Translated by Lei
Proofread by Masadeer
Special thanks to AnmesicCat, Haikai, Sensai, and Joeglens for maaaths
Date with Ye-rin
“What is the area between the two curves y=x^2-3x and y=-x^2+x?”
‘8/3. Huh? Since when has integration of multiple polynomials been this easy?’
As befitting of the nation’s top high school, the first years had to learn second year math, in class. Math wasn’t hard for me in the first place, but now the formulas were drawn out lickety-split in my mind, and I was able to reach the answer in 1 second.
‘Was I always this smart?’
No matter how much of a genius I was, I shouldn’t be able to solve an integration of multiple polynomials question in 1 second.
‘What in the world is inside my mind?’
It wasn’t just math. During English class, which was taught in English, and in physics, which went considerably into specifics, I was made to discover and be surprised by my own intelligence. I was able to tell that the English teacher’s drawling accent wasn’t the way American white people spoke, but the characteristic accent of black people, and I even discovered some enormous errors in the formulas of my physics textbook.
Then, math had followed the English and physics classes. Unlike the kids who were moving their pens to studiously solve the problem, I had come to the answer in 1 second through mental arithmetic. After solving it, my eyes settled on the teacher who was lovingly gazing at the kids who were solving the problem.
‘What a pretty teacher. Huhuhu.’
Wasn’t it said that forbidden love with a beautiful female teacher was among the romantic fantasies of a man?
Lee Ji-hae; the math teacher possessed the best looks in the school— no, her beauty was on the level of the top celebrities in the nation. Her outfit, a sky-blue blouse over the pencil skirt she liked to wear, refreshed those who saw her. Moreover, her slim fingers holding a piece of chalk and her raised white collar matched all too well with her intelligent face.
‘Kyaa, if only I were just 3 years older.’
If I had been at least a college student, Ms. Lee Ji-hae would have been well worth trying for with my life on the line.
“Hyuk, is the pace okay?”
While I was enjoying some hazy imaginations as I stared at my teacher, Ms. Lee Ji-hae had gotten right in front of me and worriedly asked me a question.
“Of course! Listening to your thoughtful lesson makes every problem no problem at all. Haha!”
“Hoho! There was a rumor that you had a hard time during the school excursion, but I see that was all a lie.”
Gleaming white teeth were revealed the moment she flashed a smile. The instant she approached, the beguiling fragrance of a woman ignited a fire in my spirit.
“There is a famous saying that the young invite hardship, after all. The recent Europe trip was a fruitful experience that gave me many lessons and gifts.”
“Lessons and gifts? That’s right, there’s something to learn even in times of hardship. Our Hyuk grew a lot while he was away, didn’t he.”
Brush, brush. At the happiness of having found a student to be proud of, Ms. Lee Ji-hae brushed my hair with her slender hands. I thought that if I were to make an appearance on ‘TV is the Vehicle of Love’ later in my life, I would definitely seek Ms. Lee Ji-hae.
[T/N: That’s an actual Korean show that ran from 1993 to 2010 (there’s no official translation for the name). One of the programs was to find someone who was important to you in your past and share your feelings.]
‘But that little shit, why is he glaring so much?’
While I was enjoying Ms. Lee Ji-hae’s soul-calming warm hand, Hwang Sung-taek and his cronies were glowering at me as if something didn’t sit well with them.
‘I oughta trash the brats with Magic Arrow!’
But now wasn’t the time. A little later, after I reached the 3rd Circle, I would give them a hot rated R experience that they wouldn’t forget for the rest of their lives!
‘It’s already over.’
With the noisy ringing of the 4th period ending bell, Ms. Lee Ji-hae returned to her lectern.
“Thank you very much.”
“Alright, have a good lunch.”
Leaving behind a loving smile at the very end, the teacher left the room hugging the attendance log and her teaching materials with her delicate arms.
My regrettable crush ended with that.
“Joong Hyun, let’s go!”
As always, we left the classroom in a hurry. It was the cafeteria of Daehan, a high school with the best facilities, but being late would only leave us standing in line.
‘What was the spell for Haste magic, again?’
