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    The same smell permeated the warehouse where he had been imprisoned. Ha-gyeom’s lips trembled as he asked. Baek Seung-woo answered in a deep, soaked voice.

    “No. It’s not my blood.”

    Ha-gyeom was startled but relieved to know that Seung-woo wasn’t hurt.

    As he looked up from under the blanket, the lamp on the bedside table switched on. Only then did he clearly see Seung-woo’s combat uniform stained with blood and his weary, hollow eyes.

    “Did you have a scary dream?”

    His voice was gentle, contrasting with his fierce appearance. As he took off his belt and training clothes, Ha-gyeom nodded.

    “I’ll wash up quickly. Even if you’re sleepy, hold on for a bit. You don’t have nightmares when you sleep with me.”

    Despite it being just a temporary solution, Seung-woo spoke with confidence. Watching him head to the bathroom, Ha-gyeom sat up. His pajamas were soaked with sweat, just like Seung-woo, who had been drenched from head to toe.

    Although Seung-woo acted like it was no big deal, Ha-gyeom couldn’t help but worry. He forced his heavy body to the bathroom door. Through the slightly open door, he saw Seung-woo examining a wound on his side.

    Though Seung-woo appeared calm as if he felt no pain, Ha-gyeom was horrified by the brutal injury.


    Ha-gyeom, frozen like ice, collapsed noisily. Hearing the commotion, Seung-woo rushed out of the bathroom and immediately covered Ha-gyeom’s eyes. Ha-gyeom started trembling and crying.

    “Y-You said you weren’t hurt! Hic… W-Why…!”

    “…It’s not a big injury. Why are you crying over something like this, Shin Ha-gyeom?”

    Though he couldn’t see, Ha-gyeom could easily imagine Seung-woo looking helpless beside him.

    ‘What if he gets hurt or dies… What will I do then?’

    At that moment, that was his biggest fear.

    Ha-gyeom managed as well as he did now because of Seung-woo’s care. The greatest tragedy for him would be losing the one person he relied on in this unfamiliar place.

    “Hic… Don’t die…!”

    “Why are you such a scaredy-cat….”

    Seung-woo, deeply understanding Ha-gyeom’s hypersensitivity, purposely spoke lightly. He put his shirt back on to cover the wound and slowly removed his hand from Ha-gyeom’s eyes. Ha-gyeom, still sobbing and sniffling, hiccuped.

    “Espers don’t die from a wound like this.”


    “Just like you, guides don’t either. Guides always have espers to protect them.”

    Esper and guide. Though he had heard people talking about it many times, Ha-gyeom still didn’t understand the definition.

    “Chosen people.”

    Baek Seung-woo added. Ha-gyeom knew he was a guide, but he couldn’t understand why people fought and even killed each other to obtain espers and guides.

    “I don’t know why we were chosen yet…. But we are different from ordinary people like your parents or your brother. We don’t die easily, so you don’t need to be scared of me dying. And you don’t need to cry so much.”

    Baek Seung-woo wiped away Ha-gyeom’s tears and snot. He lifted his thin body and checked him over, relieved to find no injuries.

    “It might be hard to understand now, but your energy is stronger than any other kid here. If you can overcome your fear, you’ll become incredibly strong. You might even become the best here.”


    “Of course. Have you ever seen me lie? …Oof, careful.”

    Baek Seung-woo lifted Ha-gyeom and carried him to the bed, placing him on the right side and pulling out a fresh set of pajamas.

    “Get changed and get ready for bed while I shower. You won’t have nightmares if you fall asleep with me.”

    By then, Ha-gyeom had stopped crying and clutched his pajamas tightly. Baek Seung-woo ruffled Ha-gyeom’s slightly longer hair, which had grown noticeably.

    “Should I lock the door this time? I’m just showering, so wait patiently like a good boy.”

    Ha-gyeom nodded. Baek Seung-woo, still feeling uneasy, took off his T-shirt and headed back to the bathroom. Soon, the sound of running water filled the room. Ha-gyeom, embarrassed by his earlier outburst, quickly changed into his new pajamas.

