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    Because Dr. Cha showed his little finger, Ha-gyeom immediately bent it in retaliation. Ignoring Dr. Cha’s cries of pain, he reflexively glared at him.

    “Who says that? Who says I’m Baek Sa’s guide?”

    “If you’re not, then fine. Why are you breaking an innocent person’s finger?!”

    “Breaking it? It’s perfectly fine. Stop whining and just hurry up and stitch the kid’s wound.”

    The boy, who had been watching their bickering, saw the needle and his eyes widened like a rabbit’s. It would have been okay for him to cry if he was scared, but instead, he squeezed his eyes shut, which made Ha-gyeom feel pity for him.

    “But who is this kid?”

    “A kid who works in the… lodging.”

    “Why are you taking care of a kid like that?”

    “He’s injured. Should I just ignore it?”

    “What does this kid’s injury have to do with you?”

    It was oddly nonsensical. If a child gets hurt, it’s only natural for an adult to step in and treat it. Did they really not understand such basic common sense?

    Ha-gyeom, staring at Dr. Cha’s dumbfounded face, decided against saying anything further. There was no point in trying to persuade someone who didn’t understand basic reasoning.

    “All done.”

    Dr. Cha finished the suturing and even applied a bandage before tidying up the needle. Then, suddenly, he lifted his T-shirt, making Ha-gyeom recoil in disgust.

    “Ugh, what are you doing?!”

    “How’s your wound?”

    “It’s all healed!”

    Thanks to the guiding he received, his wound had already healed cleanly. Although the scar was still visible, it wasn’t going to reopen.

    Dr. Cha withdrew with a lewd look in his eyes. While the boy seemed to be in better shape, there was still another matter to attend to.

    Ha-gyeom patted the boy’s shoulder, who had endured the pain well, and then subtly broached the subject.

    “I heard a ship came in two days ago.”

    “Oh, yeah. It did.”

    Answering straightforwardly, a lightbulb seemed to flicker on above Dr. Cha’s head.

    “Two guides were sent from District 22….”

    The Center didn’t engage in bartering ability users due to ethical issues, but he had heard that other districts often did. Sending two valuable guides meant District 22 must have received something significant in return.

    “Among those guides, there’s someone with a pretty high matching rate with the espers here. They could cover at least five of them. It’s thrilling!”

    Dr. Cha, unable to hide his excitement regarding energy or ability user matching, was eagerly sharing information, but Ha-gyeom was only concerned about one particular esper.

    “…Baek Sa too?”

    “Yeah. With the new year, Baek Sa might finally get lucky. It’s a bit ambiguous at 35%, but at least it should prevent him from going berserk. Until now, it was hard to bring in even one guide per year, and the matching rates were almost zero…. In the past month alone, we’ve had two matches! It feels like a dream.”

    The fact that what Seo Jae-yeol’s group had been talking about was true made Ha-gyeom feel sick. It was clear that today’s guiding session was canceled because Baek Sa needed to test his efficiency with the new guide.

    Seeing Ha-gyeom’s darkening expression, Dr. Cha added a few words in consolation.

    “But there’s no guide as special as you. Your matching rate is a whopping 99%. I’ve never seen anything like it!”



    “I’m leaving now.”

    It wasn’t pleasant news. However, Ha-gyeom had already resigned himself to it. Even if it was Baek Seung-woo instead of Baek Sa, he wouldn’t have been able to interfere.

    He was used to the Center’s regulations, and even if Baek Seung-woo had been dedicated to him, he always had multiple options for guiding.

    He had seen for a long time that Baek Seung-woo often engaged in guiding with many other guides. It was customary for espers to receive guidance from as many guides as possible. There was no mandatory rule that a 99% match had to be the exclusive guide.

    “These are antibiotics. Give them to the kid. The wound is deeper than I thought, and given the slight fever, it’s likely already infected.”

    Dr. Cha handed over the pills while keeping a watchful eye. Now that he looked, the boy’s face was a bit flushed. Ha-gyeom, taking the pills carefully, concealed his discontent and took the boy’s hand again.

    “Got it.”

    Leaving the fidgety Dr. Cha behind, Ha-gyeom exited the infirmary. The boy’s grip tightened significantly. Ha-gyeom looked down at the boy’s large, jewel-like eyes and crouched down.

    “Where do you live? I’ll take you there.”

    Baek Sa was Baek Sa, and the boy was the boy. He couldn’t keep making the boy work as a page with a stitched wound and a slight fever.

    It wasn’t permitted to leave the camp as he pleased, but he was determined to try anyway. No ability user had left the camp without a purpose during his stay, and there were constant warnings not to do anything foolish during lights out.

    But even if he got caught and faced harsh consequences, he intended to give it a shot. Staying in the camp wouldn’t reveal any hidden aspects of this place. They wouldn’t outright kill an S-class ability user for a minor infraction….

    “Where should we go?”

    The boy hesitated for a moment before pointing in one direction. As expected, it was the civilian area on the left. Ha-gyeom immediately dusted off his knees and gestured to the boy.