I thought of Haste magic while running towards the cafeteria, and with the thought, the magic incantation naturally came to mind.
‘Mana! I have to hurry and expand my circle!’
Because of the squirming magic knowledge in my head, the still insufficient circle and mana felt like enemies to me.
* * *
“Father, Mother, are you not going on a vacation abroad this year?”
“A vacation? I want to go, but… the stock values are turbulent these days, you see.”
“It’s such a shame. Why is the stock market like this when I’m on sabbatical, really.”
As I ate my mom’s spicy and refreshing kimchi stew, I lightly brought up the topic of an overseas vacation.
‘I’ll be able to train magic without worries only if my parents are away.’
I was in a hurry due to the countless pieces of magic knowledge that popped out pell-mell in my mind. But because of my parents, who frequently opened my door unannounced, coming in to check for wholesome computer use, I couldn’t do any magic training.
“Honey, please quit being a fund manager now. You’ve earned enough up ’till now, and I also have a stable income. So please stop the headache-inducing work and try finding another job.”
My mother was as sharp as a knife to her son, but to my father, she was an incredibly kind wife and friend.
“I want to, but… we still have to send Hyuk to college, and…”
“F-father! Haha! Your Kilimanjaro panther has grown up already. Please stop worrying about me and enjoy your life together. There’s a saying like this— you who worked hard to raise your child, enjoy your middle years~!”
“Then shall we do that? After looking at only graphs for a year, my body and mind are getting tired.”
My father liked to eat and play as much as I did. Our combined encouragement roused his interest.
“Then where shall we go for a vacation this time? Since we traveled around the Americas last year…”
Ever the one to follow her husband’s wishes, as soon as my father’s words dropped from his mouth, Mother was frighteningly quick to start planning the vacation.
‘Ni ~ ice!’
A cheer burst out inside of me. Now, I had to hammer in the nail.
“How about a 6 week cruise? I heard that a luxury 7-star cruise ship touring the entire world, including Europe and Africa, is docking in Busan Harbor soon. Since you’re going on a vacation, you might as well make it a memory you won’t ever forget. Especially because Father and Mother have maintained the youth and love of 20 year old newly weds, this son of yours is actively recommending this cruise.”
If I was going to send them off, then it was best to send them far away, and on an extensive cruise they couldn’t just come back from whenever they wanted, at that.
“Oh! Now that you bring it up, going on a cruise is an option, isn’t it?”
For now, Mother made a expression of agreement.
“B-but I heard that the cost per person exceeds several thousand dollars… isn’t that too excessive for us?”
He was tempted, but because he was aging, the poor, middle-aged head of the lion pride couldn’t help but worry.
“Please go! This son of yours will make it happen!”
“What? You will, Hyuk?”
As soon as I said it, my parents were extremely surprised.
They didn’t know. That the only unlimited withdrawal card in the world was in the hands of their son, a man as wealthy as an emperor.
“Here are the tickets. I’ve arranged for a suite in your names. There, you’ll be able to see the broad ocean any time you want. The departure date is Saturday of next week.”
I pushed the envelope holding the gilded tickets towards them.
Having overcome their confusion, my parents were looking at me with serious expressions on their faces.
My father said my name quietly.
‘I hope it goes over well.’
My father’s call was worrisome. It was reasonable, to be honest. What kind of parent would nonchalantly accept vacation tickets that cost thousands, no, ten thousand dollars, from their fledgling son?
I gulped nervously. If they asked me to be honest about where I had gotten the money, then I wouldn’t have anything to say. How could I say that I had become the disciple of a crazy Mage; Bumdalf, who’d come here via dimensional travel, and that I had been gifted with an immense fortune?
But my father’s next words dispelled my worries.
“You don’t have any pocket money for us?”
I sighed deeply as I looked at our family motto of ‘truth,’ which was displayed for all to see on the living room wall. I was reminded of one of the additional lines that were related to ‘truth.’
‘When you take, take it all. And be extremely thankful to the giver. That is truly a reflection of your true feelings.’
And my parents were all too truthful, even to their one and only son.
“You won the Lotto, right?”
