Only I Level Up Recollections/After Stories
Part 3: Approach
The radar of a boy named Lee Eun-Cheol, a recent addition to the ranks of high school students, began spinning around.
A brand new school, a new classroom, and new classmates.
The eyes of Lee Eun-Cheol, sitting right at the back of the class, as he scanned the atmosphere of the place remained harsh, predatory. With just one glance, he quickly judged who was beneath him, and who was qualified to be his friend.
The laws of the jungle reigned supreme in this world called the classroom.
Even back in his middle school days, Lee Eun-Cheol ruled the roost with his fists. To his eyes, the majority of his classmates looked like a bunch of easy prey. Almost without exception, those that met his glare all quickly averted their gazes.
However, there was a dude that walked closer to him with a grin on his face, instead.
‘That’s Jo Seong-Ho.’
He was one of those ‘friends’ who did his thing in the neighbouring district. Also, they ran into each other every now and then while sharing casual booze with his other friends, too.
“You were also here?”
They greeted each other and shared news on their particular circle of acquaintances while measuring each other up, but that only lasted for a short while.
Jo Seong-Ho had heard the infamy of Lee Eun-Cheol plenty of times before, so he lowered his head first and got under the latter’s wings.
“Take care of me from now on, alright?”
Lee Eun-Cheol smirked deeply and grasped Jo Seong-Ho’s extended hand. They might be in the process of establishing their hierarchical positioning at the moment, but a guy like this would be classified as a ‘friend’.
And so, as he was about halfway done with establishing the hierarchical relationship with the rest of the class, there was this one guy who kept getting on Lee Eun-Cheol’s nerves for some reason.
He wasn’t some model student who sat right in front of the class, nor was he a punk trying to show off while sitting at the back, either.
It was a strange kid who sat in the middle and didn’t even bother to avert his gaze away when their gazes collided.
There would always be one like this guy in every class – a dimwit who didn’t know his place and needed an ‘incident’ to figure who was on top and who was at the bottom.
That punk was looking behind him, right at Lee Eun-Cheol, before sighing out, as if he found this whole thing ridiculous, and reverted his gaze back to his front. Obviously, the high school thug couldn’t take that lying down anymore and stood up from his seat.
The noise of the chair dragging against the ground loudly rang around the classroom. Of course, the gazes of the whole class were instantly focused on Lee Eun-Cheol.
The boy enjoyed all the attention and, while feeling pretty good about himself, strode right over to the dimwit who didn’t know his place.
Just as Lee Eun-Cheol reached out to grab the punk’s shoulder and turn him around, a tackle came in from a rather unexpected quarter.
After confirming that it was Jo Seong-Ho that grabbed hold of his wrist, Lee Eun-Cheol opened his mouth.
There were distinct signs of displeasure thickly melted into the voice, and that caused Jo Seong-Ho to nervously swallow his dry saliva.
“We went to the same middle school. If you can help it, you shouldn’t bother him.”
Just because they went to the same school, he was trying to protect the punk?
There could be two potential reasons for that. One, a reason that couldn’t be brought up but still forbade anyone from touching this punk.
Or, they were looking down on Lee Eun-Cheol.
The high school thug’s expression hardened instantly and he began lightly kicking the chair of the ‘punk’ that didn’t even bother to turn around in the middle of this commotion.
“Hey, hey? Who the hell are you? Why don’t you say something? Don’t you have a mouth?”
Jo Seong-Ho’s complexion paled really quickly and tried to jump in front to stop this. Lee Eun-Cheol’s patience ran out then and he slapped the latter’s hand away while shooting a fierce glare.
“You, come with me.”
As Lee Eun-Cheol left the classroom, two of his underlings that graduated from the same middle school followed after him, too. He stopped right at the doorway and looked back. His eyes caught Jo Seong-Ho sweating buckets, while the ‘punk’ didn’t seem to care one jot either way.
A chilling murderous aura filled up Lee Eun-Cheol’s eyes.
Jo Seong-Ho and his messed-up face were tottering unsteadily on his feet. Maybe that didn’t satisfy him yet, Lee Eun-Cheol’s glare remained frigid and murderous.
He shoved Jo Seong-Ho against the wall before asking his question.
“Who the hell is that punk? Just who is he that you’re trying to protect him?!”
The wounded boy breathed heavily and painfully before spitting out saliva mixed with traces of blood to the ground. He then raised his head, his expression one of fatigue.
“He was the strongest in our middle school.”
Lee Eun-Cheol’s head tilted to the side.
This kid, did he lose his mind after getting smacked around for a bit?
It was a well-known story that Jo Seong-Ho and his gang had completely conquered his middle school. However, he shook his head and emphasized his point.
“We couldn’t even lay a hand on that guy. I stepped forward today, cuz I was scared that something might go wrong here, too.”
Initially, Lee Eun-Cheol wondered what kind of horse crap this was, but Jo Seong-Ho’s eyes were far too serious for something like that.
‘This son of a b*tch… He’s being serious?’
But, that couldn’t be.
If there was a scary b*stard like that, then there was just no way that a rumour wouldn’t have gotten around.
