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    Loves Error

    Dawnlight

    Author │ Marwan

    Published by │ Beyond


    #001

    Saving one life is like saving another universe.

    What he said was wrong.

    Because in a world where saving a hundred universes means losing a thousand.



    1. Earth 0~29

    “Happy twenty-first birthday.”

    A guy who looked like a roughly peeled potato said. Reflecting on last night with a vague sense of discomfort, Ha-gyeom responded kindly in his own way.

    “Wow… I really didn’t expect to hear that.”

    At his rather hesitant response, Seok Ji-ho laughed and shook his head. Despite the break of dawn, he was still lying on the bed. Ha-gyeom, already dressed in his training uniform, looked down at Seok Ji-ho with a pitiful expression.

    “Not getting up?”

    “I just want to stay like this for a bit…”

    Unlike the leisurely Seok Ji-ho, Ha-gyeom wanted nothing more than to leave this room as quickly as possible. To think that the morning after such a terrible guiding session would be his birthday. Eventually, with his arms crossed and eyes narrowed in annoyance, Seok Ji-ho finally stretched and spoke.

    “So, what are you going to do?”

    “What?”

    “That you can’t feel anything. It’s something you have to do, but it must be boring every time. Since you’re doing it anyway, you should enjoy it too….”

    It’s common for espers to be rude after guiding. Since it’s something done together, Ha-gyeom couldn’t help but give his own evaluation.

    “It’s not that I couldn’t feel anything; there was nothing to feel in the first place. And unlike espers, who just have to enjoy themselves, guides have a lot to worry about. Have you heard of energy control?”

    Guiding was just guiding, and given the awkward atmosphere, it wasn’t memorable at all. This had been the case with all the guiding sessions so far, so it was nothing special. Ha-gyeom looked at Seok Ji-ho, who was smiling with a peculiar expression, and asked pointedly.

    “So, were you disappointed?”

    “Rather than disappointment….”

    If anyone should feel disappointment, it was Ha-gyeom. Despite having the highest matching rate with an esper in the center, he felt acutely that they were of no help to each other without an accurate assessment.

    There was no reward for all the sweat and effort. While checking his training uniform, Ha-gyeom glanced at Seok Ji-ho and said.

    “Anyway, we have a 50% matching rate. Given that, I’d say it wasn’t too bad.”

    Having S-class energy but never meeting a high-matching esper, being called an incompetent guide—there was no worse misfortune or stigma.

    “I liked it.”

    “…What?”

    When Ha-gyeom stared at him, Seok Ji-ho suddenly switched his tone and gave him a subtle look. Ha-gyeom threw a T-shirt that was lying around at his overtly scrutinizing face.

    “Stop acting like a pervert and get dressed. We need to go for the check-up.”

    8 AM. It was time for the guide who had guided an esper the previous night, and the esper who had been guided, to head to the examination room.

    Even though it was called ‘guiding,’ it was a personal act involving physical interaction, so quantifying guiding always felt bizarre to Ha-gyeom.

    “Are you just going to sneak out after everything, Shin Ha-gyeom?”

    The fact that most espers were colleagues trained from a young age was somewhat dreadful. With his hands on his hips, Ha-gyeom eventually growled.

    “Stop talking and get ready to be nagged by Dr. Park in the examination room. We wasted our time yesterday.”

    “So harsh, so harsh….”

    Muttering, Seok Ji-ho finally got up. Unlike Ha-gyeom, who looked as if he had two bears sitting on his shoulders, he seemed much lighter.

    * * *

    Between Building B, where the dormitory for ability users is located, and the central building with the examination room, there is a long corridor. Since three sides of it are made of glass, the outside scenery is fully visible as you pass through.

    “There, it’s coming.”

    Seok Ji-ho, who had been sticking around annoyingly since leaving the room, pointed somewhere in the distance with his finger. Ha-gyeom irritably pushed away Seok Ji-ho’s thick arm and shifted his gaze.

    Before long, a massive shape approaching just below the clouds, like a whale under the sea, came into view. It was one of the low-grade monsters frequently appearing around the center. Though dark in color and seemingly smooth at a glance, its surface was cratered and rugged.

    “With just one punch from an esper, that thing would shatter to pieces.”

    Seok Ji-ho boasted. He wasn’t wrong. Espers possessed various abilities, but most had excellent physical strength and could exert powerful physical force, making it no big deal to take down a monster like that.

    “So what? You can’t even get close without a guide.”

    The problem was that regardless of size or shape, these monsters emitted a strong concentration of radiation. Approaching them without getting irradiated was impossible, so having a guide to counteract the radiation was the basic rule of hunting.

    “Exactly. That’s why someone like you is precious, Ha-gyeom. So lovable.”

    “What kind of nonsense are you starting now?”

    Guides belong to the mental category and possess purification abilities. They can purify radiation, water, soil, and air. However, their abilities can only be exerted temporarily depending on their power.

    “You’re the strongest in our center. We need to stay on good terms to properly coordinate when we’re deployed in actual combat.”