“Since he begged in Europe, might it not be Superbowl or something like that?”
[T/N: Hyuk’s mom mistakenly thinks that the Superbowl is a European lottery. Obviously, it is not. Lotto is a South Korean lottery.]
“As expected of our son!”
“Hoho! Hyuk, give us lots.”
It was amazing that they could even come up with such things. Even if they were to meet Master Bumdalf, they probably wouldn’t even be fazed. They were already busy checking the tickets I had handed over as they cheered happily.
* * *
‘Thank you, big sis Marisol.’
The aircraft crew, including big sis Marisol, was staying in Korea just because of me. When I got off the plane, she had given me a business card, telling me to give her a call anytime if there was anything I needed.
‘Magician Group? That name is so like Master.’
Even Master couldn’t have avoided adjusting to this lawful world. He had told me that his immeasurable assets were cached all over the place in some tax free banks called ‘Archipelago,’ in the name of the Magician Group.
And today, I had gotten word from big sis Marisol that my parents had safely boarded the cruise ship. I also found out that the world’s top luxury cruise ship currently docked in Busan, was merely a part of Master’s overflowing assets.
‘My life was changed in three months. Kukuku. This is totally movie material.’
Besides the fact that I had been to hell and back, in just three months, I’d become one of only two Mages in the world, as well as an unheard of multi-billionaire!
‘Paradise! For that grand goal!’
Dreams existed to become true one day.
I dreamt my own dream. A kingdom just for me, which I would live with the woman I loved while wielding absolute authority, like a medieval king.
That was my dream, and it would definitely come true.
“Shall I try moving around a bit?”
Though I was apart from Master Bumdalf, I didn’t neglect my mana channeling for even a single day. Since I had become a Mage, I would become an Archmage at least as great as Master.
‘Enlightenment… what could be the enlightenment that breaks the 3rd Circle wall?’
I sat cross-legged in the middle of the living room and immersed myself in contemplation about 3rd Circle magic. One would only be called a Mage once they reached the 3rd Circle, and at this stage one could use useful magic for daily life, as well as diverse and powerful attack magic. When I thought about the 3rd Circle, all the incantations related to the 3rd Circle naturally popped into my mind.
‘I’ll raise my circle first!’
Money was like poison if picked up by those without ambition or ability. Magic incantations were exactly the same to Mages who couldn’t raise their circle.
Magic really did exist.
I would become not a Mage of dreams, but a true Mage.
* * *
‘Tch, was it a mistake to send them?’
The very next day after deciding to go, my father handed in his resignation letter and the two of them finished preparing for the vacation. They boarded the cruise ship with hardly a word of farewell and went on their vacation.
A week had already passed since then.
‘I want to eat the food Mom makes. Hnng.’
Learning magic was good, but food was important to me as well. For the past few days, I had managed thanks to the side dishes my mother had prepared, but I was getting tired of them and wanted to eat my rice with warm soup instead.
‘But why doesn’t this bracelet come off?’
The silver bracelet that had been Master’s bait.
‘A link that connects time to time and space to space?’
There was a sentence like that written in ancient runes on the outside.
‘Time is time and space is space, but why is it parasitizing my arm?!’
Since it was a foreboding object given to me by Master, I had tried cutting it with a saw and taking it off with soap, but the silver bracelet wouldn’t budge, as if it had become a part of my arm. It was extremely worrisome.
‘Surely nothing will happen, right? It’s just a bracelet.’
When I looked at the bracelet, some kind of figure came to my mind. But the figure was too difficult for me to understand at my level, so I tried to ignore it.
‘Tch! It’s Saturday but there’s no where to go, and that rascal Joong Hyun went on a vacation with his parents!’
Daehan High School’s teachers worked hard for five days a week. As a result, Saturday was a rest day, just like Sunday. But the problem was that I had nothing to do besides studying magic, and I had already acquired most of the knowledge related to the 2nd Circle. Because my unexpanded circle was already filled up with mana, I couldn’t accumulate any more mana.
‘Should I give her a call?’
