Chapter 1: 99,991
tw for workplace sexual harassment
Few people nowadays know it, but there’s an old legend about a shaman that could heal people by entering their dreams. The shaman, a young woman, would travel across her village to heal people and settle the grudges of wayward spirits. She was revered in her village for her work, and word of her powers spread to the ears of the royal family. Soon after she was called upon to heal the royal prince. He couldn’t wake up, seemingly trapped in his dreams.
Together with his fiancé, she stayed with him for three days and three nights, placating the spirits that haunted the prince one by one. They parted when he woke, and she returned to her village. Afterwards the prince displayed strange behavior, often staring off into space and smiling like a fool. Unknown to the shaman, rumors began to spread that the low-born woman had bewitched him.
Luckily, the shaman’s mother possessed the power of foresight, and predicted that a mob would come for the shaman. Her mother ordered her to leave, handing her a trusted dagger for safety. That night, their house burned down. Upon seeing the smoke, the shaman returned to check on her mother. But when she arrived, it was too late—she was already dead.
Overcome with grief over her mother’s death and hatred for the culprits, the young woman hung herself on one of the four sacred trees of the kingdom. As she died, she cursed the kingdom, and the sacred tree burst into flames.
Honestly, Han Sooyoung’s impressed her story survived this long. And though it’s mostly correct (she fucked the prince and his fiancé, she’s not a homewrecker), she supposes it’s good enough. The truth is notoriously difficult to obtain, after all.
And Han Sooyoung would know. As punishment for her sins she must settle the grudges of 100,000 people. She’s so close, only 10 more to go, but people are stingy lately. For centuries they jumped at the opportunity to dump their problems on Han Sooyoung, yet now that she needs them, everyone’s suddenly bearing their problems in silence? What bullshit.
She slumps down into a subway train seat alongside her fellow ghost Yoo Joonghyuk. He is her sole employee at her pop-up bar that appears at night. The whole thing is of course a ruse to attract people with grudges, but Yoo Joonghyuk takes his duty as chef seriously. Which means that she’s spent the last 10 minutes listening to him grumble that his favorite spice brand was sold out at the market. Or at least pretending to listen, as Han Sooyoung is an expert at tuning Yoo Joonghyuk out.
What she can’t ignore, however, is the loud asshole a few seats up.
“Yoo Sangah, why don’t you ever accept my offer for a ride home?”
“Department head Han Myungoh, I’m fine heading home on my own.”
“Even though your bike is broken?”
“...how did you know about that? I didn’t tell anyone at work.”
“Wait, did you break my bike?!?”
“What do you mean? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Even from over here Han Sooyoung can smell the bullshit spewing from his mouth. What a pest? Surely the train wouldn’t mind if she squashed him. Yoo Joonghyuk squeezes Han Sooyoung’s knee. He mouths, “don’t.” Tch. Usually the bastard is stupid but today he might have a point. Besides, she hates humans anyways, so she supposes it’s okay to let this one go. She’s a patient woman, she isn’t going to lose it over one subway creep. But this creep doesn’t know when to quit and continues.
“Did you forget why you were offered a permanent position?”
“What are you talking about? The company said it was because of my good performance.”
“I have a lot of sway over who gets promoted and whose contact gets terminated. I put in a good word for you, so don’t you think you should be accepting my kind offers?”
“Don’t touch me!” The woman swats away the creep’s wandering hand.
“Hey,” the man’s kind facade quickly vanishes, “I was being nice you know? A lowly employee like you should know your place and— “
No, Han Sooyoung supposes she isn’t a patient woman at all, a realization she has as she wraps her hand around the asshole’s throat.
“And what? You think just because you have a little power that you’re better than everyone else? That you can do whatever you want with people’s lives? Hah? Asshole. Do us all a favor and take that car of yours for a drive off a cliff. People like you are pathetic.”
The man’s knees hit the ground of the subway car as the train reaches Han Sooyoung’s destination. Great timing, it would be a pain if someone called the authorities. With Yoo Joonghyuk in tow, she exits the train, one last glare directed at the man.
Thoroughly embarrassed, yet terrified of the woman that just strangled him, Han Myungoh waits one more stop then scurries off the train.
“We’re not done with this, just you wait,” he yells over his shoulder as he runs off.
Yoo Sangah closes her eyes and wills her tears to stay hidden. When she opens then, she accidentally makes direct eye contact with her fellow game company Minosoft co-worker, Kim Dokja.
Kim Dokja had been mentally prepping himself up to help Yoo Sangah for the last several minutes. He knows his employment contract isn’t going to be renewed, so what does he have to lose? Does Han Myungoh even know who he is? But when he finally worked up the courage, a beautiful woman beat him to it.
The choking was something thoroughly earned, and the way she raised her arm so Han Myungoh would have to balance on his toes was a nice touch. Honestly, she did a better job than Kim Dokja would have. His game plan was just to ask Han Myungoh to stop, maybe even pretend to be Yoo Sangah’s boyfriend if it seemed like Han Myungoh would believe the lie.
But now Kim Dokja faces a different dilemma. Yoo Sangah knows that he’s here, and that he didn’t help her. He has to say something, anything to make the situation better. He remembers the time he saw Yoo Sangah pour pepper into the communal coffee machine and blurts out “we could put laxatives in his coffee. Maybe he’d shit all over that fancy car of his?”
Yoo Sangah can’t help herself, she giggles at the mental image.
“You think he would? Ah, but that isn’t necessary. It is okay.”
Despite the reassurance, Kim Dokja doesn’t think it’s okay. There is a kind of heavy silence that surrounds someone that is drowning in their thoughts, and this heaviness clings to Yoo Sangah. It follows her off the train, all the way to the road where, too buried in her thoughts, Yoo Sangah steps in front of a moving bus.
“Yoo Sangah! Watch out!”
Luckily Kim Dokja grabs the back of Yoo Sangah’s sweater and yanks her back. The angry bus driver’s curses fade away as the bus drives off. A few people turn their heads then return to their normal commute. But on this busy road, Yoo Sangah and Kim Dokja remain frozen by the weight of what just happened.
Yoo Sangah’s lips are chapped. He’s never been this close to the woman to notice before. It isn’t cold outside, so it’s probably from nervous biting. The concealer under her eyes runs thin after a long day, and the skin underneath betrays her weariness.
Kim Dokja isn’t a social person. After years of crushed hopes, he prefers not to reach out altogether. But he isn’t heartless either. Perhaps it’s because he understands how Yoo Sangah feels, perhaps it’s because he feels guilty for not helping her sooner, but he reaches out once again.
“Do you want to grab a drink? We can think about more ways to make Han Myungoh shit himself.”
Yoo Sangah blinks up at Kim Dokja, clearly debating her options.
“...or we can not talk about him at all” Kim Dokja amends. It was the correct thing to say, judging by how Yoo Sangah visibly brightens.
“I’d like that.”
“Good. Then how about that pop-up bar over there? I have several coupons...”
Inside the pop-up bar, Han Sooyoung broods over her own impending ‘end.’ Uriel, the angel of death, came to visit. It wasn’t the usual visit to grab a drink and swipe food from Yoo Joonghyuk. She came to deliver the news that Anna Croft, the God of the Underworld, set a deadline of one month for Han Sooyoung’s 100,000 grudges. If she doesn’t succeed, she will be sent to the hell of extinction.
Han Sooyoung is notoriously not good at handling shock. She chased the poor angel around the bar, yelling at her to “just send me then! Send me to hell already you fucking oxymoron!” Yoo Joonghyuk had to lift her by the back of her sweater to allow Uriel to escape.
“I’m calm, I’m calm. Now put me down.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You bastard?!? You’re stretching out my sweater put me down!”
Yoo Joonghyuk lets go of Han Sooyoung and returns behind the counter. He resumes polishing the glasses and waits for the incoming tirade.
“This is bullshit. This is such bullshit! 999,990 grudges settled over the past 500 years, and it doesn’t fucking matter because of the last 10? Bullshit! A hundred years ago, people would chase me with their problems. I could finish 10 in less than a week! But now no one comes by food carts. They order delivery and complain about their problems anonymously online. How am I supposed to enter their dreams then? Hah? What does Anna Croft want me to do about that?”
“You could not hang yourself from a tree,” Yoo Joonghyuk retorts as he runs his cloth over a particularly cloudy spot.
This bastard was assigned to her as help, yet all he does is antagonize her. This is probably some punishment for him, after all, he was some hotshot in the afterlife judging by how Uriel speaks of him. Or maybe he just really wants to be a chef, Han Sooyoung be damned.
“Don’t strain your brain on my behalf, employee of the month, I’ll think of something. Oh! How about I become a streamer, like those gamers you watch? Something like:
‘Hi guys! Welcome to Grudges with Han Sooyoung, where you tell me what’s troubling you and I give you advice. Send in your troubles in the chat!’
Of course, if I can’t resolve their grudges online I’ll hunt them down and enter their dreams. Pretty good, right?”
“I now understand why people leave hate comments.”
“You’re no fun. Why don’t you get out there and bring us customers? Use that handsome face of yours.”
“No. Do it yourself.”
“You bas—wait. That’s not a bad idea.”
Yoo Joonghyuk unexpectedly has a point? She is beautiful. If she dresses up a little and advertises, people will flock to the bar.
“.... Don’t consider it. The ‘grudges’ would all be sexual frustration. Just hand out more coupons.”
“No one ever uses those coupons!”
Just as she gets up to grab them, a man and a woman walk in, the man holding two coupons. Han Sooyoung ignores Yoo Joonghyuk’s smug look.
“Hello! Welcome to the Mystic Pop-up Bar.”
“Ah!” the man exclaims, “you’re the woman from the train earlier.”
“So what if I am?” Han Sooyoung is not in the mood for some random fool’s opinions.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that. You were amazing! I would offer to buy you some food, but I guess this is your bar...”
What a surprisingly cute person?
“It was no problem, really. Hmmmm. You,” Han Sooyoung points at the woman, “were the one that jerk harassed, right? I’ll tell you what, your first bottle of soju is on the house. I’ll also throw in some side dishes.”
After taking their orders, Han Sooyoung sits back and listens in. After today’s events she is basically guaranteed a grudge or two.
Leaving the busy streets of Seoul behind in the red tent of the pop-up bar eases Kim Dokja’s heart. The whole bar consists of a few tables next to the bar-and-grill counter. The only two other people, the handsome chef and the beautiful owner, keep to themselves behind the counter. It’s a cozy place, he’ll have to stop by more often once he lands a stable job. Kim Dokja quickly packs these thoughts away for later. Right now, Yoo Sangah is his priority.
The multiple drinks do nothing to loosen Yoo Sangah’s lips, and she continues to insist that everything is fine. Even the owner is exasperated. Well, there is one way for Kim Dokja to get the truth out of Yoo Sangah, but he doesn’t like to use it.
Ever since Kim Dokja can remember, any time he touches another person, they are compelled to tell him their innermost thoughts. Living with this ability has made Kim Dokja appreciate the beauty of the polite lie, and of personal boundaries. He doesn’t want to use his power on Yoo Sangah, but as usual the universe makes the choice for him.
The alcohol in her system finally shows up and Yoo Sangah spills her drink on Kim Dokja’s hand. The owner brings over some napkins, but Yoo Sangah is faster. She reflexively tries to wipe it off but freezes as she touches his hand. A somber look spreads across Yoo Sangah’s face.
“Dokja-ssi, will you please listen to my troubles?”
“Of course, Sangah-ssi.”
He doesn’t want to, not in this way, but he doesn’t have the heart to turn her down.
“I knew it wasn’t safe to walk without paying attention. A part of me was hoping that something bad would happen, like that bus that almost hit me. It was on purpose.”
The concerned chef brings over an extra plate of food. He joins the now full table listening to Yoo Sangah’s story.
“This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this. He’s always there, always finds me. We’re not even in the same department! He strokes my arms, rubs my shoulders, and he whispers in my ear, it’s disgusting! He claims that I’m like a little sister to him, but that’s bullshit! Who touches their sister like that?!?
Anyways, I—when I found out that he was responsible for my promotion I felt like I was in the palm of his hand. I can’t sleep at night. I don’t feel safe anymore.”
Wow. What a deep grudge this is, and it is one Han Sooyoung will enjoy resolving. But first, she needs to get rid of the woman’s companion.
“Hey, you. I need to talk to your friend—alone. Go to the restroom, it’s outside and to the right. And take this before you go.”
She hands the teetering man a Dokkaebi Morning Recovery Pack (TM) and sends him on his way.
“Now that we’re alone, tell me. How would you get revenge on that slimy bastard? Reveal embarrassing secrets? Make him publicity shit himself? Be creative.”
“No, not something like that.”
Oh crap, this better not be some ‘I want him to see the error of his ways’ bullshit, that’s too difficult. Han Sooyoung blames the media—why do all villains need to be redeemed nowadays? Can’t they just be hated?
“Because something like that would be a light prank compared to what he did to me. I want him to know what it feels like to be backed into a corner with no hope of escape. I want him to feel what he put me through. That’s what I want.”
Ah, so there are still worthwhile humans these days. Han Sooyoung finds herself smiling. She pulls out a bottle of alcohol that she keeps for ‘special occasions.’
“Here, let me pour you this drink. It’s said to be a lucky alcohol, if you drink it, your wishes come true.”
Yoo Sangah downs the cup in one go and her eyes flutter shut shortly after. Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk approach her, ready to begin their job. They reach out to touch her forehead, then disappear.
By the time Kim Dokja returns from the restroom, he notices a few differences. From the outside, the pop-up bar seems as if it’s fading in and out of existence. Yoo Sangah is passed out and slumped over the table. And aside from the two of them, no one else is in the bar. He reaches out to shake Yoo Sangah awake, but the moment he touches her, Kim Dokja disappears too.
Yoo Sangah comes to in the Minosoft security cctv room. The numerous monitors in front of her loop footage of Han Myungoh’s harassment, displaying her most shameful moments. As she sinks to the floor, one screen catches her eye. It’s definitely Han Myungoh, but the woman isn’t her, it’s...the bar owner?!?
“Yoo Sangah, did you do something with your hair? Anyways, could you pour your superior a cup of coffee?” Han Myungoh runs his hands down ‘Yoo Sangah’s’ arms.
The idiot didn’t even notice the obvious height difference. He wants some coffee? Fine. Han Sooyoung grabs the fresh pot and whips around.
“You must have the wrong person. Tell me,” Han Sooyoung pours some of the coffee down Han Myungoh’s shirt, and he screams from the pain. “Is this something you should do? Touch people when it’s inappropriate?” She throws some more coffee at him, this time aimed at his crotch. No matter how much coffee Han Sooyoung throws at him, the pot remains full, and the temperature remains scalding.
Kim Dokja arrives at the scene as Han Myungoh fights back. He flings heavier office supplies at Han Sooyoung in hopes of knocking the woman out. The director fails to notice the other man sneak up on him, and Kim Dokja knocks out Han Myungoh with a fire extinguisher.
Yoo Joonghyuk joins the two over the unconscious body, grunting appreciatively at the sight.
“I found the woman. She’s in the security room on the—wait.” He turns to Kim Dokja. “What is he doing here?”
“I don’t know? I was at the bar and Yoo Sangah was asleep, but now I am at work? And I just assaulted a superior. Oh shit.”
Han Sooyoung exclaims, “Wait, you found the bar again? That’s impossible.” She turns to Yoo Joonghyuk. “That isn’t possible, right?”
Yoo Joonghyuk ponders the situation. There is one way it could be possible. He waves a hand over the man’s head. Sure enough, a glowing light appears.
“There. His spirit door wasn’t closed at birth, that’s how he came back. You, do people act strange towards you? Do they seek you out?”
“Yes!” The situation is strange, but this could be helpful. It is the first time anyone recognized Kim Dokja’s special condition. “All my life people follow me and tell me their innermost thoughts when they touch me.”
Ah, that explains it. Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk nod in unison.
Han Sooyoung decides to explain the situation to their helpful intruder.
“This is a dream. Yoo Sangah’s dream, to be specific. Every human has a spirit door that gets closed when they are born, but yours was left open, which is the cause of your powers and why you can come here. Normal humans can’t enter dreams like this.”
“Does that mean that you two aren’t ordinary humans?”
“Correct! We’re ghosts. I am the wonderful genius Han Sooyoung, and that fool over there is Yoo Joonghyuk.”
“Oh, uh, nice to meet you. I am Kim Dokja. Um, you said something about my spirit door. If it’s open when it shouldn’t be, it be closed?”
“Of course it can, you’re not some great shaman after all. This is nothing for someone like me.”
Before they can discuss any further, a door clicks shut. While they were talking, Han Myungoh woke up and snuck away. The three chase him through the building, and damn the bastard is fast. Not fast enough to outrun Yoo Joonghyuk though, who follows him to the rooftop. A few moments later, after the elevator reaches the top floor, Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja also make their appearance. Since Han Myungoh still insists on running, Han Sooyoung pulls out her old dagger and throws it so that the handle knocks the man down. Yoo Joonghyuk grabs the man by his neck and dangles him over the ledge of the roof.
Han Sooyoung glances at the security camera and mouths “pay attention” with a wink. Stoic as he seems, Yoo Joonghyuk likes to throw a grand finale.
He turns to Kim Dokja and asks, “What do you think? Am I going to throw him over, or not?”
Kim Dokja still isn’t sure about this being a dream, and while he’s okay with knocking his boss out he’s not down to murder the man.
“You obviously shouldn’t throw him?”
“You hear that? Your cute employee wants to spare you.” At this point, Han Myungoh is hysterical, and can only nod while sobbing.
“Lucky for you that I am in a good mood today and asked him, otherwise...what’s that smell?” There’s a stain on Han Myungoh’s pants that’s suspiciously darker than the coffee.
“That’s disgusting. Never mind.” Yoo Joonghyuk flings Han Myungoh over the edge of the building as if the man was nothing more than a paper cup. It alarms Kim Dokja, but he appreciates the man’s strength, and those well-developed muscles. He glances down at his own physique. Perhaps he should work out more.
When the trio returns to the building, they follow Yoo Joonghyuk down to the security room where Yoo Sangah hides. Kim Dokja reaches for the door handle, but it won’t budge.
“It’s locked. Hey, if this is a dream, couldn’t you open it?”
Han Sooyoung sighs. “Normally, yes. But this is Yoo Sangah’s dream, and she’s the one keeping the door closed. That room represents her memories, and she doesn’t want anyone to see them.”
Kim Dokja knocks on the door. “Yoo Sangah? Can you hear me? It’s Kim Dokja. It may be scary to show others painful memories, but why should you be ashamed? It’s his crimes, he should be the one that is ashamed!
...it was fun watching Han Myungoh get beat up, right?
But this is just a dream. In the real world, you are the one that needs to punish him.”
It’s a great speech, probably one of the best he’s given. And yet, there’s no response from the other side of the door. He’s about to turn to the others for help when Han Sooyoung snaps.
“Hey!” she yells as she pounds the door. “Are you fucking serious?!? We did all this, and you won’t come out?!? Fine! Stay in there! Wallow in your fear forever.”
The two men stare at her as if she is a dumbass, but the click of the lock signals that the outburst works. Yoo Sangah opens the door and steps out of the room, scared but determined.
“You’re right, thank you for doing all of this for me. I won’t lose to my fear.”
“Hmph, that’s what I thought. Someone that drinks at my bar doesn’t get pushed around by such pathetic assholes.”
The next morning Yoo Sangah holds her breath as the supervisor reviews the video evidence of Han Myungoh’s sexual harassment. She isn’t sure where the inspiration came from, but she woke up feeling like she should take it upon herself to punish Han Myungoh, that he should be the one ashamed of the contents of the videos. But still, she can’t help but be nervous.
Director Asmodeus closes the laptop and folds his hands.
“Yoo Sangah, thank you for being brave enough to share this with me. There is more than enough evidence to prove your case. And between you and me, I can’t wait to rip that guy a new one.”
“Thank you, Director.”
The tension drains from Yoo Sangah’s body, leaving her feeling weightless. After Asmodeus leaves, she pumps her fist in the air before straightening her clothes and returning to her desk.
In a different department, Kim Dokja starts to think hiding a dagger beneath his pants is a bad idea.
The night before, when they exited Yoo Sangah’s dream, Han Sooyoung gave him a proposition.
“I can help you close your spirit door, but it won’t come free.”
“What do you want? If it’s money I don’t have any.”
Han Sooyoung leans into his personal space and presses a finger to his chest.
“I want your body.”
Maybe they’re in his dream now?
“I-I’m a virgin.” Probably not, because in his dream he would say something cooler than that, at least.
Yoo Joonghyuk chimes in from behind the counter.
“That’s not what she meant; you fool.”
It would be intimidating but there’s amusement in his voice. Han Sooyoung explains her predicament and how Kim Dokja’s powers can help her.
“Every night after work you’ll come to this bar and help me uncover grudges. If you help me resolve 10, well now 9, more grudges in one month, I’ll close your spirit door. Do we have a deal?” She pulls out a contract and a pen.
“There’s a contract? I don’t know, this is all new to me...”
Han Sooyoung brushes Kim Dokja’s hair out of his eyes.
“I understand, it’s late and this all sounds like crazy bullshit, right? Well, sleep on it. Remember that dagger I threw at that creep on the roof? It’s important to me. Do me a favor and look for it at work tomorrow? That way you’ll know it really happened. Bring it back when you find it.”
Kim Dokja swallows and nods. The next thing he knows, he’s awake in his bed the next morning.
On his lunch break he hears rumors about Han Myungoh, not that he’s dead but that he’s in trouble for harassment. That must have been Yoo Sangah, good for her.
Yoo Sangah stops him in the hall and thanks him for bringing her home safely, something he is sure he didn’t do. She also asks if they could be friends. The idea fills him with a foreign warmth, and Kim Dokja accepts before telling her he needs to run off.
It takes a few minutes, but Kim Dokja does find the dagger on the roof. He now needs to figure out how to get it from the roof outside the building without anyone noticing him carrying a weapon. Seriously, how does Han Sooyoung do it? Kim Dokja decides the best way is to rest the thin dagger against his thigh via his shirt garter. He carefully waddles to his desk. It’s going to be a long day.
[The night before, after Kim Dokja left:
Yoo Joonghyuk: Are you oogling our potential employee?
Han Sooyoung: You say this but our eyes point in the same direction.
Yoo Joonghyuk: I didn’t spend the last few minutes shamelessly flirting.
Han Sooyoung: No, you did that last night. “Oooo, should I drop him?” *mimics flexing muscles* show off.]
Chapter 2: 99,992
warning: author cried while writing
The sunlight streaming in through Kim Dokja’s blinds wakes him a little earlier than he’d like. Not that he minds, it gives him time to enjoy the warmth of his girlfriend cuddled into his chest. His hands idly brush her long brown hair from her forehead, except no, that’s not right, instead her black bangs part to reveal a cute sleeping face. He strokes his thumb over the mole underneath her eye. This is better but isn’t something still missing?
The bed sags a bit, and there’s a new warmth and weight behind him. He turns his head back to see the face of his sleeping boyfriend. Now it’s complete. The hands of his lovers intertwine where they rest on his hip—they must have fallen asleep like that, how cute. Kim Dokja doesn’t get much time to appreciate the sight though, as this world begins to fall apart.
“You fool, wake up!”
Yoo Joonghyuk roughly rouses Kim Dokja from his dream. Though he found the dagger, the man still needed convincing to believe the two ghosts, so Han Sooyoung crafted a dream for him.
“So? What did you think of the dream I designed for you? Did I make up for all those missed chances?”
“W-what are you talking about?”
Kim Dokja, now bright red, can’t bring himself to look either of them in the eye.
“Your girlfriend? I modeled her after some popular idols. Pretty good, right?”
Han Sooyoung is thankfully too busy praising herself to notice Kim Dokja’s embarrassment.
“Anyways, when you help me resolve 9 grudges, I’ll close your spirit door and your life will be like that and more! What do you say?”
“Let me at least read the contract first.”
Should he have a lawyer with him? Do they even have lawyers in the afterlife? Luckily the document is only one page. It all seems fair enough, at night after work he will use his powers to help Han Sooyoung resolve 9 grudges in one month, his powers may be enhanced, etc.
“Article 6, spiritual vision may be permanently enhanced during the duration of the work? What does that mean?”
Han Sooyoung quickly reassures him, “Oh, that’s nothing, it’s just something we say to cover our asses for liability, you know? Like the part of the commercial where they talk fast but it’s never important.”
“It’s important to me! What does this mean?”
Yoo Joonghyuk clarifies, “It means your spiritual vision might get stronger, to the point where it could activate when you only look at a person.”
“Wait what?!? I didn’t know there was a risk such as this. I can live without my limbs, but I can’t risk my eyes too.”
Kim Dokja gets up to leave, and Han Sooyoung kicks Yoo Joonghyuk under the table. She hisses “I will kill you tonight then walk to hell myself.”
This stops Kim Dokja in his tracks.
“Hell? Is that what happens to you if you fail?”
“Ah, well, you know in the afterlife there are many hells? They’re all different. You spend some time there paying for mistakes and then you move on.”
Han Sooyoung tries to brush it off, but once again Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t let her get away with it.
“If she fails Han Sooyoung will be sent to the Hell of Extinction. Her soul will be ripped apart and she will disappear from existence.”
“What are you, the Afterlife brochure? Go work for Anna Croft since you like handing out information so much.”
Yoo Joonghyuk ignores Han Sooyoung completely, his eyes fixated on Kim Dokja as if he could force understanding through his gaze. Kim Dokja can’t explain it but a part of him forbids his body from leaving the bar. On his slow trudge back to his seat, he puts together an idea.
“How about this. We have a trial run. I’ll help you with one more case, and we’ll see how it goes. Deal?”
Han Sooyoung complains but ultimately agrees, then there’s nothing left for the trio to do than to wait for a customer. Yoo Joonghyuk returns to the grill, tending to the mackerel.
A young man with white hair enters the bar and stalks over to one of the tables. He’s vaguely familiar, but Kim Dokja can’t figure out why. The man orders a bottle of soju and a plate of mackerel. He scarfs down the soju, yet hesitates before the fish.
“Kim Dokja, could you give our guest a glass of water go to with his fish?”
He pours the man a glass of water.
“Kim Dokja, did you forget something?”
“Oh, yes. Here, a plate for the fish bones.”
Wow, she’s really making use of him as a bus boy. Resourceful. Han Sooyoung waves Kim Dokja over to the other side of the bar.
“Who hired you to serve water and empty plates, hah? Touch him!”
Ah, right. Kim Dokja approaches the young man again, trying to think of some excuse. It isn’t necessary, but social norms are difficult to shake.
“What is it this time? I’m trynna to enjoy my fucking meal!”
The second he opens his rude mouth Kim Dokja remembers. Of course. Kim Namwoon. The last time he saw him, the boy had black hair and fewer piercings. But there’s no mistake, it’s the same shitty brat. The hand that was about to touch Kim Namwoon’s shoulder stills. And then smacks him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Han Sooyoung give him a look as if she thought he lost his mind. But he ignores her, she’ll understand soon enough. Instead, he keeps his gaze on the brat before him. Kim Dokja’s powers take effect, and Kim Namwoon is ready to spill his inner secrets.
“It’s my birthday today.”
Of course. This was around the time the incident happened.
“I came here ‘cause the sign said the special was grilled mackerel. It’s my favorite. My dad used to make it for me on my birthday. He’s a great cook.”
It’s true, the man’s cooking was delicious. In many ways his were some of the best meals of Kim Dokja’s life. But this is not the time to reminisce. Kim Namwoon needs to finish the story. Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk need to understand the truth.
“Tell me about your father,” Kim Dokja prods.
“...he’s a good man, a real great guy, ya know? He was the head of a house that takes in orphans, the neighborhood hero or whatever. Everybody loved him. And shit, so did I. I wanted to be just like him. Maybe that’s why I did it, acting out and screwin’ everything up. He was like a dad to all these kids, ya know? And I wanted him to be a dad to just me. I caused a lot of trouble in school. ‘Acting out for attention’ or whatever.”
“Tell them the rest.”
“Ah shit, fine. You’re real nosy, you know? On my 18th birthday I threw a huge rager. Lots of alcohol, lots of people, even a few of the older orphan kids were there. Someone called the cops and they found all the booze.”
“...my dad took the fall for me. No one believed him. Everyone knew it was me, I was the fuck-up you know? But he insisted. He had to leave his job. I could tell it made him sad. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran away. Thought maybe he’d be better off without me. That was a couple years ago, but now I can’t find him. They said he took a vacation and just stayed there. I just want to see him again, while I still can.”
Unbelievable. Kim Dokja remembers the way Kim Namwoon’s father fell apart after his son’s little stint, then again after his disappearance. Now he wants to reconnect with the poor man? Bullshit, life is not so convenient.
“If you wanted to see him you should have never left. You shouldn’t have let him take the fall for your own actions. This is the price you pay for your own failures.”
“Kim Dokja! Ignore him,” Han Sooyoung hastily interjects before any more damage is done. “We can help you find your father. Can you tell us more information? Like his name, or a picture?”
It’s too late at this point though, the spell has worn off.
“What the fuck? Why’d I tell you all this? I’m not givin’ you a picture of my dad. Forget about it.”
Kim Namwoon throws a few bills on the table and leaves without even giving them a name.
“What the fuck was that?!? All you had to do was touch him and let me do my job, not be some righteous asshole!”
“Did you not hear him? What he did to his father? He doesn’t deserve help.”
“He was a child! And that isn’t for you to decide, especially when you don’t even know the person.”
“Everyone has to bear the consequences of their actions, even the young.”
Kim Dokja would know, he’s an expert on that subject. But he’s not done yet.
“Ignorance isn’t an excuse, not if someone gets hurt because of it. And I know more than you think. If this is the type of ‘grudge’ you settle, I’m leaving.”
After Kim Dokja storms out Han Sooyoung slumps in her seat with a huff. Everything was going so well too! What was wrong with that brat to suddenly have such an outburst?!?
“I took a picture of the kid.”
This is why Yoo Joonghyuk is the employee of the month. With his connections, he can send a single picture to the Afterlife Police Force and get someone’s information.
“Yes! Some good news. Send it to your friends. Now all we have to do is get that flailing squid back.”
“Should we go with plan b?”
“Yes. Bring out your tightest suit. Which dress should I wear this time?”
Yoo Joonghyuk thinks it over for a minute before giving his answer.
A garter belt-clad leg steps into Kim Dokja’s peripheral vision. It’s Han Sooyoung, in a tight Chinese dress and garter belt combination. At his workplace. During lunch. In front of everyone.
“Special delivery for Kim Dokja!”
She gestures for Yoo Joonghyuk to place a giant platter of food in front of him. The food smells delicious, much better than his convenience store lunch, but this is not the point. This whole situation is too flashy, and his co-workers start to stare.
“Excuse me, but who are you?” One of them asks.
“My name is Han Sooyoung and I am here to recruit Kim Dokja for his perfect body.”
Eyebrows shoot up at this statement.
“Ah, but don’t worry, we are not in the same line of businesses so there is no competition. He will come to work for me at night after working here in the day.”
Perfect body, a night job... the number of raised eyebrows only increases.
“What is your business?” The same co-worker asks.
Good, that will force Han Sooyoung to clear up the misconceptions.
“Well...” Han Sooyoung turns to Yoo Joonghyuk, nudging him to speak up.
“I...will wait for you in the car, madam.” And with that, Yoo Joonghyuk leaves, his tight pants creating a nice view on his way out.
So much for counting on that idiot. Anyways, since the situation is like this she might as well use it to her advantage.
“I am in the business of taking care of my clients’ problems while serving them alcohol. I am here to recruit Kim Dokja because of his magic touch that makes customers lose their minds.”
The audacity of this woman. Can you strangle a ghost? In the background, someone chokes on their drink in shock at Han Sooyoung’s words.
Enough is enough. Kim Dokja drags Han Sooyoung away into an empty stairway.
“I told you I’m not going to help you! Do you think you can bully me at my workplace?”
“Yes. But also, you are being an asshole. You don’t get to decide who deserves help and who doesn’t.”
“You don’t know the things that kid has done. The rumors that surround him. Rumors don’t come from nothing.”
Rumors? Hah. Han Sooyoung wants to laugh. A bitter, wretched laugh. In her previous life, humans burned her house down because of rumors. Her mother died because of such shitty things.
“Rumors? Don’t tell me you are shallow enough to believe that bullshit. People lie. Rumors are false. And they ruin people’s lives because assholes like you believe them regardless.”
Kim Dokja is intimately aware of the truth behind rumors, of how distorted things become. Of how he is a hypocrite, and too harsh on Kim Namwoon. He was just a kid at the time, he still is, and people change. But it’s still hard to let go of the ugly feelings within. Though Kim Dokja’s not sure at whom they are directed.
He must’ve made some pathetic face, because Han Sooyoung sighs, visibly deflating.
“Look, I didn’t want to tell you this, but Kim Namwoon is dying. We found his records yesterday. Today he collapsed, and his body is currently in the hospital.”