    The potato-headed guy joked while scratching his buzz-cut head. Just as he said, Ha-gyeom was an S-class guide with the most potent energy in the center.

    The problem was…

    “Hey. You two messing around and chatting in the corridor, do you realize you’re already late? If you do, hurry up and get over here.”

    Just then, Dr. Park in a white lab coat waved them over. As trainees, being late would earn them demerit points. Without a moment’s hesitation, Ha-gyeom and Seok Ji-ho sprinted toward the end of the corridor.

    “How was the guiding?”

    “How else? It was intense.”

    Despite Seok Ji-ho’s exaggerated claim to Dr. Park, Ha-gyeom couldn’t take his eyes off the outside scenery even after reaching the central building.

    Near the front gate, amidst the towering walls, a group of espers and guides already on a mission was visible. Unlike Ha-gyeom, who was still a trainee, they had participated in countless hunts and operations.

    Ha-gyeom gazed beyond the advancing group at the muddy tidal flat. Further inland, black smoke continuously billowed up. The next events could only be confirmed through the observation monitors in the center. It was obvious without looking that it was already devastated.

    Fourteen years ago, after monsters first appeared on Earth, most of the Korean Peninsula was contaminated, and many life forms perished. Only 10 percent of the population remained. Since the first places attacked were the nuclear power plants, the areas where people currently lived were the farthest from the east coast, mainly around the west coast and on the clustered islands at the end.

    The central center, practically the last bastion of South Korea, was located on one of those islands.

    Since entering the center, Ha-gyeom had never set foot outside these walls.

    “Wouldn’t the guide’s words be more credible than the esper’s regarding guiding?”

    Ha-gyeom, who had been gazing into the distance, turned his head at Dr. Park’s words. When their eyes met, Dr. Park responded with a friendly smile.

    “Seeing you lost in thought, I can guess the results without looking at the data….”

    “Exactly.”

    Ha-gyeom chuckled and confidently moved forward. Despite being simultaneously attacked by both Dr. Park and Ha-gyeom, Seok Ji-ho didn’t seem the least bit discouraged.

    As soon as they entered the examination room, Ha-gyeom and Seok Ji-ho lay down in their usual spots, as if it were second nature.

    After connecting wires to their temples and wrists and staring at the monitor for a while, Dr. Park rubbed his chin and spoke.

    “Still, there was some effect. It looks like about 20 percent of the energy was controlled.”

    “Twenty percent?”

    “Yes. But you know that’s the best score in Shin Ha-gyeom’s guiding records, right?”

    This time, Seok Ji-ho scoffed openly. Unable to punch him due to all the wires, Ha-gyeom gritted his teeth in frustration.

    If espers didn’t receive guiding, their latent energy could go out of control, causing harm to those around them and potentially leading to their own death. Although a serious matter, the espers within the center, known for its strict management of abilities, were unlikely to reach such a critical state.

    Since there were fewer guides than espers and matching rates varied widely, maintaining the number of ability users required the unavoidable sacrifice of guides. Guides couldn’t refuse espers needing guiding, making it challenging to find fairness in the clear supply-and-demand relationship.

    “Seok Ji-ho, your previous guiding efficiency was 80 percent? So far, you seem to match best with Guide Jo Woo-young. How do you feel about it?”

    “As you know, Dr. Park, guiding isn’t just about energy control.”

    “If that’s not important, what is?”

    Additionally, the core of guiding being a physical act posed a more complex problem than it seemed.

    In the confined space of the center, while pairing up to find the best compatibility, love affairs frequently occurred, often dragging innocent parties into the fray. Although the accumulated data from training was the basis, there were some ability users who engaged in physical activities not for the purpose of guiding.

    “Visual satisfaction… relationships… and….”

    Ha-gyeom sneered at Seok Ji-ho’s carefree remarks. Dr. Park did the same. Even if Seok Ji-ho’s guiding last night was terrible, his match with Jo Woo-young, who had an 80 percent compatibility rate, might have been quite decent.

    “Are you saying Guide Shin Ha-gyeom was better than Guide Jo Woo-young?”

    “Huh? Saying it so bluntly would embarrass Ha-gyeom, doctor.”

    Ha-gyeom only hoped that no emotions or love affairs would interfere with his guiding. He had no expectations for visual satisfaction or friendly relationships.

    “Have you never heard that guiding satisfaction is proportional to the matching rate? Talking about visual satisfaction…”

    “Then are you saying you’ll always have to keep doing lousy guiding, Shin Ha-gyeom?”

    In other words, without a high-matching esper within the center, Ha-gyeom was likely to continue having terrible guiding experiences.

    At that moment, Seok Ji-ho suddenly raised his voice, as if struck by an idea.

    “There’s one esper with whom Ha-gyeom’s matching rate is still unknown, right?”

    “Who?”

    “…Team Leader Baek Seung-woo.”

    How could someone be so oblivious? As Ha-gyeom’s face turned even colder, Dr. Park also furrowed his brow in response.

    “Shouldn’t we exclude someone currently missing from consideration?”


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