Yesterday, there was a sudden downpour in the afternoon, even though it was September. Since I hadn’t brought an umbrella and didn’t have a driver waiting for me outside like the other kids did, I was blankly staring at the falling rain.
As the raindrops splashed onto the school yard, I saw something that I hadn’t known of at all before— each trivial raindrop held clear and pure energy.
Like the performance of an immense orchestra, the raindrops were performing with mana.
Pitter, patter, pit-pat.
While looking at the falling rain, the mana inside of me was also joyful and danced about.
Just then, she appeared.
“It’s refreshing, right? I like the rain.”
The girl endlessly staring at the falling rain by my side with her black eyes was Seo Ye-rin. A clear fragrance that reminded me of yellow autumn chrysanthemums rode the misty air, and burrowed into my nose.
“Once in a while, I like to get rained on, a bit.”
Without even asking for my opinion, Seo Ye-rin unfurled an umbrella that was as blue as the sky. Even though we were inside the school, she surreally took my arm. Caught up by her bold action, I was able to walk down the school road under the pouring rain. The rain fell on both of our shoulders at the edge of the umbrella, and I was receiving tons of jealousy from all the kids, at that.
‘You’re a man, Kang Hyuk! Don’t be so desperate for a phone number.’
After walking for a while like that, Ye-rin left her umbrella and cellphone number with me.
I turned on the cutting-edge cell phone I’d gotten a few days ago and punched in the number Ye-rin had given me.
Riiing, riiing, riiing.
‘She’s not picking up?’
The tone rang for a long time, but I couldn’t hear anyone’s voice on the other side.
Just then, I heard the dreamlike voice of an angel from the other side of the receiver.
“Ye-rin, it’s me, Hyuk.”
“Mm. Hi, Hyuk.”
After telling her my name, Ye-rin replied brightly although it seemed that she had just woken up.
“The weather’s good today and all, so do you want to meet up?”
“Hoho. Are you asking for a date?”
‘Geh, a date.’
Her question was directed to me; someone who’d never had a date before in his life, thanks to the safari wilderness simulation game.
“The man Kang Hyuk is sincerely asking Seo Ye-rin for a date. You’ll accept, right?”
I had a good feeling from Ye-rin’s voice.
“… If it’s you, Hyuk, then I’ll say yes any time.”
After a brief silence, I heard her say yes. My heart thumped wildly as it began to race.
Truly, my life had drastically changed the day I met Master Bumdalf. I put aside my bursting happiness and made an appointment with her.
“Since it’s one o’clock right now, let’s meet on Daehangno at three.”
[T/N: A famous street in Seoul. Literally means College Street.]
“Daehangno? Okay. I’ll see you later.”
“Alright, see you later. Come all prettied up.”
“Haha, for whose benefit? I’m hanging up, okay?”
Beep, beep, beep.
I had no idea what kind of audacity made me say something like ‘come all prettied up’ to Ye-rin.
‘D-date, a date! That’s right, a date!’
I grasped the hung up phone as my deeply moved feelings quaked within my body.
“Wait a sec? Now that I look at it, I don’t have anything to wear! Gaaaah!”
For the sake of growing up strong, besides two sets of my uniform, I had no newly purchased clothes. My parents were hyenas who had shown regret, despite stripping me of a thousand dollars for pocket money while leaving for their cruise vacation. The only “clothes” I had received from such parents after entering high school was my own panther leather-like skin.
‘If the two of them appeared in fairy tales, they would definitely be Nolbu and his wife, who scorned Heungbu.’
[T/N: Very famous Korean folk tale. Look up ‘Heungbu and Nolbu’ on Wikipedia if you’re interested.]
Holding back my tears, I squeezed into some jeans that gave me a wedgie because they were too small now, draped on the cotton t-shirt Father used as pajamas, and ran outside. As for the jeans, the trendy European shirt, and rest of the goods Marisol had prepared on the day I returned, my father had already packed them away with him.
I was on my way to meet the angel Seo Ye-rin. I needed clothes befitting the angel. Today, I would make the angel happy as her knight.
“Please ring this up. This too.”