“Yes, his soul is with Yoo Joonghyuk in the car. We’re going to visit his father. That’s the other thing, he didn’t stay at his vacation on purpose. He had an accident and lost his memories. His son is dying and he has no idea who he even is, shouldn’t he get the chance to say goodbye?”
She’s right, he knows she’s right.
“...I did agree to a trial period...”
“Yes! Okay let’s go.”
“Wait. Before we go, there’s something I need to tell you.”
He doesn’t want to tell her about his past, but for some reason he wants to explain himself and his harsh behavior to Han Sooyoung.
“Is it that even though you weren’t technically an orphan, Kim Namwoon’s dad took you in and helped you out and you looked at him like he put the stars in the sky every night and probably believed it too? Because I know. Kim Namwoon told us.”
That absolute brat.
“Okay fine let’s go.”
Kim Dokja can’t see Kim Namwoon’s soul in the seat next to him but he can feel the annoying presence.
“What’s he doing now?” Kim Dokja texts for the 5th time.
“I will punch you the next time you ask,” Yoo Joonghyuk responds.
A silent hour passes until they reach their destination. They order Kim Namwoon to stay put in the car while they find his father. It isn’t difficult, and the man invites them in the second they knock on his door.
“I don’t get many visitors,” he explains.
Yu Jungheok. The man that carried Kim Dokja’s childhood, reduced to this lonely life. It’s a painful sight, and Kim Dokja reaches out to try to revive the man’s memory. However, even when touched by Kim Dokja, none of his memories return.
“I remember...,” the others lean in closer in anticipation, “the other day. I was chased by wild dogs. I wanted to pet one of them, but no such luck.”
With no other options, they pour the man a drink, and head into his dreams.
A disheveled Yu Jungheok aimlessly wanders through town. He’s conscious yet not present, lost in his memories. He catches his foot on an uneven piece of concrete and trips. Han Sooyoung pauses the dream before the man hits his head, the accident that caused his memory loss.
“This really is his earliest conscious memory. To recover his other memories, we have to enter his subconscious.”
“How do we do that?”
“The old-fashioned way. We take the stairs.”
The stairs turn out to be a long, ominous spiral staircase without railings. Beyond the stairs is a deep void.
“No one knows what happens to people that fall,” Yoo Joonghyuk explains, “they disappear. Don’t slip.”
Eventually, the staircase ends, and a thin bridge to a locked door awaits the trio. This door requires a pin-code to unlock.
“Seriously? He made us take the stairs but uses such a high-tech door? I miss when I could just kick these down,” Han Sooyoung grumbles.
She idly types in ‘0000.’
Following the system message, half of the bridge crumbles.
“Shit! Shit, there’s a penalty for wrong guesses. Quick, Yoo Joonghyuk, what’s the most common passcode?”
Han Sooyoung types in ‘1234.’ It’s also incorrect, and they watch in horror as the second half of the bridge crumbles. They scramble backward until Yoo Joonghyuk’s back hits the door, and he uses each arm to keep Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja pressed to his chest. There’s just enough room left for them to stand, and a system message announces that they have one more try left. Someone suggests that his birthday could be the passcode, which prompts them to look for Yoo Joonghyuk’s phone to find this information.
“It’s in my pocket. Not that one. I don’t have pockets on my chest, idiot. Stop grabbing my ass! My coat pocket!”
They finally locate the phone, but of course it slips and falls into the abyss.
“Well, I suppose that’s it,” Han Sooyoung laments, “well, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for being so harsh to you all this time, Yoo Joonghyuk.”
“Thank you. Actually, I have something to conf— “
“There’s not enough room on here! You should make some space.”
“Huh? You bastard, why don’t you jump?”
“Because I’m the smallest? Obviously.”
While the two bicker, Kim Dokja remembers something. Yesterday was Kim Namwoon’s birthday. Yu Jungheok may not remember it, but he is still a father.
Kim Dokja reaches over to type in the passcode, and thankfully the door opens. Inside is a black-and-white and unmoving world that exceeds Kim Dokja’s wildest expectations.
Alone in the world with a little sister to feed, a young Yu Jungheok became the delinquent known as ‘Secretive Plotter’ to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. There are various scenes of him on a motorcycle, in fights, and other minor trouble. Secretive Plotter gets caught in one scene, not by police but by a tall woman with immense presence.
“Tch, look at these assholes abandoning him,’ Han Sooyoung jerks her thumb towards Secretive Plotter’s delinquent ‘companions,’ frozen as they leave him behind.
Luckily, the woman chooses not to report Secretive Plotter but instead takes Yu Jungheok under her wing.
The genre of his life changes after this. He goes on to found the orphanage, has a son, and oh look, there are even a few memories of a cute young Kim Dokja. (Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung want to spend time with these, but he rushes them past. They don’t have that kind of relationship yet.)
An entire section of Yu Jungheok’s memories is dedicated to Kim Namwoon. Riding bikes together, practicing martial arts together, it’s obvious that the boy is loved.
Kim Dokja can’t help but wonder what would happen if Kim Namwoon had more time if he was given the same second chance as his father. Can a second chance make up for a lifetime of mistakes? He turns to Han Sooyoung.
“What do we do now?” Kim Dokja asks.
“We? You watch while I bring these memories to the surface.”
Han Sooyoung closes her eyes and extends her arms. Starting from the tips of her fingers, the memories fill with color and begin to play.
By the time they bring Yu Junghyeok to the hospital, Kim Namwoon is rapidly deteriorating. There’s just enough time for one last chat with his dad.
“Dad, I’m sorry for everything.”
“No, I am the one who is sorry.”
“Don’t be. I fucked up, and I fucked up again by runnin’ away. Don’t blame yourself for this, okay? It’s not your fault. You’re the best dad, you did a great job.”
“I forgot you existed. You’re dying, and I forgot you existed.”
Yu Jungheok chokes back a sob.
“It’s alright old man. You’re here now, like some kinda action hero. You know I’ve always looked up to you, right? ’m happy that you are my dad. I’m sorry I was a shithead, and I love you.”
A few minutes later Kim Dokja can hear an outburst of sobs. He can’t see it, but Kim Namwoon’s soul exists the hospital room. He turns to them and thanks them, saying that now he’s “okay with even goin’ to hell for his sins” because he got to say goodbye. Hand in hand with Uriel, he disappears into the afterlife.
The sound of sobs continues for a long time. When Yu Jungheok finally emerges from the room, he pulls Kim Dokja into a tight embrace and thanks him.
A group of Yu Jungheok’s old companions from the orphanage came to take care of him. They hint that the orphanage is in need of a chef, and he promises to stop by sometime after the funeral.
Watching Yu Junghyeok disappear down the hall with his companions, Kim Dokja appreciates the importance of Han Sooyoung’s work.
“I’ll sign the contract.”
Though signing a contract isn’t an exciting affair, Han Sooyoung insists they celebrate with drinks. Kim Dokja doesn’t drink often, so it doesn’t take long before his tongue becomes too loose.
“100,000...100,000...why is it 100,000 people? Isn’t that a lot? No, it’s really too much isn’t it?”
For a moment Han Sooyoung doesn’t respond, just picks at the label of her soju bottle. She recalls a moment when a younger version of herself knelt before Anna Croft, 500 years ago...
She wonders how he’ll react to the truth, if he’ll regret signing the contract, if he’ll come to hate her.
“It is because I killed 100,000 people.”
500 years ago, afterlife:
“Han Sooyoung. Do you know why you are here?”
“Because of my sins. That is why I spent a few months in the Hells of ‘Devil’s advocates’ and ‘um, actuallys.’”
“Correct. But do you realize the extent of your sins?”
“Hah? What do you mean?”
“When you killed yourself and cursed the 4th tree, it died, and could no longer protect the country that relied upon the tree. It was invaded, and 100,000 people died. All because of you.”
Han Sooyoung hated humans. She couldn’t care less what happened to them. But 100,000 is too many people to not care less about. Still, she stubbornly maintains her composure.
“As a punishment, I sentence you to resolve the grudges of 100,000 people, one for each person who died. You will live among the humans, spend time with them, and learn about their problems. Do you accept this punishment?”
“No! Absolutely not! I spent my life helping humans and they betrayed me! Why should I help them? I’d rather be sent to the hell of extinction.”
“Are you sure? You might want to read this first.”
Han Sooyoung is not sure how much time she spends reading the scroll Anna Croft hands her. It feels like a few seconds, yet it also feels like a lifetime. By the time she raises her head, she is no longer the young girl that began reading it, but the woman who will live 500 years for the sake of it.
She tries her best to steady her shaking voice and answers, “100,000 people? That’s nothing. I accept my punishment.”
[Uriel leads Kim Namwoon through a door that leads to a meadow. It’s empty except for a motorcycle.
Kim Namwoon: what’s this supposed to be?
Uriel: it’s your father’s old bike
Kim Namwoon: no way
Uriel: you are to take care of it until it’s your father’s time to come here
Kim Namwoon: no fucking way
Uriel:....since this is the Afterlife, it also turns into a gundam
Kim Namwoon: NO FU—]
Chapter 3: 99,993
local mystical misfits help sad girl get a job
No good grudges pass through the doors of the pop-up bar the next few days.
It’s all “I want to be more attractive” this, “I wish I had better things than xyz person” that.
A crying woman with marital problems seems promising, but her issue is that she and her husband now have sex 5 times a week rather than the usual 7.
Han Sooyoung slams the door with emphasis behind that one.
“That woman doesn’t have a grudge she has a blessing.”
Yoo Joonghyuk agrees.
Kim Dokja, a virgin who can’t touch people, thinks that even holding someone’s hand would be nice. He’s never been able to be intimate with anyone before. But soon, everything will change. Han Sooyoung will close his spiritual door, and he’ll be able to live a relatively normal life. No one will smother him with their problems on the subway ride home. He won’t have to cut his own hair anymore. He might even try one of those spa appointments.
His excitement must show in his face, as Han Sooyoung teases him for it.
“What’s this? Our busboy seems to enjoy that idea. Should I scold you for thinking dirty thoughts on the job?”
His ‘dream’ from yesterday flashes in Kim Dokja’s mind. It’s unfortunate timing because the resulting blush makes his denials less believable. Han Sooyoung teases him a bit before leaving to hand out coupons.
Han Sooyoung. What an enigma. The woman that just yesterday confessed to killing 100,000 people now handing out coupons to a bar.
“Is she a good person?”
From behind the counter, Yoo Joonghyuk asks, “why do you ask?”
“She told me she killed 100,000 people last night.”
“That dramatic idiot is exaggerating. Probably to scare you.”
Kim Dokja takes some time to think about this non-answer. Well, it’s not like he could hold murder against anyone.
“What were you thinking about?”
Yoo Joonghyuk’s voice pulls him from his thoughts.
“Earlier, when she teased you.”
“I was thinking about the things I could do once my power is gone.”
“What did you come up with?”
“I could ride trains in peace.”
“That is too simple.”
This bastard? Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t know anything about the life he lives due to his condition.
“Oh yeah? Tell me then, what should I be excited for?”
Yoo Joonghyuk mulls this over. A memory floats to mind, a pleasant evening from a long time ago.
“You could use the exercise.”
Yoo Joonghyuk is correct but he forgot a key point. Dancing would require another person willing to be intimate with him. Losing his ability would not solve the problem of Kim Dokja’s general unattractiveness.
“Do you not know how to dance?”
“Obviously not. How could I learn with this body?”
Yoo Joonghyuk fumbles around his new phone. He plays a song and steps out from behind the counter.
“What are you doing?”
Yoo Joonghyuk extends his hand and replies, “teaching you to dance. Your powers don’t work on ghosts, so I can touch you.”
He never stopped to think about it, but Yoo Joonghyuk is warmer than Kim Dokja expected a ghost to be. He’s also more gentle, leading Kim Dokja around the bar to the beat of the song. They start off with a slow song because it’s the easiest dance to teach. Swaying side to side, Kim Dokja resists the temptation to rest his tired head on Yoo Joonghyuk’s shoulder.
The songs pick up in speed, and Yoo Joonghyuk spins Kim Dokja around the bar. It’s actually quite fun, and he can’t help but enjoy himself.
The door to the bar swings open, and for a moment he fears Han Sooyoung’s wrath. But Yoo Joonghyuk pulls her into a dip with an uncharacteristic smile and whispers, “just this once.”
She decides to humor him today.
“I see you two like to dance. Well, I’ve been in this realm for 500 years. Let me show you how it’s done.”
They don’t serve a single customer that night. With the tables pushed to the walls, the three dance around the tiny bar like giddy fools.
This. This is exactly what Kim Dokja wants when his powers are gone. He tries not to dwell on the thought, packing it away for later. Perhaps he’ll revisit it once he’s dead.
They approach the next night with a strategy. There are three requirements for a proper grudge.
First, it is something that cannot be solved by one’s own will.
Second, someone must not desire more than another person has, that is greed.
And third, the person must be desperate enough to kill, not be able to move on from the living world, or even to die.
Thus, Han Sooyoung moves the pop-up bar to the business district.
“It’s the end of job-hunting season,” she explains, “and many companies are announcing their new hires.”
“The ones that are rejected will seek a place to drink,” Yoo Joonghyuk finishes.
They’re ruthless, but Kim Dokja must admit, it’s brilliant.
“I didn’t know ghosts kept up with such things.”
“Actually, Yoo Sangah told me.”
After they ran into each other at the market, Yoo Sangah invited Han Sooyoung to her apartment for dinner as a thank you for taking care of her when she passed out at the bar. She mentioned not being able to find quality meat because it was already taken by parents either celebrating or consoling their children.
“You seem close with her,” Yoo Joonghyuk notes. Han Sooyoung usually doesn’t bother with humans outside their grudges, shooing them away from the bar mid-sentence when it’s clear she won’t get a true grudge out of them. She ponders Yoo Joonghyuk’s question.
Han Sooyoung wouldn’t call them close, but it’s nice to have someone to talk to. Aside from Yoo Joonghyuk this past year, she was alone for almost 500 years. Yoo Joonghyuk returns to his task of chopping onions. A few minutes later, his curiosity gets the better of him.
“Do you swing in that direction?” he tries again.
“Nosy today, aren’t you?
A bit later Han Sooyoung adds, “no. Besides, this one’s not interested in pursuing romance, ever. I wish I had been like that.”
“What were you like?”
Han Sooyoung opens her mouth to tell him to mind his own business and keep chopping, but she never gets the chance. A customer enters the pop-up bar, clearly worn out.
Earlier that day, a disgruntled Biyoo was dragged away from the CEO of Dokkaebi Streaming by a particularly strong bodyguard. She just wanted to know why she didn’t get the job. It’s her third year applying, there must be some reason she didn’t get it, something that she can improve.
She spends the day walking around aimlessly, wallowing in her sorrow. There’s a notification on her phone, her rent is due yet again. She dismisses the notification, eyes lingering on her lock screen, a photo of her and her father.
At the end of the street, there’s a red tent advertising spicy octopus. Biyoo pockets her phone and heads toward the tent, reigning in her tears. It’s warm inside, and she’s quickly served. She makes it through a few bites before tears overtake her.
Kim Dokja murmurs, “how spicy did you make that octopus?”
Han Sooyoung swats his thigh and suggests he gives their customer a glass of water, her tone implying that he should touch her. He touches her back while serving her, and the woman stops crying.
“I wanted to eat spicy octopus with my father.”
Bihyung was not prepared for fatherhood, and much less for the life of a single father. He didn’t have family connections or a strong university on his resume and often felt like a small fry at work. Despite his efforts he never was promoted, always struggling to stay in place while others seemingly flew up the promotional ladder.
On days he felt as if he was crushed under the weight of endless toil he would sit down and scroll through his album of Biyoo pictures. Suddenly he could breathe again. The superpower of fatherhood, he would tell her, is that if it was for her sake, even chores felt like a reward.
Though he gave everything he had to make sure Biyoo was happy, Bihyung did not have much to give. It crushed him to walk by the bakeries that lit up Biyoo’s eyes.
“He learned how to make pastries with cheap ingredients just so I’d be able to try them.”
It stung to hear Biyoo admit she’d never been to an amusement park to her friends that were recounting their own trips.
“He spent a whole day turning our apartment into an obstacle course for me.”
It broke his heart to think that she could end up like him.
“He saved up to buy me a nice interview outfit so they wouldn’t look down on me.”
Years of stress and labor took a heavy toll on Bihyung’s health.
“It’s going to kill him! He won’t quit or find a less demanding job until I can support myself. But this is my third year applying to this company.”
“Why this company?”
Perhaps it’s because of Kim Dokja’s apathy towards his own job, but he can’t understand fixating on one specific company.
“My father dreamed of becoming a streamer. He wanted to create a channel about single fatherhood, where he documented our lives for all the other single fathers that needed help.”
“We were a team, he called it “B&B.” But streaming wasn’t as popular back then, and neither were single fathers. And there wasn’t a good platform for him to use to get started. So, he gave up on his dream and worked his shitty job. I want to join Dokkaebi Streaming so that I can support everyone with the same dream as my father, to give them the help I couldn’t give him.”
Kim Dokja wipes his eyes with his sleeve, wondering “why is love so painful?”
Beside him, Yoo Joonghyuk sniffles.
“True love hurts.”
“You sound like you’ve been in love before.”
Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja grab napkins off the table to wipe their noses.
“Go on, keep embarrassing yourselves,” Han Sooyoung snaps.
They have a grudge to settle, this is no time to fall apart, no matter how much the girl’s father reminds Han Sooyoung of her own mother.
“Tell me more about this company, what do you want from them? What would make you feel better?”
“I just want to know why I didn’t get the job.”
“Oh, that’s easy! I mean, I have something for you.”
Han Sooyoung pulls out her special bottle of alcohol.
“Let me pour you this special drink to help ease your sorrow.”
They enter Biyoo’s dream right when her interview begins. Kdj finds himself facing Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk, who sit next to a few seemingly important people, while he is seated next to Biyoo. Shit. He’s a candidate. It’s a position he’ll likely have in the upcoming months, but he didn’t expect it this soon.
“For the first question, why do you want to work at Dokkaebi Streaming, and what will you bring to our company?”
Biyoo’s answer is flawless, and the panel is visibly impressed.
They turn to Kim Dokja next.
“Me? I have to answer?”
He looks to Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk, who look at him as if he is an idiot. Of course he has to answer.
“Ah, then in that case... what she said.”
…come to think of it, he should’ve asked Biyoo for help with his interview skills.
The other candidate in the room is somehow worse.
“I don’t know much about the company, but the streamers are cute.”
And yet, the panel explodes into laughter, praising his answer for “exuding confidence.”
By the end of the interview, it’s clear there is foul play.
Yoo Joonghyuk whispers to Han Sooyoung, “they’re going to give that third idiot the job. Bullshit.”
It is bullshit, Biyoo had the highest score out of all their applicants
“You’re right, something is wrong here.”
She pauses the dream and searches Biyoo’s memories. She finds the memory of Biyoo getting dragged away by the bodyguard and plays that memory.
A limousine pulls up outside the Dokkaebi Streaming building. Chairman Choi steps out, and a woman in a hoodie approaches him.
“Chairman Choi! Please! My name is Biyoo, I applied for a job here, I just want to know why I didn’t get in. What do I need to improve?”
Biyoo is quickly taken down by the Chairman’s bodyguard as he makes his way towards the door, where Han Sooyoung, Yoo Joonghyuk, and Kim Dokja pose as workers.
The chairman mutters, “She wants to know why she didn’t get in? She was born to fail. She has no one to blame but her parents.”
When Han Sooyoung’s home was burned with her mother inside, she ran to the house of the nobleman in charge of the area and begged for his help. Instead, the man laughed.
“Not everyone is born equal, should my sleep be interrupted because a mere shaman died? You should have kept your eyes to the ground, but you looked to the skies instead. You have no one to blame but your ancestors for your lowly birth. I can’t help that. Now get out. I won’t have my sleep disturbed by some hysterical woman.”
Han Sooyoung lived her life to help the people of her kingdom. In this moment she decided to dedicate her death to cursing them.
Back at the company, Kim Dokja listens to the idle gossip of his ‘co-workers.’
“It’s really a shame, she got a high score, but she applied without connections. I heard they hired the son of an assemblyman instead.”
Ah, must be talking about the other applicant.
“Is it impossible to get a job here without connections?”
Kim Dokja wants to know, partially for Biyoo, but also because he’ll be job-hunting soon, and he doesn’t have an extensive social network. Or a social network in general.
The other workers gape at him.
“How long have you worked here?”
About five minutes.
“This is my first day.”
“Okay, that explains it. Almost everyone hired for upper-level positions has some sort of connection, all from the Chairman’s VIP list. Even if she was hired without one, she’ll end up breaking her back and never get promoted.”
Back at the bar, Biyoo apologizes for falling asleep. Han Sooyoung assures her it’s no problem.
“While you were asleep, we found this. This is Dokkaebi Streaming’s newest hire, right?”
Biyoo’s eyes widen, that was the other applicant from the interview. In the photo, he is posing with the Chairman and another man.
“That assemblyman is his father, and he’s friends with the Chairman. You didn’t get the job because of your own shortcomings; you didn’t get it because they never gave you a fair chance.”
This doesn’t ease Biyoo’s heart.
“It would be better if the issue was me. Then there would be something I could fix. But to fix this I would have to die and be reborn.”
Kim Dokja understands this idea well, he spent quite some time in a hospital because of it. Han Sooyoung can’t say anything, as she turned to death for the same issue. Yoo Joonghyuk, lost in his thoughts, is suspiciously quiet as well.
“Anyways, thank you for the meal, and for telling me about the other applicant. I guess I won’t waste my time anymore.”
Han Sooyoung snaps as soon as the door closes.
“No! I’m not letting it end there. That chairman bastard needs to go down.”
“What can you do? Even if you two are ghosts, this isn’t something that can be settled with just a dream.”
Kim Dokja wants to help, but a life in prison isn’t desirable—he would know.
Yoo Joonghyuk gets offended.
“Don’t underestimate me. I was a captain in the Afterlife Police Force for 500 years. But still,” he turns to Han Sooyoung, “exposing something this big would turn the country inside out. It is not something we should do on a whim.”
“If someone like that woman can’t get a decent job then the country deserves to get turned inside out. Why should we protect the few at the top with the lives of everyone else? That wrinkly sack of shit needs to go down.”
Today, Chairman Choi exits his limo with no surprises. He struts inside his building, a new bodyguard in tow.
“Chairman Choi! How nice to see you today.”
Several employees greet him.
“Is this a new bodyguard? I thought Jung Heewon was assigned to you?”
“Him? He’s new. I heard he was better, so I hired him. See?”
The chairman slaps Kim Dokja, who bowls over. The group bursts out laughing.
“He has a sense of humor.”
They enter the elevator alongside another employee.
“What floor was my office on?”
“Oh, sorry sir, let me press it for you,” the employee hastily pushes the button, then scurries out when she reaches her own floor.
As soon as the doors to the Chairman’s office close, ‘Chairman Choi’ reverts back to Yoo Joonghyuk.
“I still can’t believe you can do that, it’s amazing.”
Yoo Joonghyuk shrugs. It’s a skill he acquired during his time at the police force. A wayward spirit cursed him to turn into a woman, but it backfired. Now Yoo Joonghyuk can change his form into anyone but he can only hold it for about 10 minutes.
In another building, Jung Heewon reluctantly guards the Chairman’s peaceful lunch. She overheard what the man said about that woman yesterday, as well as the gossip rippling through the company. How can she go on as if nothing is wrong when she’s protecting the wrong person?
Her boss was no support.
“Are you protecting him for free? No! You get a fat paycheck for this, so stop complaining. Unless you can afford the cost of breaking the contract.”
Even though she dreams of punching her client in the face, she’s still a damn good bodyguard and is immediately suspicious of the woman approaching her.
“Chairman Choi eats alone.”
“Does he also pour his own drinks?”
Hiring beautiful women to pour his drinks is something a rich bastard like that would do, so Jung Heewon allows the woman inside, closing the door behind her.
“What are you doing here? I don’t want to be disturbed during my meal.”
“Chairman Choi,” Han Sooyoung begins, “an investor sent this as a gift. It’s rare, and we wanted to serve it to you immediately.”
“Really? In that case, I’ll have a glass.”
Chairman Choi brings the glass to his mouth and drinks the entire cup. When he sets the cup down, the server is gone, and Jung Heewon rushes in.
“Sir, someone just broke into your office. Security overheard something about a list.”
The chairman pales, all thoughts of the beautiful server replaced with panic.
“The VIP list!”
They rush to his office and he immediately heads to one of the many books that line the walls. Inside the book is a hollowed-out rectangle that contains a flash drive. Bingo.
“Hey, wait a minute, you look different.”
“Of course I do. I’m— “
“Did you cut your hair?”
Han Sooyoung balks at the fool before her. She was just disguised as Jung Heewon, and he couldn’t tell the difference?
“I’m a completely different person you dumbass! She’s your bodyguard how do you not know what she looks like?”
The chairman doesn’t get a chance to respond because the building begins to quake. Shit, someone must be trying to wake him up.
Han Sooyoung pops out of the dream and sure enough, Jung Heewon is shaking the chairman.
“Chairman Choi? Chairman Choi wake up.”
As soon as she sees Han Sooyoung, Jung Heewon lunges. Han Sooyoung is no amateur in combat, and she dodges all of Jung Heewon’s blows.
“Who are you? And what did you do to him?”
“Me? You should be wary of him. He had it coming. Anyways, come at me. It’s been a while since I’ve had a real fight.”
She and Yoo Joonghyuk used to spar in the woods from time to time but lately his heart isn’t in it so it’s not fun anymore.
Jung Heewon knows the woman is right. Perhaps this is why she turns away from her opponent and focuses on waking the Chairman. She can see the woman slip out the door, and she tells herself that she’s prioritizing saving the chairman’s life.
Back in the office, Yoo Joonghyuk picks up his phone and listens.
“The usb with the VIP list is hidden in a long green book in the middle shelf of the bookshelf next to the door. The bodyguard woke up the Chairman though, so hurry up.”
They quickly find the usb and make to leave, but Yoo Joonghyuk hears security guards approaching the office. He motions for Kim Dokja to hide, then changes his face.
“Ah, looks like I came to the wrong room,” an average-looking middle-aged man in the middle of the Chairman’s office shrugs before bolting away from the security guards. They all chase him, all except for one.
Jung Heewon notices Kim Dokja’s reflection in the glass of a display case.
“Ah, where did he run off to?”
She loudly closes the door and waits until she hears movement before busting back in and taking him down.
Kim Dokja flips them over and attempts to escape, but Jung Heewon quickly takes him down again. With no other options left he grabs her arm and waits for her to start spilling her secrets. But nothing happens. Instead, Jung Heewon begins to tie him up. It’s strange, his powers always work on people. But he doesn’t have time to dwell on this.
“Okay wait for real this time!”
“No, you slippery bastard.”
Jung Heewon snatches the usb back from Kim Dokja and is about to report him when the man shouts out,
“Do you even know what’s on that?”
Oh no, it’s going to be something horrible, isn’t it?
“It’s a VIP list.”
Well, that’s not so bad.
“All the people on this list get special favors and their children get hired while everyone else is left to struggle. This is evidence of that. Do you remember the woman from yesterday? She got the highest scores during the interviews yet hasn’t been able to get a job for three years. Is it your job to make sure her life remains in ruins?”
Jung Heewon couldn’t sleep all night because of that woman from yesterday. When she apprehended her, she knew she was restraining the wrong person, that it should be the Chairman instead. She hands the usb back to Kim Dokja and helps him up.
“You’re letting me go? Just like that?”
“Are you trying to change my mind?”
“Of course not! Thank you, you’re doing a great deed for society.”
“Wait! You’ll need this, take the back stairs.”
She reluctantly hands him her ID badge, and Kim Dokja quickly escapes, not stopping until he’s safely in the getaway car with Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk.
Later that evening, Chairman Choi eats dinner with long-time members of his VIP list. A cute server finishes placing their food then leaves the room.
As the server makes her way down the empty hall, Yoo Joonghyuk releases his glamour, the echo of his heels the only sound in the hallway.
Back in the room, the men are in a panic. The VIP list was leaked, and its contents displayed all over the nightly news.
“How could you let this happen?”
They begin to turn on Chairman Choi, who quickly defends himself.
“You talked as if we were family when you asked me for favors, why not now?”
“He’s right,” a government official pipes up, “I’ll do what I can, my grandson is going to be working there, after all. Let’s cover it up. Blame it on some disgruntled person that didn’t get a job.”
The room seems to like that idea, as everyone laughs and relaxes. They don’t notice the camera planted near the ceiling.
In a car outside the building, Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja download video footage of the last few minutes.
Kim Dokja makes sure to crop the video so none of the servers are in it then sends it out to the news station.
“I sent it!”
“Really? It’s out!”
“Yes, we did it! Good luck trying to get out of that, assholes”
Excited over their victory, they wrap their arms around each other in celebration. It’s nice, being embraced like this. Perhaps this is why people crave another’s touch so much.
Their moment is cut short by Yoo Joonghyuk entering the car.
“Hand me my clothes,” he demands, still in the server uniform.
“Why? That’s a good look for you?”
“Kim Dokja I will kill you.”
Back at her apartment, Jung Heewon recounts her day’s events to her roommate, Yoo Sangah.
“What a crazy story! You definitely did the right thing. Cheers to an apostle of justice!”
“A fired apostle of justice. They had me on tape handing that brat the VIP list, I was fired immediately. Now I’m blacklisted, no one wants to hire the bodyguard that put her client in jail.”
“If you’re interested, my company has a security position open? Some of our guards were let go for failing to report the harassment clearly caught on tape.”
At Biyoo’s apartment, her phone rings. She’s been scrolling through the news headlines; the preferential hiring of Dokkaebi Streaming was exposed. That’s great, but it won’t pay her bills.
“Is this Miss Biyoo?”
“This is she.”
“Great, we’re on the hiring team at Dokkaebi Streaming. We noticed you got the highest scores but were passed over for the job, and we want to correct this mistake if you are still interested.”
Biyoo shoots up in bed.
“Yes, of course I am still interested.”
When she hangs up, Biyoo calls out to her father.
“After all this work I did for her, she celebrates at another restaurant.”
Han Sooyoung watches Biyoo and her father happily chat over their spicy octopus dish.
“Their food is inferior to mine, but they are popular amongst streamers.”
Yoo Joonghyuk seems a little less offended.
While the two complain, Kim Dokja remembers something.
“We ran into that streamer you like to watch back at the company, didn’t we Yoo Joonghyuk? Did you get to talk to her?”
“You know, she looked a little like you.”
“Yes, she does.”
Yoo Joonghyuk has a fond smile on his face. Han Sooyoung can’t figure that man out, what a strange thing to be proud of. Anyways, they should probably stop staring into the restaurant like three creeps.
“Well, it seems our customer is happy so we can go home now.”
The grudge counter in the pop-up bar changed numbers and everything.
“Mm,” Kim Dokja breathes, “it would be nice to eat with someone like that.”
“Eh? Are you hungry? What do you want to eat? Yoo Joonghyuk will make it.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What, you don’t want to eat with us? Spit it out, so we know if we have to stop at the market on the way home.”
It’s a common occurrence lately, but Kim Dokja’s heart feels warm once again.
“Surprise me. But no tomatoes.”
[Bihyung: hi everyone, and welcome to B&B! I’m Bihyung.
Biyoo: and I’m Biyoo!
Bihyung: it’s been many years since we posted a new episode, so today we’re going to react to our old streams.
Biyoo: are we going to watch the intricate braids video
Bihyung: ...I do not recall suddenly]
Chapter 4: 99,994
National legend real worried about pseudo-descandant's love life
Sent 10:35am: the bodyguard from DS now works at Minosoft
Sent 10:36am: she recognizes me
Sent 10:39am: she is Yoo Sangah’s roommate and they want to go out to lunch together to celebrate her first day
Sent 10:40am: shit the intern I’m training said yes before I could come up with an excuse
Received 10:50am: probably because you were too busy texting to respond dumbass
Sent 10:50am: if she asks questions I’m sending her to you
Sent 10:51am: Han Sooyoung?
Sent 10:52am: Han Sooyoung.
Sent 10:53am: nvm I handled it
Sent 11:59am: I did not handle it. we’re five minutes away from the pop-up bar. I may have told her I was with the CIA. I don’t think she believes me
?Received 12:00pm: I can work with that. anything else
Sent 12:00pm: we’re alone, the others won’t join for at least 10min. also, I told her my real name is Yoo Joonghyuk
Received 12:01pm: dumbass
Kim Dokja pockets his phone and hopes that Han Sooyoung comes up with something good. He has to admit, Jung Heewon is intimidating. He knew that he needed to tell her something, but he wasn’t eager to do this in front of Yoo Sangah and Lee Jihye, the Minosoft quality assurance team’s newest intern. He quickly came up with some excuse about Lee Jihye’s paperwork that Yoo Sangah, an employee of the HR department, could take care of.
“Besides, we’ve been to this bar before right? Meet up with us after the issue is resolved!”
He pats himself on the back for his ability to come up with nonsense on the spot. But ever since the other two left, he hasn’t been able to win over Jung Heewon, and her distrustful stare is a little unnerving.
