverse throughout her body.
She could feel her consciousness slipping through her fingers.
Overwhelming mana, that felt like it would swallow her whole if she was careless for just a moment, poured in from all directions and stabbed her everywhere.
Kim JiYeon glanced at Ina who was holding her chest with worry. It seemed like she had become exhausted and forgotten the signal, merely focused on holding on.
‘It seems Seo Ina’s limit is Level 9. Well, it’s already a tremendously high score when compared to other freshmen—no, even graduates.’
Instructor JiYeon simply watched her suffer quietly. It was Millaes’s rule that one had to respect a cadet’s decision, no matter how miserable they looked, until they raised their hand in defeat.
As if refusing to step back and admit defeat at this moment, Seo Ina’s eyes were filled with determination.
‘…I don’t… want to… lose.’
She stared at the black-haired boy beside her as she took a breath with difficulty.
She owed him a debt from the Freshmen Hunt.
At the time, Ina was able to easily earn points due to his strategy and ability. As a result, she was able to get the unbelievable position of second-place during the first event.
But besides just feeling thankful, she found herself feeling sort of inferior when with JaeHyun.
She, who had never lost when it came to magic, had tasted defeat for the first time.
Min JaeHyun was someone she had to beat no matter what.
‘I can’t… lose.’
Her breathing became irregular and she started to choke.
To maintain consciousness, Seo Ina twisted her body, clenched her fists, and bit her lip.
Seeing her like that, the expressions on Instructor JiYeon’s and JaeHyun’s faces darkened.
Truthfully, there was a reason Seo Ina, who had already gotten an excellent score, was acting like this—
Everyone she knew had always told her—
—that today’s world was one where only the strong could survive.
The weak were merely destined to live in servitude before being eaten alive.
It was the silent rule that governed the present-day raiders—no, the law that sustained the mutated society.
The weak had no future ahead of them.
That was why Seo Ina’s grandmother had passed away and left her an orphan.
Everything happened because she was weak—
because she didn’t have the strength to protect her grandmother.
‘…I have to endure it. No matter what…’
That was why she didn’t want to lose.
She had never lost since she chose to become a Magician,
and no one would recognize her worth anywhere else.
Standing in front of her, JaeHyun looked at her sadly without the slightest change in posture, his eyes filled with pity but not of the overbearing kind.
Did she have to lose here?
When she could not receive any recognition anywhere else?
Meanwhile, her grip on her consciousness loosened, and her eyes kept shutting.
Slowly, she forgot to even think about what she should do next.
‘This time, as well… I’ve lost.’
Concurrently, she fell to the floor with a pitiful sound. JaeHyun gazed at Seo Ina with melancholy eyes.
‘Ina… What happened to you in the past?’
Before regressing, he’d heard that Seo Ina had had a tough life before she became a raider. But to think it was so hard that she would abuse herself so…
Exactly how difficult was her life that she refused to lose to such an extent?
They were only doing a simple test right now. It wasn’t a part of their overall grade,
and if she wanted to look good in front of the instructor, she had already managed to do so.
Nevertheless, she was disappointed in herself in the end.
And like that, Seo Ina lost consciousness in Mana Room Level 9. The assistant instructors brought a stretcher and carried her to the Nurse’s Office.
Now, only Instructor Kim JiYeon and Min JaeHyun were left.
“Next is Level 10. Do you think you can continue?”
JiYeon asked, figuring that JaeHyun would give up at this point.
But the answer was different from what she expected.
Kim JiYeon stared at him in shock. He still looked as calm as he did at the beginning.
The red eyes filled with determination left her with goosebumps all over her body.
Right now, he was ready to go to the next level.
JaeHyun himself merely had a single question in his mind.
‘Why don’t I feel any pain?’
Why was I so unaffected?
This was what he pensively thought as he went past Level 9 and into Level 10.
‘It’s really strange…’
Simply crediting it to inborn talent did not do it justice.
According to the information JaeHyun had heard before returning to the past, the concentration of mana fluctuated starting from Level 8, and in the worst case scenario, one could even lose their lives.
However, JaeHyun only felt a slight increase of mana in his chest before it fully disappeared.
Seeing as how his breathing and sense of touch were normal, it couldn’t be mana insensitivity.
‘What the hell is this?’
As he was lost in thought, Instructor Kim JiYeon asked him in a whisper.
“Cadet Min JaeHyun, are you alright?”
When JaeHyun replied verbally, JiYeon showed great surprise.
What had she said a moment ago when she was announcing the safety rules of the Mana Room?
If they reached past Level 5, they had to lessen verbal communication as much as possible and simply use hand gestures. This was to lessen the possibility of contracting Mana Addiction.
‘To begin with, it’s incredible that he can speak with such a loud voice in Mana Room Level 10.’
It was truly very strange. Normally, one would find it difficult to even open their mouth.
Even she, who was an A-rank, couldn’t help the slight sense of suffocation starting from Level 10.
This place imitated the mana concentration levels of a B-rank dungeon. She forgot her own breathlessness as she stared at JaeHyun dazedly.
‘Anyone else would have fainted in the previous level. A normal cadet would not have been able to last in Mana Room Level 10.’
‘Why is that kid so unaffected?’
Unaware of Kim JiYeon’s shock, JaeHyun rubbed his chin while deep in thought.
‘I do want to know just how far I can go, but… it’s not like I can keep going until Level 19 here. People might become suspicious of me, too. I think it’ll be best to stop here.’
He had to hide his trump cards from Gu Ja-In and the instructors.
He had also gotten a great score in the test with this already. There was no reason to endure more than necessary.
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“I would also like to leave now.”
As he said so, JaeHyun raised his hand with ease.
“Then let’s go out together, Cadet Min JaeHyun.”