I chose jeans that were the safest option for a student and a long-sleeved summer shirt that matched the season, late summer. Furthermore, I armed myself with completely new items, from socks to shoes and even underwear.
“C-customer, your total so far comes to… over $400, but is it alright?”
I was in the Emperor Mall in Apgujeong, which only the most wealthy Koreans could afford to go to. I went into a store I liked and bought myself clothes.
‘Do I look so poor?’
Though our material civilization valued the exterior over the interior, the doubtful look the shop lady was giving me, Kang Hyuk, was regrettable.
“Please ring me up.”
I was on the way to meet an angel. I didn’t have time to be resentful about the world’s heartlessness.
“Oh, my! It’s a platinum card. Hoho! This is my first time seeing it, too.”
Without even any thoughts of ringing me up, the shop lady held up the platinum card I had pushed towards her and made a fuss.
“This is the rumored platinum card?”
“I heard only billionaires and famous actors use it…”
The shop ladies who had gathered at the mention of a platinum card looked at the card and me with fascinated eyes.
‘Even though they were ignoring me earlier…’
I pulled my eyes away from the all-too-transparent women.
There were only 30 minutes or so left now. If I got into a taxi, I would get there right on time.
* * *
‘There’s so many people.’
We had chosen the university Marronier Park as the meeting place of our date. Since it was the weekend, there were as many women who had come out for dates as there were grains of sand in the sea.
‘Huhu, this is a wonderful time.’
Thanks to yesterday’s rain, the heat wave in Seoul had died down. Usually drenched in hot humidity, today, for the first time in a while, the city was smiling brightly. Moreover, women were happily walking down the street holding hands or arm to arm with their boyfriends.
‘What a stunning body! A work of art, an art!’
It wasn’t just that there were women— there were a lot of women. They were all ladies several years older than me, and just starting to bloom. Wearing the currently popular short skirts and cool tops, their figures as they walked with their hips swinging slightly made my heart tremble, as I watched them.
In order to get into Daehan High School, I had never taken a proper look since middle school— I was truly a Seoul bumpkin. For a person like me, this September Saturday afternoon was like a blessing.
It was just like a dream. To the point where I couldn’t even remember how long ago the hellish magic training had been, time helped me recover from the painful times that I had spent with Master Bumdalf.
“She’s pretty. Maybe she’s a celebrity?”
“What killer looks. Hot damn!”
As I was admiring the pretty women and enjoying my time off, I suddenly heard exclamations from some people behind me. An incredible beauty must have appeared, because the men were drooling as they shouted and the women were making noise.
My head also turned. It was enjoyable free eye candy, after all. I would probably regret it if I missed out.
‘Oooh! So sexy!’
My gaze turned right onto her slender legs. Though it wasn’t as frivolous as the other women’s short mini skirts, she was wearing a denim skirt that was still definitely a mini skirt. Below the skirt were snow white, milky legs.
It was enough to make people marvel.
‘I don’t know who her boyfriend is, but he sure caught a big one.’
Even if her face was just average, that woman was most certainly qualified to receive people’s attention.
While I was in jealousy and awe, that woman’s white Nike sneakers approached me.
The beautiful girl wearing a denim mini skirt and a white summer blouse that made her pearly skin shimmer…
That girl was my angel, Ye-rin.
‘Dammit! Then that means everyone has been feasting their eyes on Ye-rin!’
Countless males were still dazedly raking their wicked gazes over Ye-rin. Rage suddenly surged within me. After all, who but Buddha would like a thief that coveted his meal?
“The weather today is good. If not for you, Hyuk, I would have been taking a nap. Hoho, thanks. For asking me for a date like this.”
After looking up once, the angelic Ye-rin even thanked me for asking for a date.
“If you’re thankful, then shall we start by watching a movie?”
“A movie is good! But you’ve gotta buy me popcorn and a cola too, ‘kay?”
“Sure! I shall give you the full service, princess.”
‘Kuhaha! I get to watch a movie with a girl besides my mom for the first time in my 17 years of life.’
Didn’t someone once say that good things happened if you lived for a long time?
While I was lost in my happy imagination, I felt slender fingers wrap around my left hand.