“Who are you?”
“I am Yoo Joonghyuk.”
“So you use an alias? That’s suspicious.”
“It’s not just villains that use them, you know.”
“So what, you’re a spy or something?”
“I never said that. I could get in a lot of trouble if I did.”
It’s technically not a lie.
“What, is the Korean government listening in?”
“Ah, well it is some government.”
Surely the afterlife has a government?
“What, like the American government? Are you saying you’re with the CIA?”
“I am not saying that.”
“I don’t know whether to laugh or to punch you.”
That’s fair. Well, he is in this situation because of Han Sooyoung, shouldn’t she pull her weight too?
“It’s best if you hear it from the source, my boss.”
He texts Han Sooyoung and hopes she can come up with something good, something convincing enough to explain the secrecy, but when they enter the bar she’s sitting next to an unfamiliar woman.
“You must be Jung Heewon, the former bodyguard from Dokkaebi Streaming. I apologize on behalf of Yoo Joonghyuk beside you for getting you caught up in all this, he’s new on the job.”
“Who are you?”
“I am a simple bar owner.”
Jung Heewon points to the unfamiliar woman. Kim Dokja would like to know who she is as well.
“She is an old friend of mine, Selena Kim. She’s taking a vacation in Seoul, and stopped by for a quick chat.”
As Han Sooyoung talks she holds her phone up to Jung Heewon. On the screen is the profile of Selena Kim, Director of the CIA.
“Wow. I’m sorry I doubted you, ‘Kim Dokja.’”
Selena Kim stifles a laugh, then addresses the group.
“It’s nice to meet you all, but I must go now. I would appreciate it if you keep this little incident a secret.”
The last part is directed at Jung Heewon, who replies, “of course.”
Selena Kim nods in acknowledgment then leaves. A few minutes later, Yoo Joonghyuk returns with bags of groceries.
“Help me bring these in, ‘Kim Dokja.’”
Jung Heewon opens her mouth to say something, Kim Dokja hopes it isn’t some question about their lie, but she’s interrupted as Yoo Sangah and Lee Jihye arrive.
“So this is the rumored ‘night job?’ Isn’t it just a normal bar though?”
Rumored night job? Kim Dokja hoped the little scene Han Sooyoung caused at his workplace would blow over, it seems he has no such luck. But how did Lee Jihye already know about it?
“It’s your first day, focus on your job and not company gossip.”
“But everyone talks about it? Obviously, I knew it was bullshit, you’re too ugly for that kind of job.”
“You brat, I’m not ugly.”
Kim Dokja turns to Han Sooyoung and asks, “am I ugly?”
He regrets asking as her eyes flicker between him and Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Looks aren’t everything, you know?”
Ouch. Was it that bad?
“You look like a squid,” Yoo Joonghyuk contributes.
“He does! Like one of those little cute ones.”
Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk scroll through squid pictures, satisfied with their assessment. Thankfully Yoo Sangah changes the conversation.
“Sooyoung-ssi, what is today’s menu?”
Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk spring into action when the three office workers leave, after all, they have an event to cater today.
“Did you give that fool the night off then?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks.
“Of course not. It’s a busy event, even if we don’t need his powers, we need an extra set of hands. By the way, what were you in your past life?”
“...why do you ask?”
Han Sooyoung points to the sign Yoo Joonghyuk is making.
“Your handwriting, it’s nice. You’re around my age, right? So you must’ve been a nobleman or something.”
“500 years is a long time. There is paperwork at the police force.”
“Good point, they probably taught you to read and write there. Can you imagine? You as a nobleman!”
Han Sooyoung laughs, but Yoo Joonghyuk isn’t amused.
“Why is it unimaginable?”
“Most nobles I’ve met are selfish assholes, they’re used to being waited on so they see others as beneath them. It’s not until they get reincarnated that they finally pull their heads out of their asses. You’re an asshole but with a bleeding heart.”
“You’re full of shit. So, were you a farmer? Or some kind of soldier?”
The corners of Yoo Joonghyuk’s mouth twitch.
“Something like that.”
Kim Dokja hasn’t given much thought to the afterlife, but still, this is not what he expected. With the busy streets of night-time Seoul at his back, the door to the pop-up bar leads him to a bright grassy field. His thoughts of escape are cut short as Han Sooyoung spots him and waves him over.
“Today is the annual dream world afterlife lottery,” she explains, “it’s basically a field day for the dead. They play a bunch of games and the winner gets to pass on the winning lottery numbers to their descendants in a dream.”
“So when lottery winners talk about seeing their ancestors in a dream, it’s because of this?”
“Exactly! Those winners had ancestors that won the event.”
Lucky bastards. He wishes his ancestors were a little more athletically gifted.
“That’s great and all, but why are you here?”
“Because it’s an easy way to score without hearing a sob story.”
As Han Sooyoung talks, a beautiful angel with long blonde hair approaches them.
“Han Sooyoung loves this event because by escorting the ancestor to their descendant’s dream, she automatically settles a grudge.”
“It’s true. Those ancestors always fuss over their descendants, helping them like this puts them at ease.”
The angel turns to Kim Dokja.
“I’m Uriel, by the way. It’s nice to officially meet you.”
“I’m an angel of death, I saw you at the hospital when I came to pick up Kim Namwoon, but you didn’t see me. You can only see me in the realm of the living when I’m off-duty.”
“Oh, I see. It’s nice to meet you, Uriel.”
Kim Dokja wouldn’t have guessed that one responsible for death would be so cute.
“Anyways, I have to go now, I’m the mc for this event! Enjoy your time here, Kim Dokja.”
When Uriel leaves, Kim Dokja turns back to Han Sooyoung.
“If this grudge practically settles itself, why am I here?”
He’d much rather go home and sleep. He hasn’t had a night off in a while.
“Do you see how many people are here? The food doesn’t serve itself!”
She shoves bowls of noodles at Kim Dokja and directs him to the tables. He wants to complain but decides against it, there are too many people here for Han Sooyoung to serve by herself.
The crowd at the tables chatter amongst themselves. He mostly ignores them, but a familiar figure catches his eye. Among the others sits Yi Sunshin, the Duke of Loyalty and Warfare.
So even the great have such worries.
“Hey,” he nudges Han Sooyoung and whispers, “is that Yi Sunshin?”
“Hah? What bullshit are you—wait. Yes it is. What’s he doing here? Is he competitive or what?”
“He is probably worried about his descants.”
“That guy? He’s been dead for 500 years. He’s a legend, I doubt he’s watching their pathetic little lives.”
“Want to bet? If I’m right, you treat me to a meal.”
“Fine! But if I win, you have to tell me what made you so flustered that one time I gave you a dream.”
Shit, so she did notice. No matter, Kim Dokja overheard Yi Sunshin mention a little girl. He doesn’t let Han Sooyoung know this, he figures for all the work she’s given him she owes him a meal or two.
They hover around Yi Sunshin’s table, eavesdropping on his conversation.
“She may act tough, but she’s a sweet girl at heart, my Jihye-yah. She recently started an internship at a gaming company, and...”
The rest of Yi Sunshin’s words drown out as Kim Dokja makes the connection.
“Lee Jihye? From Minosoft?”
“Yes! Do you know her?”
“Yes, she’s in my department.”
“Oh, oh no, you poor thing.”
Yi Sunshin’s face, initially filled with delight, falls as the misunderstanding spreads.
“You didn’t have to come here so soon. You’re barely old enough to have descendants!”
“Oh no, I’m still alive. I’m here with her,” Kim Dokja points to Han Sooyoung.
“Really? I thought you didn’t associate with humans, Han Sooyoung.”
“This one’s special. No, not like that. He’s an employee. Stop giving me that look!”
Damn ancestors, always shipping people. They should watch a drama if they want a romance story.
The entire table sighs at her outburst, but Yi Sunshin is undeterred.
“That’s right, I forgot. You already have Yoo Joonghyuk, don’t you?”
“Eh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Yi Sunshin feigns innocence.
“As an employee, of course.”
“How is Yoo Joonghyuk anyways? I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“You know that bastard? Were you on the police force together?”
“...yes, something like that. The afterlife judges collaborate with the afterlife police force sometimes, I see him from time to time. Not since he started working for you, though. I’m going to go greet him before the event starts. It was nice to meet a friend of my Lee Jihye.”
Yi Sunshin’s sincerity about winning the award for Lee Jihye shines through in his performance, the man destroys the competition. Kim Dokja and Han Sooyoung can’t help but get swept up in the spirit. By the end, the supposedly neutral caterers are openly cheering for the man. Uriel tries to remain impartial, but even Yoo Joonghyuk subtly cheers when Yi Sunshin crosses the final finish line, winning the whole event.
“Yes! I mean, good work everyone. Yi Sunshin is this year's winner of the Dream World Afterlife Lottery!”
Uriel announces the winner and hands Yi Sunshin a giant fake check that says “winning lottery numbers.”
It’s ridiculous but also fun, a small band plays as Yi Sunshin accepts his prize. Han Sooyoung, eager to score, wastes no time preparing them to enter Lee Jihye’s dream.
“And remember, just hand her the numbers then get out. You can say something to help her remember the numbers but no sappy reunions allowed.”
“You should tell her to be generous with her winnings, like to treat her work supervisor to a meal.”
“Don’t listen to that squid. Are you ready?”
Yi Sunshin nods, the lottery numbers in hand.
“Alright good. Let’s go.”
On their way out, Han Sooyoung passes Kim Dokja who whispers, “you still owe me a meal anyways.”
Damn. She hoped he’d forget about that.
Lee Jihye’s first day of Minosoft went well enough, but her second day is bizarre. At this point, she’s pretty sure she’s the only one in the building, and there’s an ominous atmosphere. An excited man dressed like an old general walks up to her desk. Shit, now she’s gotta indulge some weird cosplayer.
The cosplayer gives her a lottery ticket and takes the time to point to each number. Now that she thinks about it, she feels that she’s seen the man before somewhere.
“Ajusshi, you look familiar. Who are you?”
“A friend of your ancestor. I’ve been watching over you your whole life, I’m proud of you. Take this ticket, now your troubles are over.”
Lee Jihye looks down at the ticket in her hands. Ancestors, lottery tickets.... this must be a prank, right?
“Hey, is this— “
By the time she looks back up, the man is gone.
“What did you mean when you said you were a friend of Lee Jihye’s ancestor? I thought only direct ancestors could participate in the event.”
Back in the afterlife, Kim Dokja questions Yi Sunshin. Could anyone take over ancestorship? If so, couldn’t Yoo Joonghyuk or Han Sooyoung win the lottery numbers for Kim Dokja next year? They could split the profits. If they stick around, that is.
“You heard that? I had a companion that stayed with me in the afterlife for almost 500 years. He recently was reincarnated and asked me to watch over his descendants. I’ve watched over Jihye-yah since she was born, but because I am not her direct ancestor, it is only now that I qualified for this event. It is good timing though.”
Yoo Joonghyuk, who had been listening in, asks, “why?”
“Joonghyuk-ah, my old friend, it is because now she needs the money. Lee Jihye lost her parents early, and was raised by her grandmother, who recently died. Now she is all alone, except for her roommate, who is her best friend and almost lover.”
This doesn’t seem too bad to Kim Dokja, but perhaps he is jaded. But Yi Sunshin’s tale isn’t over.
“The thing is...”
Back in her apartment, Lee Jihye wakes up from her strange dream.
“Bori-yah? Are you home?”
Her best friend Na Bori pops her head out of the kitchen.
“Can you hand me a pen? I just had the strangest dream. A weird old guy gave me lottery numbers. He seemed really excited about it too.”
Lee Jihye snatches the offered pen and scribbles down the numbers.
“So you’re going to buy a ticket? Well, I hope you win.”
Na Bori extends an imaginary microphone towards Lee Jihye.
“Lottery winner Lee Jihye, what are you going to do with your new riches?”
“Stuff myself with high-quality meat. And then move out of this crappy place. Get a house with a yard, so I can practice undisturbed.”
“Mmm, that sounds nice. We could have a small plot set aside for the garden I’ve always wanted.”
“Who said I’d take you with me?”
“Don’t you know? You’re stuck with me, my little crybaby.”
Na Bori sticks her tongue out at Lee Jihye before breaking out into a series of coughs.
“Is everything alright? What did the doctor say?”
“Ah, it’s the usual. Surgery could help, but it’s crazy expensive. There’s still time to decide, it’s not that bad yet.”
Actually, it was that bad. Na Bori was born with a rare lung condition with a low life expectancy. It has worsened, and the doctor warned her if she didn’t get help, she might not have long to live. She doesn’t let Lee Jihye know just yet, but the other woman can sense that something is off with her precious best friend.
“Hmph. If I do win the lottery, the first thing I’m paying for is that surgery, got it?”
“You’re too good to me. Alright then.”
Lee Jihye disagrees, she thinks she could never be enough, but she lets the comment slide.
“...and that’s why she needs the money as soon as possible,” Yi Sunshin finishes.
Perhaps Kim Dokja was too quick to judge the situation. Lee Jihye, not knowing her loved one was so close to death... Kim Dokja clears the lump in his throat.
“I’m glad you won the lottery event.”
“Thank you, Kim Dokja. And for the record, the rumors of your ugliness are greatly exaggerated.”
Kim Dokja’s retort dies in his throat as Han Sooyoung exclaims, “WHAT?”
Han Sooyoung had been nagging Uriel to make sure her grudge count increases immediately when she caught sight of the angel’s tablet screen.
“Lee Jihye is scheduled to die? After all this work and she’s just going to die? What about my quota?”
“That’s what you’re worried about?”
Yi Sunshin pushes his way into the conversation.
“What about my Jihye-ah? She just got a break! She hasn’t even confessed yet.”
It’s not that Uriel wants Lee Jihye to die, it’s just that she doesn’t have the power to stop it.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about this. Only the heavens can change her fate.”
Actually, Uriel thinks, that’s not a bad idea.
“To change a person's fate you have to change God’s mind. God listen to stories. Good stories are like currency here, they can be exchanged for favors or for a good reincarnation. None of you have good enough stories for something like this, you have to find someone else, and it has to be someone related to Lee Jihye.”
They all turn to Han Sooyoung.
“No. I already wasted a whole day on this, I don’t have time to tempt fate.”
That’s too harsh, and Kim Dokja opens his mouth to say so before Yoo Joonghyuk shushes him.
“Just wait,” the man whispers as he subtly signals to Yi Sunshin. He hopes the man remembers their conversation back at the lottery event.
“Joonghyuk-ah! And Uriel, my old friends. It’s good to see you.”
They exchanged greetings and chatted for a bit before Yi Sunshin brought up the police force.
“Joonghyuk-ah, what are you doing here as a chef? You were a great captain at the force. If you returned, I’m sure you would become the director.”
“Don’t you want to come back?”
“I do but...” Yoo Joonghyuk trails off as he looks towards Han Sooyoung, “it’s not time. Not yet.”
“Ah, I see,” Uriel chimes in, “she has less than a month left, doesn’t she.”
“Yes. With Kim Dokja, she can succeed.”
“The human? So that’s why she keeps him around. I remember that she hated them.”
“She doesn’t. That idiot acts tough but caves over any sob story. They all ‘remind her of her mother.’”
Yi Sunshin strokes his chin. “I see, a true tsundere.”
“Precisely,” Uriel chimes in.
Yi Sunshin puts on his most desperate face and begs Han Sooyoung to reconsider.
“Please, please save Jihye-ah. I’d do anything for her, I’d even go to hell for her.”
The declaration reminds Han Sooyoung of her mother, who died for the sake of her stupid daughter. She pushes aside these feelings and feigns annoyance.
“Fine, just stop sobbing. I won’t let my score slip away that easily.”
“One thing you should know before you go,” Uriel says, “it’s illegal to get good stories for free. You have to trade something of equal value.”
“We’ll trade the lottery numbers. Got any problems with that, Yi Sunshin?”
The man shakes his head.
“Good. Anything other surprises, Uriel?”
“Nope. But remember, the time of death is set for tomorrow morning at 11:03am. And be careful! Good stories are valuable here, so guard them well.”
“Noted. Yoo Joonghyuk, Kim Dokja, we’re going to the records department.”
Han Sooyoung expects to spend a lifetime waiting for the records department to sift through files, but they’re surprisingly quick.
“We recently switched to computerized records. A new hire helped us out,” the worker points to a desk where a man in a black turtle neck sits facing a computer. He picks up an apple and takes a bite before setting it back down on the desk.
“Shit, they got him working here?”
Han Donghoon, the founder of one of the world's biggest computer companies. But now is not the time to be impressed by such things. Han Sooyoung turns her attention back to the worker in front of her.
“Well? Did you find anyone?”
“Yes, Na Bori’s grandmother. She has enough stories, here is her information.”
“Is that a lot?” Kim Dokja questions.
“This woman has enough to be reborn a billionaire.”
They visit Na Bori’s grandmother at the Afterlife orphanage. Of course such a woman would work here.
“What is this place?” Kim Dokja asks.
“This is where children that have died wait for their parents.”
“...what if their parents aren’t good people?”
“They wait for them anyways. Don’t get me wrong, this place is great—practically grudge-free, bad for business. But that part is shitty. People campaigned for reform every now and then.”
While they wait, the group of children gravitates towards them. They are in awe of Yoo Joonghyuk, they think Han Sooyoung is pretty, then even climb all over Kim Dokja.
Among the children, there is one boy that stands out from the rest. He’s alone, and he’s reading a book. Overcome with curiosity, Han Sooyoung approaches the boy.
“Do you like stories?”
The boy’s face lights up at her question, a precious sight.
“I love them!”
“Is that so? What are you reading now,” Han Sooyoung checks out the ornate cover of his book, “a fairytale?”
“Hm, something like that. There’s a prince and magic.”
“Sounds like a fun book. Tell me, is there a happy ending?”
The boy tilts his head in thought.
“I’m not sure, I’m not done with it yet.”
“Hm, well I hope it’s a satisfying ending, yeah? And if it’s not, call me and we’ll think of a better one.”
The boy giggles and Han Sooyoung melts. What a cute little brat. She turns to show Kim Dokja but when she looks back, the boy is gone. It’s odd, but she doesn’t get to dwell on it as Na Bori’s grandmother finds her and gives her the pouch of stories.
“Thank you for this.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, not for my Bori. Besides, I hear they haven’t even confessed yet!”
Damn, this woman really is going to be a billionaire in her next life. Han Sooyoung hands over the winning ticket and rejoins Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja. As they wait for the ferry back to the realm of the living, a man rushes by and knocks Han Sooyoung over.
“Bastard! He took the stories!”
Han Sooyoung recognizes him as one of the other ancestors that participated in the field day, one that tried to cheat his way to victory. Han Sooyoung knows this asshole, a previous noble. His descendants are fine! But he won’t be.
“Yoo Joonghyuk, get his ass. Kim Dokja, come with me. I’ll stall Uriel, you keep Lee Jihye safe.”
Back in the living world, Kim Dokja fights hard to keep Lee Jihye from the dangers of the Quality Assurance Department. Which means, he peers over his cubicle every few minutes to check on Lee Jihye.
Received 10:46: stop staring at me, it’s annoying
Sent 10:46: just making sure everything is alright! It’s only your second day, don’t overdo it!
Received 10:47: I’m sitting at a computer, there’s nothing to overdo
Sent 10:48: just promise me if anything fees off you’ll let me know right away, okay?
!Received 10:49: is there a jump-scare in this game or something? Those don’t scare me
Anyways, I’m going down to the stock room. I need to get another keyboard, this one’s shit
Sent 10:49: I’ll go with you! I need some stuff too.
Received 10:50: that’s bullshit, tell the truth
Sent 10:50: aha what do you mean?
Received 10:51: you just don’t want to do actual work
Sent 10:52: you got me there
Received 10:52: I can respect that. Let’s go
At 10:53, Uriel checks her tablet one last time. Lee Jihye is still scheduled to die in a freak accident in the stock room. She takes a deep breath in and walks up to the Minosoft building, but someone gets in her way.
“Wait! Why are you here so early? It isn’t time yet.”
Of course Han Sooyoung would try to get in her way.
“It’s proper to show up 10 minutes early.”
“Take your time. Yoo Joonghyuk is coming with the stories, you know.”
Yoo Joonghyuk is on his way, the culprit caught and the story pouch secure. There’s just one problem.
All the people that die every day and the ferry runs every 2 hours? It’s bullshit. There’s still an hour left before the next ferry, Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t have that kind of time. He eyes the afterlife river, then sighs.
Yoo Joonghyuk secures the story pouch to his clothing, then dives in.
Back at Minosoft, Han Sooyoung tries to stall Uriel. The Angel of Death made it through the front door and is progressing through the building at an alarming rate.
“Hey, what did you think of that story I sent you last month? It was good, right?”
“Yes! I like the main trio, but there was something off about it, what was it.... oh yeah! You’re using it to stall. Now let me do my job.”
“Fine. But you’re going the wrong way. The stock room is over there.”
Actually, Han Sooyoung has no idea. But she leads Uriel in the opposite direction anyway, hoping to buy some time.
It works, but by the time they reach the stock room, Uriel is pissed. She flings Han Sooyoung away then sends a burst of power towards the boxes at the top shelf causing them to fall, the accident that is supposed to kill Lee Jihye.
Lee Jihye doesn’t die, however. Kim Dokja pulls her away in time, and Lee Jihye passes out instead.
Han Sooyoung picks herself off the ground and yells out, “hey! That hurt you know? Can’t you disobey orders this once? It’s just a few more minutes!”
Yoo Joonghyuk, that bastard, where was he?
“If I do that I’ll get in trouble. I’ll have to submit a written apology and beg for forgiveness.”
“So? I’ve submitted hundreds of those. I’ll tell you what, I’ll send you the best ones and you can copy those.”
“Hundreds? And you’re still here?”
Han Sooyoung must have the favor of the heavens to not be punished yet. But this doesn’t matter, Uriel has a job to do.
“I’ve always wanted to fight you, Han Sooyoung.”
“Bring it on.”
Uriel blasts Han Sooyoung, who fights back. Just as things start to get intense, someone approaches the door.
“Hello? Is someone in there?”
It’s Jung Heewon. Kim Dokja quickly grabs Han Sooyoung and stows her out of sight. He can’t actually see Uriel right now, which means Jung Heewon probably can’t either, and he figures Uriel wouldn’t hurt someone unnecessarily.
“It’s me, Kim Dokja. I have Lee Jihye the intern here, some boxes fell and hit her head. She fainted, can you take her to a doctor? I’ll clean up the room.”
Jung Heewon carefully picks Lee Jihye up. Before she leaves, she turns back to Kim Dokja.
“Are you sure no one else is here? I heard yelling.”
“That was us when the boxes fell.”
Jung Heewon decides to let it go. Kim Dokja is in the CIA after all, he can protect himself.
During this exchange, Uriel’s powers are temporarily suspended. She tries to blast Han Sooyoung, but no magic comes out.
Once Jung Heewon leaves, Kim Dokja pulls Han Sooyoung out from her hiding place and crouches down to wrap himself around her.
“Please,” he pleads, “don’t fight. Give us some more time. She’s already gone now anyway, you can blame it on Han Sooyoung. She already has apology letters written, right?”
Han Sooyoung nods.
“Hah, I’m sorry but I can’t do that. It would be a grave sin to let this go.”
With her powers back, Uriel pulls out her tablet. Under ‘cause of death,’ she crosses out the previous choice.
“Now she’ll die of a heart attack instead. I’m sorry, I truly am.”
Before Uriel can save her updates, Yoo Joonghyuk enters the room from the back exit.
He’s completely soaked, his clothes sticking to his well-built frame.
It’s quite a sight, this wet Yoo Joonghyuk handing over the story pouch to Uriel. The angel places it on her tablet, and in an instant, Lee Jihye’s fate changes.
Yoo Joonghyuk exhales in relief and turns his attention to Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja. The room’s a mess, boxes strewn everywhere, but they seem alright. They’re both looking up at him in admiration, it’s not a bad sight. Yoo Joonghyuk gestures for them to rise.
“Let’s have dinner tonight. You too, Uriel. I’ll cook.”
“Damn! My ancestors were one number off!”
Lee Jihye sighs and throws her lottery ticket into the trash. Such a shit day. First Kim Dokja was acting weird, then she got hit on the head, and now her silly hope of financing Na Bori’s surgery is squashed. Useless ancestors.
“Jihye-yah! Jihye-yah guess what!”
“Bori-yah? Did you win the lottery?”
“No, but I just got back from the doctor's office. My lungs are normal and I can breathe well, it’s a miracle!”
Na Bori jumps into Lee Jihye’s arms, relishing the other girl's warmth. She’s always been afraid of confessing since she didn’t want Lee Jihye to lose both her friend and her lover when she inevitably died. But now that things have changed, Na Bori summons her courage and begins to speak.
“Do you think Lee Jihye and Na Bori will be okay? Didn’t she need the money for the surgery?”
“Interesting that you’re worried about that when you were the one that tried to kill her.”
“Shut up, Han Sooyoung,” Uriel snaps, “you know it’s my job. I’m genuinely worried about them. They’re cute together.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry, I talked to Na Bori’s grandmother. She used the lottery ticket to buy the panacea, which is strong enough to cure her granddaughter. Na Bori and Lee Jihye are probably making out as we speak.”
“I wish all my ships moved at that pace.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing! I should get back to the afterlife. See you!”
After Uriel leaves, Kim Dokja attempts his own exit. Unlike Uriel, he is not successful and stumbles as he tries to stand. Han Sooyoung rushes to catch him while a concerned Yoo Joonghyuk watches.
“His forehead is hot, he has a fever.”
Kim Dokja did work all day and night to save Lee Jihye, during a month when he’s already more overworked than usual. Feeling guilty, Han Sooyoung announces that she’s walking Kim Dokja home while Yoo Joonghyuk closes up the bar.
Walking turns into dragging, and when she finally tucks Kim Dokja into his bed, she needs a moment to rest. She glances over his sad little apartment. It’s so bare the emptiness is loud, telling the story of a lonely life. But it’s not Han Sooyoung’s place to intrude, so she prepares to leave. As she starts to rise, a hand wraps around her wrist.
Weakly, but with desperation, Kim Dokja whispers, “please stay with me.”
It’s familiar, Han Sooyoung is sure she’s experienced something like this before. A hand grasping her arm, in a royal palace, a much larger kind of emptiness. A beautiful prince, begging her to stay, clinging to her in his cursed sleep. These are memories Han Sooyoung doesn’t let herself indulge in, but just one night won’t hurt.
Han Sooyoung kneels back down beside Kim Dokja’s bed and pets his hair.
"Sweet dreams, Kim Dokja."
[Uriel, in the afterlife, yelling up at the sky: omg ‘hundreds’ of apology letters are you kidding me?
Uriel: I don’t care that it’s more like 50, you can’t have favorites!
Uriel: now you’re giving me the silent treatment?
Uriel: wait, so that’s why?
Uriel: do the others know about this? they might not like it
Uriel: of course I trust your judgment, I’ll keep an eye on him]
Chapter 5: 99,995
Ancient edgelord gets a life; author never lets go of the Yoo Joonghyuk/Yu Jungheok/Yu Joongheok joke
Thank you everyone for reading this story and for all your lovely comments! I’m going to be busy these next few weeks so I may switch to updating every other week.
There's an intruder in Kim Dokja's apartment. From his bed, he can hear someone shuffling about in his kitchen.
Well, the joke is on that person. Kim Dokja may not be the best at self-defense, and he may not have a fancy security system, but he also doesn't have much of anything else. Perhaps if he pretends to be asleep, the intruder will realize this and leave.
Except, who would bother to break into this dingy apartment if theft was the goal? No, the intruder must have a reason for being here.
He pays attention to the sound of their movements. The intruder digs through his cabinets and fiddles with his stove. That's odd, the apartment smells like food. Is the intruder cooking?
"Hey, quit pretending you're asleep and come here. The food is ready."
The intruder sounds like Han Sooyoung? Well, that's not so bad, Kim Dokja thinks as he pushes the covers away.
"Sooyoung-ah, I'm glad it's you."
Sooyoung-ah? When did they get that close? Kim Dokja is sick, Han Sooyoung reasons, and she lets the name go. What's more pressing is how Kim Dokja isn't touching his food, just staring at the bowl of soup before him.
"Oi, that's not for show. Eat it."
"It's been a long time since someone cooked for me."
Kim Dokja didn't mean to stare, he just wanted to savor the moment. But he is hungry, so he picks up the spoon to eat.
"Mmm, this is good?"
The broth is flavorful, yet Kim Dokja can tell that the ingredients are healthy.
"Why is that a question, brat?"
Obviously it's good. It's a recipe that Han Sooyoung has kept with her for 500 years, one that she learned within a dream, from a man nursing someone back to health spoon by spoon. Kim Dokja will feel his strength return soon. She should get going.
"Anyway, you look better today. I'm going to go back to the bar, you take the day off from work."
"I can't. I am the backbone of the quality assurance team."
That is a lie. Kim Dokja is good at his job, but he is unenthusiastic about it. He is, however, paid by the hour.
"Whatever, just go see a doctor after, okay? I can't have you mess up my plans because of work."
A few moments later, she asks, "what's your favorite food?"
"You heard me, dumbass."
What a coincidence, dumplings are Yoo Joonghyuk's favorite food to make.
"High maintenance aren't you? Don't you know how hard it is to make dumplings? Well, you're lucky, because Yoo Joonghyuk will make them tonight."
Well, he will once she tells him to.
"Yes. Tonight we'll take it easy."
"You don't have to do that on my account."
Han Sooyoung still needs to settle 6 grudges, after all.
"Tch, who said it was for you? I'm tired, I spent all night holding the hand of some idiot that caught a cold."
Han Sooyoung gets up to leave.
"...we held hands? You held my hand all night? Wait, come back!"
Kim Dokja throws out questions at Han Sooyoung, but it's too late, she's gone. She spent the night with him?
Is it possible that Han Sooyoung cares for him? No, such a thing can't be true. Kim Dokja's video game avatar walks through several doors backwards and crashes the game. He documents that.
...still, to stay by his side all night, she must have some positive feeling towards him, right? His character charges at a tree while rapidly firing a gun and falls off the map.
"Hey, are you listening?"
Kim Dokja looks up from his screen to see Jung Heewon towering over him.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I said Yoo Sangah and I are going to get lunch together. Do you want to eat with us or not?"
They're inviting him out to lunch again? Well, they might accidentally touch him, so he should probably decline. But, his powers don't seem to work on Jung Heewon, and what are the odds it'll happen twice with Yoo Sangah?
"I'll eat with you."
"...then the bastard ran off, still drenched, while calling us 'crazy bitches.' And that's how the two of us became friends."
Jung Heewon finishes her story with a satisfied nod. Kim Dokja can only marvel at Jung Heewon and Yoo Sangah's chaotic origin story.
"Jung Heewon is the only person who truly accepts that I don't want to have romance in my life."
"And Yoo Sangah is the only person who doesn't make fun of me for wanting it in mine."
Yoo Sangah and Jung Heewon laugh like they're sharing an inside joke, but Kim Dokja does not understand.
"Why is it surprising that you want romance in your life?"
Yoo Sangah and Jung Heewon grow quiet for a moment before Yoo Sangah speaks up.
"That's a topic for another time. Anyway, I have to get back. I'm presenting at a meeting later."
Yoo Sangah cleans up her area of the table and heads back to the company, leaving Kim Dokja and Jung Heewon alone. Over the next few minutes, Kim Dokja becomes somewhat of an expert on the spot of the ceiling he stares at.
"Look, it's nothing against you. My love life is something I don't discuss with people I don't know very well."
"You have a right to privacy."
They sit in silence a little longer until Jung Heewon speaks up again.
"...do you like movies?"
"Movies? I guess so."
"Yoo Sangah and I bought tickets to see a new movie, it's supposed to be funny. But she's ditching me to visit her family. Do you want the extra ticket?"
Why is Jung Heewon asking him of all people? Is this...friendship?
"Yeah, I'd like that ticket."
"You banned me from making dumplings. Why do you want them now?"
"I didn't ban you from making dumplings, idiot, I banned you from only making dumplings."
When Yoo Joonghyuk first started as her chef, he made his special dumplings almost every night. They are delicious, but it drove Han Sooyoung nuts.
"Why are they so important to you, anyway? Are they some secret family recipe?"
"I learned it from my mentor in the afterlife. Answer my question. Why do you want me to make them?"
"...that fool still went to work today, you know. He seemed better when he woke up, but he's still a dumbass."
"That does not answer my question."
After a minute, Han Sooyoung says, "his favorite food is dumplings."
"Hm. We need to buy more flour. Luckily I had the chicken broth ready, or—Sooyoung?"
Gone from his side, she's instead peering over a random child's shoulder as they try to get a plushie from a claw-crane game.
"That's not how it's done, kid. Here, let me show you."
She nudges the kid aside and tries her hand at the game. She perfectly positions the claw over a sunfish plushie, but the toy somehow slips out of the claw's grip.
"Eh? What the hell is this? Let me try again."
The outcome is the same the second time around.
"This damn machine is rigged!"
"Your technique is weak. Move over."