The name of the punk in question was Seong Soo-Hoh.
Lee Eun-Cheol lived in this neck of the woods since his elementary school days, but he had never heard of that name before. Besides, what could a nerd like that do to him, anyway?
Lee Eun-Cheol’s rage shot up right to the top of his head after realising that Jo Seong-Ho dared to make him look bad in front of others just because of a punk like that.
Lee Eun-Cheol’s full-blooded swing caused Jo Seong-Ho’s head to spin to the side. The smacked cheek swelled up in red colour.
The high school thug had apparently learned boxing since from a young age, and perhaps because of that, his arm strength couldn’t be treated as a joke.
However, what Jo Seong-Ho truly feared was something else.
It was around the time when he was silently enduring against the barrage of violent attacks from Lee Eun-Cheol. He discovered ‘that’.
The thug stopped throwing punches only after spotting that Jo Seong-Ho’s eyes had grown super-large from surprise. He turned around to look behind him.
From the distance, that nerd was leisurely strolling towards here.
Jo Seong-Ho dropped his head lower as if he didn’t want to meet the gaze of the one walking closer and spoke in a quiet murmur.
“Just… apologise to him. That’s my serious advice to you.”
“This stupid son of a b*tch…!”
Lee Eun-Cheol grabbed the back of Jo Seong-Ho’s hair to shake the boy’s head around, but the latter simply kept his mouth shut. Just as the former was about to spit out another round of abusive words…
The source of the problem itself, Soo-Hoh, finally stood before them.
Maybe it was because of Jo Seong-Ho’s prior warning? Even Lee Eun-Cheol, who would attack first and ask questions later quickly took a couple of steps back and warily glared at Soo-Hoh.
Although not short, when compared to either himself or Jo Seong-Hoh, this nerd wasn’t all that tall. His physique also seemed exceedingly ordinary.
His neck and wrists revealed outside of the school uniform looked a bit firm, but it didn’t seem like the boy had trained professionally or something.
The more he looked, the less Lee Eun-Cheol believed Jo Seong-Ho’s words.
Utterly ignoring the bullies, Soo-Hoh stepped closer to Jo Seong-Ho and studied the latter’s messed-up face.
The sounds of tutting automatically leaked out from his mouth as if he felt rather rueful about this matter. Soo-Hoh then addressed the boy.
“Let’s pretend that you also did this. I mean, this much is already enough for self-defence, right?”
Jo Seong-Ho unhesitatingly nodded his head.
“Okay, let’s do that.”
What were they trying to pretend here?
Lee Eun-Cheol listened to this exchange with a puzzled expression etched on his face, but that soon morphed into an angry scowl.
As he reached out to grab Soo-Hoh’s shoulder to turn the nerd around, a sudden flash of light blinked right in front of Lee Eun-Cheol’s eyes.
The unconscious Lee Eun-Cheol fell hard to the ground. Almost at the same time, the two underlings guarding the leader’s back also blacked out, as well.
‘What a scary b*stard….’
Jo Seong-Ho could only watch on in utter disbelief. If it weren’t for his excellent dynamic vision honed through exercises and training, then he’d not have seen those stunning movements.
One hit in the face of Lee Eun-Cheol, and one hit each in the vitals of the two underlings – those attacks were machine-like in their accuracy, yet savage in their nature, like a wild predator.
Back when he ‘mistakenly’ tried to get Seong Soo-Hoh riled up, he ended up wondering whether such power could actually belong to a human being or not.
But after that, his middle school life became quite stress-free, contrary to his initial expectations.
While looking at the collapsed and unmoving Lee Eun-Cheol and his gang, Jo Seong-Ho scratched the back of his head.
The high school thug’s nose was broken, while the two underlings had their bones broken.
The rumours should spread around quickly; the rumours of the one and only XX middle school’s Lee Eun-Cheol getting beaten up by YY middle school’s Jo Seong-Ho, that was.
Even the thug himself would keep his mouth shut over this matter, since that rumour would be far more preferable than to let the world know that he got taken out by some no-name regular student.
Once more, another notch had been added to his records of victories.
Since this was a win someone handed over to him, Jo Seong-Ho felt rather embarrassed about this whole thing. As he remained swimming in several complicated thoughts, Soo-Hoh walked up closer and extended his hand out.
“Now that things have come to this…. Well, I’ll be in your care in this place too, alright?”
Jo Seong-Ho sheepishly scratched his cheek before wordlessly shaking the offered hand.
Well… It wasn’t such a bad trade, this.
“Wow, Jo Seong-Ho took on those three?”
“I thought his aura was really something else when I first saw him, so it’s no surprise.”
“I heard that he learned judo since young and was pretty famous in his neighbourhood.”
Thanks to the news of Lee Eun-Cheol and his goons getting shipped off to a hospital, the atmosphere of the entire classroom had become rather heated real fast.
More than that, Jo Seong-Ho was now being treated as a hero even, after it emerged that he was trying to protect another kid who graduated from the same middle school as him.