Ye-rin had nonchalantly grasped my hand. Just like yesterday, when she had grabbed my arm.
* * *
Ye-rin felt happy as she gazed at the pure Kang Hyuk, who was surprised just because she had grabbed his hand.
‘Guess he doesn’t remember me.’
He wasn’t as good-looking as Jang Dong-gun or Jo In-sung, but Kang Hyuk had a refreshing face that automatically made you say that he was manly. With a sturdy physique that matched his height, he was already becoming the hot topic among the first year girls.
[T/N: Jang Dong-gun and Jo In-sung are Korean actors. Their faces… give off a manly feel. Kuhuhu!]
They had gotten into the prestigious Daehan High School, but high school was merely a stepping stone for college. Moreover, since everyone was outstandingly skilled, each one was future competition. Because of that, everyone was always tense as they talked amongst each other. Even their laughter was a pretense, and no one had friends they could really open their hearts to.
But Kang Hyuk was different.
He always had a smile as cool as the blue sky of autumn on his face, as he went about school life with his shoulders straight and proud. Kang Hyuk drew unseen popularity from the mentally drained students.
Furthermore, Kang Hyuk was the savior of Ye-rin’s life.
In her second year of middle school, she had studied at cram school until late in the night in order to get into Daehan High School. Though she studied until night fell, she was able to go to cram school without worries because she had a driver to take her home.
But one day, her driver suddenly got into a car accident and Ye-rin was forced to go home alone, late at night.
There wouldn’t have been any problem if she had gone by taxi, but she went home on the bus that ran from the cram school.
And then, she ran into three delinquent high schoolers at the playground at the entrance of her neighborhood.
A chilly autumn breeze was blowing, so there were no people walking around late at night. The delinquents dragged Ye-rin to somewhere dark. She had wanted to scream, but she was so filled with horror that she couldn’t say a word. Even now, she couldn’t forget the sight of the delinquents who had looked at her lustfully as they dragged her along.
That night, when she was sure to have suffered an injury that could never be washed away, a knight like the ones in the movies appeared.
Wearing the uniform of the neighboring middle school, the male student was just over 5′ 6″. He met eyes with Ye-rin as she was dragged along like an animal, and in that moment, the boy jumped forward.
There was no warning or anything. He picked up a wooden stick from the street and beat the daylights out of the three delinquents, as if he were beating mere animals.
Then, leaving the high schoolers who were bigger than him with the honest advice to live their lives properly, he had turned to leave.
That was when Ye-rin saw it. By the dim light of the streetlamp, she caught a glimpse of the name tag on the boy’s uniform.
The name she saw was Kang Hyuk.
* * *
“That was fun! Hyuk, what’s the next course?”
We came out after watching a movie called Rotten, Filthy, Shitty Bastard. It had gotten good reviews for being fun on the Internet. The movie had been funny throughout and had combined awesome scenes with action to give us a thrilling ride.
After relieving our stress and coming out of the movie theater, it was already almost six o’clock.
“Ye-rin, do you like jazz?”
“Jazz? How did you know, that I like jazz?”
The unique Ye-rin was clearly different from normal kids. I remembered the jazz tunes that had flowed from her MP3 the other day.
“Let’s go. There’s a place that does live jazz on Daehangno.”
“Really? Impressive, Hyuk! But Hyuk, are you maybe…”
Having cheered while praising my meticulousness, Ye-rin’s doubtful eyes sparkled.
“Are you one of those players I’ve only heard about?”
I heard the word ‘player’ on my first date ever.
At my quiet call, the goddess-like girl’s large eyes glimmered with playfulness.
“As the one who compelled me to become a player, you’re more likely to be one. And…”
I trailed off as I gazed gently at Ye-rin’s black eyes.
“For you, and only you, I want to become your player, always.”
‘That’s right, she should be moved. Huhu.’
Words so naughty that they made me want to go into a hardware shop and bang my head on a metal bar came out of my mouth.
“Hyuk…” Her eyes trembling as if she had been touched a hundred times over, Ye-rin called me with trembling lips.
On some street corner of Daehangno, as the dusk wrapped the city in shadows, Ye-rin called my name warmly.