Yoo Joonghyuk takes control of the joystick. He expertly maneuvers the claw crane until it wraps around a baby chick, lifting the plushie above the rest. Just before the claw reaches the drop area, the plushie slips.
"...that was a coincidence."
"And yet we have no plushie."
"Let me try one more time."
Many, many trials later, Yoo Joonghyuk carefully guides the claw towards the shoot. Just before the squid plushie 'slips,' he thrusts the joystick. "Now, Sooyoung!"
Han Sooyoung kicks the machine, sending the plushie into the winning shoot. She grabs the squid and holds it out in front of her.
"Here you go, kid. Eh? Where'd they go?"
They look around, but the kid is nowhere to be seen.
"After all, we did for that little shit? Whatever, they shouldn't be gambling like this."
Han Sooyoung surveys the squid in her hands.
"This really resembles that idiot, doesn't it?"
Yoo Joonghyuk nods in response.
"Want to tease him? Let's go give him this. We can make him come grocery shopping with us and tell him we're making spicy squid or something."
Yoo Joonghyuk sighs and agrees. He does his best to seem unimpressed, but she can see the corners of his mouth threatening to point upwards. He tells her that Kim Dokja is currently at the doctor's office.
"Seriously? He's that sick?"
"He is fine. He is taking the girl for a follow-up appointment."
It turns out that Lee Jihye sprained her finger when she passed out yesterday, and she needs to get that checked out and get a brace for it. Kim Dokja, her gracious supervisor (eager for the paid leave) volunteered to take her.
The office is close to the market, so they swing by to pick him up. They pass Lee Jihye on the way in; she greets them, and they chat for a bit. Other than her finger, she seems fine, joyful even. Han Sooyoung wonders if it has something to do with that roommate of hers, but she doesn't pry, she's here to bother Kim Dokja. Lee Jihye gets reception to let them in and direct them to the room where he is.
It seems like the doctor is lecturing Kim Dokja. She points to his eye bags and vaguely gestures over his body. Whatever she is saying is probably something he needs to hear, but Han Sooyoung is impatient. They still need to go to the store after this. She and Yoo Joonghyuk enter the room, which startles the doctor, causing her to trip into Kim Dokja.
The second she touches him, the doctor—Lee Seolhwa, her name tag says—begins her story.
"It's my first day back on the job."
Lee Seolhwa lived a successful life. She grew up well, with a passion for medicine that blossomed into a fruitful career. She fell in love with the man of her dreams, a professional chef named Yu Joongheok.
They met when he was just starting out as a chef and cut his finger. It was a holiday, and the streets were too crowded to reach the hospital in a timely manner. Luckily, resident doctor Lee Seolhwa heard about the incident and treated him.
"Have I ever told you how lucky you are to have met me, darling?"
"You are the lucky one. I was in trouble that day, but you are a disaster in the kitchen."
Perhaps she was due for some misfortune, because no matter how much the couple prepared to have children, they could never conceive.
They eventually turned to IVF injections, which took as much fun out of the baby-making process as it did a toll on Lee Seolhwa's body. But the sacrifice was worth it, as she finally became pregnant.
However, the couple's joy didn't last long.
"I was preparing the nursery that we built for the baby when I tripped and hit my abdomen. The force of the fall was too great, and I miscarried."
Lee Seolhwa dabs at the corners of her eyes.
"I know it isn't my fault. At least, that's what everyone tells me. But I can't help but feel that I killed my child. Part of me wants to try again right away, so I can pretend it never happened. Another part of me never wants to go through this again. I promised my husband I would give up on it for now and take time to heal. But I don't know if I made the right choice."
Kim Dokja passes a tissue to Lee Seolhwa and tells her that "they're right, those other people. It isn't your fault."
"He has a point. It's difficult to give something like this up, right? But you tried your best, and it's okay to take a break. Here," Han Sooyoung hands Lee Seolhwa a coupon to the bar, "if you ever feel overwhelmed, like you need someone to talk to, stop by this bar and we'll be there for you."
"Thank you for your kindness and for listening. Goodness, I really said a lot, didn't I? I am sorry for burdening you with such personal matters. How unprofessional of me."
"It is okay." Yoo Joonghyuk assures her. "Talking about it is the first step."
The trip to the market is uneventful, but on the walk home Kim Dokja interrogates Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk on the mysteries of life.
"How is a child really born?"
Han Sooyoung pats him on the back.
"You've outgrown the childhood story of getting picked up under a bridge, huh? Let me tell you all about the true answer: sex."
"I know what sex is! That's not what I meant. They meticulously plan death in the afterlife, right? And the entire process revolves around reincarnation. So there must be some method behind the birth of children too."
"Smart boy. Conception isn't random. For a baby to be conceived, one must get a conception dream from Samshin."
"Conception is controlled through dreams?"
"Why not? Dreams are obviously important."
It makes sense given everything he has seen so far.
"So a woman or someone close to her has a vivid dream, then she finds out she's pregnant?"
"Basically." Han Sooyoung proudly points to herself and says, "my mother dreamed of a dragon. Do you know yours?"
For a second, his expression falters.
"She dreamt she hid under a large tree in the pouring rain. The rain stopped when a little boy approached her and climbed into her lap. He and gave her a storybook to read to him. When she finished, he said, 'it's your turn now.'"
Yoo Joonghyuk raises an eyebrow, "that's unique."
"Really? What was yours?"
"I don't know. But when she was pregnant with me, my mother dreamt of a child that cried tears of gold."
"Hm," Han Sooyoung scratches her chin, "so you had riches, but were sad about it... ah! I got it."
She jabs a confident finger in Yoo Joonghyuk's direction.
"You were an overworked merchant!"
"A corrupt government official with a guilty conscience?"
"...500 more years will pass before an idiot like you guesses correctly."
"You are no fun."
Yoo Joonghyuk ignores Han Sooyoung's comment and adjusts his pace to walk beside Kim Dokja.
"Do you like to read?"
"I do. In that regard, the dream makes sense."
"What type of books?"
The dreaded question. He would like to say something impressive, like the classics, or nonfiction books. In comparison, his answer seems childish.
"I like fantasy novels."
That's odd. Yoo Joonghyuk's expression doesn't change. Usually people show some shade of disappointment. Though Yoo Joonghyuk is not known for being expressive, maybe that's why.
"What do you like about them?"
It's a good question, asked with a sincerity he's never heard before.
"The world-building. I like books that are so detailed you feel yourself slip into another world entirely."
Behind the two, Han Sooyoung claps her hands together in excitement. Kim Dokja didn't know she was so enthusiastic about fantasy novels.
"Right? I love it when they— "
"I have to go! I'll be back before the bar opens."
With that, Han Sooyoung disappears among the crowded streets.
Kim Dokja turns to Yoo Joonghyuk and asks, "do you know what that was about?"
Yoo Joonghyuk shrugs. He has some idea of where the woman may be headed. It's a stupid idea. He hopes it works out.
"I don't read often. I like fantasy video games, for the same reason you like fantasy novels."
"Really? I work for a gaming company, you know. Which ones are your favorites?"
"It's difficult to say. I started playing after joining Sooyoung at the bar. It's only been a year."
They walk in silence for a bit as Kim Dokja builds up the courage to ask his next questions.
"What will happen to you after we settle the grudges?"
This stops Yoo Joonghyuk in his tracks.
"I...don't know. I could rejoin the force. I could also reincarnate, but..."
"But if you reincarnate, you'll forget about Sooyoung."
She isn't all he would forget about, but Yoo Joonghyuk nods anyway.
"You knew her before this, right? And you're hiding it from her."
Yoo Joonghyuk seems surprised at the accuracy of Kim Dokja's words and the certainty with which he delivers them. However, it's the only logical conclusion. Why else would Yoo Joonghyuk go so far for a woman he only knew for one year? It is strange that Yoo Joonghyuk makes Han Sooyoung guess about his past, when the man offers bits and pieces of it to Kim Dokja unprompted. And Yi Sunshin's answer about how he knew Yoo Joonghyuk was suspicious. Kim Dokja suspects they knew each other while alive, which makes it likely that Yoo Joonghyuk was a soldier. How this fits into Han Sooyoung's past, he isn't sure. Yoo Joonghyuk doesn't help him piece it together, either.
"...I care about her, and I want to keep her safe. That's what I've always wanted. That idiot jumps headfirst into danger."
Kim Dokja can tell he will not get any more out of the man today, so he changes the subject.
"If you go back to the force, does that mean you can come visit? Like Uriel off-duty?"
"Would you be able to cook or...?"
Yoo Joonghyuk huffs out a laugh.
"Now I have to cook for you too?"
It's been a while since she last visited Samshin, but Han Sooyoung still remembers the layout of the traditional home. What she doesn't remember is Samshin being two children instead of one young woman. Yet there they are, the unmistakable Samshins, huddled over a claw crane machine in the middle of a large room.
"To the left, slowly, careful," the girl instructs as the boy operates the crane. Their target, which drops smoothly out of the machine, is a large marble containing a grasshopper. The boy holds it up with pride.
"I wonder what kind of conception dream that will be?"
Han Sooyoung's comment startles the two, and the boy almost drops the marble.
"Hey! You can't just break in here! You should have knocked." The girl scolds Han Sooyoung, while the boy adds, "I could have lost my marble! Use the doorbell next time!"
"Aren't you going to ask who I am?"
Seriously, these brats have no sense of stranger danger. They look at her like she's the weird one.
"But we know who you are, Han Sooyoung," the girl points out, "the previous Samshin told us all about you."
"Oh yeah? What did she say?"
"That you are an idiot and a troublemaker, but also a good person. We should never listen to you but we should help you only sometimes."
The boy rubs his head as if it hurts.
"I still think they're stupid instructions. They make no sense!"
True, but that sounds like something Samshin would say about her.
"Who are you two, then?"
"I'm Shin Yoosung, and he's Lee Gilyoung. We're the temporary Samshins."
"What happened to the old Samshin? Did she quit or did the heavens finally realize she's insane?"
It turns out, neither. She's taking a sabbatical via reincarnation. Instead of granting people children, she deals with assholes in an HR department. It's bullshit, but to each their own.
Han Sooyoung offers to help them deliver the marble and accompanies them to the dream world. Today their destination is an apartment complex.
"There she is!"
Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung make a beeline for a woman strolling along the road. Once they reach her, they hand over the marble and congratulate her. It's a beautiful moment until the grasshopper springs to life.
The woman flings the grasshopper to the ground.
"Is this a joke? Why couldn't I get something normal, like a tiger or a flower?"
Han Sooyoung is about to tell the woman off when Shin Yoosung beats her to it.
"You get what you get, ungrateful human. C'mon Lee Gilyoung, let's go."
She grabs Lee Gilyoung by the hand and storms off. When the woman is out of earshot, she consoles him.
"I told you it was a weird idea, but she went too far. Humans are all assholes."
Oh? That's a cynical take for one so young. Han Sooyoung sends Lee Gilyoung off with coupons to buy them drinks from a distant food truck. In his absence, she questions Shin Yoosung.
"So. How did an angry kid like you end up handing out conception dreams?"
Shin Yoosung sighs as if she knew this was coming.
"I'm not a kid, you know? Neither is he. We're both assassins that died in our 20s. They assigned this job to us to teach some bullshit about 'the value of a human life.'"
That sounds like Anna Croft's doing. Shin Yoosung continues to rant.
"It's a load of shit! I want to get out of here as fast as possible. But that fool wants to experiment with new things and 'encourage families to embrace diversity.'"
A faint smile graces Shin Yoosung's face.
"He's stupid, but he has good intentions. His plans won't work, though. Humans are awful beings. They abandon what they don't want and turn their backs on anything different, leaving them to fend for themselves. That's why I refuse to reincarnate."
"You're already eligible for reincarnation?"
Damn. Murder is a serious crime. It usually takes mercenaries a while to reach reincarnation.
"I told you, I'm older than I look. Lee Gilyoung is barely 100, but I've been here for 1,000 years."
A thousand years and Anna Croft is still giving her assignments. There must be more to the story.
"After the other Samshin returns, what are you going to do?"
"Then, what have you done these past 1,000 years?"
"You know, even in death, our suffering doesn't end unless we address it. If you were assigned here, it means that someone believes you can gain something from this. Isn't it worth it to try? What else are you going to do, scream into the void for another 1,000 years?"
"...I'll think about it."
Well, good enough. It's not really her problem, anyway. After a bit, Shin Yoosung speaks up again.
"I told you my story, now tell me what you're here for."
Quick and direct, she can respect that.
"Lee Seolhwa. She can't get pregnant."
Shin Yoosung types her name into her phone. Huh, she remembers her. The kind woman was especially grateful to them when she gave her the first conception dream.
"She already has a child."
"No, it was a miscarriage."
Figures. Every day they hand out marbles to those who don't deserve it, yet the one that does gets struck by tragedy. Shin Yoosung frowns.
"I'm sorry, there's nothing about another conception dream in here."
"You can't just slip a note in? Or take one from someone else?"
"No, the decision must come from the heavens. It's a crime to impregnate someone without heaven's consent."
"If someone did, they would be in a lot of trouble."
"I would have to fight them to get the conception marble back."
"...we don't lock our house at night, you know."
The two sit in silence for a bit.
"...Gilyoung's taking a long time to get the drinks."
"Yeah, he's probably lost, let's go find him."
Lee Seolhwa leans against her front door, head in her hands. Tonight was supposed to be a fun double date with friends that she hasn't seen in ages. But what little recovery she's made these past few days crumbled in the wake of their two adorable children.
She could only helplessly nod at the parents' excuse of a canceled babysitter. Seeing children isn't the problem, she's a doctor after all. But watching Yu Joongheok interact with them, his face lit up as he laughs along with them, is too much to bear. Once again she realizes how great a father he would make, and how her own mistake killed that dream for the both of them. It's a thought that weighs on her throughout dinner, that clings to her during the car ride home, all the way to their bedroom. She does her best not to let it ruin the night, but it's relentless.
"Shall we try something else we haven't done in a while?"
Yu Joongheok kisses her lips, her cheek, her neck.
"Sex for fun, not as a chore."
His kisses slowly descend down her neck, giving her plenty of time to reject his advances. There was a time in her life when she could allow herself to indulge in the love she has for this man, but now all she finds is guilt.
"Stop, I—I can't. Not tonight."
"That's okay." Yu Joongheok immediately stops and pulls her into his arms. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
"Why are you so kind to me?"
"That was basic decency."
"I killed our child. You act like you don't even hold it against me. You must be angry about it, right? I can't give you a family."
"It isn't an act. And you gave me a family when you married me. Don't look down on our marriage. This is enough for me."
"Well, it's not enough for me!"
"When was the last time we laughed together?"
"I know you want children, I want them too. But not at the cost of our happiness. You're exhausted, I can tell. Please put this aside until we are both ready to try again. I hate watching this destroy you."
It's a fair point. And her husband cares about her. Truly, she can't fault him for anything he said. But the sadness, the grief, the anger that plagues Lee Seolhwa isn't ready to be placated.
"You don't understand! Our child died inside of me, that is not something I can just put aside!"
She pushes herself out of his embrace and gathers her things.
"I need to go walk for a bit. I can't be here right now, I'm sorry."
Thinking about her husband's heartbroken face, that probably wasn't the best way to leave things. But Lee Seolhwa knows she needs to cool down before facing him again, lest her misery create company.
She pulls out a coupon from her jacket pocket and enters the address into her phone.
"Here you go, one plate of fried chicken."
Han Sooyoung places the hot food before Lee Seolhwa. Normally, she would make Kim Dokja serve the woman. But the fact that Lee Seolhwa came back means that his service won't be necessary.
"Thank you. I haven't had fried chicken in a long time."
Lee Seolhwa nods.
"Tuna, soda, trans fats, etc. I cut a lot of that out when I tried to get pregnant. I guess I don't have to worry about that now."
"You don't seem happy about that."
Lee Seolhwa stares at the chicken for a long time before answering.
"My life is successful. I have friends, hobbies, a loving husband, and a job I enjoy. I am grateful for those things, really I am. But every day I go to that job I enjoy and interact with loving families. Parents with young children, adult children with older parents—is it so selfish of me to want that for myself? I almost had it, but I ruined it. My husband wants us to move past the whole thing, but I can't. I actually snapped at him before coming here."
After hearing her story, Kim Dokja thinks he understands Lee Seolhwa's frustration.
"You carry an additional burden," he begins, "which is why it is harder for you to let go. But you're here now, trying your best. Even small steps take us somewhere."
Behind the counter, Yoo Joonghyuk agrees.
"Don't worry about your husband right now. Enjoy the fresh fried chicken."
It's adorable watching Kim Dokja and Yoo Joonghyuk try to console Lee Seolhwa. But they're amateurs. The real professional, Han Sooyoung, voices her opinion.
"Amateurs. Everyone knows fried chicken tastes better when it's cooked down, allowing the syrup to harden. Like the chicken, painful things in life also settle down with time, and then you can think about trying again. And just like the bar owners that tell you to wait, there are always professionals that can help you settle that pain if you need them. Why don't you take this chicken home and share it with your husband? By that time, it will be the right temperature."
"You're right, that's a great idea." Yu Joongheok loves fried chicken, it's the perfect peace offering. "Thank you very much, all of you."
Of course she's right, as expected of the beautiful genius that has settled almost 100,000 grudges. But Han Sooyoung is not done yet.
"And while you eat this chicken together, you can drink some of this special wine."
Yoo Joonghyuk's face darkens as he realizes what Han Sooyoung is up to. The moment the door closes behind Lee Seolhwa, he grabs Han Sooyoung by the shoulders and tries to talk some sense into the woman.
"You can't impregnate a woman."
"I can, and I will."
"They will punish you for it."
"I'll be fine."
"But Sooyoung-ah," Kim Dokja pleads, "think of your deadline. Please. Why would you risk your life over this?"
Han Sooyoung sighs and runs her hand through her hair.
"I was in love once. Shocking, right?"
The two men in the room freeze.
"I dreamt of marriage and a family...it was a simple dream, but I was a stupid girl, and I died without fulfilling it. I know how precious and desperate Lee Seolhwa's dream is. I don't expect you two to understand—my mother is the only person who could ever understand me, really—but get out of my way."
Yoo Joonghyuk moves his hands from her shoulders only to wrap them around her in a hug.
"You're wrong. There are two more people that understand you now. We're going together."
He removes one arm and makes space for Kim Dokja, beckoning the other man over.
It's strange, something about Han Sooyoung's story doesn't sit right with him. He can't imagine a 'stupid' Han Sooyoung, with a love so strong it still compels her today. What kind of man would captivate her that much? It doesn't make sense. Well, whoever he was, he was a fool. Kim Dokja nestles himself between Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk, a perfect fit. Below him, Han Sooyoung sniffles.
"Are you crying?"
"My shirt is wet."
"It's a leak in the ceiling."
"We're in a tent."
"Shut the fuck up Kim Dokja."
The house is unlocked just as Shin Yoosung said. The three quickly slip inside and head towards the room containing the conception dreams.
"Human life comes from an arcade game?" Kim Dokja asks.
"It used to be a tree," Yoo Joonghyuk explains, "but they kept falling off. We had tigers and dragons roaming the afterlife for months. One of them even became an afterlife judge."
"How did it manage that?"
"He had good takes."
"Hey! You two! Quit gossiping and help me out. Kim Dokja, shut the door and keep watch. Yoo Joonghyuk, let's do our special technique."
"Wow, you have a technique even for this?"
Han Sooyoung lets out an exasperated sigh.
"Who do you take me for? I am always prepared. In the past (few days), we trained hard (spent a lot of money on a game) to develop a technique that would (coincidentally) be useful in a situation like this. Now go close the door, it's a loud technique."
"Can't we just lift the machine and tilt it to the side a bit? It wouldn't make any noise that way."
She has to admit, it's a good idea.
"That depends. Is it bolted to the floor?"
Yoo Joonghyuk gives an experimental shove, and the machine slides a few centimeters. Good.
"Since it isn't, you two try lifting it and tilt it towards me. Gently, slowly, not that slow, perfect! You can put it down now."
Han Sooyoung pulls out two marbles, a lotus flower and a peach.
The three quickly leave the house and head to the dream world. As soon as they leave, Shin Yoosung and Lee Gilyoung step out of their bedrooms.
The dream world scenery this time is a park with a hiking trail by a river. The three of them find a vantage point hidden by bushes and wait for Lee Seolhwa's arrival.
"When she gets here, you," Han Sooyoung points to Yoo Joonghyuk, "throw this lotus dream into that river over there. Oh! There she is. Don't mess it up."
Yoo Joonghyuk rolls his eyes and tosses the marble. It sails through the air effortlessly and lands right beside Lee Seolhwa, spawning into a lotus flower.
"What a beautiful flower," Lee Seolhwa says as she approaches the edge of the water. But no matter how close she gets, the flower drifts just out of reach. By the time she's waist deep in the water, it is too far away.
"Damn, she's really unlucky, isn't she?" Han Sooyoung remarks.
"We have another chance," Yoo Joonghyuk answers back, holding out the peach marble. A faint light emanates from the marble, and the scenery shifts to the empty streets of Seoul.
"Why are we at my workplace?" Kim Dokja gestures to the Minosoft building.
"Each marble contains a different dream, this is the setting for the peach marble."
This time, Yoo Joonghyuk waits until Lee Seolhwa is close by, then calls out to her and throws the marble. In midair, Lee Gilyoung catches the now large peach.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you have this p—"
Before he can finish, Yoo Joonghyuk rips the peach out of his hands and pretends to throw it to Lee Seolhwa before passing it to Kim Dokja. This fools Lee Gilyoung, but not Shin Yoosung. She easily intercepts Kim Dokja and grabs the peach. Han Sooyoung kicks the peach out of Shin Yoosung's hands towards Lee Seolhwa, but Lee Gilyoung pushes it towards a different person instead. In the end, the one who catches the peach is ex-Department Head Han Myungoh. The second he locks eyes with Han Sooyoung, his eyes widen in recognition, and he turns and runs, the peach in hand.
"Hah? You're just going to let him run off with that? Why is he even here?"
Lee Gilyoung nods.
"The dream was meant for him."
"Are you shitting me? The perfect parent is in front of you and it's meant for that bastard?"
Han Sooyoung isn't done yet, but a hand on her shoulder stops her from continuing.
"It is alright," Lee Seolhwa tells her. "Thank you for trying on my behalf."
Shin Yoosung watches them chat with a heavy heart. Looking at Lee Seolhwa's sad smile, she thinks she understands why Han Sooyoung went so far for this woman. She almost wants to root for her too. Maybe they shouldn't have taken their time on their way to the dream world. Her thoughts are cut short as Lee Gilyoung presses an empty marble into her palm.
"I brought it to recapture any loose dreams but hear me out. Neither of us lived normal lives, right? So, it's difficult for us to relate to these soon-to-be parents. That might be why they don't like my ideas. I can't reincarnate yet, but you can. What do you think? It'll be great."
"Are you crazy? We'll get into so much trouble! Besides, humans are awful."
Kim Dokja, who overheard the conversation, steps in.
"If you're afraid of getting in trouble, you can blame us adults. We'll protect both of you. As for humans, they can be shitty, right?"
Shin Yoosung nods, confused about what point this man is trying to make.
"Some parents are horrible, but you wouldn't go to some random human. You'd be her daughter." He points to Lee Seolhwa. "She is a kind woman."
Shin Yoosung glances at the empty marble in her hands, then back up at Lee Seolhwa. She wants to help her, but isn't this too much? It's a crazy idea. Right? Still, she hesitantly steps towards Lee Seolhwa. Does she even want to be reincarnated? It might be nice to be loved. With each step, the conception marble glows until Seoul melts away into a grassy field.
"What's happening?" Han Sooyoung whispers to Kim Dokja.
He puts his finger to his lips and motions for her to watch.
Shin Yoosung stops walking as she approaches Lee Seolhwa. Would the woman even want someone like her?
"I like animals. Not just dogs and cats, big ones too."
Lee Seolhwa breaks out into a smile.
"So do I. My uncle lives on a farm, he has plenty of animals there."
"I like to fight."
"Self-defense is an impressive skill to have. My husband likes to spar with others, he'd love to train you."
"I'm a troublesome child."
"That isn't for you to judge, I think you're lovely."
...it's an insane, foolish idea, but Shin Yoosung extends the marble to Lee Seolhwa and, in a timid voice, asks, "will you be my mother?"
"It would be an honor."
The second that Lee Seolhwa touches the marble, Shin Yoosung's hair turns white, taking after her new mom. It's scary to be born again after so long, but she's also excited by the concept.
"Ah, wait, before I go I have to do one last thing."
Shin Yoosung breaks away from Lee Seolhwa and runs back to hug Lee Gilyoung. "Thank you," she whispers. Louder, she says, "I'll report back to you with new ideas as soon as I can."
Lee Gilyoung holds up a brave front until Shin Yoosung and Lee Seolhwa leave together. Then he lets the facade fall and buries himself in Kim Dokja's side.
"She's going to be okay, right?"
Kim Dokja wraps his arms around the little boy.
"Yes, and so will you. You were great at catching the peach today. If you're ever in the human realm, come find me and we can play some sports together."
Kim Dokja doesn't play sports, he's only tested sport-themed video games. But the boy just committed to a lifetime of loneliness, something that resonates with him. He can run around and throw a ball for Lee Gilyoung's sake.
"If you ever need something to eat, stop by the bar," Yoo Joonghyuk offers.
Han Sooyoung adds, "if you ever want to play hooky from work, come find me and I'll tell you some cool stories."
"Thank you all. I have to get back, but I'll make sure you don't get in trouble for Han Myungoh at least. Good luck!"
Back in Seoul, the pop-up bar is being disassembled and carted away by workers directed by Uriel.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Han Sooyoung demands.
Uriel turns to them, conflicted.
"It's an order from the higher-ups. For stealing a conception marble and unlawfully impregnating a woman, the mystic pop-up bar is suspended indefinitely."
[*After a gynecologist appointment*
Lee Seolhwa: can you put on some music?
Yu Joongheok: should I find a pregnancy playlist?
Lee Seolhwa: nah, play my 80s funk playlist. our baby’s going to be Cool.
Yo Joongheok: got it. so about those baby swords I showed you online...]
Chapter 6: 99,996
I think Kim Dokja would be a mama's boy.
“Joonghyuk-ah, I can’t go on.”
“You are fine. Get up.”
“No, I think I might die. Carry me.”
Han Sooyoung huffs from where she’s crouched on the floor. One hundred and twenty hours of afterlife community service and a suspended pop-up bar. What shit luck. It may not seem like much, but to one with little time left, this is a life or death matter. Serving the hours consecutively is the best approach, but it is exhausting. At least Anna Croft agreed not to take Shin Yoosung back from Lee Seolhwa and Yu Joongheok.
She guides the next reincarnation candidate to a chair to wait as the committee of afterlife judges deliberates their decision.
“The different hells aren’t working on this guy, he never learns his lesson. He needs to reincarnate. Perhaps as a spider?” afterlife judge Yi Sunshin says.
“Patience,” says judge Sun Wukong, “surely there must be something he can learn from in the afterlife. What do you think, Black Flame Dragon? You’ve spent the most time with this one.”
“The ancient asshole was buried with his gold and still acts like it makes him a king. Stop wasting effort on him. I vote for sending him back as a cockroach.”
“But what will he learn from it?”
Sun Wukong has a point. Few afterlife punishments inspire change in those that serve them. The number of mosquitoes in the world alone is a testament to that. At the head of the table, Uriel speaks up.
“What do you think, Sooyoung? You have experience in unconventional methods.”
That’s an understatement. After a mere 500 years, Han Sooyoung has a better success rate than the judges combined. Those she has ‘punished’ face their sins while still alive, altering the course of their lives.
“You’re going to wipe the bastard’s memories from this life in the Shower of Oblivion before reincarnation, right? So he won’t remember anything from this life. Living as an insect will be neither a learning experience nor a punishment—just another life. I’d stick him in a dream where everything he touched turned to gold and let him freak out. Then I’d reincarnate him as a poor man.”
“Yes! Brilliant! … but can we do it? Are we allowed?” Sun Wukong searches the faces of the other equally unsure judges.
“It’s against the rules.” says Yi Sunshin.
The Black Flame Dragon lets out a huff of smoke. “Fuck the rules! But also, I don’t know how we’d pull it off.”
Uriel shuffles in her seat, unable to think of a workaround.
“So it’s settled then. Cockroach?”
“...then they sacrificed their lives together to save everyone else. So the judges reincarnated the three as the next global idol group.”
“Eh? Why do you get all the interesting cases?” Han Sooyoung elbows Yoo Joonghyuk in the ribs during their brief break. “All I got was random humans and a few insects.” “Hm,“ she tilts her head, “you should reincarnate soon. I’ll haunt you until you invest in their company and become rich, then I’ll reincarnate as your spoiled house cat.”
Yoo Joonghyuk raises an eyebrow at this.
“You want to spend your life with me?”
“Who said I’d let you.”
“I said shut up.”
Yoo Joonghyuk does not shut up.
“You resolved many grudges. Even if you don’t finish, you could bargain for reincarnation. Uriel would help.” Quieter, he adds, “ I would too.”
“It’s not that simple.”
Han Sooyoung closes her eyes and remembers Anna Croft’s scroll. It was never just about her.
“I care little for a new life,” she tells Yoo Joonghyuk, “but if I could, I would reincarnate today if it meant I could step into the shower of oblivion. It’s the best service we offer the dead.”
There are words within Yoo Joonghyuk so desperate to escape they almost make it past his lips. But now is not the time. Instead, he brushes her hair back and says, “a cat would suit you.”
A messenger from Anna Croft interrupts Han Sooyoung’s furious sputtering. The two follow the messenger to Anna Croft’s office.
“Please, make yourselves at home. Would you like some cake?”
Anna Croft gestures to the assortment of cake slices spread across her coffee table. This show of hospitality is rather unusual for the ruler of the underworld. Han Sooyoung makes a show of breathing in the smell.
“Mmm, I’d love some, but what’s this?” She leans down further and sniffs. Yoo Joonghyuk plays along and copies her.
“Smells like a bribe. You happily gave out punishments a few days ago, so what do you need me for today?”
Judging by Anna Croft’s face, she hit the mark. The woman sheds her welcoming facade. The resulting smile is both calculating yet more genuine.
“I thought you might catch on.”
“Obviously. What do you want?”
“A dead spirit refuses to leave the realm of the living.”
“So? That happens all the time.”
“This one is different. She insists on meeting you, she has a grudge to settle.”
“Since when do you negotiate with spirits? Report her to the police force.”
“She has evaded everyone we sent after her.“
Shit, a newly dead spirit? It’s unthinkable that someone who just died would be powerful or knowledgeable enough to evade the afterlife. Han Sooyoung keeps her features in a mildly uninterested expression. Interesting as it is, she can’t afford to seem too eager.
“This is none of my business. I have a sentence to carry out.”
“You do. And even when you finish, it would be difficult to complete your quota without a bar.”
Damn, she has a point.
“If you do me this favor, I can help you.”
“Help me?” Han Sooyoung scoffs. ”You’re the one that put me in this position.” Wait. Indefinite suspension and community service right before this request? “You took my bar away so that I would owe you!”
“No, you earned that on your own.”
It’s probably true, but it doesn’t matter. Rumors spread regardless. Han Sooyoung makes her best scandalized expression.
“A high-ranking official abusing her post to extort the damned? Corruption, even in the afterlife!”
“You can have your bar back and no more community service.”
“I wouldn’t have to worry about either of those things if someone didn’t abuse her power.”
“Yes, you wo—you know what, “ Anna Croft takes a deep breath to clear her mind. She doesn’t have time for this. “I’ll remove your sentence and count Shin Yoosung’s reincarnation as a settled grudge.”
It’s not a terrible deal. Han Sooyoung considers accepting, but Yoo Joonghyuk is not done bargaining.
“The reincarnation settled Lee Seolhwa’s grudge as well.”
“That wasn’t a true grudge, she was getting over it, anyway.”
“Seemed like a true grudge to me. Right?” he turns to Han Sooyoung, who backs him up. Damn these two pests.
“Final offer, I’ll remove your sentence, count Shin Yoosung’s reincarnation, and count this as another settled grudge if you help me.”
It’s an offer they can accept.
Kim Dokja wanders through the streets of Seoul until his feet bring him to the corner where the pop-up bar used to be. It’s his third time here today. Now there’s a new tent taunting him, the correct shade of red but the wrong shape. How dare they set up here in this spot. The vultures, it has barely been a few days but—
“—they already took my spot. Joonghyuk, when we get the bar back, intimidate them into leaving, got it?”
Han Sooyoung? Yoo Joonghyuk? Kim Dokja walks around to the other side of the fake pop-up bar to check. It really is them.
“Ah, look!” Han Sooyoung spots him. “It’s our cute part-time employee. Eh? Why are you crying? You missed us a lot, huh?”
“I am not crying.”
“Your eyes are wet.”
She’s right, but Kim Dokja will never admit it.
“You’re wrong.” Before Han Sooyoung can tease him further, Kim Dokja adds, “you’re looking for the spirit of Cho Youngran, right?”
