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There are more than four hours left before the sun sets, so Ji-Won headed to the hotel as soon as they left the cafe. Gaon said it doesn’t matter if he drives the car roughly and she can sleep peacefully. He should leave for Yeongwol because he doesn’t have much time left, but his willingness to help Gaon relax even for a short time was so firm.
“Since I brought the CEO here, if the CEO faces any problem, it’s all my responsibility. We don’t know how long it will take to reach Yeongwol, so get some rest when you can.”
“Yes, I understand. Although I feel it every time, Director Cha is very attentive and friendly.”
No, I don’t do this to anyone. Ji-Won’s face changed subtly for a very short time and soon recovered. Friendly… I’ve never heard that even from my aunt. It was an adjective that he could never agree with in conscience, but he had nothing to gain by telling Gaon the truth, so he could only swallow the words.
Gaon finished brushing her teeth while Ji-Won opened the window wide to ventilate the room. After finishing brushing her teeth, Gaon laid down obliquely on top of two large pillows. Then, looking blankly at the scenery outside the window, she suddenly remembered Ji-Won’s question that she heard yesterday.
“You asked how long my term is.”
Ji-Won, who was organizing the shoes Gaon had taken off, slowly raised his eyebrows slightly. Then he thought about something seriously for a moment and shook his head briefly.
“I’ll listen to it later. Please take a rest now.”
“I’m resting now. After listening to Director Cha yesterday, I calculated for the first time in a while. I think I have 31 years left.”
“At the end of my term…. I’ve been forcing myself to extend my lifespan that should have already ended by playing the role of the Head of Jungcheon. After my term ends, I’ll be standing in front of the meter of judgment.”
31 years? In 31 years, he’ll be 60 years old. It’s fortunate that it’s not something that’s going to happen right now, but considering the average life expectancy of modern people, she doesn’t have that much left. No, that was based on his standard. This person has lived too long. It must not have been easy to endure those years alone. Was there anyone who cared for her even for a moment? Was there at least one person who comforted her when she wanted to cry and run away? He was so curious, but he couldn’t ask because he was afraid that would get an answer that he didn’t want to hear.
“…is that so?”
“Is there anything else you’re curious about? I’ll tell you everything since I have a lot of time.”
“Then let me ask you one more question.”
“Why did you just want to let me go at first?”
At first… Why did I do that? Come to think of it, it’s already been half a year. Gaon, who was staring at Ji-Won’s face thinking that time, blushed a little when she remembered the afterimage of the boy clutching a golf club like a lifeline with his eyes full of poison.
‘Yeah, I thought I shouldn’t put him in Jungcheon just because I saw him back then.’
“When Director Cha was young, he had a hard time because of his ability to see the dead. Your uncles bullied you.”
“There were many times when you couldn’t be sure if you were crazy.”
“So I was worried that if I let you join Jungcheon, you would lose your grasp of reality. There are some guides like that sometimes. There are times when guides are treated like crazy people but when they come to Jungcheon, they all acknowledge themselves, so they want to stay here. Most of them had no family.”
In Gaon’s eyes, the environment of Ji-Won was very similar to them. No matter how many of them could see the dead, they couldn’t see a person’s personality. Gaon at that time didn’t know that he was a person who could behave wisely with a good balance on both sides.
“Because I didn’t know Director Cha well.”
“But why did you let me?”
“You were going against me.”
“I thought that you wouldn’t be able to balance yourself without being swayed by other people’s words, but now that I think about it, the judgement I made at that time was right. What about Director Cha? Do you regret stepping into this world?”
As soon as Ji-Won opened his mouth to answer, his cell phone buzzed. Gaon’s eyes became a little sharp when Ji-Won, who glanced at the cell phone, turned it upside down and put it on the table.
“I can call them back later.”
“I told you not to neglect your gallery work. Pick it up.”
Ji-Won had a troubled face but eventually stood up with his cell phone and headed to the window, and only then did Gaon’s expression become gentle again. Gaon watched Ji-Won who stood by the window and was talking on the phone in a low voice, and began to blink slowly. Ji-Won’s voice, which was talking about works she didn’t know at all, gradually sounded like a low pitch, and at some point, her eyes slowly closed.
“…yes. Well done. Keep it well for now. No, we won’t sell it even after the autumn exhibition. I have a place to use…. Well, you don’t need to know that. Yeah. Yeah, I got it. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I’m hanging up now.”
Ji-Won ended the call as quickly as possible, but found Gaon had fallen asleep before he knew it, so he set the cell phone to silent for now. Then he sat on the window frame. He wanted to go closer and take a look at her sleeping face, but he couldn’t take his feet off the ground because he was worried that he might get greedy about something else. To be honest, from the first time he entered this room, his pulse was already running beyond average.
I don’t think I can enter the room where she stays alone anymore. I trusted myself too much because she was so casual in London. Ji-Won, who breathed a long sigh silently, turned his eyes out of the window. He thought it had been quite a while, but still the sun was shining as intensely as before in a high place.
In the end, time passed and the night was already deep. Gaon and Ji-Won, who were climbing the dark mountain without a street lamp, only relying on a flashlight, stopped walking in front of the waterfall they saw in the morning.