And I waited for Ye-rin’s next words.
“Has winter come so suddenly? Why is it this cold? Hohoho! Hyuk, be careful. You were so corny you almost made me fall over. Hohoho!”
‘Of course. I’m the idiot for having believed that dating was easier than studying.’
In middle school, in preparation for the upcoming world of love, I had thoroughly studied a $4 textbook on dating. It was something I always felt, but the truth was, theories and reality were really as different as night and day, and the price of an item showed in its effectiveness.
* * *
“Welcome. Do you have a reservation?”
Though it was located on Daehangno, a street that targeted young people, the live jazz cafe Prius maintained a dignified air. I had found through the internet that it was a place with jazz performances of the highest caliber.
“I have a reservation under the name Kang Hyuk.”
“Please wait a moment. Ah, here you are. You’re in the top VIP room. Please follow me.”
The cordial waiter guided us to our table.
“Hyuk, isn’t this too much?”
Ye-rin’s eyes had turned as big as saucers at the words ‘VIP room.’
“I spent all my allowance. It’s fine as long as you feed me and keep me alive for the next month, Ye-rin.”
“Ha, what? Well… you’re being cute, so I’ll think about it.”
She was pouting slightly with her cherry red lips.
‘Those lips sure look cute.’
The strange warmth the sight of her lips gave me made me unable to look away.
“The VIP room does not take specific orders. In a short while, we will bring the chef’s special course meal.”
‘Looks like we won’t be able to drink even a single glass, though some wine would be perfect.’
We were clearly still youngsters. The waiter didn’t even ask about alcoholic drinks and left with a nod.
“Looks like there’s a quintet here. Saxophone, drum, contrabass, trumpet, piano. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Ye-rin was making an expression filled with expectation as she looked at the instruments on the dimly lit stage. She brushed back her long, glossy black hair with her right hand, as she made an exceedingly expectant expression.
“This place specializes in performing standard pieces in the fusion jazz literature. It’ll be pleasant to hear.”
“Hyuk, do you have a lot of interest in jazz, too?”
“No, well… a bit.”
I stuttered a response to Ye-rin’s query. At one point in my life, I hadn’t just been interested in it— I had thought about pursuing the path of a musician professionally. Now it was a dream of the past.
“For a car accident to have suddenly happened…”
“It’s no good if we don’t have the performance…”
“And at the time when all the customers are in, too.”
‘A car accident?’
We could hear some shocked voices from behind the stage.
“Hyuk, looks like something happened.”
Having waited with anticipation for the performers to come onto stage with starry eyes, Ye-rin made an expression of disappointment.
‘Argh, my perfect first date is—!’
I wondered if this was the shitty feeling a painter might experience if they drew a woman of unequaled beauty but were stopped before they could draw the eyes.
At this unforeseen situation, my heart fell. Today’s main date course, the jazz concert, was about to go down the drain.
‘We can’t go back like this.’
There must have been some news, because the waiters who had been serving the customers were running about in confusion. I was struck with the feeling that they would offer us a refund soon.
“Wait a moment.”
“You’re going somewhere?”
“Yeah. To the bathroom for a bit.”
She must have really been looking forward to it, because Ye-rin’s pretty face was filled with heavy disappointment.
‘For you, Ye-rin, no, for the monumental first date of this man, Kang Hyuk!’
I resolved myself and went towards the person who looked like the manager.
To show her that nothing was impossible on the path walked by the man Kang Hyuk.
* * *
Hyuk, who went to the bathroom, didn’t come back even after a long time.
‘Even though it’s my first date with Hyuk…’
Ye-rin felt pained. This was the event that her prince charming, Hyuk, had prepared for her. The live jazz that she hadn’t even thought of had moved her in a way that couldn’t be expressed with words.
Even her considerate parents couldn’t pay attention to Ye-rin because of work. Moreover, it was her birthday today. Her father managed a small business, and something must have happened because he hadn’t come home for the past few days and practically lived in his office. And her mom was busy lamenting her woes to her relatives and friends on the phone. Ye-rin didn’t know the details, but from what she could gather, something bad had definitely happened to her father’s business.