Yoo Joonghyuk narrows his eyes.
“How do you know that?”
Kim Dokja smiles.
“Who do you think sent her to you?”
Back at Kim Dokja’s apartment, Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk listen in bewilderment to his story.
“Do you want something to drink? I have water.”
“Never mind that.” Yoo Joonghyuk waves off Kim Dokja’s hospitality. “You can see her?”
The ‘her’ in question is the spirit of Cho Youngran, a recently deceased inmate of Seodaemun Prison.
“He also saw Uriel that one time she fought me,” says Han Sooyoung. “Traveling to the dream world must have strengthened his powers,” she adds.
She has a point, but now is not the time to discuss this. Kim Dokja regains control of the conversation to continue his story.
“As I was saying…”
Watching Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk get ripped away from him awakens a sense of despair in Kim Dokja so strong it threatens to overwhelm him. With nowhere to go, he walks home to his empty apartment. Back pressed to the door, he sinks to the floor. Are they alright? Will they come back? And what about Han Sooyoung’s deadline?
He isn’t a fool, even he notices his growing attachment to the pair. And now he can’t even deny it. (Perhaps he is the biggest fool of all, for falling for two ghosts.) It crushes him to helplessly wait for their return, but what could the living leverage against the dead? To help them he would need to be--”Hey, you!”--a spirit. Wait.
Kim Dokja lifts his head to see the woman standing in his apartment.
“Are you, stop screaming, are you Kim Dokja?”
Embarrassed, he clears his throat and nods. He takes a moment to put his thoughts together and assess the situation. The woman isn’t standing, but floating. She also wears a familiar uniform and knows his name.
“You are a spirit?”
“Yes. My name is Cho Youngran, and I died yesterday.”
“I take it you are here because you know my mother?”
“You were quick to accept that. Yes, I am”
“If you think you can get revenge on her by hurting me, it won’t work.”
This surprises the ghost. Well, it may seem shocking, but that person would never concern herself with something as trivial as him.
“What a strange boy. I am not here to spite her, I am here to save her. You are close with the bar owner that was taken away, right?”
After listening to Cho Youngran’s story, Kim Dokja carefully weighs his options. He has no filial desire to help his mother. But, if he makes the right moves, he could use this to free Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Let me get this straight,” says Han Sooyoung. “You told her,” she points at Cho Youngran “to stick near Jung Heewon because something about that woman cancels out afterlife powers. Then you had her send an ultimatum to Anna Croft demanding our help for her cooperation?”
Han Sooyoung smiles as she leans back and crosses her arms.
“Huh. Aren’t you a good boy? I should give you a promotion.” Kim Dokja ignores the butterflies in his belly at the praise. “Anyway,” she turns to Cho Youngran, “tell me everything you can about this situation with Lee Sookyung.”
Lee Sookyung in Cho Youngran’s story is nothing like the mother Kim Dokja knows. (“A child is the last to truly know a parent. Especially one that doesn’t visit,” Cho Youngran chided when he voiced this complaint.) In her stories, Lee Sookyung is a selfless though pragmatic leader. She fosters a sense of community and respect amongst the prisoners, never asking for special treatment. When Cho Youngran’s daughter expressed interest in writing, best-seller Lee Sookyung secretly edited her manuscripts. When Cho Youngran’s daughter expressed interest in self-harming, Lee Sookyung acquired illegal mobile phones to keep in contact.
Currently, this heroic Lee Sookyung is under consideration for an early release. His greedy family that stole the money from her novel now builds a case against her release, presumably so they can keep her riches. Their Lee Sookyung is a cold woman that wouldn’t even comfort her own son when he jumped from the 3rd story of his school. She’s more familiar.
“Those greedy bastards! Taking advantage of her because she’s locked up.” He expects Han Sooyoung to jump to his mother’s defense, but he’s surprised when she turns to him. “And you! Living in such a shitty apartment when you should be rich. Tch. These people should reincarnate as cockroaches. No, worse.” She turns to Yoo Joonghyuk. “What’s worse than cockroaches?”
“Yeah! They should eat shit.”
While Han Sooyoung questions Cho Youngran about his mother, Yoo Joonghyuk quietly reaches over to squeeze his hand for reassurance.
In the end, they decide to expose the family’s initial foul play that won them the proceeds from the novel. This incident was the most likely candidate for illegal activity as Lee Sookyung explicitly stated the profits should go to Kim Dokja. Unfortunately, all the officials involved in that case are still alive. If they were dead, Yoo Joonghyuk could ask his contacts in the afterlife to obtain their profile and skim their list of sins for this case.
“Since they’re still alive, we’ll have to get creative. I can enter their dreams and terrorize your family until they admit their wrongdoings. What is something they hate?”
“My uncle is afraid of heights.”
“Then I’ll dangle him from the Tolle World Tower until he cracks.”
Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja continue to scheme until Yoo Joonghyuk interrupts him.
“Where is your uncle now?”
Kim Dokja searches for his uncle on SNS and frowns.
“He’s on vacation with his family in Italy.”
“That’s too far. We do not know enough about how they manipulated the trial to pick another target. We should enter your dreams.”
“That’s ridiculous. I was a kid, I didn’t know anything.”
He had suspected they may try this, but he hoped it would not come to this method.
“He has a point. You know how in dreams I can stop time, or see what happens in another place? I can see outside what the person remembers, but there are limits. For example, I can’t see what your family was up to using your mother’s memories, they are too removed. But you lived with them for years, which is perfect for spying on them.”
She has a point, but he isn’t ready to accept it.
“...what did you negotiate for? In reward for bringing Cho Youngran back.”
“We get the bar back and our sentences end. My grudge count goes up by two, one for this and one for Shin Yoosung.”
Damn, it really is a good deal. Getting two grudges and the bar back is paramount to fulfilling Han Sooyoung’s sentence. That’s the important thing right now. He closes his eyes and pictures his mother’s face. She’s sitting in her armchair, where she often read him stories. As a child, he used to love curling up in that special chair whenever no one was looking. It was much nicer than his own armchair, which was left behind when someone else moved out. He picks at the frayed edges of the armrests.
“Alright. But we only look at what’s necessary. Don’t go poking around strange memories.”
This isn’t his ideal method, but they need to succeed as quickly as possible.
“Deal. Now drink up.”
Kim Dokja stands before the burned corpse of a massive tree. It’s odd, he’s never been in this place before, yet it feels familiar.
[Why do you still help her? She is the reason for your misfortune.]
A voice rings out, garbled as if its user is not used to speech. Kim Dokja does not know who is speaking, or what they are talking about. Yet, somehow, he knows exactly what they are saying. He faces the tree and replies, “My misfortune is my fault as much as hers. I love her. Do I need more reason than that?”
Where do these words come from, and who is he talking about?
[What an odd child. Go, resolve the grudge. When you finish, return here to me. I will help you help her.]
“Why do you want to help her?”
[You doubt me?]
“It is suspicious.”
[It is a good story.]
When Kim Dokja regains his senses, he’s lying on the floor with the concerned faces of Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung hovering over him. They help him up and assure him that he was only out briefly.
“I know your secret,” says Yoo Joonghyuk.
Shit, he has so many secrets. Which one could it be? They haven’t even been in his dreams that long. He feigns ignorance until Han Sooyoung smacks Yoo Joonghyuk’s arm.
“Loosen up, he was playing a prank on you.”
Yoo Joonghyuk? A prank? Surely this can’t be. But Yoo Joonghyuk’s slightly sheepish expression suggests otherwise.
“Hey! You three! Quit messing around and come help me.”
Cho Youngran is already situated in her viewing station. This prompts Kim Dokja to take stock of his surroundings. He realizes, to his horror, that they are in a cctv room filled with screens, each playing a scene from his life. Scenes of him at school, hiding from his bullies. A shot of him in a hospital bed, alone. One screen shows two particularly nasty reporters camped outside his door. They knew he was home alone that day, his ‘family’ took a vacation to escape the constant watchful eyes. They left him a few bills to buy food once he ran out of their leftovers, but he was afraid to leave the apartment.
“Kim Dokja! We just want to talk!”
He remembers how they banged on his door as if they were cops coming to arrest him. At the time it felt like the powerful blows shook the entire house so strongly that it could collapse any minute. The door to the cctv room bulges as if several people were hitting it. Then, the whole room begins to shake.
A large pair of hands covers his eyes and in his ear Yoo Joonghyuk whispers, “It isn’t real, Dokja-yah. Relax.” He hears a snap, and when Yoo Joonghyuk removes his hands, they’re in a cabin in the woods.
“This is a special cabin,” Han Sooyoung tells him, “because it’s in a forest that doesn’t like reporters. If they try to enter, the trees will grab them and throw them out.”
It is bullshit, but it makes him smile. Han Sooyoung hands him a tablet that’s open to a reading app. Instead of watching his memories, they will read about them.
“It’s easier this way, you can skim the boring parts and search for keywords related to the case and the asshole relatives.”
Even in written form, his memories are hard to face. However, the novels aren’t what he expects. There are extra scenes outside what he experienced, allowing him to read things he missed. Though the novels record his thoughts, its objective narrator often frames situations differently than he describes. Remembering Cho Youngran’s words, he flips to a time he visited his mother. Surely he can’t be wrong about that person.
There it is, a child desperately sharing his favorite story to a mother without lines. He remembers feeling his hopeful excitement fade to shame at her silence. Alone and unloved, the young Kim Dokja couldn’t even find solace in his mother. It’s as he remembers. Except for a line about the pain in her eyes. Was there such a thing? He reads on. After the visitation, his mother broke down in tears in Cho Youngran’s arms. Well, aren’t they close? And what did his mother have to feel sad about? He was the one that deserved to cry.
“I love my son,” she said. “But those powers of his...no one can know the truth. Especially not here.”
“It’s okay, Sookyung-ah. No one knows. He’s safe.”
“I hate it. I can’t even tell him why his mother won’t say anything. Why I wouldn’t touch him after his father’s death.”
His powers? Could that be why…
Han Sooyoung’s voice brings his thoughts back to the cabin. In the middle of the living room lies his father’s dead body.
“I can explain.” Before he can say anything else, his mother enters the room. Her eyes flit between the others and her son.
“Dokja-yah, give me the knife that I used to kill your father. You don’t want to accidentally contaminate the evidence.”
Kim Dokja looks down at the bloody knife in his hands. He sets it down on the table beside him, then reaches out towards his mother. As expected, she flinches away from him. Is it true then? All along, was her distance a method of protecting him? Even if it was, she took it too far. A few words of encouragement would have changed his life. The gaze of the world would have been bearable if he knew there was one person on his side. It doesn’t matter now. They need to find evidence quickly so they can leave. He should stop this memory and make her disappear. Instead, he reaches out again.
“Mother, I know the truth. Please, let me hear your story. I will listen properly.”
Lee Sookyung hesitates before her son’s outstretched hand. She became a cold-hearted villain to both the public and her son for his sake. Yet, it is her selfish desire to explain it to him just once, to absolve herself of this role. She bypasses her son’s hand, pulling him into a light hug instead. The familiar urge to over-share overwhelms her.
“I do not understand it, but I know you have the power to make others share their deepest secrets. It is what drove your father mad, though I hope you do not blame yourself for it. That horrible man deserved his fate. I distance myself from you because I am afraid that one day I may out you as your father’s killer. My novel, I wrote it for you. So that no one would ever doubt my story, and so that I could provide for you, even from prison. I now know even that was a mistake, and I caused you even more trouble. Dokja-yah, my precious son, I love you, and I am sorry.”
The person before him, no, his mother, said words more unbelievable than any afterlife magic. At the opposite end of the room, Yoo Joonghyuk chooses this moment to speak up.
“I found the evidence we need. When you were in the hospital, they bribed the judge and sent the money through this account.”
Lee Sookyung raises an eyebrow at the man. “You are a shrewd child. But do not interrupt.”
“Sookyung-ah,” Cho Youngran wraps an arm around Lee Sookyung’s waist, “we don’t have much time before your trial, we need evidence.”
“You are lucky to have such a loyal friend, mother.”
Everyone in the room regards Kim Dokja with a look as if he just claimed to be a squid.
“...Ignore him, he is an idiot.” says Yoo Joonghyuk.
“And a virgin.” Han Sooyoung further clarifies.
His mother and Cho Youngran nod as if this makes sense. He still doesn’t understand, but there are more pressing matters.
“Now that we have the proof, what should we do? Whose dream do we enter next?”
Yoo Joonghyuk shakes his head. “We won’t enter any more dreams. We will anonymously report our findings to your mother’s lawyer and to an anti-corruption agency. It is easy to find the account with this information.”
“That is a bit anticlimactic.” Especially compared to the other grudges.
Yoo Joonghyuk just shrugs, “detective work isn’t always exciting.”
“My son. If I win this case, it will put you in the public eye once more.”
Kim Dokja looks at his mother, then at Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk.
“If that is the case, then you better buy me a nice apartment with sturdy doors.”
Though Han Sooyoung, Yoo Joonghyuk, and Cho Youngran are ready to leave, Kim Dokja asks to dream a little longer.
“I want more time to talk to my mother, we need to finish our conversation.”
The excuse is somewhat true. They talk, but it’s mostly about the stories of his adventures with the pop-up bar.
His real goal is this, to meet the mysterious tree from before.
“You said you would help me.”
[I will, but not right now. You are distressed by the events of today.]
“I am not as weak as you think I am. I can handle it.”
[You have always been more fragile than you believe. I will wait to give you the rest of your story when you are less disturbed. A few happy moments is all I will allow you today.]
Before he can protest further, the sensation of remembering something long forgotten floods Kim Dokja’s mind.
Rather than lovers, Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja’s relationship began as childhood enemies. Engaged at an early age, they resented each other. A young Yoo Joonghyuk, with his rosy cheeks and petulant pout, challenged crown prince Kim Dokja whenever he could. The little brat just wanted to prove that he was capable, but the kid Kim Dokja was a fool and took offense.
The first year they met, Kim Dokja ‘accidentally’ fell off of a bridge. The second year the palace banned Yoo Joonghyuk’s favorite dumplings due to Kim Dokja’s sudden onset allergies. As children, they simply branded the other a nemesis and went about with their schemes. The older they got, however, the more difficult it was to ignore the other boy. The cute Kim Dokja grew handsome and charismatic. Yoo Joonghyuk’s training filled out his tall frame, and he gained a reputation as a reliable man. The two idiots stubbornly hid behind the pretense of rivalry. Until, at the age of 17, Kim Dokja snapped.
“Why do you dislike me so much? We are going to spend the rest of our lives together. There are enough enemies already. I do not need one in my bed.”
“Do you have any idea how much I have sacrificed because of you?”
“What do you mean?”
“For years I’ve taken intense lessons just because I am your fiance, ones you don’t have to worry about. How to look, how to speak, etc. I want to be a soldier, did you know? INstead they are raising me to be the man that makes you look good.”
“I don’t have to worry about them because I already completed them. I was a prince long before you became a prince’s fiance. You think I was born with this knowledge?” At this, Yoo Joonghyuk is silent. Good. Kim Dokja continues his rant. “If you want to be a soldier, then fine. I’ll do the talking, you do the fighting, just learn the proper etiquette. And you better be a skilled fighter, it’d be a pain to find another husband.”
At the age of 18, Kim Dokja was cursed by the spirits of those who lost their lives in his father’s war. For three days and three nights, Yoo Joonghyuk and the shaman Han Sooyoung entered his dreams to help him placate the grudges of the spirits. To the outside world, it was only three days, but in his dreams, they spent three years together. In some ways, they were the best years of his life. He kissed his fiance for the first time, then Han Sooyoung shortly after. He was still technically cursed, yet he began each day between the loves of his life. In his more naïve moments, he hoped it would last forever.
[This is enough for now.]
With these parting words, the tree fades away, and Kim Dokja wakes up alone in his shitty bed.
Like the week prior, he hears the telltale sounds of someone rummaging through his kitchen. This time he runs toward the sounds without hesitation.
“You’re awake,” says a surprised Yoo Joonghyuk.
It’s him. After all these years, it’s really him.
“Joonghyuk-ah, it’s me, Kim Dokja.”
“Did your head become strange after reading all those memories?”
“‘I’ll do the talking, you do the fighting,’ that was our deal, remember?”
Yoo Joonghyuk regards him for a long time with a complicated expression. Eventually, the man reaches out to gently stroke his cheek. The hand then moves to cup the back of his head as Yoo Joonghyuk presses a kiss to his forehead.
“You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”
In the afterlife, Han Sooyoung and Cho Youngran walk side by side. They already sent their discovery to Lee Sookyung’s lawyer, who forwarded it to Lee Hyunsung, his contact at the anti-corruption office. Lee Hyunsung used to work as a guard in Lee Sookyung’s prison and gladly took on the case. She’s practically guaranteed to win.
“I’m sorry that you couldn’t spend more time with your loved one.”
“It is alright. I can see my Sookyung again in the afterlife. Rather, I am concerned about you. That boy you care for, he is alive. Even if you resolve all the grudges and reincarnate, you still can’t be with him.”
“Tch, do not misunderstand. I gave my heart away a long time ago, something I still pay for to this day.”
“Sounds like quite the story.”
“It’s a legend of sorts.”
“If we ever cross paths in the afterlife, I’d love to hear it.”
“By the time I return to the afterlife, I hope to have forgotten all about it. Well, there’s Uriel.”
The angel spots them and runs over.
“Sooyoung! I heard you got the bar back. I’m glad.”
“You’re just happy because I feed you for free. Don’t think I didn’t notice you switching shifts with Gabriel to avoid paying for food on the job.”
Actually, Uriel had begged Gabriel to switch shifts so that she could keep an eye on Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk. The free food was just a perk.
“Ah, but I do miss being an afterlife judge. It’s much better than death duty.”
Really, it took copious amounts of kisses to coax Gabriel into switching shifts.
“Then go back? I’m sure they can find someone else to babysit the newly deceased.”
“You know more than anyone that things are more complicated than that. I’ll escort Cho Youngran from here, you go back to your boys. And Sooyoung?”
“Be careful. You’re close to your deadline, so stay focused on the grudges. If you see anything suspicious, let me or at least Yoo Joonghyuk handle it, okay?”
“Why would I see anything suspicious?”
Uriel worries at her lip before answering.
“The heavens want to make changes that some people may not like. Those people could cause trouble in the realm of the living in retaliation. If they do, don’t let them distract you, okay?”
“...for what it’s worth, there are many people that never want to forget you. Even though you are a pain sometimes.”
Han Sooyoung stays in the afterlife long after Uriel and Cho Youngran disappear.
[Uriel: Moving on to the next item on our agenda: is honking a car horn at another car Good?
swk: that depends. What if it prevents an accident? Then it would be Good.
abfd: True. But only the first honk. What if they honked multiple times.
swk: Those honks would not be Good.
abfd: The second time could be an accident. But a third is definitely on purpose. So, it would be Bad.
Uriel: What if it was one really long honk?
swk and abfd: Definitely Bad.
Uriel: Hm, okay. -1 point for each honk after 2 honks, and -x points for a long honk depending on how long it lasts. Are we in agreement?
swk and abfd: Yes.]
Chapter 7: 99,997
local badass discovers the power of friendship
“This crazy woman is slandering me! I wasn’t taking pictures up anyone’s skirt. Here, check my phone. You’ll see.”
The angry middle-aged man shoves his phone into a movie theater employee’s face. There are no incriminating photos, just pictures of a happy family. Jung Heewon swears she saw the pervert try to remain discreet while sticking his phone up several skirts.
“What seems to be the problem here?” asks the theater manager.
“This woman accused me of being a pervert! Well, she’s wrong, and you should do something about her.” The angry man turns to Jung Heewon. “Apologize to me now! In front of everyone.”
“Absolutely not. You had your phone below their skirts. Even if you didn’t take pictures, you could have been streaming or something. Can’t you check the security footage?”
At this point, several other theater patrons watch the exchange. In a low voice the manager says, “Look, just apologize to the guy so he’ll leave. We can check the footage after.”
Jung Heewon scoffs. What the hell would checking the footage do if they let the pervert go now? Humor her? Kim Dokja nudges her and asks, “You said you saw him holding his phone under their skirts, right?”
With his hand on the man’s shoulder, Kim Dokja asks, “Excuse me, but did you really not do what she said you did?”
“Oh, I definitely did it.” Everyone witnessing this spectacle looks shocked by the man’s sudden change in demeanor. Everyone, except for Kim Dokja. “Instead of taking pictures, I stream it. My partner downloads the videos and we take screenshots from there and sell them. The pictures on my phone are fake, I don’t even know that family.”
Theater security apprehended the man while they wait for the authorities to arrive. In the meantime, the manager thanks Kim Dokja for his help.
“Rather than thanking me, shouldn’t you apologize to my companion? She was the one who caught the man.”
“You’re right, my apologies. As thanks, your tickets for today are free.”
Unimpressed, Jung Heewon holds up her phone that displays their pre-purchased tickets.
“Ah, well...are you hungry?”
This is how Kim Dokja and Jung Heewon end up sitting alone in their row with a feast in the form of fried chicken, beer, and various flavors of popcorn. Unfortunately, the movie is too sad for the two to enjoy the free food.
The two main leads lean in for their much anticipated first kiss, but the moment they touch they both comically cringe and pull away in pain. Their mutual suffering of severe gout brought them together, but it is also what keeps them apart.
“Even the wind hurts when you have gout,” the male lead cries as a gentle caress from his lover sends an electric shock of pain through his hand.
An inability to touch another person, never being able to hold a friend’s hand, or get a mother’s hug…
The rest of the theater laughs at the exaggerated acting, but Kim Dokja shovels a handful of popcorn into his mouth to hide his sobs. Beside him, Jung Heewon fares no better.
“The marketing for that movie is all wrong,” Kim Dokja says to her on their way out of the theater. “Romantic comedy? That was a tragedy.”
Really, the people who wrote the movie had it all wrong.
“Agreed. All of those heartless assholes laughed at the couple, but isn’t it too sad?”
“It is. They are lucky that they don’t know the pain of not being able to get close to anyone.”
“Hm. You can’t touch anyone, right?”
How did she know? Did she notice his strange ability?
“How did you find out?”
“Everyone at the company knows that you have a condition where you can’t be touched. Is it more like gout or mysophobia?”
“...like gout. Why, are you the same?”
“No. Mine is more like a curse.”
Oh? If this is true than they are more alike than Jung Heewon thinks. Perhaps he should have been more honest.
“What do you mean?”
Jung Heewon motions to a bench outside the theater, and they sit down.
“Hah,” Jung Heewon rubs her temples, “this is going to sound crazy, but whenever I get close to someone they get scared away. Especially men. Just when I start to like them, I’ll barely touch them and they jump away.”
“Do they do anything weird after? Like tell you strange things?”
“What? No. They run away and never speak to me again. One guy told his friends that I was creepy. I don’t understand, I just wanted to hold his hand!”
Her affliction seems different from his, but Kim Dokja can empathize all the same. Creepy is a word constantly hurled in his direction. As a child, he never understood why. To him, everyone else was strange, and often scary. They were the ones saying terrible things, so why did he suffer for it? Now, he understands. Everyone has personal demons they keep hidden, but his powers bring them to light.
“That’s awful. Did he give a reason why? Something like sweaty hands?” Or a paranormal experience.
“Sweaty hands? Who are you saying has sweaty hands, idiot. No, he said it was because… well…”
“Voices. He said he heard someone telling him to stay away. He wasn’t the only one. Truthfully, Yoo Sangah is the only person who’s been with me this long and hasn’t heard anything strange.”
“Have you ever heard the voices?”
“No, not even once. I thought he was lying until someone else said it too.”
Interesting. He’ll have to check with Han Sooyoung when he returns, but this could be good grudge material.
“I’m sorry. It must be terrible to be hated and not know why.”
“You know what the worst part is? Whenever it happens, everyone tells me that I am strong, that I’m a confident, independent woman. So? Is affection reserved only for the weak? I want to be loved too.”
With this he can also empathize. People around him assume his disinterest in friendship based on his aversion to touch. But an aversion to skinship doesn’t take away the longing for social interaction. He once tried to make online friends, but picking up the lingo proved too complicated.
“You should stop by the pop-up bar sometime. My other boss is somewhat of an expert in these things. She’s a lot like you, actually.” Kim Dokja smiles at his fond memories of Han Sooyoung. Even in the past, she was stubborn, yet cute.
“Is that so? I’d love to stop by, but not today. I’m, um, meeting someone after this. He’s on his way to pick me up.”
Kim Dokja raises an eyebrow and prompts Jung Heewon for more information. ‘Someone’ turns out to be Lee Hyunsung, a man she met through an online app. They’re been talking online throughout his time in the military, but now that he is out, they are free to meet up in person.
The first thing Jung Heewon notices about Lee Hyunsung is that the man did not lie about his height. Nice. Now Yoo Sangah owes her a free dinner. He did, however, downplay his build. Those photos must have been before his time in the military.
The next thing Jung Heewon notices is her favorite drink in his hands.
“Here! You said it was your favorite and you drink it to cheer you up, so I thought it might make you more comfortable today.”
She happily accepts the cup, and Lee Hyunsung feels a wave of relief at her smile. Their relationship flowed smoothly when he was in the military, but after his discharge, he felt that Jung Heewon was reluctant to meet up with him. He became nervous and messaged the wisest person he knew for advice.
Received 10:02: Listen to what she says and make an effort to remember it. Anyone would love a partner that knows how to listen properly. If you compliment her on her looks, make sure it is something that she has a choice in, such as her clothing. Be polite to others. Boys with proper manners are popular. Most of all, do not overthink this. She already likes you, so do not try to change yourself.
The first tip worked well, but it is the last one that he struggles with the most.
“Why do you think I need to be comforted today?” Despite Jung Heewon’s teasing grin, he feels himself panic.
“Ah, um, you seemed a bit unenthusiastic about our meetup… I thought maybe you were nervous about it.” Lee Hyunsung rubs the back of his neck. “Now that I say it out loud it sounds like a silly idea.”
Jung Heewon studies his face for a moment before replying. “No, it doesn’t. I was nervous, so thank you. This is, uh, my first date.”
“Really?” Lee Hyunsung’s eyes light up.
“Oh? Are you that excited to be my first?”
“Huh? No! I mean, I was happy that you don’t dislike me or anything like that.” He babbles on, clearly embarrassed by her suggestive wording.
“Relax. I’m just teasing you. It is too fun.”
Talking to Lee Hyunsung is easy, and she does it until the sun has long left the sky. He’s a comforting presence, so much so that Jung Heewon opens up about her shameful departure from her career as a bodyguard.
“I don’t think it is shameful. Rather, I think it should be celebrated.”
“Unfortunately, my potential employers would disagree.”
“Perhaps you are in the wrong industry. There are ones where a strong sense of justice isn’t a bad thing.”
“Bullshit. Anything having to do with money is full of corrupt bastards.”
“That is why we need people who can expose them.”
“What, like an investigative journalist? I can’t do that, my writing is shit.”
“You could be someone who protects those journalists and other whistleblowers. I work at the anti-corruption agency, and we have positions that would suit you. Not that your job now doesn’t suit you! It is something to think about.”
Hm, a job exposing corruption. Would that suit her? Maybe. But doesn’t it look bad to switch jobs so soon after starting her job at Minosoft? She’ll have to think about it.
“Anyway,” Jung Heewon tells Kim Dokja, “I like being with him, he’s a gentle person. I don’t have to worry about hidden motives, and he accepts me as I am. Though he’s a bit simple, he is earnest in things he cares about and puts in the effort to understand me. This is too precious to be ruined by some asshole voices.”
“He sounds like a good man. When you have some time, stop by the bar. It could really help.”
“Thanks. I didn’t know the cia dabbled in the paranormal.”
Shit, he forgot about that.
“Oh, it’s not the cia, just my boss. It’s her side job, she likes to help people.”
“Are you going to the bar after this? I might stop by tonight if I have time.”
“Aren’t you eager? No, actually, I have plans.”
“Oh really? With the beautiful bar owner?” Jung Heewon teases. “What is the cia’s stance on steamy boss and employee relationships?”
He ignores the insinuation despite the blush threatening to spill onto his cheeks.
“Actually, I’m meeting with my manager, the chef.” During the movie, Yoo Joonghyuk had texted him instructions to meet up at a restaurant rather than at the bar. Though he does miss his lover, Kim Dokja doubts the request is solely to catch up.
“Ah, so you bat for the other team then. Good for you, from what I remember he was handsome.”
“Actually, I bat both ways?” Or is it multiple times? He shakes his head. “I don’t know baseball. I’m bisexual.”
“Then your boss and your manager, ambitious. Good luck with that.”
Good luck indeed.
A large man approaches them. This must be Lee Hyunsung. He apologizes for running a few minutes late, which Jung Heewon says is no problem.
“Besides, I had company. Hyunsung-ssi, this is Kim Dokja, the friend from work I told you about.”
While they exchange pleasantries, something clicks in Lee Hyunsung’s head. A man named Kim Dokja that works at Minosoft?
“ Do you, by any chance, work in quality assurance?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
How did he know? Kim Dokja tenses. The only people that recognize his name know it from news articles.
“Ah, it’s nothing.”
At least this man has the decency not to say anything. He rises to leave, but stands up too fast and stumbles a bit. Lee Hyunsung makes the mistake of reaching out to steady him. Shit. Kim Dokja knows from the second he feels the pressure of the other man’s hand that he is screwed. And Jung Heewon seemed to like this guy too.
“Actually, I am friends with your mother. She is the wisest person I know.”
That is...not what he was expecting.
It doesn’t make sense, she’s in an all female prison. Unless…
“I used to work as a prison guard before I enlisted. I was never smart or talented at anything, and I know I am a bit slower than everyone else. It was the best job that I was qualified for. Life was strict, but there were clear rules to follow. After a while, I realized something was off. The inmates were physically safe, but it still didn’t feel right. Especially after I met your mother, I thought that the wrong people were being punished. I didn’t know what to do, and she suggested that I use enlistment as an excuse to leave and think about if I wanted to return. The military was similar. There was a manual that I could immerse myself into, so I didn’t have to deal with the troubles of outside life. I had a few mishaps at the beginning, but I was successful there. However, towards the end of my time, I discovered that there was corruption even in the military. I wanted to do something about it, but everyone said that it would be best to keep my head down, and I had no support. Those were my shameful moments. I overlooked injustice at both the prison and the military. Sookyung-ssi suggested that I work for the anti-corruption agency since I felt this way, and I was happy when I received a lead on her case a few days ago.”
“Wow. That was a lot.” Jung Heewon looks surprised.
“Actually, I don’t know why I said all that. It must have weighed heavily on my mind. I’m sorry to unload all of that on the both of you.”
They both reassure him it’s okay.
“I didn’t mean it was a lot to share, I meant it was a lot to live through. Do you like where you work now?”
“Yes. The work fulfills me. I feel like I am making up for my past actions.”
While Jung Heewon and Lee Hyunsung chat, Kim Dokja mulls something over.
“You said you communicated with my mother after you left the prison, right?”
“Could I have her phone number?”
“Ah, that is supposed to be a secret. I shouldn’t have even told you that I talk to her. I’m sorry, I know she is your mother but I can’t.”
No, Kim Dokja is the one that is sorry. He reaches out to put his hand on Lee Hyunsung’s shoulder.
“Please? There is something important that I need to tell her.”
“Sure! Her number is…”
“You used your ability to get your mother’s phone number? Cunning. You’re acting like your old self.”
The directions from Yoo Joonghyuk lead Kim Dokja to a barbeque restaurant. He thought the other man might want to discuss information best kept from Han Sooyoung. But so far all they have done is idle chatter.
“When have I ever not been cunning?”
Yoo Joonghyuk dodges the question with one of his own. “Did the rest of your memories return?”
Kim Dokja looks down at the woman resting her head on his bare chest.
“But Sooyoung-ah, I can’t help it. You have something on your face.”
“Eh? Really?” Han Sooyoung scrubs at her face. “Is it off?”
He chuckles as she swats at him.
“I couldn’t help but stare, you are too cute.”
“And you are an insufferable sweet-talker.”
The two fall into a comfortable silence. There are plenty of vengeful spirits that need to be placated, but none are actively haunting him at the moment. Kim Dokja takes the time to enjoy the moment, running his fingers across Han Sooyoung’s back and basking in the morning glow. After a bit, he breaks the silence.
“Hey, when do you think Joonghyuk will return?”
She tilts her head to meet his eyes.
“Hm? Do you miss him?”
“Well, it has been a week since he left.”
“Has it? Time passes differently in this dream of yours.”
“Really? How long has he been gone?”
“About 5 minutes? He went to drink some water and use the restroom.”
“How come you’ve never left? It’s been a year since I met you.”
“I don’t have to. I’ve trained to withstand long dream sessions. Now and then, someone will pour water down my throat, that’s all I need. It’s only been one day out in the real world. Besides, I am the bridge between the living and your dreams. If I am gone, then you will be all alone, and there’s no telling what mess I’ll come back to.”