Although it was the start of a new school year and the kids all felt a bit awkward and unsure of each other, this topic worked wonders and broke the ice nicely. Even then, Soo-Hoh was dazedly staring out at the sky outside all by himself.
The end of the school day wasn’t that far away, and the blue heavens above were gradually dyeing in the hues of rich amber.
For some reason, yawns kept threatening to break out so he was having a hard time suppressing them.
Indeed, he felt bored, restless.
Recently, he often yawned for no discernible reason and felt bored more frequently than ever before.
And there was this vague, distant feeling that he used to know ‘things’ that made his heart race and surprised him at every turn. Whenever he was beset with such feelings, it became harder to endure against this sense of boredom.
The door to the classroom slid open. The gazes of the kids all shifted over to the rear door. Jo Seong-Ho didn’t display much of a reaction and returned to his assigned seat.
Kids were looking at his wound-filled face with gazes of envy and respect. Without a doubt, the top dog of this classroom had changed from Lee Eun-Cheol to Jo Seong-Ho.
Soo-Hoh remained disinterested as he continued to stare outside the window, only for his attention to be brought back to reality by someone poking him on his back. He looked behind him to find a female student with a neat appearance there trying to talk to him.
“The friend saving you came back looking like that, so aren’t you going to go and say hello, at the least?”
“…..I already did.”
The girl heard his curt reply and as if she got embarrassed by this exchange, hurriedly opened her textbook to hide her face. Meanwhile, he reverted his gaze back to the skies outside.
The sun was creeping closer to the horizon.
The school day was finally over.
While everyone was hurriedly trying to escape from this institution of learning, only Soo-Hoh remained standing by the window to look at the athletics field outside.
Other students were filing out of the school’s front gate. He didn’t like the melee of confusion like that. His mom always laughed and said that he was exactly like his father in that regard.
He read the book he borrowed from the library before raising his head back up, thinking that maybe he should start heading back home now. There was no one else besides him in the classroom.
Soo-Hoh leisurely packed his bag and slung it over his shoulder.
It was fine to be relaxed and laid back, but if he were to waste any more time than this, he’d definitely arrive home late for dinner, and that would mean he’d have to face the wrath of his mother.
It’d be a relief if the story ended there. If the news of his mom getting angry reached his father’s ears…..
‘Euk, d*mn it. I imagined what would happen to me.’
Soo-Hoh was overcome with a nasty case of goosebumps and hurriedly shook his head. Just how old would his father have to be before he wasn’t so scary anymore?
Seriously now, he got this sneaking suspicion that, even if his father ended up becoming an old man, Soo-Ho would still never win against him.
He shuddered once more and quickly headed to the rear door of the classroom. But, when he tried to open it….
‘The door…. doesn’t want to open?’
If it was locked, then there was no way this thing wouldn’t budge like this, since it was none other than himself tugging at it. The door showed no signs of moving, as if it was a wall, to begin with.
‘What’s going on?’
Soo-Hoh’s eyes grew rounder and this time, he ran to the front door and grabbed its handle. But it was the same story here, too.
Now thoroughly shocked, he quickly ran to the window and took a look outside. That was when a truly unbelievable spectacle manifested itself before his eyes.
Every single student leaving through the school gates; students exercising on the field, cars passing on the road, pedestrians walking on the pavement, and even the kicked ball flying in the air…..
….Everything had come to a dead stop.
‘But, how can something like this be….?!’
Soo-Hoh clenched both of his fists real tight and slammed at the window with all of his might.
Too bad, the window not only didn’t shatter from the impact, but his fists also bounced away from it as if he was hitting a rubber wall.
It happened then.
Soo-Hoh retreated from the windows and while taking hurried steps backwards, he tried very hard to figure out what was going on in his head.
And that’s when ‘it’ appeared.
Soo-Hoh’s head snapped towards the black circular ‘hole’ that appeared out of nowhere at the back of the classroom. It was no bigger than the size of a volleyball, but it rapidly grew larger and larger until it was big enough for a single person to walk through.
It was basically a doorway of darkness, so dark that it felt like he was being sucked in.
Regular kids might have been scared out of their wits by this development, but… Rather than crying out or screaming, Soo-Hoh placed his hand on his chest, instead.
Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump.
His agitated heart was pounding away in exhilaration.
Just maybe, it was possible that he was waiting for something like this for a long, long time.
‘Mom said that I resemble my dad all the time, doesn’t she?’
If it was his father, then… What would he have done?
The answer was pretty obvious, though.
Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump….
Because his pounding heart was already making his legs move.
Soo-Hoh stood before the ‘Gate’ and touched its surface.
Although there were some sparks of electricity, he didn’t feel any pain. No, he felt so much better instead, as if he was returning to his hometown that he had to leave behind a long time ago.
There was this strange, vague sense of deja vu as if he had already entered a place like this one before.
Soo-Hoh slowly but carefully regulated his breathing. His wildly-beating heart finally regained some calmness and the inside of his head seemed to clear up.
A brief flash of a grin formed on his face.
And then, he jumped inside the ‘Gate’ without a moment’s hesitation.