The date with Kang Hyuk had found her while she was anxiously spending her birthday like that. Seeing Kang Hyuk’s pure and vigorous smile, a guy who was so considerate of her, allowed Ye-rin to brush aside her gloomy mood.
The only problem was, the live jazz that she had secretly looked forward to had been canceled.
“Everyone, we apologize for the wait. We will start the performance right away.”
A sudden announcement rang throughout the store by mic.
Surprised, Ye-rin looked at the stage.
And walking forward to appear on the stage were five men and women. Most of them were wearing black attire that allowed free movement, but interestingly, one man was in comfortable jeans and a blue shirt.
The short-haired man who came up onto the stage with the performers was indeed Kang Hyuk. Not believing her eyes, Ye-rin looked at Hyuk again.
In that moment, Ye-rin saw him flash a confident and refreshing smile.
“We apologize for being a little late. We hope you’ll enjoy your night.”
The mild-looking saxophone player, who looked to be in his early 40’s, tilted his head in a brief bow.
Clap clap clap!
With the performers’ greeting, the audience naturally applauded, and Kang Hyuk went to sit at the piano.
Boom boom boom!
The contrabass rang softly.
Ti-ring, ti-riiing, puuuuu! (piano and brass sounds)
Then the harmony of several instruments began weaving a smooth, jazzy melody.
A piece Ye-rin knew well, called Fly Me to the Moon, began flowing out as jazz.
And touched by immeasurable emotion, Ye-rin’s large eyes were wet with tears.
* * *
‘What a relief.’
I had never been so grateful for my safari breeding program. I had ended up learning the piano because of my mom’s opinion that even a panther struggling on Kilimanjaro needed to be able to play an instrument or two in order to lure in a mate.
Thanks to my mom, who had become an applied music professor, despite majoring in the classics, I was capable of performing all sorts of styles, including jazz.
Thus I was able to safely overcome the crisis that had struck our first date.
Bada, boom boom, bada boom!
‘So this is an ensemble.’
Because jazz music was pleasant and comfortable to hear, I had often practiced standard jazz at home.
Although I had started playing for Ye-rin, at some point I became immersed in the ensemble of jazz.
Jazz, a type of music that was said to be loved by free-spirited people.
I closed my eyes and fell deeper into that mellow and harmonious world.
* * *
At seventeen years, he was still a young boy. He didn’t fall behind even in the midst of professional players who made a living out of jazz. Rather, the piano had somehow become the center of the jazz and Kang Hyuk had become the leader.
The sight of Hyuk, who was gently swaying with his eyes closed and absorbed in the jazz, made Ye-rin’s heart race on and on.
Ever since he saved her from danger, she had truly looked forward to the day she could meet Hyuk, and after coincidentally entering the same school, she had been able to meet him. She had hesitated so much before talking to him at the school field trip, too.
Ye-rin was vividly experiencing the fact that men could also be beautiful at times.
Buoyed by a hazy feeling of intoxication, she had a taste of the illusion that she was flying towards the moon on the melody crafted by Hyuk.
* * *
‘That’s it! That’s what it was!’
Jazz could only be played well if the ensemble was one.
In the middle of doing my best to play the piano out of consideration for the other players, an enlightenment suddenly came to me.
I had discovered the key that could unlock the 3rd Circle that had been my wall.
‘3rd Circle magic starts from harmoniously combining magic up to the 2nd Circle. Just like how one plus one becomes two and two plus two becomes four, if I naturally combine them, I can break the wall in my magic. It’s like how more water can be held if the vessel increases in size.’
From what Master Bumdalf had said, from the 3rd Circle onwards, you would receive the title of ‘Mage’ and be able to go out into the world and make a living out of it. But he had said that most Mages in training were unable to overcome the wall and go from the 2nd Circle to the 3rd Circle for their entire lives.
And now, I felt like I would be able to make a living as a Mage.
‘Thank you, Ye-rin.’
Ye-rin, who stood with me on the starting point of a new life.
There was no doubt that she was the goddess of good fortune who watched over me.