It is true. Before she arrived, the crown prince already suffered several days under his curse, which to him felt like several years. In his dream, vengeful spirits surrounded him, watching his every move. Though he knew they were angry over his father’s war, one he opposed, they gave him no reprieve, and he caved under the weight of their grudges. By the time Han Sooyoung arrived, his dream land looked like an apocalyptic landscape. She brought his fiance to help him feel more comfortable. After coaxing him out of his hiding place, they began resolving grudges one-by-one.
“Thank you so much for coming into my life. I mean it.” Kim Dokja kisses Han Sooyoung’s forehead. “Even without your powers, I am glad to have met you.”
She hums in agreement. “A year feels like a long time, but it also doesn’t feel like enough. It’s selfish of me, but I hope this takes longer. I’ll miss you when we return to the real world.”
Kim Dokja lets out a nervous laugh. “You’ll miss me? Where am I going?”
Han Sooyoung shakes her head. “Not you, me. You’ll stay at the castle and I’ll return to my home at the shrine.”
At this, he panics.
“You’re leaving? But why? This may be work for you, but it is love for me. Yoo Joonghyuk feels the same way. Please don’t go.”
“You two are an engaged prince and his fiance; I am a girl of low birth. We will never be accepted. Remember, to everyone else, we’ve only been together one day. A day you slept through.”
“Ah, don’t worry about those things, I’ll protect you. Once we explain what happened, I am sure everyone will understand and even be grateful to you. And for the marriage, I’ve already thought about it. I will take you in as a concubine. Then the relationship will be legal without threatening the arrangement between the royal family and Joonghyuk’s family.”
“A concubine? Are you insane? That’s a legal mistress. Everyone would look down on me. Besides, I don’t want my life under that bastard’s control.”
“‘That bastard’ loves you as well, you know. And two men can’t have children, so taking a concubine makes sense in this situation. We could all raise the child together. No one would look down on you, I’ll make sure of it. Do you trust me?”
Han Sooyoung had hesitated, but she ended up taking his hand.
Oh, how he wishes he could reverse time and beat his foolish younger self. His position in the sky was too high to see the issues of those on the ground clearly, and Han Sooyoung had paid the price for this.
His last memory was the day of her death. The grass beneath his feet as he approached the 4th tree, the smell of smoke in the air, Han Sooyung’s dress flowing in the air as her body swung back and forth. He tightened his grip on the bloody sword in his hand. The slander against Han Sooyoung reached him too late. His guilt over her death and the words of those that cursed him before invaded his mind, drowning him. He sat down, positioning himself at the base of the tree. Then he lifted his sword and stabbed it into his heart.
“Sooyoung-ah. I promise, that wherever you are, I will find you and protect you as I should have in this life.”
“Yes, they did.” Kim Dokja’s voice breaks a bit as he replies to Yoo Joonghyuk’s question. Ever since the memory of his death returned, there is something he knows he needs to tell the man, but he isn’t sure how to bring it up. Now, the words come out on their own.
“I’m sorry for leaving you behind.”
Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyes widen in surprise before filling with a pain carried for 500 years.
“I understand why you did it. I was no better. Still, thank you.”
He was no better...
“It must have been hard all this time.”
“It was.” Yoo Joonghyuk clears his throat, signaling that he does not want to push the topic further. It’s a sore spot, one he isn’t ready to prod.
“This isn’t why I called you here.”
“Why did you call me here? And what did you tell Sooyoung?”
“I told her that we are investigating a potential grudge. It may be true. The afterlife is planning significant restructuring. They based much of it on Sooyoung’s work with the pop-up bar. God likes her approach. In the new afterlife, some people would lose their power. Do you remember Michael?”
“Your cousin? How could I forget?” He beheaded the asshole, after all.
“Michael is one of those people.”
“We have no evidence against him, but Uriel thinks he may try something in retaliation against Han Sooyoung.”
“That sounds like his style.”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods his head in agreement.
“What I don’t understand is why target Sooyoung? Hasn’t she suffered enough?”
“Heaven is known to be lenient towards her despite her notorious streak of afterlife crimes.”
“Are her crimes are all things like what happened with Shin Yoosung?”
“Then doesn’t it make sense than Heaven would be lenient with her?”
“It doesn’t matter. Those who hold animosity towards her think it is unwarranted. They think it will make a point if the one inspiring the change is sent to the hell of extinction.”
“She’d be sent to the hell of extinction based on the current rules, which are about to change. There’s no reason to think Heaven would cancel the change based on that. If anything, it would solidify their resolve.”
These people seem stupid.
“They are stupid. They only think of how to inspire fear, beat others down, and punish people. This is why hell is inefficient, and our Sooyoung is relatively much more successful. You know how Michael is. Even if it is futile, he would want to hurt her.”
Hell or not, Kim Dokja won’t let this happen.
“What can we do to protect her?”
“There is a powerful spirit called the Cinnabar that is effective against evil spirits. In our lifetime, it was a sacred rock, but it has since reincarnated into the body of a young woman who lives in Seoul. An afterlife law prohibits Samshin from revealing her identity, but we can guess it. Her powers are the opposite of yours, and would likely cancel them out. You mentioned that there was a woman that was immune to your powers, right?”
“Yes, Jung Heewon. She also cancelled Uriel’s powers during her fight with Han Sooyoung. She was the one I told Cho Youngran to stick around to evade the afterlife police force. It must be her. Though, on second thought, maybe not. You said she was effective against evil spirits, but today she told me that she is cursed. Whenever she gets too close to a man, a voice wards them off.”
“That sounds correct.”
“What do you mean?”
“As Samshin, Lee Gilyoung is the only person who knows her identity. He couldn’t reveal it to me, but he told me that she was suffering. It seems the ego of the Cinnabar holds a grudge. Against men most of all.”
Now it’s Yoo Joonghyuk’s turn to ask him what he means.
“Earlier I told Jung Heewon to visit the bar. If Sooyoung helps her, then she’ll get both a grudge and protection from bastards like Michael.”
“Hm. That works out nicely. Though you must keep everything, including the restructuring, a secret from Han Sooyoung so she can focus on her grudges.”
“You’re really worried about her, aren’t you Joonghyuk-ah?”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods. How cute his lover is.
“Why don’t you tell her who you are and what really happened? Maybe we can get a grudge or two out of it.”
“Absolutely not. She doesn’t need a lover right now, she needs support, and that is what I will give her. My identity would cause her to lose focus.”
“You’ve really matured.”
Yoo Joonghyuk shrugs. “I’ve had 500 years to work on it.”
Kim Dokja laughs. “Well, Jung Heewon plans on heading to the bar after her date, so that’s taken care of. What should we do now?”
“Enjoy our date.”
“I can do that.”
In a different part of the city, Jung Heewon is not enjoying her date. In a moment of weakness she reached out to grab Lee Hyunsung’s hand when a voice ordered “don’t touch him!” in her head. No. Not again. She foolishly hoped this one would be different.
“Are you alright Heewon-ssi?”
She opens her mouth to assure him that she is alright, but then has a better idea. The pop-up bar should be nearby.
“Actually, I think I may have eaten something strange back at the theater. Do you think we could postpone this date?”
“Yes, of course, your well-being comes first. Do you want me to buy you some medicine and water?”
“No! I mean, my friend owns a restaurant nearby, she’ll take care of me. Thanks for understanding, bye!”
Jung Heewon leaves behind a confused Lee Hyunsung. She feels guilty, but this is for the best. When she enters the bar, Han Sooyoung is alone. She would have preferred Kim Dokja’s presence as a familiar face, but this will do.
“Hello and welcome to my bar. You’re Dokja’s coworker, right? What brings you to my bar?”
“Yes, I am. And, um, he told me to come here. About a special problem.”
A recommendation from Kim Dokja? A special problem? This must be the potential grudge Yoo Joonghyuk told her about. It is strange that the woman is here alone when her employees are missing. They must think that since they brought a customer, they can play hooky. Well, she’ll let them off the hook this once. They deserve it.
“A special problem, huh? Come, tell me about it.”
Jung Heewon tells her about her supposed curse. Voices, pushing people away, it sounds like the woman is possessed. A grudge indeed.
“That sounds tough. Luckily for you, I am an expert in these things. Here, let me pour you a drink for your troubles and then we will get started.”
To Han Sooyoung’s surprise, Jung Heewon does not immediately fall asleep after drinking. Instead, her hair turns white and tattoos of the infinity symbol litter her skin. Her clothes change into traditional clothes, and she surveys the bar as if confused.
“Hah? Where am I? It’s been a long time since I’ve been out. And who are you?”
“We are in Jung Heewon’s dream. She came to my bar and told me about a curse. You are the spirit possessing her, I assume.”
“Curse? She isn’t cursed. And I’m not possessing her. I am a part of her. You still didn’t answer my question.”
“I am Han Sooyoung, a shaman that resolves grudges. What do you mean you are a part of her?”
“A shaman, huh?” The woman glances over Han Sooyoung’s body. “You aren’t alive, though. Tell me, how old are you?”
“500 years old.”
“Good, then you might remember me. I am the Cinnabar, and the woman you know as Jung Heewon is my reincarnation.”
The Cinnabar. A mystical rock inside a cave that had the power to heal people and repel evil spirits, among other things. Han Sooyoung remembers it well. She and her mother would make the journey outside their village to visit the rock often. From time to time they would carefully shave off bits and pieces of the rock to make talismans. She remembers the words her mother told her.
“The Cinnabar isn’t an ordinary rock, it has a soul. Just like humans, it can heal from minor scrapes, but imagine if you cut a limb off of a human being. We must be careful to take as little as possible.”
Though it was tedious and quiet, she enjoyed those hikes to the cave and the time spent with her mother.
“I didn’t know you were reincarnated. Did something happen to you?”
“Something? No. Someone. I met a man, it was a mistake.”
“I know that feeling.”
“Why else would a ghost be laboring in the land of the living?”
The Cinnabar makes a noise of agreement and leans back in her chair.
“This body is constantly looking for trouble. Just today she went on a date with a man she thinks is ‘different.’ What bullshit, men are all the same. They all end up running away breaking her heart.”
“Don’t they do that because you scare them off?”
“...they would have betrayed her later on. I’m protecting her.”
“She doesn’t see it that way.”
“She doesn’t understand.”
“And neither do I. Please, tell me your story. I want to know what that bastard did.”
And also the nature of the Cinnabar’s grudge, so she can help her resolve it.
The Cinnabar’s tale is one of loneliness, a rock stuck in the middle of an empty cave, her only company being the two shamans that visited from time to time. She would often project her spirit outside her stationary body in the form of a young woman. Then she would go into town to secretly heal the sick and chase away evil spirits. There, she met a man. It was love at first sight. She gave him shards of her that he would sell to raise money for the sick and the poor. Eventually, she sensed that something was off about him. He began to feel like an evil spirit, so she stopped seeing him.
“Good for you.”
He didn’t like that, so he went to her cave with a hammer. He told her that the shards she gave him weren’t enough.
“I warned the dumbass that I would die if he shattered the stone, but he didn’t care. He said he needed the money for weapons and soldiers. Then he took that hammer and smashed me.”
Han Sooyoung slams her hand on the table. “What a bastard! Men are awful.”
The Cinnabar agrees, then a sly grin spreads across her face.
“You know, I did one thing to screw him over though.”
“Really? What was it?”
“Right when I died, I sucked out all of my power from my body. His betrayal got him nothing but ordinary rock.”
Han Sooyoung claps her hands in excitement. “Nice! ...can I ask you one thing? What made you doubt him in the first place?”
“I saw him leave a shrine one night with a mask and a bloody dagger. He said he was selling my shards to give money to the poor, yet there he was targeting a poor shrine with nothing to steal. The shamans that lived there were good people, a mother and a daughter. They often came to visit me in the cave. He killed the mother and set the house on fire. I heard the daughter killed herself soon after, the poor girl.”
Han Sooyoung’s blood grows cold. “The man. What was his name?” She holds her breath, fearing that a particular name would come out of the Cinnabar’s mouth.
It wasn’t him. Still, Michael was Yoo Joonghyuk’s cousin. Weapons and soldiers...were they planning to overthrow the prince? No. Now is not the time to think about this. Especially in the face of the Cinnabar’s grudge.
“You’ve held this grudge for 500 years, right?”
“You could say that.”
“And Jung Heewon is suffering because you’re afraid of dating.”
“You don’t have to say it like that.”
“I’ve decided. I will help you, you don’t deserve to suffer like this. There is a great way to get over lying bastards.”
Han Sooyoung smiles and crosses her legs. “You don’t have a lot of friends, right?”
“Friends?” The Cinnabar’s expression confirms her assumption.
“I thought so. When a man pisses you off, you’re supposed to lean on your friends. Otherwise the pain can last 500 years. Listen, we’re in her dream world already, right? Give me some time to pull a nice dream together. We’ll erase that asshole from your heart.”
A bit later, Han Sooyoung leads the Cinnabar into a room equipped with speakers, a screen, and several microphones. Inside the room, three people are already singing.
“Karaoke?” the Cinnabar asks.
“Yup! I’ve prepared three things to help you get over this guy. And karaoke is the first. Come, let me introduce you to everyone.”
The first person is Uriel. She looks familiar, but the Cinnabar can’t place it. The second person is Lee Gilyoung, the current Samshin, and to everyone’s surprise, the third person is Yoo Sangah.
“Please, Yoo Sangah is my daytime name. I’m the real Samshin, though today you may call me Yoo Sangah to avoid confusion. Like the Cinnabar, I only come out in the dream world.”
Han Sooyoung laughs. “You did well in choosing your new look.” Before she reincarnated, Samshin was an older woman that always complained about her back. She must be happy to have a new body.
“I did, didn’t I? And this body has a lovely voice too, let’s sing!” She selects an angry rock song.
They sing until they are breathless, at which point Han Sooyoung directs all of them to a room filled with sweets and alcohol. “The second thing to help get over a man is food and drink. Be careful with the alcohol. My employees left today, and I’m not dragging Jung Heewon’s body to her apartment tonight.”
Han Sooyoung says this, but she is the one that ends up a little tipsy.
“Say, Gilyoung-ah, why did you come to this event?”
“Well…it isn’t for girls only, is it?”
“Of course not,” Han Sooyoung slurs, “but you seem to have your own troubles.”
“Don’t bother my successor!” Yoo Sangah chides from across the room.
“No, it’s okay. She’s right. I miss Shin Yoosung, it’s lonely without her.”
Right. Because of her, Lee Gilyoung lost his companion.
“Kid, I’ll tell you what. Once I settle all these grudges, I’ll open a shop in the afterlife. You can stop by anytime and eat free.”
Uriel scoffs. “Yoo Joonghyuk is the one who does the cooking.”
“He’s only been with me for one year, I’ve had the bar for 500. I can cook. Not as well as him, but I can cook.”
“You promise?” Lee Gilyoung holds out his pinky towards Han Sooyoung.
The Cinnabar watches this exchange with fond eyes.
“It’s nice to have someone that cares for you.”
Yoo Sangah turns to her.
“It must’ve been hard on you back then, all alone. Having someone to talk to makes a difference.”
“From now on, you can talk to us,” Han Sooyoung adds. “Don’t waste Jung Heewon’s life on some loser from your past. Live your life. And if you break up, then we’ll do this all over again.”
“Really?” the Cinnabar’s face lights up, “I can see you all again?”
“Yes, even if you don’t break up. We live together, remember? Just reach out.” Yoo Sangah smiles at the Cinnabar.
“Mm. That was the third thing, friends. You have friends now.” Han Sooyoung says.
As they clean up the room, Uriel slips the Cinnabar a note.
[Michael was my older brother, and a huge asshole. He still hasn’t changed. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him from hurting you, but we have a chance to stop him from hurting Han Sooyoung again. Let me know if you are interested. Regardless of your answer, please keep it a secret from her.]
Again? The Cinnabar eyes the drunk woman closely. Ah, that’s it. Faces in memories blur after 500 years, but she is the spitting image of her mother, though less serious. So, Michael wants to act up again? En garde, asshole.
The Cinnabar makes eye contact with Uriel and nods. Thank goodness. When Jung Heewon goes to sleep for the night, Uriel will reach out to Cinnabar in the dream world to fill her in.
After his date with Yoo Joonghyuk, Kim Dokja went to the bar in case Jung Heewon was to stop by. To his delight, she was already there, and passed out at the table. Good. This means Han Sooyoung is working on her grudge. Careful not to touch Jung Heewon and get sucked into her dream himself, he sits down opposite her at the table and pulls out his phone.
He texted his mother when Jung Heewon left with Lee Hyunsung, but she still hasn’t replied. There are many factors at play. She likely thinks this is some sort of trap, that perhaps his father’s side of the family is trying to expose illegal behaviour right before her trial. She is also in prison and does not have many opportunities to check her phone. By now it’s late enough that she should be alone. Before he can talk himself out of it, Kim Dokja snaps a quick selfie and sends it.
Sent 6:25pm: Hello mother. It is me, Kim Dokja.
Sent 10:47pm: [attached photo]
Received 10:48pm: kidnapping my son is a worse crime than using a cell phone in prison
Sent 10:49pm: I wasn’t kidnapped.
It’s a trap. It’s obviously a trap. Her son doesn’t even visit, and where would he have gotten her phone number? Maybe Lee Sookyung is a fool, because she calls ‘Kim Dokja’ anyway.
Incoming call: 0XX-XXX-XXXX
His mother doesn’t speak when he answers the call. It’s a smart move. “Hello mother, it’s me.”
Silence. It’s much like their visitations in the prison, except now he understands her better.
“You don’t have to say anything. I just wanted to say thank you. For everything.”
Still nothing. He presses on.
“I’m eating well, and I made some friends at work. You would like them. They’re—”
“You must have heard about my trial. There will be reporters again. I’m sorry.”
“It is alright, it isn’t your fault. I am happy that you are up for an early release.”
He hears her shaky breath and takes pity on his mother.
“Do you want to hear a story that I read recently? It’s about a prince, his fiance, and a shaman.”
He doesn’t get all the way through the story; she doesn’t have the time, but by the time he hangs up the phone, he feels lighter. That is until he spots Han Sooyoung watching him.
“Sooyoung-ah! How long have you been there?”
“Long enough, ‘your highness.’”
“I only recently found out,” he blurts out. “When we went into my dreams. I didn’t know before, I swear.”
Han Sooyoung continues to observe him, and he wonders what the odds are that she’ll try to strange him for this. She rises from her chair and walks over to where he sits. When she is standing right in front of him, she leans down until they are eye level. Whatever it is she is looking for in his eyes, she seems to find it.
Han Sooyoung kisses his cheek and hugs him.
“I know what you did for me. Thank you."
Five hundred years ago, Han Sooyoung knelt before Anna Croft and received a scroll. All it said was:
“Kim Dokja: cursed to 100,000 years of misfortune on behalf of the 4th tree. The curse will end immediately if Han Sooyoung successfully resolves 100,000 grudges.”
“That can’t be right, I was the one who burned down the tree.”
She is full of hatred towards her two former lovers, but not enough hatred to wish something like this upon them.
“By the time the tree burned down, you had already perished. So, the spirit of the tree latched onto the first living being it found, which was the crown prince. When he died, I gave him the option to transfer the tree’s grudge to you, the rightful target. But he refused, something about ‘protecting the one he loves.’ Do you still want to go straight to the hell of extinction?”
Han Sooyoung tries her best to steady her shaking voice and answers, “100,000 people? That’s nothing. I accept my punishment.”
[Kdj: why a barbecue restaurant?
Kdj: is it because you still technically cook the food?
Kdj: knew it.
Yjh: shut up and eat the wrap]
“You’re thanking me? Are you sure?”
Kim Dokja expected Han Sooyoung’s wrath. He expected yelling, scornful eyes, and a broken heart. This? This he didn’t expect. Well, it is a welcome reaction.
“Fool, what do you mean ‘am I sure?’”
It would be smart to keep his mouth shut and enjoy her good mood, but his guilty mouth is stronger than his head.
“I asked you to trust me, and I failed you.”
“Alright? I brushed off your concerns and—”
“I have mixed feelings about our past.”
This is new. It is the first time he’s heard her speak of their past ambiguously, as opposed to strictly negative. This time, he keeps his mouth shut and listens.
“I’ve wondered what I would do, how I would feel, if I ever saw you again. Did you know that? For 500 years I thought about it. Would I hate the asshole prince who threw me away? Or would I love the man that cursed himself to protect me? Naturally, it would be hate.”
Given her record, hate was the more likely option. But even after 500 years, Han Sooyoung can still surprise herself. She cups his jaw and strokes her thumb across his cheek, something she used to do to calm him down when the angry spirits were too much. Old preferences didn’t die, and he flutters his eyes shut as he exhales.
“...at least that’s what I thought. Even I can be wrong sometimes.” In a smaller voice she adds, “cursed for 100,000 years… you fool.”
Kim Dokja lets out a content hum. “I’d do it again.”
There are so many questions that he wants to ask. Why does she think he threw her away? Does her forgiveness extend to Yoo Joonghyuk? Now that she knows his identity, can she stay with him after settling the grudges? He tells himself he doesn’t want to shock Han Sooyoung any further, and saves those questions for another time. Truthfully, he is afraid of the answers.
“Can I ask you something?”
“That depends.” He guides her free hand to his hair.
“So demanding. As expected of a former crown prince.”
As the crown prince, Kim Dokja found comfort in loving touch. Hands stroking his hair, wiping his tears, absentmindedly trailing over his chest. Really, he was too cute. Han Sooyoung supposes in this life he hasn’t had much skinship.
Does this life feel strange after regaining your luxurious past memories?”
The life he leads now is in stark contrast to his life as the crown prince, yet truthfully, the memories don’t affect him. The riches, the power, the fame. Except for the moments spent with Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk, all of it feels like it happened to someone else.
“No. Why, do you prefer me as a crown prince?”
He hasn’t had his memories for long, but for Kim Dokja, it is enough time to craft worries such as this. Who wouldn’t prefer the wealthy and esteemed crown prince over a soon-to-be unemployed fool?
“I didn’t fall in love with a crown prince. I fell in love with a sad, scared man hiding in his dreams. We used to stay up all night talking and making jokes, remember?” Yoo Joonghyuk would throw a pillow and tell them to shut up so he could sleep. “I was forbidden to even talk to you as the crown prince. So no, the you before me is more my type.”
“I am glad to be the sad, scared man of your dreams.” The unflattering description stings a little despite the relief of her reassurance. He brings his hand to his chin in an exaggerated thinking pose. “Come to think of it, didn’t you lose a bet to me back at the dream world lotto? I’d like that free meal now.”
Han Sooyoung laughs. “You’re asking for a meal when you smell like barbecued meat? Don’t think I didn’t notice you and that other idiot playing hooky today. What are you going to order after eating barbecue? A glass of water?”
Damn, she’s right.
“Fine. Then I’ll ask you to treat me after you settle all your grudges.”
“Deal. Now come on, it’s late. I’ll walk you home.”
It’s an appealing idea until he remembers the threat of Michael.
“Eh? But then you’ll have to walk back alone. It isn’t safe.”
“Are you stupid? I’m a ghost, I’ll be fine.”
“You’re not the only ghost around. There could be an evil spirit.”
“I forgot you could see them now. Does it bother you? Did the salt I gave you help?”
A few days ago Han Sooyoung entered the bar dragging a large bag of salt behind her.As she regained her breath, Yoo Joonghyuk explained that it was high-quality salt from a sacred salt bed in the afterlife. It should help him against intrusive spirits.
Kim Dokja shrugs. “I haven’t used it yet. So far the spirits haven’t noticed that I can see them.”
“I’m impressed, they would startle most people.”
“I had a lot of practice. Didn’t I tell you? Before you came, I tried to hide from the spirits by pretending I was one of them. It worked for a while.”
“Yes. Isn’t it funny? Back then, I was the most powerful person in the country, yet no one knew what I looked like. Now that I’m insignificant, everyone has seen my face on tv.”
“Life is difficult sometimes. You see that old woman over there? Hide me from her.”
Han Sooyoung maneuvers him so that he blocks her from the woman she pointed out. Crap, how did she manage to drag him outside? He should text Yoo Joonghyuk and tell him to “bump into them” at the apartment and walk Han Sooyoung back. Or maybe he should invite her to stay…
“So that woman, she was one of my grudges. See her son next to her? When he was young, the father died, and she had to raise him all by herself. She worked extra shifts, didn’t have the time to pick him up from school, etc. Then one day, her son disappeared. Fifteen years later, she walked into my bar.”
“Yup. Turns out, some guy that was obsessed with the mom kidnapped him. He thought that if he took away the kid, the mom would love him back or some bullshit like that. That fucker definitely came back as a dung beetle or something.”
“So the kidnapper died? Then did Yoo Joonghyuk use his connections to find the kid?”
“Nope, he wasn’t with me back then. This was 30 years ago, which is why she can’t see me now. Old customers get suspicious when they see how gracefully I age.”
“I suppose death helps with that.”
“Brat, it’s my naturally youthful face. Anyway, I had to track the kidnapper down the old-fashioned way, by nagging Uriel into letting me use her contact at the afterlife police force.”
If Kim Dokja knows Uriel, then the contact probably was Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Anyway, it took forever, and the bastard was scheduled to die right when I found him! I managed to enter his dreams and find the right memory. He hid it well, but I got out just before his dream disappeared. He knocked the kid out and left him at a random orphanage which I found and sent to Uriel’s contact to track the kid down. That mother and her son both lived a tragedy for a long time. Now, they’re smiling together. Even if it takes years, the most painful and hopeless stories can have happy endings. Let’s struggle as hard as we can so that our stories may end well too.”
“Have you heard any news about Michael?” Kim Dokja asks the room. Each night he meets with Yoo Joonghyuk, the Cinnabar, Uriel, and Gabriel in the dream world to discuss the situation. So far, they haven’t found any leads or any evidence against the man.
“I haven’t heard anything, but Gabriel might have. She’s running late, but she’s on her way. In the meantime,” Uriel raises her eyebrows at him, “why don’t you fill me in on your life, hm? Any new developments?”
“I saw a dead spirit at work today. It was difficult to focus. I think she suspected that I could see her, but I kept a cool head.”
Uriel was one of the few people in his past life that Kim Dokja considered a close friend. He knows her well enough to understand the ‘development’ she’s looking for and to deny her the information. Well, it’s not like there is much to say anyway. In the week after Han Sooyoung discovered his identity, nothing more happened between them. Not that he is complaining—the grudges come first.
“Who cares about work? Tell me about Han Sooyoung. Does she know about Yoo Joonghyuk yet?”
The man in question shakes his head. At first, Kim Dokja would have agreed with Uriel. However, after hearing Han Sooyoung’s story about entering the dreams of a dying man, he sides with Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Uriel,” he says, “do you remember helping Sooyoung find a kidnapped boy 30 years ago?”
Realization fills Uriel’s face, as if she knows the point he wants to make.
“She entered the dream of a dying man. Tell me, what would have happened if he died while she was in there?”
“She would have disappeared.”
“Exactly. When she gets caught up in passion, or in anger, she doesn’t care about her well-being.”
Across from them, Yoo Joonghyuk speaks up. “I don’t want to be the reason she dies. Not again.”
The words ‘small’ and ‘fragile’ have never applied to Yoo Joonghyuk. Kim Dokja doesn’t know how to handle a moment where they fit him perfectly. He walks over to the man, and in a gentle voice says, “you were never the reason she died, Joonghyuk-ah. Don’t let yourself think otherwise.”
The Cinnabar shifts in uncomfortable silence. When she’s no longer able to bear the melancholy atmosphere, she blurts out, “what’s taking Gabriel so long?”
“The damn afterlife judges, that’s what,” the angel in question answers as she approaches the group. The judges had been locked in debate over whether it is Bad to break laws which aren’t Good. Again. “I’ll make my report quick. Michael left hell and hasn’t come back, and we can’t find him anywhere in the afterlife. We’ve also confirmed that the unreported evil spirits that escaped to the realm of the living no longer exist. I think the two are related.”
“So you think he’s building an army?” Kim Dokja asks.
“No. The missing spirits were all serving lengthy sentences in hell. They were untrained, but no one was paying close attention to them, making them perfect targets to send to the realm of the living where their powers would grow. They didn’t have enough time to develop fighting skills, though. I think Michael absorbed them to strengthen himself.”
Gabriel’s words piss the Cinnabar off. “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re telling me Michael has enough status to release souls from hell and hunt them down for a power boost? Did my death mean nothing to the afterlife?”
The man should’ve been reincarnated as a bug or something, not given power. What were the judges thinking?
Gabriel lets out a long sigh. “I know, trust me. His story was terrible. Did you know he thought that he was the victim? He was halfway through his 500 year sentence in the hell of Yootoube comment sections when the higher-ups took the case from us and promoted him. It’s such bullshit! All he does is come up with ways to torture people, while I get tortured by that stupid dragon’s ‘hot takes’ on morality. Yet Michael gets more stories? And he gets overtime pay.”
This catches Kim Dokja’s attention. “You don’t get overtime?”
“No! It’s because we’re supposed to be working out of the Goodness of our hearts.”
What a load of crap.
“Isn’t it Good to thank people when they do something that they didn’t have to? With a reward? Like overtime pay?”
Gabriel looks at him with a newfound respect. “You’re right, it is Good...maybe it should be Bad to not give overtime pay.” She pulls out her phone and sends the new take to the judge group chat.
The Cinnabar doesn’t have time for all of this. Jung Heewon had chugged a tall glass of water before going to sleep, meaning she could wake up at any time. “Anyway,” the Cinnabar steers the conversation back to the topic at hand, “then Michael has help in high places. Shouldn’t we worry about that?”
Gabriel shakes her head. “We already detained them. Metatron, a high-ranking official from heaven, and Agares, his counterpart from hell. They’re both fools that believe in the outdated concepts of Absolute Good and Absolute Bad, and resent change.”
Heaven is supposed to be a place for those that lived honest lives to have a nice rest before their reincarnation. Hell punishes spirits for the misdeeds of their lives, though the goal isn’t simply retribution, but to reflect and repent. Spirits in heaven should remain humble, and spirits that leave hell should be ready to live a better life in their next reincarnation. Under the system perpetuated by Metatron and Agares, however, those in heaven grow prideful, and those in hell simply suffer. Though the Absolute system lost favor a long time ago, those who benefitted from it clung to power.
“Can’t we just beat some information about Michael out of them?”
“Already tried. They don’t know where he is. We know the spirits that disappeared were in the realm of the living, and that’s where Han Sooyoung spends her time, so I bet he’s somewhere there.”
“Damn, he really has it out for that woman. As if killing her mother wasn’t enough.”
Michael should be king.
This line of thought began as the idea that his sister, Uriel should have been chosen as the crown prince’s fiancee. His cousin Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t deserve it. The fool didn’t even know how to appreciate the position. He was too preoccupied with his stubborn insistence of becoming a warrior to properly wield his power. Perhaps this was a good thing. If the crown prince and his cousin couldn’t get along, then maybe the royal family would reconsider Uriel.
His sister, useless as ever, was the first to poke a hole in this plan. She was so damn supportive of the crown prince and his cousin, always trying to get them together. Then the two fools actually fell for each other. So Michael’s plans shifted. After all, there’s a limit to the power of a queen’s brother. For true power, he needed the crown for himself.
He busied himself collecting money for weapons and recruiting supporters for an uprising against the crown prince. It’s a shame he didn’t come to this conclusion earlier. By the time he put together an army, his damn cousin and the crown prince were an annoyingly effective duo.
To stand a chance against them, he needed to target their weakness. The problem was, they didn’t have one. Even the crown prince’s curse only kept him in bed for about two weeks, the lucky bastard.
Then one night, he found her. The girl wore simple clothing, and had a mole under one eye, a sight that quickly slipped into the palace. This became a regular occurrence. It’s almost comical how he had to struggle for power while this woman only had to smile for his cousin and the crown prince to jump into the palm of her hand. It was one thing if she was just a mistress, but those fools actually fell for her. When he found out that they planned to bring her into the palace, Michael knew he had the weakness he needed. So he spread rumors and turned the girl’s village against her. Once the rumors wore her down, he stole Yoo Joonghyuk’s favorite dagger. Simple, yet unique enough to be recognizable, his cousin kept it a secret hidden beneath his garments. It’s something Han Sooyoung would be intimately familiar with.
Michael set fire to her shrine, then stabbed Han Sooyoung. How would the crown prince react to his fiance murdering their lover? Only when he looked at the body on the floor, he realized it was the girl’s mother in disguise. Damn shamans. He needed to leave before he got caught.
“Michael? Why are you here? And why are you bloody?”
Shit. On his way out of the village, he ran into Han Sooyoung. Thinking quickly, he turned this situation into something beneficial.
“Han Sooyoung. I don’t know how to tell you this but...I heard some rumors that my cousin wanted to get rid of you, and the crown prince agreed.”
“What are you talking about? He said he loved me.”
“I couldn’t believe it either, but then I heard that they moved the royal wedding up. I’m sure you heard the news?” She nodded, and he had to stop himself from smiling. Of course she would have heard. The townspeople would have rubbed it in her face to scorn her. “I went to your shrine to make sure you were safe… the place was on fire, and there was an assassin. I couldn’t tell his identity. We fought, and I made him drop his weapon, but it was already too late. I’m sorry that I couldn’t save your mother.”
