After achieving the miraculous feat of traveling a distance of 30 minutes by car in less than 10 minutes by bicycle, Kang Jin-Ho smartly parked his bike by a shady corner and secured it with his trusty lock.
If some random passerby recognized the bike's brand, that person might try to break the lock by any means possible and steal the bicycle.
However, Kang Jin-Ho was not bothered by that possibility.
Getting worked up about such things would mean he would eventually become a slave to the bicycle.
He wasn't an idiot incapable of getting his priorities straight.
A bicycle was nothing more than a means of transport for him.
No matter how expensive it was, treating a bicycle like royalty would eventually make it more valuable than actual people.
Kang Jin-Ho had witnessed enough similar cases in the past and tried his best to avoid experiencing it himself.
Of course, most normal people would never dare to park a bicycle so carelessly on the side of the road when it cost over ten million won.
Kang Jin-Ho's aim was to live as ordinarily as possible, even with all that wealth at his disposal, but he still hadn't figured out that his current attitude was a long way off from what people considered 'ordinary.’
“You're here!” Park Yu-Min waved at his friend.
Kang Jin-Ho walked up to him and asked, “Don't you have tournaments or something today?”
“No one holds tournaments on new year's eve! Broadcasters need their breaks too, you know.”
“How unprofessional,” said Kang Jin-Ho with a tut.
Park Yu-Min made a tearful face.
“Spare me, will you? Please?”
Kang Jin-Ho smirked at that.
Despite his criticism, he knew that Park Yu-Min was skipping sleep to practice as much as possible.
That was why Kang Jin-Ho wished Park Yu-Min to be rewarded for his efforts.
Sadly, this world didn't always reward you for your hard work.
It was especially more pronounced in the world Park Yu-Min had occupied—'effort' didn't necessarily equate to 'skill,’ after all.
Moreover, Kang Jin-Ho had already experienced the emptiness of such a world before.
However, you also couldn't succeed if you didn't put in the required effort.
A world where your efforts might never get rewarded, but you still need to work hard if you want to succeed…
What a cruel and harsh world this was…
“Hmm? The team director wants you to stay in the dorms?” Kang Jin-Ho asked with a cocked eyebrow.
Park Yu-Min replied while nodding, “Yeah.
Now that I've graduated from high school, he wants me to stop wasting time and quickly join the rest of the crew.”
“What will you do?”
“I would've said yes, but…
Thanks to you, I'm not so sure anymore.”
“Because of me?” Kang Jin-Ho replied, not understanding why he was to blame here.
Park Yu-Min stared at his friend with a slight pout.
Did he already forget about it? “The university application, remember?”
Park Yu-Min couldn't win against Kang Jin-Ho's relentless pressure and ended up submitting his application papers to Jaegyeong University.
He tried to decline, saying that there was no way he would get accepted in the first place.
Besides, going to a university didn't seem like a good idea either.
However, Kang Jin-Ho threatened and coerced his friend in a 'gentle' voice until he made Park Yu-Min sign the application papers.
“What will I gain by going to a university, anyway?” Park Yu-Min asked with a groan.
“You will need the qualifications later in your life.”
“Besides, if I go there, I…” Park Yu-Min couldn't finish the rest of his sentence.
He must have been worried about trying to blend in with a new group of people.
Kang Jin-Ho spoke in an unconcerned voice, “You will be fine.”
“And your major will be business management.”
Business management? Park Yu-Min suddenly felt dizzy.
He thought his major would be related to computers, so what was going on here?
“Huh? Business management? Why?”
“Because I chose it.”
“Heol…” Park Yu-Min was rendered speechless at Kang Jin-Ho's boldness in choosing majors without asking for the opinion of the person in question.
“I thought my major would be engineering-related, though?!”
Kang Jin-Ho tutted as if he was stating the obvious, “Yu-Min, you're a pro gamer.”
“Not a programmer…”
“Can you survive the engineering course where math formulas and all kinds of weird symbols run amok?”
Park Yu-Min firmly shook his head.
There was no need to think about this too hard, since he knew that was a total impossibility.
Even before he had a chance to worry about blending in with his peers, he would have to drop out of the course altogether if he failed to get good grades.
“As such, all you have to do is stick close to me.
I shall explain things that you don't get during the lectures,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
“Jin-Ho, it's still not a done deal yet, you know?”
“Not a done deal? For who? You or me?”
Park Yu-Min frowned deeply.
They might be friends, but Kang Jin-Ho could be so annoying sometimes.
“They'll obviously accept you, Jin-Ho!”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded confidently.