    As he lay in bed waiting, Seung-woo soon emerged, looking refreshed after washing away all the grime. He was a young and strong man, perhaps the healthiest-looking person Ha-gyeom had ever seen.

    Ha-gyeom watched Baek Seung-woo climb into bed, finally feeling reassured. He couldn’t hold back his curiosity any longer.

    “Do espers protect guides?”


    “So if you’re an esper and I’m a guide, you can protect me?”

    “That’s right.”

    For the first time since arriving, Ha-gyeom asked a proper question. Baek Seung-woo lay on his side, looking at Ha-gyeom with a proud expression.

    “Then… can I protect you too?”

    “Yes, you can. Espers can’t go out and fight without a guide.”


    “Because of radiation….”

    Baek Seung-woo started to explain but abruptly stopped. He smiled as he looked into Ha-gyeom’s eyes, which were now shining with curiosity.

    “Espers are nothing without their guides. Just remember that.”

    “Then am I stronger than you?”

    “In the end, yes.”

    Ha-gyeom’s eyes, which had been shining brightly, trembled. He liked the idea that he could be stronger than Baek Seung-woo. Even though he was just a child trembling from nightmares now, he felt a premonition that one day, he could save many people just as Seung-woo had saved him.

    “Shin Ha-gyeom. Close your eyes now.”

    Baek Seung-woo’s voice was quite stern. Ha-gyeom pulled the blanket up to his chest. With him back in the room, all the unpleasant things vanished.

    His eyelids grew heavy almost instantly, and he couldn’t resist. Baek Seung-woo turned off the light and lay down facing him. Even in the darkness, Ha-gyeom looked at his flawlessly handsome face, feeling happy for the first time at the pounding of his heart.

    I can save someone.

    And… I can protect him.

    It was the happiest thing he’d heard since coming here. He finally felt he might understand why he survived.

    * * *

    After the monster invasion, the world was filled with upheaval and chaos.

    Half a year of fighting monsters passed.

    On a day when human civilization was collapsing, abilities began to manifest in people.

    Ha-gyeom was one of those with abilities. In the shelter where he stayed with his family, five people manifested abilities. Late at night, they simultaneously glowed blue and floated in the air, radiating a powerful aura that no one could approach.

    Those who experienced this strange phenomenon did not regain consciousness for at least three days. When the energy that had occupied their bodies finally subsided, allowing them to open their eyes, nothing had changed for Ha-gyeom. He hadn’t even dreamed while he slept; he just felt heavy-headed and foggy for a while.

    But the espers were different. Overnight, they gained superhuman senses and physical strength. Since they didn’t choose to gain these abilities, they couldn’t hide them well either.

    Odd things started happening, like a child Ha-gyeom’s age easily confronting an adult or breaking through the shelter’s walls. At first, no one knew why. However, because the number of those who manifested was significant, and espers had abilities that could harm others, measures were necessary.

    When the state and government lost their functionality, surviving scientists volunteered to identify these chosen individuals. With the system collapsed, every step was fraught with difficulties. It took three months to discover that guides, unlike espers, could purify radiation.

    However, when it became clear that guides were the only solution to survive in a contaminated world, there weren’t many who acted for the public good. The fight to acquire abilities began when scientists mostly unveiled their identities.

    Espers with heightened senses and physical power.

    Guides who could purify the radiation covering the Earth.

    A year after the monster invasion, a new war began among humans due to the emergence of those with abilities. Groups formed to monopolize espers and guides as resources to survive.

    Ha-gyeom was claimed by members of Zone 0, the most powerful group at that time.

    With everyone vying for profit, justice and humanity were often ignored. The most significant victims in the renewed chaos were those with abilities and their families. Ability users were kidnapped, and their families were slaughtered. Guides’ energy was used as a resource, and espers were tools for war.

    Finally, the remaining national leaders intervened. With continued atrocities, the central center that upheld the national framework began to intervene.

    Their mission included exterminating monsters and rescuing civilians and ability users from those who abandoned humanity.

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