Kim JiYeon’s answer was curt, but internally, she was in shock. To her, it seemed as if JaeHyun was totally unaffected.
‘I was wrong. Min JaeHyun… He isn’t forcing himself to endure.’
She bit her lip.
‘He’s just not in any pain whatsoever.’
What on earth could it be?
How could Min JaeHyun continue to give such great results one after the other?
‘It’ll be worth it to look into him a bit more.’
Kim JiYeon inferred while she looked at JaeHyun’s back as he led the way out of the Mana Room.
He walked steadily with proper posture—
and he continued forward without stopping.
“Is Ina alright?”
JaeHyun asked Kim YooJung as soon as he stepped out of the Mana Room. YooJung also seemed a bit surprised as she replied hesitantly.
“Yeah. They said it’s just a normal symptom of Mana Addiction. She seems to have worked too hard with it being the first day.”
“Still, that’s reassuring.”
JaeHyun let out a sigh of relief.
With a white towel placed over her, YooJung asked him with narrowed eyes.
“Are you okay? You seemed pretty fine earlier. Well, your Magic Aptitude Score is 97%.”
Kim YooJung had already heard about JaeHyun’s aptitude score around the time they finished the Magic tutoring class.
‘At the time, I figured there was a problem with the machine, but… looking at his performance in the Freshmen Hunt following the sudden change in department, I guess it’s real. Ugh… So jealous!’
JaeHyun shrugged as he answered her question.
“I’m fine. And take off that white towel around your neck. You’re not some construction-site uncle.”
At JaeHyun’s jest, YooJung exclaimed in a huff.
“This bastard… Is that something to say when I was just worrying about you?! Really, I shouldn’t have bothered.”
“What about you? Are you alright?”
“…Huh? Yeah. They said there’s nothing wrong with me. You know I’m pretty fit.”
“That’s a relief.”
After replying clearly, he tied a loose shoelace and took a look around. Most of the Magic cadets had their gaze on JaeHyun.
Somehow, that was to be expected. JaeHyun had just created a record score that one couldn’t believe came from a freshman.
Mana Room Level 10. It was something usually only a B-rank raider could endure.
Feeling the pain that pricked one’s whole body, and in the worst case, immediately losing one’s life. It was the place most Magicians considered hell, Helheim.
To come and go from such a place as a cadet without a single scratch…
Even if Gu Ja-In or other high-ranked Magicians were here, their reactions would have been the same.
Kim JiYeon called JaeHyun to the front and had him stand beside her.
“A round of applause, everyone. Cadet MIn JaeHyun succeeded in entering Mana Room Level 10. This means that he is on par with a B-rank raider at the least. I hope everyone else works hard to catch up to him, as well.”
The envious and awed cadets all clapped.
With an awkward expression, JaeHyun acted embarrassed before returning to his seat. Having returned from the Nurse’s Office, Seo Ina was standing with an IV line attached to her arm.
‘Thankfully, she’s not hurt. But with that kind of personality, it will be hard to control her later…’
Of course, JaeHyun hadn’t planned to make her dance to his tune. But he did want to bring her over to his side and help her grow stronger smoothly. He planned to do the same for Kim YooJung, Ahn HoYeon, and Lee JaeSang.
‘I should think of a plan just in case.’
A piece of steel that was too rigid would not bend but break instead.
If he continued and left Ina like this, a tragedy wasn’t improbable. While it was a good thing to push oneself to grow, her method would likely cause her body to break down.
Although nothing bad would happen if Seo Ina’s life flowed like it did before he returned to the past…
‘There’s no certainty that things will go exactly like I remember.’
That was the biggest problem.
What if a future that was different from his past were to happen?
Would JaeHyun be able to make the correct choice then?
Everything was filled with uncertainty.
The meeting with Hel and the Nornir System. Regression. The role of Adversary.
JaeHyun had to find the answer behind the events that had happened in succession but seemed unconnected.
He couldn’t tell when things would suddenly change.
And the one who was making those changes right now was none other than JaeHyun himself.
If he didn’t think of an adequate back-up plan, an unclear future would be in store for them.
“I think I should speed things up a bit.”
“Huh? What’d you say?”
When JaeHyun murmured to himself, YooJung asked from beside him with her wide eyes.
‘She has keen ears for real. I really can’t say anything around her.’
As he thought so, JaeHyun lightly mussed up her head.
The hair that YooJung had diligently curled and dried instantly turned into a lion’s mane.
Kim YooJung naturally had slightly curly hair, so it usually took her about an hour in the morning to straighten her hair, and JaeHyun messed it up on purpose knowing this fact.
…However, YooJung’s reaction wasn’t that great today for some reason. He was left thinking that he had taken the joke too far.
“HEY! This motherfu… Do you know how much time I spent setting my hair this morning?! Do you have a death wish?”
“…Sorry. But it doesn’t really make that much of a difference.”
“Are you calling me ugly right now?”
He tried to fully mobilize his good looks, but it had absolutely no effect.
Although he was handsome enough to stop others in their tracks,
to YooJung, he was just a face that she saw every day.
He was sort of like a naughty little brother.
‘…That’s not right. His birthday comes first, so does that make me the little sister?’
While she was lost in thought and disgruntled, JaeHyun had already escaped to quite a few paces away. YooJung saw the darting JaeHyun and yelled with clenched fists.
“Hey!! Min JaeHyun! Stop right there!!”
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The duo’s bickering had started the moment Kim JiYeon announced the end of class. Seo Ina stared at the two running away with a dust trail behind them and smiled slightly.
“…I’m the one who had to go to the Nurse’s Office, so why do I think JaeHyun will be the one in pain?”
In that instant, Seo Ina could imagine JaeHyun’s bleak future.
She chuckled slightly, while looking sad and stiff for reasons unknown.