    “Can you show me the way?”

    The boy nodded with a puzzled look. Ha-gyeom then followed the boy as he started walking without hesitation.


    ‘…A manhole?’

    It was an extremely narrow passage. After descending stairs with the boy for quite a while, they encountered an unexpected manhole. The boy, with his tiny hand, easily removed the heavy manhole cover and disappeared into the darkness as if familiar with it.

    Ha-gyeom followed, entering the even narrower manhole and descending a rickety ladder for some time. The scene that greeted him at the bottom was somewhat familiar. Upon jumping down to a floor barely a meter high, he was met with the foul odor of a winding sewer.

    “Do you use this route often?”

    Nod, nod. The usual answer.

    Even though the purification system was running in real time, without a direct guide’s influence, the stench couldn’t be fully neutralized. Seeing his feet half-submerged in dirty water, Ha-gyeom finally extended his hand into the air.

    The boy couldn’t take his eyes off the purification wave that Ha-gyeom easily created. The mystic glow was understandably captivating. Ha-gyeom smiled and asked,

    “Is it fascinating?”

    Nod, nod. The boy’s mouth hung open as he stood within the wave that enveloped both of them. It seemed to be his first time seeing such a wave.

    “Seeing you so amazed makes me feel proud.”

    Although creating this level of a wave had been easy even when he stayed at the Center, Ha-gyeom felt his shoulders rise with pride. Now he could effortlessly create even larger waves if he wanted to.

    Once the boy got used to the wave, he started walking along the edge of the sewer. Although there were occasional lights, they were spaced too far apart, making the inside relatively dark. It wasn’t easy to remember all the paths that branched off.

    But he could clearly sense one thing. He instinctively felt that this route could lead him anywhere within District 0.

    Ha-gyeom was more alert than ever. The purification wave reduced the stench, allowing him to focus entirely.

    However, without any weapons and uncertain about who they might encounter or what might happen, he couldn’t shake off the tension. If they were caught by mercenaries, they might be dragged back to the camp and punished for breaking the rules.

    But it seemed unlikely that the mercenaries, who often mistreated even S-class espers, would use such a sewer route.

    Ha-gyeom continued walking, cautiously surveying his surroundings. The view alternated between dark and light. After wiping the sweat from his neck several times, they had walked about 5 kilometers when the boy suddenly stopped.

    Turning right and walking about ten steps, they came across a partially bent grate. The boy slipped through it easily, but Ha-gyeom struggled a bit. In the end, his T-shirt got slightly torn on the sharp end of the grate.

    “How much farther?”

    The boy held up five fingers and mouthed, “Five minutes.” The left zone was relatively low-lying, so they didn’t have to climb many ladders to reach another manhole cover.

    When they removed the wave and went above ground, they found themselves inside a storage filled with various junk. Light barely penetrated the dusty interior. Opening the door through the darkness, they stepped into a gloomy alley under dark clouds.

    Unaccustomed to the chill, Ha-gyeom instinctively placed his hand on the boy’s closely-cropped head. Despite not having reached their destination, the boy waved his hand.

    “Are you telling me to leave?”

    The boy nodded. But Ha-gyeom wasn’t ready to turn back just yet. The boy’s head was hot like a furnace. Having come this far, he planned to at least see the boy take his medicine and fall asleep before leaving.

    But that wasn’t all. With a sharp look, Ha-gyeom scanned his surroundings. The alley’s houses, crudely built with tents, planks, and various unidentifiable materials, were eerily familiar.

    The District 0 he once knew. Even the acrid smell spreading through the air was no different from back then.

    Twelve years had passed. Thanks to trauma training, he no longer felt powerless when facing this vague and familiar landscape. His consciousness didn’t blur, he didn’t break into a cold sweat, and his body didn’t tremble. Ha-gyeom was no longer the weak child who couldn’t resist power.

    Suppressing his minor turmoil, Ha-gyeom followed the boy. Seated in front of houses along the alley were shabby old people and neglected children, all watching them. Their eyes, growing large like they had encountered a ghost, were filled with a mix of curiosity and unfamiliarity.

    Ability users were rare to see in this place. Though the thought that he didn’t belong here flashed through his mind, Ha-gyeom didn’t stop.

    The boy’s house was at the end of the alley. Inside the low shack, barely tall enough to stand straight, was a dirty makeshift bed and layers of blankets. The house, barely 5 square meters, was only good enough to shield against wind and rain.

    “…You live here?”

    The boy nodded, bringing a blanket over. Climbing onto the makeshift bed, he wrapped himself in the blanket. Already damp with moisture, it seemed like it would only make the cold worse.

    “What about your family?”

    Ha-gyeom asked, glancing into the dark interior. Suspicious of the thin cloth acting as a curtain, he inquired. The boy’s gaze also shifted in that direction.

    Rising from the muddy floor, Ha-gyeom lifted the cloth.


    In the darkness, there was a rustling sound. If he hadn’t seen the large, curled-up shape, he might have mistaken the noise for a rat or a dog.

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