Han Sooyoung had pushed past him into her burning house. She saw her mother’s body, disguised as her, lifeless and covered in blood. And beside it, a familiar dagger.
In the present, Michael watches from afar as Han Sooyoung enters her bar carrying groceries. From his vantage point, he can see his cousin engrossed in his cell phone. The crown prince isn’t with them yet.
Soon he’ll have enough power to overtake them. For now, he retreats back into the shadows.
Inside the tent, Han Sooyoung pops up over Yoo Joonghyuk’s shoulder.
“What are you doing so intensely on that phone? Playing some new game?”
Yoo Joonghyuk angles his screen away from her. “It is not a game. I’m reading a web novel.”
“I didn’t know you liked to read. What’s the novel about?” Han Sooyoung quickly snatches the phone away from Yoo Joonghyuk. Her eyes catch on a symbol in the bottom corner.
“It’s an adult novel! I knew you were trying to hide something.”
Yoo Joonghyuk huffs in annoyance. “Juliet’s Temptations is the most popular web novel right now.”
“Oh, I’m sure. The rest of the population is as ‘frustrated’ as you are, after all.”
“It isn’t like that. This is a novel with a complex message. It takes an adult to fully comprehend it.”
“What bullshit. Pull up the first chapter.”
Together, they sit and read Juliet’s Temptations, a fantasy re-telling of the classic play Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is an angel, while Juliet is a demon. One day, Romeo falls through the cracks in the clouds and ends up trapped in the demon realm, where he meets Juliet. They fall in love, though their families forbid it. It’s the same typical story until Romeo leaves his wealthy family.
“Juliet! I’ve left my family to live down here with you.”
“Oh, Romeo...you did? Weren’t you going to inherit the company?”
“Yes! But that’s all behind me now. Besides, I’m the founder of my own company. See?”
Romeo holds out a flier for a flower shop.
“Flowers? You’re selling flowers in the demon realm?”
“Isn’t it wonderful? Now we can be together!”
Juliet doesn’t seem to find it wonderful, and she meets with Romeo’s father. He slides an envelope full of cash across the table to her.
“I heard your family’s company recently lost a lot of money. Here. Take this money and never appear before my son again.”
Juliet pushes the envelope back across the table. “You misunderstood my intentions. You see, it isn’t Romeo that I’m in love with, Montague. It’s been you all along.”
Montague accepts her confession, and they become engaged. Blindsided by the news, Romeo confronts the happy couple.
“Father, how could you do this to me, your son? I thought you hated demons.”
“My son, I never told you this, but I am terminally ill. Before I die, I want to experience a passionate love.”
Off to the side, Juliet smiles to herself. Head of the company and dying? Much better.
“Juliet, did our love mean nothing to you?” Romeo pleads with Juliet, but she shakes him off.
“How impudent. Do not talk to your new mother like this, son.”
“Shit, that was a good twist. I have goosebumps.” Han Sooyoung shows Yoo Joonghyuk her arm.
“I told you it is a good novel.”
“You have surprisingly good taste. Though it started out cliche, it took a fun turn. The best part is Juliet’s character, of course.”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods. “She’s cute.”
“Cute? Are you dense? She’s ruthless and cunning, going after the company rather than something so fickle as a boy’s love.”
“Fool. She’s obviously in love with Romeo and lying about her true feelings to everyone, including herself.”
“And you find that cute?”
Yoo Joonghyuk stares directly at Han Sooyoung. “Unfortunately, yes.”
“Nevermind, you have strange taste. Scroll to the next chapter already, I want to know how it ends. Quickly, before Kim Dokja gets here.”
Yoo Joonghyuk opens the last chapter. The page is empty except for a message announcing the unfortunate death of the author, known as Pluton.
“Damn, I wanted to know how it ends.”
“How what ends?” Kim Dokja asks as he enters the bar.
“Nothing.” Han Sooyoung shoves a bunch of coupons at him. “Go out and find me a grudge. We’re running low on time.”
“Actually, I already found one. My landlord tried to get me to buy a haunted apartment today.”
“How do you know it’s haunted?”
“I toured the apartment and saw the spirit that refused to leave. It was a man, around 50 years old. He thought I couldn’t see him and told me to get out of his home.”
Han Sooyoung considers his words. “Was it a nice apartment?”
“Eh? Yeah, I guess.”
“Did he offer you a good deal?”
“Yes, since everyone else ran away, it’s cheaper than my apartment now.”
“That’s great! You should sign the lease, and then we settle the spirit’s grudge.”
“I can’t afford the penalty of breaking my lease.”
“Damn. Alright, what do you know about this ghost?”
“Not much, except that he had a lot of mail addressed to ‘Pluton.’”
Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyes grow wide.
“Hmmmmm yes, I sense the mystical energy of an angry spirit. A woman stands in this room, angry about the car that hit her. You need a talisman to protect you. Luckily, I have one on me that I can sell you.”
Han Sooyoung rolls her eyes at the fake shaman attempting to scam the landlord. The ‘shaman’ faces an empty wall, while the spirit is clearly standing in the opposite corner of the room. “I died of a heart attack,” the spirit mutters to himself.
“Hey, you!” Han Sooyoung calls out to the phony shaman. “The ghost is a man in his 50s that died of a heart attack. You’re making a fool of yourself talking to that wall. Beat it before I kick your ass.”
“Who do you think you a—”
“You’re right, that fits the description of the previous tenant.” The landlord cuts off the protest of the fake shaman, then kicks the man out.
“Who are you people?”
Yoo Joonghyuk gestures to Han Sooyoung. “This is Lady Soo-yun. She trained for 20 years at Mount Gyeryong and another 20 years at Mount Jiri. She also—”
“That’s enough, thank you.” Han Sooyoung cuts him off. From the side of her mouth she hisses, “just how old am I supposed to be?”
Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t reply, he stands there with a self-satisfied smirk. That brat.
“I didn’t know my tenant had such connections. Did you come here to help with the spirit?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Thank you, Lady Soo-yun. I’ll leave through the kitchen with copious counter space and let you work here in this spacious living room with a splendid view.”
This bastard, even at a time like this, he was trying to make a sale. Once the man leaves, the trio approaches the spirit.
The man eyes them warily.
“You can’t make me leave. This is my home.”
“We’re not here to make you leave. Actually,” Han Sooyoung gestures between herself and Yoo Joonghyuk, “we’re your fans, and we’re here to help you complete your masterpiece. Now tell me, did you write the last chapter of ‘Juliet’s Temptations’ before you died?”
“That’s why you two hurried here? To harass him for a book?” Kim Dokja glares at the two in surprise. They don’t have time to look for missing chapters; they need to settle three more grudges soon.
“This is his life’s masterpiece, of course we need to help him complete it.”
While the three bicker, someone outside the apartment announces a flower delivery. The spirit perks up and runs to the door, though his excitement dissipates when he sees the delivery person. Interesting. Han Sooyoung recognizes the logo as the flower shop down the street.
“Do you like flowers, or flower delivery people?” she asks the spirit when he returns.
“...both. That’s why I won’t leave.”
“These two beside me are ghosts, just like you.” The spirit looks surprised. Kim Dokja continues, “they specialize in resolving the grudges of people like you.”
“Really?” the spirit asks.
Han Sooyoung assures him that Kim Dokja’s words are true. “Tell me your story,” she says.
“My name is Shin Young-jun, but I am better known as Pluton, the author of mature fantasy novels. All my life, I had a heart condition that prevented me from living normally. I couldn’t go outside, so naturally I didn’t have many close relationships. It was okay though, since I had my writing. Through my stories, I could travel to exciting places, go on adventures, and experience a passionate romance. Then, I met her.”
The apartment is empty now, though when Shin Young-jun was alive, the atmosphere wasn’t much different. He wanted to liven the place up, so he frequently ordered flowers. He chose the shop across the street, so the delivery person wouldn’t travel far. Usually it was some young person, but today Shin Young-jun faces a beautiful woman his age.
“Ah, are you surprised to see me?” the woman jokes.
“A little,” he admits, “are you a new delivery person?”
The woman laughs. “No, I’m the shop owner. The usual delivery person is out sick, and I wanted to see the face of our mysterious faithful customer.” She tilts her head to study his face, then her eyes flash down to his bare left hand. “It’s a pleasant face indeed. Perhaps I’ll give the delivery person a break now and then. I’m Jeon Chun-hwa, it’s nice to meet you.”
From then on, each time he placed an order from her shop, Jeon Chun-hwa showed up to deliver them to him. Shin Young-jun would offer her some water or some snacks. Eventually, he worked up the courage to offer her dinner.
Shin Young-jun chuckles after recounting this bit. “I had never flirted before,” he tells his three listeners, “I thought I was being slick. She knew all along, but matched my slow pace because she thought I was shy.”
“Honestly, my shop is nearby, and you’re the only person I deliver to. Why would I constantly need water?” Jeon Chun-hwa had teased him about it on their first date. He didn’t mind.
“For what it’s worth, I’m thankful for your questionable hydration issues. That’s what led us here.” He gestures to the lovely restaurant where they dine.
“Good answer. Enough about me, I’m curious about the handsome and mysterious you. You said you were a writer, correct?”
“...yes, that’s correct.”
The dreaded question. Shin Young-jun isn’t stupid. He knows how questionable a 50-year-old man that stays in his home all day and writes mature fantasy novels seems to others.
“Let me guess,” Jeon Chun-hwa continues, “is it action? Or something like romance?”
“It’s closest to romance. Something inspired by classic works of literature.”
“Oh, I see. How elegant, just like you. I hope I get to read it sometime.”
Shin Young-jun takes a large bite of food, hoping to mask his non-answer. It seems to work, as Jeon Chun-hwa continues as if nothing happened.
“We would do this most often, you know. Be together, and eat at restaurants.”
“At restaurants…” Shin Young-jun spent most of his life safe in his home. This is a risk he’s ready to take. “I’d like that.”
So began their relationship, which spanned several months.
“It was the happiest time of my life,” he tells them. “We matched well. Chun-hwa never held it against me that I was a homebody. If she wanted adventure, she would go off on her own, then come back to me and tell me all about it. Like that, I felt as if I’d travelled the world.”
Above her flower shop, there was a vacant apartment. Shin Young-jun thought about moving there so that it would be easier on him to come see her. He also thought it was time to tell her the truth, both about his condition and his occupation. However, he never got the chance.
Jeon Chun-hwa had a surprise of her own. Today was the day that she planned to tell Shin Young-jun that she loved him. Truthfully, she wanted to spend the rest of her life with the man. She found his apartment door unlocked. What a great opportunity to surprise him. She decided to decorate his apartment with the flowers she had brought for her confession. Even at 50, he made her feel like a young girl again.
“...yes, but a flower shop is a foolish business.”
It’s Shin Young-jun’s voice.
“That’s why a long-term relationship would never work out.”
Jeon Chun-hwa drops the flowers and leaves.
“She must have heard me and thought that I was talking about her. I was talking about my novel.”
Romeo opening up a flower shop in the demon world was a foolish idea, as the demon world didn’t have flowers so Juliet thought they might not sell. She was after Romeo’s business, so a long-term relationship with Romeo wouldn’t help her reach her goals.
“At first, Jeon Chun-hwa wouldn’t speak to me. After a few days, she agreed to hear me out, and we set a time to meet.”
“What happened?” Kim Dokja asks.
He had a fatal heart attack the night before they were scheduled to meet.
Han Sooyoung recaps the situation. “She thinks you badmouthed her profession, weren’t serious about a long-term commitment, and that you ghosted her when she gave you a chance. We can work with that.”
“How? When you put it like that, it seems hopeless. I shouldn’t have hidden my novel from her. I even wrote the last chapter with her in mind, it contains everything that I want to say.”
“Oh, really?” That gives Han Sooyoung an idea.
“Welcome to Anthos. Do you need help picking out flowers or are you two just browsing?”
Before Kim Dokja can say anything, Yoo Joonghyuk says, “what are the flowers of apology?”
“Daffodils and hyacinths. I can show you some if you’d like.”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods his head, and the woman, Jeon Chun-hwa, a glance at her name tag confirms, briefly disappears into a different room. When she leaves, Kim Dokja pulls on Yoo Joonghyuk’s arm to get the man’s attention and says, “we’re here for the grudge, not your personal shopping. Why are you interested in flowers, anyway?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“You’re going to need more than flowers to get her to forgive you.”
Jeon Chun-hwa returns in time to hear this last bit and raises her eyebrows. She spots Kim Dokja’s hand still wrapped around Yoo Joonghyuk’s bicep. The woman is a professional, it’s easy to miss her eyes quickly scan their hands for rings, but Yoo Joonghyuk notices anyway.
“It isn’t like that.”
Jeon Chun-hwa shrugs. “My apologies. I see a lot of interesting stories in this profession. It turns out, even the kindest people need these.” She holds out the yellow daffodils and purple hyacinths.
“It was a misunderstanding. She thinks she is unloved, which isn’t true.”
“Interesting indeed. Which color does she prefer?”
“The color of royalty. Hyacinths it is. Do you know the story of purple hyacinths?”
“It comes from Greek mythology. Hyacinth was a boy that was loved by both Apollo and Zephyr. One day, Hyacinth and Apollo were playing discus—like frisbee, but much heavier—and a wind from Zephyr accidentally shifted the discus towards Hyacinth’s head, killing him. From his blood sprung the hyacinth flower. It symbolizes Apollo’s grief that he could not protect his lover, and Zephyr’s despair over accidentally causing his death. In different spiritual circles, the purple hyacinth has a more positive meaning. It symbolizes love and happiness, and protection from harm.”
Both Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja stare silently at the flower after Jeon Chun-hwa finishes her story.
“I do not know your circumstances, but judging by your reactions, it seems ‘she’ needs to receive these flowers as soon as possible. She needs to know that she is loved. You can have a small bouquet for free today. When you give them to her, you can make it up to me by buying a happier flower.”
Caught off guard by the story, Kim Dokja almost forgets their original purpose. Thankfully, Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t. When Jeon Chun-hwa hands him the bouquet, he says, “she does deserve to know that she is loved. So do you. We are here on behalf of Shin Young-jun. Please listen to our story.”
Jeon Chun-hwa regards them for a long moment, then lets out a tired sigh. “I would love nothing more than to kick you out right now. But I am a curious old fool, it seems. I have the ability to see things that others miss. And you,” she points at Yoo Joonghyuk, “are less ‘lively’ than most. I’ll hear your story, but it better be good.”
“It is. Please drink this.” Yoo Joonghyuk hands Jeon Chun-hwa a glass of Han Sooyoung’s special alcohol. Kim Dokja doesn’t expect her to accept it that easily. It seems he underestimated her natural curiosity.
When Jeon Chun-hwa comes to, she’s alone in a theater. The massive screen before her flickers to life, and tells the story of Romeo and Juliet, only set in a world of angels and demons. The novelty of the setting wears off rather quickly, and she expects it to be like all the other Romeo and Juliet renditions, until Romeo leaves his family. He sets up a familiar-looking flower shop in the demon realm, which seems risky considering that demons might not even like the flowers.
Then Juliet betrays Romeo by seducing his father, and Jeon Chun-hwa leans on the edge of her seat. On the day of the wedding between Juliet and his father, Romeo puts a bottle of poison to his lips.
“Oh Romeo, Romeo! Did you swallow that poison?” Juliet runs to him in a hurry, and Romeo shakes his head no, the poison is still in his mouth.
“Okay, spit it out. Hurry up. Anyway, Romeo, I’ve come to tell you that I won’t marry your father. At first my father and I came up with a plan to take over your company and stop the angels from making weapons. But then I fell in love with you, like I’m sure the demon world will fall in love with your flowers. Romeo, I am sorry that I wasn’t truthful from the beginning. I was afraid that you would hate me, so it was easier to keep lying about my feelings. I hope now that you know the truth about me, you will accept me as I am.”
Though Romeo and Juliet had their chance at reconciliation, all Jeon Chun-hwa has is an empty apartment.
“You can’t see him, right?” Kim Dokja asks.
She shakes her head, “my ability isn’t that strong.”
“I can assure you that’s for the best.”
Han Sooyoung positions Jeon Chun-hwa so that she sits across from Shin Young-jun. “You can’t hear him, but he can hear you. So speak to him, and I’ll tell you his response.”
“I read your story. Well, a version of it at least.” She suspects that the movie wasn’t true to the novel, as all the characters were played by the three that brought her here.
She nods. “I enjoyed it. I didn’t know you were that creative, and a bit mischievous. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was embarrassed. A man of my age, stuck inside all day and writing novels like this, I didn’t want you to despise me.”
“Nonsense. I would have never despised you. No matter what you wrote, I’m sure I would have loved it, because I love you.”
Shin Young-jun takes a moment to wipe his tears. “Tell her that I don’t care if she thinks I am a bad person. I don’t want her to feel bad over this misunderstanding, I want her to know that she is loved.”
Before she leaves, Jeon Chun-hwa composes herself enough to take a jab at Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja. “If I’m correct, I think you’re loved too, hm?” She nudges Han Sooyoung, who looks confused, and then leaves.
“What was she talking about? And why are you holding those plants?”
Yoo Joonghyuk looks away. “She’s a talented saleswoman.”
Shin Young-jun laughs. “She is. Thank you for listening to my story and bringing her back to me. You can call the angel of death now. I’m ready to move on.”
They summon Uriel, who gasps when she sees Shin Young-jun. “It’s you! What great timing, Anna Croft will be happy that you’re back.”
“Pardon? Have we met before?” Shin Young-jun looks confused.
“Ah, you must not have your memories back yet since you haven’t left the realm of the living. Here.” Uriel reaches out and touches Shin Young-jun’s forehead. A bright light emits from her fingers, and his eyes light up in recognition.
“Uriel! It’s good to see you.”
“Hades? As in the Hades?” Kim Dokja can’t believe it. Growing up, he loved reading Father of the Rich Night, a web novel that centered on Hades. Each night he would read the web novel and each day he would read the Greek mythology behind the novel with his mother.
“Yes, I am ‘the’ Hades.”
“Are you real? I mean, is it true? The myth?”
“It depends on which part of the myth you are referring to. I didn’t kidnap Persephone. We met in the afterlife.”
“That’s the one thing about the legends that bothers him the most,” says Uriel. “Hades and Persephone are both well-known souls in the afterlife. Hades is Anna Croft’s predecessor from ancient Greece. He met Persephone when she died, and she became his queen. Together they ruled hell, well back then it was just the underworld, for what, a thousand years or so?”
“That is correct. After Anna relieved us, Persephone and I wanted to reincarnate as a couple so we could finally spend a life together. A simple married life with children, that is all we wanted. As you can see, it did not work out.” It hasn’t worked out for a long time, actually. Life is harder than they remembered. “I think I shall forego reincarnation for a while. I am tired of tragic romances.”
Kim Dokja desperately wants to ask if this means that Jeon Chun-hwa is Persephone. He holds his tongue. If he is wrong, then wouldn’t that just be too cruel to remind the man?
“You seem troubled. Don’t be. Persephone and I reincarnate together. Our paths crossed in this life, just as they always do. Remember, she loves flowers.”
That’s a relief.
“May I ask you one question?”
“Is Cerberus real too?”
Hades smiles. “He is.” The silver lining of his death is that he gets to see his dog again.
“I hate to interrupt, but I need to take Hades to the afterlife. I still have a full day of death duties ahead of me.”
“Of course,” says Kim Dokja. Before they disappear from view, he mouths, “Do you have a scythe?” at Hades, who nods back.
The entire walk back to the bar, he gets relentlessly teased by Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Ironic how you tease me now, yet you rushed over for the chance to read his last chapter,” he says as they enter the bar. “You two are the true crazed fans.”
It’s a pretty good comeback, but he doesn’t get long to enjoy it. In the middle of one of their tables, a familiar dagger is propped up, almost as if on display. Beside it lies a note that reads, “even as your chef, he never stops lying to you.”
Han Sooyoung’s shaking hands drop the note as she turns to Yoo Joonghyuk.
[At a nightly dream-world meetup:
Kdj: so the conception dream of Hades was a three-headed dog?
Samshin (ysa): yup. I told his mother to name him ‘Ha Dae-soo,’ but she didn’t listen.
Kdj: a missed opportunity for sure. I still can’t believe he’s real. What next, Sun Wukong?
Samshin: I have the best news.]
Chapter 9: 99,999
make sure your safety belt's strapped tight and keep your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the vehicle at all times; this chapter is a rollercoaster
Han Sooyoung levels Yoo Joonghyuk with her glare and slowly asks, “Who are you?”
Normally Yoo Joonghyuk would retort that Han Sooyoung finally lost her mind if she asked such a question. Now, facing the brunt of her 500 years of heartbreak, he needs to choose his words carefully. Hesitantly, with a small sense of hope, he says, “your lover.”
Han Sooyoung snaps. “Don’t. You have no right to call yourself that. Get out.”
Yoo Joonghyuk’s stomach drops. He takes a sharp intake of breath and steadies himself before responding. “Sooyoung, let me explain. I never betrayed you, I—”
“Bullshit! How stupid do you think I am? That’s your dagger. The one-of-a-kind dagger gifted to you by your master the Breaking the Sky Sword Saint, and the one you kept on you at all times. Except for when you left it next to my mother’s dead body.” She spits out the last words as if it hurt to keep them in her mouth.
“It was stolen from me, I would never be that careless.”
“Ha!” There were times scattered across the last 500 years where Han Sooyoung allowed herself to entertain the possibility that Yoo Joonghyuk was innocent, that she was loved by the two men she cherished most. The shock of this most recent betrayal erases these wishful thoughts from her mind. Yoo Joonghyuk’s efficient nature, the Cinnabar’s condemnation of Michael, these thoughts give way to 500 years of anger, hurt, and fear. “And I suppose it was also a coincidence that you announced an earlier wedding date the day it happened, right? Don’t worry, everyone made sure I knew all about it.”
Han Sooyoung had thought she was used to the insults and rumors after enduring it for weeks. She was wrong. It was awful, the way they sneered and laughed at her heartbreak. The most unbearable part was that it was true that time. She was abandoned. Just remembering it makes her nauseous.
“Do you know how humiliating it was? How hopeless? I had nothing left, you couldn’t even leave me my mother? Or at least given Michael or whatever better instructions so he killed the right person?”
Yoo Joonghyuk expected Han Sooyoung to react poorly. After a year by her side, he knows how much the events leading to her death still haunt her, and that she isn’t good with large shocks such as this. By hiding his identity from her, he put himself in a shady position. But these accusations are too much, Han Sooyoung isn’t the only one suffering.
“After all this time, did it not once occur to you that I was framed? We spent three years together. Do you really think I would do that to you? You are the one who left me behind. You died, then hated me for 500 years. Why would I help you with your grudges for a year despite all that if I didn’t love you?”
It’s a fair question. She’s much closer to 100,000 grudges that she would be without his help. Maybe he’s telling the truth, maybe he... a noise from beside Yoo Joonghyuk distracts her attention. Kim Dokja awkwardly shifts in his seat, obviously uncomfortable with the situation.
Kim Dokja. Yoo Joonghyuk served on the afterlife police force before he came to her bar. After half a century of service, he would’ve been promoted to a decent rank, high enough that he would have access to reincarnation files—including the one for his precious cursed prince. The facts weave themselves together to create a familiar story, one that makes her blood run cold.
“To lift his curse.” Han Sooyoung points at Kim Dokja. “The 4th tree cursed him to live 100,000 years of misfortune unless I resolve 100,000 grudges. It’s in his file. You were never here for me, maybe neither of you were.” It’s just like their first life.
A curse lasting 100,000 years... when Anna Croft told Yoo Joonghyuk that Kim Dokja already reincarnated, he promised himself to let his lover go. The prince suffered enough. Besides, if Yoo Joonghyuk ever met Kim Dokja again, the other man wouldn’t remember because of his reincarnation. He might not like Yoo Joonghyuk any more, they may be 50 years apart, or live on opposite sides of the world. They are possibilities that he didn’t want to experience. While he had this cowardly resolve, Kim Dokja suffered for 500 years.
Next to Yoo Joonghyuk, Kim Dokja is similarly speechless. He thought he protected Han Sooyoung by receiving the 4th tree’s curse. Though all this time, she worked to save both him and herself, even before they reconciled.
Lost in their thoughts, Kim Dokja and Yoo Joonghyuk respond to Han Sooyoung’s claims with silence, not a single denial or excuse. Well, isn’t that lovely? She quietly slips outside before the other two notice. This is too much all at once, it’s growing difficult to breathe and her vision is blurring. She needs fresh air. Only, she doesn’t get far from the tent before someone grabs her arm.
Uriel grabs Michael and slams him against a wall.
“I’ve got you now, brother. Finally, you won’t cause any more trouble.”
Michael sneers back at her.
“Trouble? Is that all you see me as, little sister?”
“You never proved otherwise. Why pull this shit now? You were close to the end of your sentence. Your suffering would have ended.”
His suffering? What a load of crap. For hurting their precious shaman, the heavens would have seen him reincarnated as a filthy bug.
“What do you know of my suffering? Even now, you forsake me for another. I always hated living in the shadows of the crown prince and our cousin, especially in the eyes of my family.” Michael’s voice wavers, close to tears.
“Michael,” Uriel says, tone softening, “I didn’t know you felt that way.”
He can use this. “Do you know how hard it is to know that your own family prefers someone else? That not even you are in my corner, sister?”
A stunned Uriel relaxes her hold on Michael, and he seizes the opportunity. He raises his weapon to strike her down, but someone stops him.
“Let go of her, you bastard!” Gabriel throws him away from Uriel and raises her weapon to strike him down. Neither of the angels are Michael’s true targets. It would only waste strength to fight the two of them, so he retreats.
Once she gives up on hunting down Michael, Gabriel consoles Uriel.
“Hey, we’ve been over this before, remember? It isn’t your fault.” Gabriel presses a kiss to Uriel’s forehead. “You aren’t responsible for your brother’s actions.”
“But he was my brother! Out of anyone, I should have noticed what he was up to and stopped him. But I was as clueless then as I was today.” Michael took away her loved ones and tried to take the kingdom she swore to protect, all while he was right under her nose. How could she forgive herself for that?
“You took on the duty of an angel of death to help atone for his sins. That alone is enough, though it’s completely unnecessary if you ask me. And I’m a judge, remember?”
“Nonsense,” Gabriel waves her hand as if she could dispel Uriel’s negative thoughts, “don’t worry about today either.”
Uriel wipes her tears and sniffles. “Can you hold me for a little longer?” she asks, burying her face in Gabriel’s neck.
“Of course. We can stay like this for as long as you want.”
The woman clinging to Han Sooyoung’s arm looks vaguely familiar, but she’s not in the mood to figure out why.
“You have the wrong person.” She wrenches her arm out of the woman’s grasp and walks away. The woman is persistent, however, and catches up to her.
“Nah, I’m certain it’s you. Hey, are you crying?”
God, why? Why can’t the universe leave her alone to fall apart in peace? Is this entertainment for the heavens? If she makes a scene, the two still inside the tent might find her. She wipes her eyes and powers forward.
“No! Now leave me alone, I’m not in the mood.”
“Is it because of Yoo Joonghyuk?”
Han Sooyoung stops in her tracks. “How do you know that name? Who are you?”
The woman regards Han Sooyoung with a sad expression. “So it really is you. The last time you saw me, I was only 10 years old. It makes sense that you wouldn’t recognize me.”
She’s met many people over the years, but Han Sooyoung can only think of one 10-year-old that would know Yoo Joonghyuk. Come to think of it, they do look similar.
Why is Yoo Mia seeking her out? How does the woman even remember her past? So many questions, but Han Sooyoung brushes them aside.
“I don’t care.” She resumes walking away from Yoo Mia, who annoyingly follows her.
“You should. It was all my fault, not my brother’s.” This stops Han Sooyoung again.
“What nonsense are you going on about? You were 10.”
“I made a mistake, and my brother paid for it. Please listen to my story. You still need a grudge, right?”
“Bullshit. Unless you stole his dagger and killed my mother yourself, it’s not your fault. And that’s not a grudge.” Han Sooyoung turns a sharp corner, hoping to lose Yoo Mia. No such luck. Hah.
“I didn’t do those things, but neither did my brother. If not for me, you would have never been targeted, though. They really wished to marry you, you have to know that.”
Han Sooyoung tries every method she can think of to shake her unwanted companion, but none of them succeed. “Okay listen. I’m going to take a walk before heading back to my bar. You can quickly tell me your story, but then fuck off. I’m trying to escape my past, not relive it.”
Yoo Mia nods to placate Han Sooyoung. She’s probably going to ignore the woman’s words, anyway.
“Did you know I didn’t like you when I first heard about you?”
“Lovely story so far. And I wasn’t exactly popular among the nobles.”
“That’s not why.”
For a long time, Yoo Joonghyuk disliked his fiancé. Yoo Mia and her brother bonded over the couple’s petty rivalry and swore to never fall in love. The siblings would make jokes and giggle as they planned Yoo Joonghyuk’s yearly prank on the crown prince. It was silly, but it meant a lot for Yoo Mia to spend time with her brother like this. Then her brother had to go and fall for the man, a betrayal in her young eyes. When she found out her brother fell for yet another lover, Yoo Mia decided she would hate Han Sooyoung too, her last holdout of the sibling tradition.
“But I don’t remember you hating me?”
“...my heart was too pure to keep up the hatred.”
Within five minutes of meeting Han Sooyoung, the woman had shown her a cool knife trick, which changed everything. Her brother was onto something with this lover business. Yoo Mia practiced this trick with her own tiny knife when she came across her cousin.
“It was normal for Michael to visit the palace, so I thought nothing of it. I didn’t realize he was spying on you three.”
“Spying on us?” Neither the crown prince nor his fiance could be seen walking a commoner home, so they would walk her to the outermost edge of the palace grounds before she would sneak past a wall and meet her escort on the other side. Sometimes that escort was Michael. To the naïve fool she was back then, he was a bit strange but pleasant.
Come to think of it, the bastard was fixated on asking her about the affairs of the crown prince and his fiance. She remembers thinking it was odd, since wasn’t he Yoo Joonghyuk’s cousin? Couldn’t he ask the man himself? The knowledge that he was spying on them, mixed with the Cinnabar’s account of what happened...shit. 100,000 people. Yoo Joonghyuk. Kim Dokja’s curse.
“Han Sooyoung? Are you listening?”
“Huh?” Han Sooyoung snaps her attention back to Yoo Mia. This is no time to lose herself in her thoughts, she needs to hear the truth once and for all.
“I said, he was spying on you. He questioned me about it, and I told him that brother and the crown prince were planning to bring you into the family with them. I am sorry, but I think that’s when he decided to target you to bring my brother and the crown prince down.”
Shit. Shit shit shit.
“I was too young to understand, but from what Uriel told me later, Michael had some sort of black sheep complex. He thought everything could be solved with battle. That’s bullshit, and eventually he lost credibility among the nobles and the royal family. Rather than adapt his positions, he was convinced that the nobles unfairly shut him out. Though most nobles disagreed with Michael, there were some that wanted to take down the royal family. As long as Michael agreed to be the face of the treason, they would supply him men and some weapons. It was not enough on its own. He needed to find a way to break apart my brother and the crown prince so that he could stand a chance against them.”
“So I was a big ‘fuck you’ to the crown prince?”
Han Sooyoung’s blood boils. That bastard. That privileged, greedy bastard. Her life was nothing but a pawn to him, and she fell for it.
“You seem to already understand, but let me say it clearly: my brother was framed. Michael stole his dagger, burned your shrine down, and killed your mother. I saw the dagger on his body after the crown prince decapitated Michael.”
There’s something Han Sooyoung wondered ever since reading Anna Croft’s scroll. If Kim Dokja accepted the curse of the 4th tree on her behalf, just how much time passed between their deaths? Yoo Mia confirms Han Sooyoung’s worst fear, that Kim Dokja killed himself shortly after her own death.
Shift, shit shit.
“What about Yoo Joonghyuk?”
“Ask him yourself.”
They walk in silence.
“I was a great warrior in that past life, you know. In this life, I only play great warriors in video games.” Ah, that’s where she’s seen her before, she’s the streamer that Yoo Joonghyuk watches. “I know what it’s like to have strangers say nasty things about you. All those rumors, the way everyone turned their backs on you...I get why you burned down that tree. But my brother doesn’t deserve to suffer any more because of this.” Yoo Mia stops walking, they’re back at the pop up bar tent. “Get your shit together,” she points to the door, “and go apologize.”
Han Sooyoung pulls all her thoughts into one breath and exhales until she’s hit with a sense of emptiness. She has a lot to deal with. She’s just accepted, for the first time, the full weight of the 100,000 lives lost due to her actions. In addition, Kim Dokja’s blood is on her hands too. But the most pressing matter sits in that tent.
“Yoo Joonghyuk. Stop staring at me. Either say something, or get lost.” Han Sooyoung escaped to the quiet pond she created in the crown prince’s dream world for a rare moment of peace from the spirits haunting the former. She’s not in the mood for whatever the fuck Yoo Joonghyuk is up to.