“You'll also get accepted, so no need to worry.”
“How do you know that? I haven't even done an interview with the university yet.”
“I just know.”
“Does it matter?” Kang Jin-Ho tried to brush the inquiry aside.
The Jaegyeong University where he and Park Yu-Min were going to study at was owned by the Jaegyeong Foundation.
Hence, finding out about the ongoings of that place wasn't that difficult for Kang Jin-Ho.
In a normal circumstance, Park Yu-Min would never get accepted by the university.
However, his 'connections' could help him get through the door.
But there was a difficult hurdle to clear in the form of Kang Jin-Ho's personal belief of not negatively affecting other people even for the sake of his friends.
The grades of other applicants were so far ahead of Park Yu-Min's that there was no competition here.
Jo Gyu-Min had racked his brain until it began smoking from overwork regarding this matter.
Eventually, he managed to compile a report and submit it, but Hwang Jeong-Hu only had one dismayed response to it.
“What on Earth are you thinking, man? Simply create another screening criterion, and add one more slot to the T/O.
That will take care of this.”
What a Hwang Jeong-Hu-esque response that was—it was the kind of solution only the former would unhesitantly make.
So much so that even Kang Jin-Ho was momentarily left stupefied by it.
Afterward, everything quickly clicked into gear.
One could argue that this sort of preferential treatment was on the verge of corruption, but Kang Jin-Ho was no idealist that criticized or abhorred such practices.
No, he was more of a realist who would stop at nothing to achieve his original goal.
Without that kind of mindset, he would never have become Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor and survived the halls of the demonic cult.
“Hey, Kang Jin-Ho!”
“Mm?” Kang Jin-Ho looked up after someone called out his name.
It was Han Se-Yeon, and she was shouting at him, “Why haven't you said hello yet!”
“Good day to you, madam.”
“Mmhm. That's better.” Han Se-Yeon smirked softly and pulled him closer.
She reached up and struggled to wrap her arms around his broad shoulders located so much higher than her own.
She eventually gave up, though, and began grinning brightly instead.
“It's been a while, so off to the karaoke!”
Kang Jin-Ho groaned, “Again?”
“What do you mean, again? When was the last time we went to have some fun in…
Hang on a minute.
How many times did you go to karaoke without me?”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
“I have a headache today.”
“Yeah, right! Anyway, we can't drink until midnight today, so let's just kick up a storm and have fun until then!”
Han Se-Yeon smirked deeply.
“Don't you know that we'll officially be adults starting from midnight today? Which means~, we are allowed to drink booze! I've always wanted to enter a pub on the dawn of the first day of my adulthood, you know!”
“…Sure thing.” Kang Jin-Ho was unimpressed, but Jeong In-Gyu and others were cheering loudly at what Han Se-Yeon had said.
What was so good about being acknowledged as an adult, though? Maybe they had no idea that being an adult also carried the hidden weight called responsibility that could crush you in the blink of an eye? Kang Jin-Ho just couldn't understand his friends’ reactions.
“Whatever, let's get going.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head and followed after his friends.
A short while later…
Kang Jin-Ho squeezed his eyes shut while silently calling out to his mother.
'I'm stuck in a nightmare…'
He was witnessing the scene of a group of youths madly shaking their bodies around in an apparent attempt to dance without a single drop of alcohol in their systems.
Just what on earth had taken over them? How could humans be so excited by the mere act of singing through loudspeakers inside a closed-off room and go utterly mad?
Kang Jin-Ho's irises were quaking nonstop while taking in this crazy scene.
Was this how humans were supposed to have fun? Back then, Kang Jin-Ho had been paralyzed and had become a shut-in even before he had the chance to come into contact with the modern-day entertainment culture.
Then, he had traveled back in time to Zhongyuan where 'singing' usually was accompanied by gentle instruments like zithers.
No wonder he found modern entertainment so disorientating.
The last karaoke lounge wasn't like this, so why?!'
Kang Jin-Ho desperately refused their requests for him to come up to the stage and did his best to dig deeper into a corner of the room.
that was the best and the only form of resistance he could resort to.
The group had a roaring good time at the karaoke lounge, and they exited before the clock struck midnight.
Han Se-Yeon egged Kang Jin-Ho on.
He was dismayed by her.
Wasn't she tired or something? These kids had been madly dancing and singing for almost three hours straight now, yet they were still telling him to hurry up with nary a sign of fatigue? Even though Kang Jin-Ho had been sitting still, he seemed more exhausted than his friends.
He groaned, “Where are we going now?”
“They are going to ring the bell, right? We should go there and make a wish!”