Chaeng. After confirming that there were no people at all, Gaon stretched out her right arm, and a beautiful sword appeared, with a sharp ringing metallic sound and sparkling water droplets bubbling everywhere.
“Yes, I’ll stand back. And I will never go into the CEO’s activity radius.”
As expected, he’s smart. Gaon, who smiled broadly and confirmed that Ji-Won was distancing himself from her, slowly started swinging her sword with a serious face. For a moment, birds and grass bugs began to cry loudly and held their breath. They seemed to hear the sound of a fierce wind in the mountains that had become eerily calm, and soon a huge gust of wind occurred.
Just then, the distorted spaces began to glow blue. The moment they realised that something tremendous would appear, to their surprise, a man dressed in a very classical costume appeared tearing up the space with a frown.
What’s this? He’s not human…, but he’s not even a ghost. Ji-Won, who was surprised at the man’s appearance, became even more surprised when he looked at Gaon’s expression. Gaon’s eyes, which checked the man’s face, grew almost as if they were about to pop out. It was the first time she had shown such an extreme emotional change.
“Say, Gaon. How can you call me out like this all of a sudden?”
“Why are you coming out of there?”
“Huh? What do you mean? Didn’t you know it was a trap I made? Recently, I sent a letter to Jungcheon saying that I would block the passage for a while because there were sinners who fled from Myeonggye.”
“I didn’t get it.”
“Oh, my. Then you must have been very surprised. Haha, did you think it was a stupid demon?”
The man, who was trembling with laughter, approached Gaon, who breathed a sigh of despondency, and patted her on the shoulder affectionately. Ji-Won, who was watching the conversation between the two, gritted his teeth with a clear sound as he saw the man narrowing the distance to Gaon without any hesitation. What’s with him? How dare you touch her?
Only then did the man who felt his gaze turn his eyes from Gaon for the first time. His smile looking at Gaon, which was as gentle as a spring breeze, turned cold the moment he saw Ji-Won.
“Ah…. Staff. You’ve always been alone, but now why must you be with the staff?”
“He is a capable worker in many ways. Director Cha. This is King Yama*. There will be occasional encounters in the future with him, so you should be familiar with each other. But you don’t need to be close to each other more than that, because we’ve known each other for a long time.”
[T/N: In Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, Yama is regarded as the king of hell who judges and determines the rewards and punishments of the dead. For more information, click here.]
“Wow, that’s too much. If he’s an employee from Jungcheon, we’re like colleagues. Now, Mr. Staff. I think we’ll see each other often. Shall we say hi? I’m Hayul, the King Yama. What’s your name?”
“I’m Cha Ji-Won.”
The two men who stood facing each other noticed at once that they were rivals in love. They were conscious of Gaon’s gaze and had ceremonial smiles around their mouths, but their eyes looking at each other were relentless. And neither of them thought of trying to hide it.
“I came here because I needed to. Since nothing happened here, I’ll go back now.”
“We haven’t seen each other in a long time, you are going back just like this?”
“I’m not someone lazy like you. I’m busy.”
“All right, all right. Then go carefully.”
Coming down the mountain with Gaon, Ji-Won felt as if the back of his head was being pierced by something. But he didn’t look back until the end because he felt like he would be losing if he did that.
An animal that appeared in the dark rushed in front of the car, and Ji-Won, who was forced to brake suddenly, looked at Gaon’s face in a hurry.
“I’m sorry, CEO. I couldn’t see the elk sticking out because I couldn’t see well ahead.”
“It’s okay. It’s not Director Cha’s fault and I wasn’t very surprised.”
As soon as the two arrived at the foot of the mountain, the sky, which became rapidly dark, began to scatter with thin rain not long after. It would have been better if the heavy rain had poured, at least some visibility would have been secured, but the invisible raindrops created fog that covered the winding mountain path. It was a thick fog that could not be seen even 10 meters ahead.
“Director Cha. Shall we wait a little while until the rain stops? I don’t think it’ll be long. It would be dangerous to just go like this.”
Ji-Won, who stopped the car in a quiet place, quickly followed Gaon, who opened the door right away, and put an umbrella over her head. He felt worried as he watched her hair getting wet in such a short time with just a few steps.
“It’s all right.”
“It’s night, so the temperature has dropped too much. If you get drenched in rain at times like this, you’ll catch a cold.”
“I like rain. Watching it and walking in the rain.”
“Walk with an umbrella. If you’re not going to do that either, I’ll just leave.”
When Ji-Won didn’t break her stubbornness, Gaon smiled and nodded as if she couldn’t help it. Gaon, who had been walking alongside Ji-Won for a long time, stopped in front of a lilac tree, which had just begun to bloom. Then she bent down a little and smelled the scent. The flowers and women in the fog were so beautiful that Ji-Won wondered if this was real.
Ji-Won was so mesmerized at the moment, that he couldn’t help himself from suddenly opening his mouth without realising it. It was the first time in Cha Ji-Won’s life that reason didn’t work at all when he was with the person he loves.
“I like you.”
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