“Come on, hurry up! You're always so slow!”
Kang Jin-Ho's friends dragged him to a location in the city teeming with a crowd of partygoers.
He cocked an eyebrow and scanned the ocean of people.
“Why are there so many people here?”
Park Yu-Min grinned and explained, “They are here for the striking of the bell, you know.”
“Striking of the bell?”
It's the ceremony to bid goodbye to the year that has been and to welcome the new year.
The bell will be struck 108 times at midnight to wish for another fruitful year.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded while faintly recalling that such a ceremony did exist.
Didn't the people of Zhongyuan also hold some kind of ancestral rites to welcome the new year? Not that such things mattered to him, though.
“Oh, I see.”
He still couldn't understand why so many people decided to turn up for such a plain reason, though.
The folks of the modern era were no cavemen believing in superstitions.
In that case, did all these people come here because they really believed in the bell-ringing ceremony or just to have some fun?
Wouldn't spending the new year's day with your family and loved ones be more fulfilling than this?
Park Yu-Min tilted his head.
“What are you thinking so hard about?”
“It's nothing important.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head, thinking that he shouldn't say what he was thinking out loud.
It would be akin to labeling everyone here as morons, after all.
So, he slightly redirected the flow of conversation.
“Do we really have to do this, though?”
“What do you mean? The striking of the bell?”
“No, not that.
I'm talking about us coming here to witness the ceremony.”
“Why not? Don't you think it's fun?”
Kang Jin-Ho asked with a tut, “What's so fun about it?”
It's the new year, right? People usually wish for something special and joyous to happen in the new year, don't they? That's why they come here, you know.
And then, they make their wishes.
Wishing for happiness and good fortune in the future.
And for their worries and hardships to disappear.
Something like that.”
“Mmhmm…” Kang Jin-Ho nodded again, recalling that he used to think that way in the past, too.
'I guess humans don't really change no matter how long has it been.'
He couldn't remember when it had happened, but from a certain point in time, Kang Jin-Ho had stopped praying or making wishes to God or other supernatural entities.
He believed that praying wouldn't solve any of his problems.
Still, there were times he dearly wished for a helping hand from a greater force than himself—even though he knew that praying was a waste of time and wouldn't help him in any way, shape, or form.
Maybe they are searching for something to comfort them.'
Perhaps the modern era was a lonelier place to live than the ancient times.
Park Yu-Min cried out.
“It's starting! Hurry, make your wish!”
“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven…”
“Come on, make your wish!”
Kang Jin-Ho rubbed his chin.
“My wish, is it?”
“Yeah! You make it as the bell is struck!”
Do I have any? Not sure if it qualifies as one, but there is something I do want, so that should suffice.’
“Three! Two! One!”
The loud reverberation of the ringing bell rocked the landscape.
Kang Jin-Ho made his wish at the same time.
A 'wish' about something he had always been craving for.
'Let me live an ordinary life.'
Just like now…
It might get bothersome, and irritating things might keep cropping up, but…
As long as he could live like a normal human by laughing, crying, enjoying, wallowing, and…
The ringing of the bell continued to echo throughout the land.
For some reason, Kang Jin-Ho felt his heart at ease.
'This isn't so bad.'
Judging something he had no experience in was a totally different matter from having an opinion on things he already knew.
So, for the first time in ages, Kang Jin-Ho changed his mind.
Han Se-Yeon walked up to him.
“Did you make your wish?”
“What did you wish for?”
Just for things to continue they are.”
Han Se-Yeon sounded surprised.
“Eh? What kind of a wish is that? That's not even a wish, you know?”
Kang Jin-Ho crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“What about you, then?”
“You're not supposed to tell others about your wish.”
“Mmhm? Why did you ask me for mine, then?”
“I was just starting a conversation, you know.
But you just went on your own and told me.”
Kang Jin-Ho clicked his tongue in disbelief.
Why did it feel like she was always running laps around him?
He grumbled unhappily, “Just come out and say it, will you?”
I'll never tell you.
Not you, Jin-Ho!”
“Heh. Let's go!”
Kang Jin-Ho could only pout while watching Han Se-Yeon trot away from him.
After groaning, he walked up to his waiting friends.
Friends, peaceful days…
Those were things he had desperately wanted to acquire.
Things he dreamed of having one day.
And Kang Jin-Ho had them now.
Yes, it wasn't perfect.
He still had plenty of things to get used to, and he still had many more things to acquire.
'Just like this…'
A faint grin crept up on Kang Jin-Ho's lips.
A year had come to an end, and a new one was welcoming him with open arms.
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