“Day after day, I watch you listen to the spirits. Will you listen to me, as you do them?”
“If I do, will you leave me alone, as you do them?”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods.
“You get along well with the crown prince. It’s easy for you two. He and I hated each other at first sight.”
“So I’ve heard. Get to the point.”
“I see the way he looks at you.”
“It’s nothing to worry about.”
“I see the way you look at him, too.”
Damn, so he noticed. Han Sooyoung isn’t a home-wrecker, and she isn’t stupid enough to get between a royal engagement either.
“Like I said, you have nothing to worry about.”
“That’s not what I want.”
“Eh? You have some cheating kink or something?” What an odd guy.
Yoo Joonghyuk pinches the bridge of his nose. First Kim Dokja, now Han Sooyoung, when did he acquire such taste for fools? He’ll have to make it as clear as he can.
“I want you to look at me the same way you do to him.”
“Bullshit. Your bed must be cold if you need a third person to warm it.”
“This isn’t about sex.”
“Relationships between commoners and nobility don’t end well. It wouldn’t affect you, but I have everything to lose.”
“I would never let that happen to you, I swear it.”
“...I’ll think about it.” Han Sooyoung gets up to leave, it’s about time to get back to dealing with spirits anyway. On impulse, she kisses Yoo Joonghyuk’s cheek as she leaves.
As soon as she’s out of earshot, Kim Dokja comes out from behind a tree. “Success!” He sits down beside Yoo Joonghyuk and winds his arms around the other’s neck.
“Don’t celebrate yet. She merely said she would think about it.”
“She gave you a kiss. For Sooyoung, that’s enough. Joonghyuk-ah, I’m so happy.”
Yoo Joonghyuk holds his cheek and smiles at his prince. “Me too.”
Inside the pop-up bar, Yoo Joonghyuk sits alone, the lights low and his expression just as dark, with a shot of Han Sooyoung’s mystic alcohol in front of him.
“I spoke to your sister.”
“I know. You speak to everyone but me.” Yoo Joonghyuk picks up the glass.
“Joonghyuk that’s not necessary, I know now—”
“You listen to everyone else’s grudges. What about me?” His tone demands that she play along.
“Okay, okay.” she concedes. “I’ll listen.” She gently rests his head on the table after Yoo Joonghyuk takes the shot and falls asleep. Stoic as he is, the man has a flair for drama. Han Sooyoung isn’t sure what he has in store for her, she only knows that she needs to bear it. She brushes his hair away from his eyes and presses her hand to his forehead, entering his dream.
Immediately, she finds herself staring down the remnants of the 4th tree. It’s in the distance, but she can tell the tree is covered in burn marks, unlike her body that sways from its branches. A trail of red flows from a figure slumped at the base of the tree. Shit. It was enough to hear about Kim Dokja’s demise, it’s heart-wrenching to actually see it.
Perhaps this is why Yoo Joonghyuk, the man before her, resolutely turns away from the morbid scene, a stark contrast to the younger Yoo Joonghyuk, who can’t tear his eyes away from it. This must be a memory, then. In a daze, the young Yoo Joonghyuk staggers towards the tree, collapsing just before its base. The poor boy remains transfixed on the scene, expression twisted in horror, and silent tears flowing down his cheeks.
No. No! Han Sooyoung wants to rush to him and let him that this isn’t his fault, that he can blame her for everything. That he’s loved, and that they’ll all meet again someday. Most importantly, she’s sorry. Before she can move, an arm blocks her path.
“Let me go! I have to tell him—” Through her tears, she glances up at Yoo Joonghyuk’s face and remembers his words from earlier.
‘What about me?’
The boy whose heart broke before the tree became this man beside her. She stops struggling against him and lets her words spill out.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. You were right, I shouldn’t have doubted you. I believed Michael, and I let those rumors affect me, even though I should have trusted you instead. You didn’t do anything wrong, neither of you did. I was the one who killed 100,000 people. I killed Kim Dokja, and,” she remembers how Yoo Mia dodged her question about Yoo Joonghyuk’s fate earlier, “I think I killed you, too.”
Satisfied with the apology, Yoo Joonghyuk reaches out to wipe away her tears. Given the other events of the day, this probably wasn’t the best way to make his point, but he’s never been good with words.
“You are the idiot that cursed the tree, but the situation isn’t your fault. You lost everything, and the kingdom turned its back on you. I even ate a meal with my cousin the day he killed your mother. I swore to protect you, but you suffered right in front of me, at the hand of someone under my nose. Each of us failed, and we suffered enough for it. Blame isn’t why I brought you here.”
“Then why did you bring me here?”
“There’s something I want to hear.”
Han Sooyoung studies the blades of grass swaying in the wind. She has an idea of what it is, but it would be embarrassing to be wrong. Surely his grudge isn’t something so simple?
“I have something to say, though it’s a bit cliche in this situation.”
“I don’t care.” She feels self-conscious under Yoo Joonghyuk’s serious gaze, but forces herself to admit the truth she hid all this time.
“I love you.”
Back in the tent, her grudge counter turns from 99,998 to 99,999.
“Dokja-ssi, is something wrong?”
“Hm? No, why do you say that?” Yoo Sangah glances at his rapidly bouncing leg.
“Ah, I’m, uh, playing sudoku with my mother over an app. She’s winning.”
“Let me see. I might be able to help.”
Yoo Sangah ponders over the word puzzle for a second before filling in three words at once. Nice. “Is it because of your boss and manager?” she says as she hands the phone back to him.
“I see.” Bullshit. Jung Heewon told her about Kim Dokja’s crush, and she has a hunch the man is lying. “The word at the top is: confession.”
“Really?” Kim Dokja types the word, but it doesn’t fit at all. Across the table, Yoo Sangah giggles.
“I’m not nervous about a confession. I’m worried for the two. They’re arguing over a,” he struggles to find the right words, “misunderstanding of sorts.” ‘Misunderstanding’ hardly fits the situation, but he doesn’t have the time to explain how targeted manipulation and treason fit into his relationship. Her Samshin ego knows the full story anyway, he can talk to her about it later.
“I’m sure that they’ll resolve the issue, they are adults. In the meantime, we can do something to take your mind off it. Do you want to play some video games? We can crash into walls and see what happens.”
He makes a face at her. “I don’t test video games unless there’s a paycheck at the end. Do you pass time sending friendly emails to your colleagues?”
“Fair enough. I found a documentary about ancient Roman rulers that used architecture and the sun to create extravagant special effects. Do you want to watch it?”
“Sure.” He eyes his phone screen. Still no new messages.
Yoo Joonghyuk wants to leave the dream as soon as possible, but Han Sooyoung isn’t ready.
“What happened to you after this?”
Yoo Joonghyuk is silent for a moment. “I killed Michael’s conspirators and stopped the rebellion. It is unnecessary to know the rest.”
“It is. I want to know your full story. Will you show me?”
The young Yoo Joonghyuk gathers his forces and pursues the traitors. He chases them until only the most skilled remain, then he recklessly fights the group on his own. One by one they fall, but it’s an unusual fight. One blade pierces Yoo Joonghyuk’s side, another cuts his arm, both blows he is skilled enough to dodge. It dawns on Han Sooyoung that he’s fighting hard enough to ensure that his opponents do not survive the fight, but carelessly enough to ensure that he doesn’t either. A large hand covers her eyes as she hears Yoo Joonghyuk cry out in pain.
“You don’t need to see this, your pain won’t cancel out mine. It is enough that you care.”
The voices fade away, and when he removes his hands, they’re back in the pop-up bar. Han Sooyoung releases Yoo Joonghyuk’s arm. She didn’t realize she had gripped it so hard.
“I take it you didn’t survive that fight?” She fixes her hair in an attempt to keep casual.
“What happened after that?”
“Don’t be stingy. You were so eager to tell me everything before.”
Yoo Joonghyuk tells Han Sooyoung of how he went before Anna Croft and pleaded to see either of them. “She told me that Dokja was already reincarnated. I didn’t want to interfere with his new life, so I asked her to let me help you instead. She told me that she would let me if I joined the afterlife police force. You know the rest.”
Han Sooyoung wrings her hands and wipes her cheeks as she thinks of what to say next. “Do you want...can I buy you some ice cream?” she offers.
Half an hour later, Kim Dokja finds the two sitting on the curb. What a sight they make, Han Sooyoung sniffling and ignoring her melting cone while Yoo Joonghyuk diligently licks at his.
Han Sooyoung snaps out of her trance when she notices him.
“Eh? Why are you here?”
Kim Dokja’s eyes flick between the two. There’s no trace of hostility between them. Finally.
“I happened to pass by.”
Yoo Joonghyuk snorts. “He texted me every 10 minutes to see if we made up.”
That bastard. He sits beside said bastard and leans his head on his shoulder. Yoo Joonghyuk wraps each arm around the two sitting beside him and lets out a content hum. This is all he’s wanted for a long time.
“Come to think of it, why was Yoo Mia at the bar today?” Han Sooyoung wonders out loud.
“She came to see me. I wanted to cook my little sister a meal one more time.”
This peaks Kim Dokja’s attention. “Yoo Mia is here? And she remembers you?”
“Yes. I met her at the Dokkaebi Streaming headquarters. She hit her head in a car accident a year ago and woke up with the memories of her past life.”
“Really? Then it’s good that you got to see her. It’s crazy to think that any stranger walking by could be someone important from a past life.” He wonders if he’s ever accidentally swatted at his father.
“I met my mother once.”
Han Sooyoung watches the leaves rustle in the wind as she tells her story. “It was about 60 years ago. A writer came to my shop complaining about a bastard that plagiarized her work and made a ton of money off of it while she struggled to afford food and rent.”
“What did you do?” Kim Dokja asks.
“I entered her dreams to give her an even better idea for a novel. That’s how I figured out who she was, though she never knew it was me. Anyway, my ideas were pretty good. Last I heard, she was a best-selling author. ”
“What’s her name? I might know of her work.”
“She wrote under the name ‘tls123.’”
“Oh! I know her! She wrote that book about the author, the reader, and the protagonist, right?”
“Yup. What did you think? A masterpiece, right?”
“I loved it!” That story was one his mother would read to him when he was younger. ”Especially the reader, I hope he gets his happy ending.”
Han Sooyoung smiles. “I think he did,” she says.
“Will your ice cream cone get its happy ending?” Kim Dokja points to Han Sooyoung’s neglected cone, “it’s dripping.”
Han Sooyoung frantically dabs at the mess dripping down her hand while Yoo Joonghyuk laughs at her. It’s nice to feel the vibrations from his spot on the man’s shoulder, and it’s even better that they don’t have to hide anything from Han Sooyoung. Speaking of hiding things…
“Sooyoung, there’s one more thing we haven’t told you.”
Yoo Joonghyuk shoots Kim Dokja a questioning look. They went to great lengths to keep Michael’s presence a secret from Han Sooyoung, so what is this dumbass doing?
”Don’t tell me you have a grudge against me, too? That would be good, it would be my last one.”
“Unfortunately, no. But I know someone that’s a good candidate. Tonight let’s meet up in the dream world.”
“Damn, it’s different when a professional does it.” The anti-Michael squad usually meets in the natural beauty of the dream realm. But, Gabriel thinks, the space Han Sooyoung created is much nicer. It even has a chocolate fountain. “We should have told Han Sooyoung about Michael earlier,” she complains.
“You should have. I would have handled it.”
“That’s a joke, right?” Uriel asks.
“Obviously not. One sip of my alcohol and he’d be at my mercy. I’d shove that crown he loves so much right up his—”
Uriel throws her hands up. “Just capture him and turn him in. That’s all I need.”
“Fine, fine. Are you sure this qualifies as a grudge?”
Uriel nods. “Ever since I found out the truth about my brother, I’ve always felt responsible for him.” She makes eye contact with Gabriel, “I know I am not at fault for his actions. Nevertheless, if you could catch him and bring him to justice, I’ll be your last grudge.”
“What about the afterlife police force?”
“Metatron and Agares escaped, so the force is focused on finding them. They aren’t as reckless as my brother; they won’t attack directly. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t dangerous. They can supply Michael with more spirits and power from the shadows so he will do their bidding.”
“Can’t she just solve an easy grudge and deal with Michael later?” the Cinnabar asks. The previous Samshin shakes her head.
“Of course that would be ideal, but it isn’t as easy as that. Remember, they don’t simply want Han Sooyoung to die, they want her to fail her punishment and get sent to the hell of extinction. From what I’ve heard, Michael seems to be the kind of person who knows how to manipulate people, but lashes out when his plans fail. Rather than attack Han Sooyoung directly, he would keep people with true grudges away from her. Unless she manages to settle her last grudge, then he might try to kill her.”
“If he’s going to mess with her customers, the bastard will have to hang around the bar, right?”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods, understanding what the Cinnabar is trying to suggest. “You think we should use Han Sooyoung as bait. She’ll stay inside and try to settle grudges, and we’ll patrol the area for Michael.”
“That’s right. Samshin and I can hang around as Yoo Sangah and Jung Heewon, I don’t think he’ll recognize us. We could pretend to be customers with grudges to speed things up.”
Han Sooyoung claps her hands. “I like it. And if I do score early, I can kick Michael’s ass slowly and enjoy it.”
Yoo Joonghyuk scoffs. “You’re going to kick his ass alone? You don’t train.”
“You stopped sparring with me! Besides, I’m still strong. You aren’t the only one with a cool dagger.”
“You, your dagger, and Kim Dokja stay inside the tent. You’re out of practice.”
Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja reluctantly agree, and the group stays longer to solidify their plans.
When Kim Dokja wakes up the next morning, he’s in his bed, sandwiched between Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk. As it should be, he thinks.
[Michael, at the beginning of the chapter: *busting out the popcorn*
Michael, at the end: ICECREAM are you fucking kidding me.]
Anna Croft leans back in her chair and crosses her arms.
“Thank you for accepting my offer, the Afterlife is lucky to have you back. Though, there is one more thing I must ask of you. It’s a large responsibility.”
Across from her, Hades raises an eyebrow.
“And what might this responsibility be?”
“Kim Dokja.” Yoo Joonghyuk waves his hand in front of the other man’s face to break his misplaced concentration.
“Hm? Ah, sorry, what were you saying?”
“It’s your turn to head back to the pop-up bar. You’re guarding Sooyoung with Uriel.”
“...what were you thinking about?”
Kim Dokja fixes his gaze on the buildings in the distant background.
“It’s Sooyoung’s last day.” Figures. The one week he spent with his two lovers was marred by the growing sense of despair over Han Sooyoung’s approaching deadline.
“She’ll be alright, even if she doesn’t resolve the last grudge. I’ll make sure of it.”
“What is that supposed to mean? I’ve had enough mysteries and surprises. If either of you tries anything strange, I’ll storm hell myself.”
Yoo Joonghyuk chuckles. “You wouldn’t be able to get in.”
Isn’t Yoo Joonghyuk underestimating him? “Don’t doubt me. I told you my powers are stronger lately.” Sometimes his ability works on people through eye contact alone.
“You won’t have those powers for much longer.”
Ah yes, his original goal of living a normal life. Though normal lives don’t include ghost lovers... “Without my powers, will I be able to see you?” Will Yoo Joonghyuk reincarnate? Will he stay in the realm of the living? If he did, would Kim Dokja be able to see him?
“I promise that as long as I am able, I will find my way to you.”
Kim Dokja scrambles for words in the wake of the sudden confession. He’s saved from the mortifying ordeal of responding to something so suave when he spots Uriel’s golden hair bobbing up and down among the crowd as she rushes toward the pair.
“Michael just attacked the bar,” she wheezes. “He smashed the bottles of dream alcohol then fled. What are we going to do now?”
Shit. Kim Dokja reasons that this leaves them with one option. “We don’t need the alcohol as long as we catch Michael. Then we’ll resolve your grudge, right Uriel?”
“Oh yeah, right. It just happened and Michael ran off heading north. For us two,” she gestures to herself and Kim Dokja, “it would be difficult to catch up to him. But for an afterlife detective, it’s not a problem, right?”
“Right.” Yoo Joonghyuk waves his finger and a thin veil covers him. “It’s so that the living can’t see him,” Uriel whispers. Then Yoo Joonghyuk takes off, dashing across walls at an inhuman speed.
Walking significantly faster than normal, Kim Dokja and Uriel head back to the bar to check on Han Sooyoung.
“Hey Uriel, how long does it take to get another bottle of alcohol? Can’t we just pick one up in the afterlife?”
“This isn’t something that you can buy. It’s made from the water from a specific spiritual well, and it takes 3 days to produce. But I have some good news.”
Uriel pulls him into an empty alley and retrieves a water bottle from her bag. “I managed to save some of the alcohol.”
“That’s great, Uriel! Why didn’t you say that earlier?” And wouldn’t the alcohol be more effective in the hands of Han Sooyoung?
“Because then you wouldn’t drink it.”
“Wha—” as the liquid forces its way down his throat, Kim Dokja struggles to stay awake. It’s futile, and just before he passes out he swears Uriel’s form morphs into something more masculine.
Broken glass from the smashed bottles litters the floor as Han Sooyoung paces the length of the pop-up bar. The alcohol seeps into the furniture, but she pays it no mind, for in a matter of hours none of this will matter if they don’t catch Michael. All her struggles, her 500 years of work, for nothing when she’s a single grudge short of her quota. Why wouldn’t that damn tree accept her soul in place of the last grudge? Anna Croft said the tree vehemently denied her offer, and that she was lucky it did. Lucky her ass. This isn’t heaven’s favoritism, they just want to watch her struggle until the end.
She’ll give them something entertaining, one way or another. Han Sooyoung pitches an alternative plan to her companion.
“Look, we tried the whole ‘sitting duck’ thing, and it didn’t work. I say we bait Michael to attack again when everyone is nearby. Otherwise, he’s only going to show up to snap pictures when I walk into the hell of extinction.”
Beside her, Uriel bites her thumb in thought. “That’s reckless, but it’s not a bad idea. We need more people to pull it off—where is everyone?”
A gust of the wind outside blows past them as Yoo Joonghyuk flings the door open, eyebrows drawn together and lips tight. “I couldn’t find any trace of Michael. Are you sure he went north?” Uriel had to be wrong, otherwise there’s no way the bastard can evade Yoo Joonghyuk for this long.
Uriel shakes her head. “North? No, he went south. Who told you he went north?”
“I never told you anything about the attack. And where is Kim Dokja? I thought you were escorting him here.”
“I witnessed the opposite.”
Salt crystals flying towards Uriel’s head derail her response. Both Uriel and Yoo Joonghyuk freeze and regard Han Sooyoung as if she lost her head.
“Han Sooyoung. Did you just season my hair?” Uriel grips the hilt of her sword, but Han Sooyoung is unfazed. Satisfied that the salt had no reaction, Han Sooyoung points at the angel.
“She’s really Uriel, meaning whoever escorted Dokja was a fake. Joonghyuk, can you use the afterlife force to find Dokja?”
“I will try. Michael evaded us for weeks, he is a master of remaining undetected. I can’t guarantee that the force will find Dokja in time.”
“Can you track Dokja’s phone?”
“Were you not paying attention to what I said, or are you simply an idiot? Michael wouldn’t make such an amateur mistake.”
A ringtone drowns out his declaration. A picture of Kim Dokja mid-sneeze along with the man’s name flashes on Han Sooyoung’s ringing phone screen. With a smug glance cast at Yoo Joonghyuk, she accepts the call.
“You’re not going to greet me?” A voice, familiar and unwelcome, taunts her from the other end of the call.
“Michael. You’re still the same cowardly bastard that targets someone weak rather than confronting your true target.”
“Lucky your prince isn’t awake to hear that, it would wound his little ego to hear you call him weak. The brat almost hit me with a fanny pack full of spirit salt too, it’s a good thing he was too sleepy to aim properly. Ah, if only you were there, Yoo Joonghyuk. You could’ve protected him.”
Han Sooyoung rolls her eyes as Michael continues to taunt Yoo Joonghyuk—the phone isn’t in speaker mode, so the man can’t hear any of it. Instead, Yoo Joonghyuk uses his own phone to trace the location of the call.
“..and you’re probably desperately trying to trace this call. Don’t bother, check your messages.”
Michael sent the address of an abandoned warehouse, one that matches Yoo Joonghyuk’s result.
“You’re trying to lead us into a trap, aren’t you?”
“So you’re not as foolish as before, what a pity. You’re still going to come. You need me for your last grudge, right? See you soon Han Sooyoung, along with my cousin and my sister I’m sure.”
The Cinnabar, Samshin, Gabriel, and Uriel fend off the spirits that wait for them at the entrance of the warehouse.
While Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk slip inside, Gabriel yells to the others, “They are the spirits from hell that he absorbed, and they’re under his control.”
“We can undo all of that, right?” Samshin asks.
The Cinnabar waves her hands. “Yes, send them towards me! I can purify evil spirits.”
Gabriel nods. “Okay, so we have to be careful not to destroy them. You heard that, Uriel?” The other angel grumbles and lessens the intensity of her flames.
Inside the warehouse, Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk rush to undo the ropes binding an unconscious Kim Dokja to a chair. As he works to untie Kim Dokja’s ankles, the hairs on Yoo Joonghyuk’s neck rise, and he turns around just in time to block an attack from Michael.
“Hello, cousin. It’s a shame yo—”
Enough. Yoo Joonghyuk is tired. Curses, quotas, tragic lovers and their tragic stories—he’s had enough. He doesn’t want to listen to Michael’s bullshit; he wants to beat the undead shit out of the man. A light emanates from his palm, which turns into his sword. It’s the sword he carried in his lifetime, in Kim Dokja’s dreams, and as an afterlife detective. And now, it’s the sword he will ram through Michael’s heart.
Michael dodges Yoo Joonghyuk’s blow, and the two begin a bloody dance across the warehouse. Since coming to the bar, Yoo Joonghyuk’s practiced his cooking more than his sword fighting, and Michael hopes to take advantage of his cousin’s negligence. However, the extra power from the spirits he absorbed is no match for Yoo Joonghyuk’s hundreds of years of expertise. The edge of Yoo Joonghyuk’s sword grazes Michael’s neck, and he realizes that if he doesn’t do something, he’ll die soon.
Michael notices Han Sooyoung scrambling to finish untying Kim Dokja. Perfect. He jumps away from Yoo Joonghyuk’s jab and concentrates his energy into a powerful blast aimed at Kim Dokja and Han Sooyoung, one he knows even Yoo Joonghyuk won’t be able to counter.
It’s predictable how his cousin’s eyes grow wide with panic. Yoo Joonghyuk abandons his attack and instead throws himself in the blast's path, protecting Han Sooyoung and Kim Dokja.
Han Sooyoung screams as Yoo Joonghyuk hits the ground, his body dissolving away.
“No, please no!” she begs as she grabs his head. “Please don’t leave me! I just got you back.”
Yoo Joonghyuk turns his head to kiss one of her palms. His body’s almost gone, and all he can do is gasp out a soft, “love you” and then, “save Dokja.” Han Sooyoung follows his eyes to where Michael disappeared inside the dream world of the sleeping Kim Dokja.
“I will.” She doesn’t dare look back to her now empty hands.
“You greedy bastard!” Kim Dokja alternates between throwing his hidden stash of spirit salt at Michael and slashing at the man with Yoo Joonghyuk’s dagger. He moves carefully. Michael brought them to the railless spiral staircase of Kim Dokja’s subconscious. If he slips over the edge, there’s no telling what will happen in the abyss below.
“The man that insists on two lovers thinks I’m the greedy one, how rich. I’m simply paying you back for what you did to me, your highness.”
Kim Dokja throws a handful of salt that nearly hits Michael’s face. The skin on his arm sizzles from where a few crystals land. “Quit casting yourself as the victim. You committed treason and murder, you more than earned your death. At least I made it quick, you deserved to suffer.”
Michael may have murdered the wrong woman, but Han Sooyoung ended up dead, anyway. The shock from her death could be enough to break down the crown prince and his cousin, but Michael wants to break them apart as well. It’s a shame Han Sooyoung didn’t do something more symbolic like stab herself with Yoo Joonghyuk’s dagger, that would make Michael’s job a lot easier. No, the girl was foolish until the end. The dagger is likely buried among the remnants of the shaman’s ruined shrine. Since Han Sooyoung turned herself into an ornament on the 4th tree, it’s unlikely the crown prince would search her house. Useless girl. He has to fish the dagger out himself and plant it on her body to ensure that the crown prince sees it, for few others would recognize the dagger and link it back to Yoo Joonghyuk.
Luckily, he finds the dagger under some rubble and conceals it beneath his clothing.
“You! Looter! Put your hands in the air and face me.” Ah shit, he has company. The man wears plain clothing, meant to conceal his features, but the familiar voice and entitled tone give his identity away. A blade along his throat quells any thoughts of fleeing.
“Your highness,” Michael says as he turns around, “as you can see, I am not a looter. I was merely concerned about the shaman that healed you. I heard that someone attacked her shrine, and I came to see if there were any survivors. Who would do such a thing?”
“I have an idea.” The crown prince presses the sword closer to Michael’s neck, eyes alight with fury. He knows about the other man’s planned treachery, Admiral Yi Sunshin tipped him off about a shipment of weapons addressed to Michael’s alias.
There’s no use in pretending now. Michael jumps back and draws his own sword.
“At least she’s out of her misery now. You should have seen how quickly the kingdom turned against her because of a few rumors. Really, did you even know about it? I’m impressed she lasted this long, given that she had no support. ” The crown prince’s lip trembles but he doesn’t respond.
“Her last thoughts were about how you abandoned her, isn’t that tragic? The worst part is, you were the one that convinced her everything would be alright. I heard her voicing concerns over your relationship. It’s all your fault, you’re the crown prince that didn’t protect her from your own subjects.”
All his fault, it’s all his fault… Michael’s words swirl around Kim Dokja’s head, melding with the words of the evil spirits that previously cursed him. Han Sooyoung insisted they were wrong. But Han Sooyoung would be alive today if it wasn’t for his foolishness. Kim Dokja makes his decision and turns back to Michael.
He doesn’t have the brute strength of his fiance, but Kim Dokja is fast. He takes advantage of Michael’s taunting to slash at his limbs until Michael lies motionless on the floor. In one swift motion, Kim Dokja cuts off Michael’s head.
Then he turns toward the 4th tree and walks towards his chosen end.
In this life, Kim Dokja has no experience fighting, so despite his best efforts, Michael gains the upper hand. “Not only am I going to make Han Sooyoung fail her sentence, but I’m going to make her watch as I destroy her two lovers. I already killed Yoo Joonghyuk, now all that’s left is you.”
“...what did you just say?” Yoo Joonghyuk, dead? No. Michael is lying. He has to be. This must be another one of his tricks to distract Kim Dokja. Well, it’s working. The 4th tree’s voice echoes in Kim Dokja’s head.
[Let me help.]
Kim Dokja’s eyes glow gold, and the power of the 4th tree flows through him. He resumes fighting Michael, steadily cutting at the man. A gash to his arm, a slice to his knee, he’s about to turn the tide of the fight for good when the 4th tree speaks up again.
[This is all I can do for now.]
Kim Dokja feels the power leave his body as the 4th tree reaches its limit within his body. Michael seizes the opportunity to kill him, but freezes mid-swing.
“Don’t you know who I am?” Han Sooyoung asks as she circles Michael. “The dream world is my realm. You can’t beat me here.” She pushes his body until he teeters on the edge of the staircase.
“I’m tempted to push you over, but you aren’t worth an extra sentence. I’ll leave your fate in the hands of the heavens.”
She then fusses over Kim Dokja, making sure he’s alright.
“I’m fine. How is Joonghyuk?”
Any hope Kim Dokja harbored over Yoo Joonghyuk’s fate is crushed by the look in Han Sooyoung’s eyes. She falters for a moment, but it’s enough for Michael to break her hold and fling both of them over the edge.
Kim Dokja manages to grab Han Sooyoung’s hand as Michael falls into the abyss. It’s a precarious grip, one that threatens to send them both into the abyss.
“Dokja, let go of me. You’re leaning too far, you’ll fall too if you don’t.”
“Never, I can pull you back up.”
“Dokja-ya. Look at me.” Han Sooyoung waits until Kim Dokja meets her eyes.
“The 4th tree lives inside you, doesn’t it? Hey 4th tree, I’m sorry for burning you down, but doesn’t it suck living inside a cursed man? Between the 500 years he suffered, and my 99,999 grudges, isn’t it enough?”
“The tree says it doesn’t like where you’re going with this. Neither do I. Please, Sooyoung, just keep holding tight. Someone will come, we won’t fall.”
Han Sooyoung slips lower, and Kim Dokja leans further over the edge to chase her hand.
“You have friends now, Dokja, and a mother that loves you. Please live your life to the fullest, and spend it with those you love. This isn’t your fault, okay? I’m the one letting go, so don’t ever blame yourself.”
Han Sooyoung gives Kim Dokja one last reassuring smile, then releases his hand.
“No, don’t go! Don’t go Sooyoung!”
When he wakes up, Kim Dokja sits alone in an abandoned warehouse.
“Interesting proposition.” Hades leans back in his chair to consider Anna Croft’s request. “It is, as you said, a large responsibility. In some ways, it’s a responsibility I’ve wanted for a while. I accept.”
“Thank you, Hades.” Anna Croft visibly relaxes, but she glances at the door to her office.
“You have another meeting after me, am I correct?”
“Was I too obvious?”
“A little. I shall take my leave then.”
Anna Croft’s assistant wastes no time, Hades notes. The second he passes through Anna Croft’s door, they usher Han Sooyoung into her office. He offers a small smile to the confused woman as he passes her.
Anna Croft motions for her office door to shut once Han Sooyoung steps inside.
“You must be wondering why you’re here.”
Han Sooyoung jerks her thumb behind her. “Was that Hades just now?” His long flowing hair, the regal black robes...ironically enough, in death the man looked more alive.
“Yes, it was. Death suits him, doesn’t it?”
Han Sooyoung nods.
“Some souls are like that. How about you, Sooyoung?”
She takes a moment to ponder the question. Life hadn’t been kind to her, but the afterlife wasn’t bad. “I’m the same as Hades.”
“Then you’re lucky.”
“What does that mean? And why am I here?”
“I tried to explain that before you changed the subject. You have powerful friends, you know. Samshin and the Cinnabar petitioned the afterlife to search for you so much that Yoo Sangah and Jung Heewon didn’t sleep well for a week.”
“It’s been a week since I fell into the abyss?”
“Six months have passed.”
“Six months? Why bother searching that long when you’re going to throw me in the hell of extinction anyway. I failed my sentence.”
“You didn’t. You settled 100,000 grudges.”
“What are you talking about?”
“By sacrificing yourself to save Kim Dokja, you settled the last grudge—your own. It makes sense, ever since I told you he accepted the 4th tree’s curse in your place, you’ve wanted to save him.”
100,000 grudges. She did it, she finally did it. Han Sooyoung wipes the tears from her cheeks.
“So Kim Dokja is finally free?”
“He is. And so are you. So, where do you see yourself in the future? You have enough stories to reincarnate as a beloved singer, or a rich woman—perhaps the daughter of an actress and an assemblyman? Given your experience, you could also apply to become an afterlife judge.”
Han Sooyoung shakes her head. “What I want is more simple. Rather than reincarnate into the realm of the living, I wish to stay in the afterlife, and cross into the realm of the living from time to time.”
“What will you do in the realm of the living?”
Han Sooyoung shrugs. “I might settle some grudges or something.”
Anna Croft rolls her eyes. ‘Or something,’ also known as find Kim Dokja. She sighs and says, “You really are God’s favorite child.”
“Eh? But you said my grudge makes sense?”
“It does.” Anna Croft snaps her fingers, and Yoo Joonghyuk walks into her office. “He, on the other hand, was saved for ‘protecting the spirit of the 4th tree.’ Bullshit.’
Both Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk ignore Anna Croft and embrace each other. Voice muffled by Yoo Joonghyuk’s chest, Han Sooyoung yells to Anna Croft, “You should have lead with this!”
“Noted. Anyway, I asked Yoo Joonghyuk the same question, and he gave the same answer as you. Isn’t that convenient? Hey, how long are you two going to stand like that?”
Once again, the two ignore her, still overcome with emotion. Really, these two are just as much a pain in the ass as their other fool. Luckily Anna Croft understands their priorities.
“Don’t you want to hear about Kim Dokja?”
This grabs their attention. Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk immediately part and fix their appearances, wiping their eyes and standing side-by-side, facing Anna Croft.
“Well? Are you going to tell us about Dokja or what?” Han Sooyoung asks.
For her sanity, Anna Croft ignores the comment. “Have you ever wondered why the 4th tree is powerful enough that it would have protected 100,000 people at once? That’s too much, even for a strong sacred spirit like the Cinnabar.”
“So it isn’t a sacred spirit?” Shit, what exactly did she piss off?
“The 4th tree’s spirit is a tiny piece of God themself. And now that spirit lives within Kim Dokja. When the 4th tree cursed him, it was unfortunate, but it was a single person’s tragedy. Since the curse is lifted, the 4th tree’s powers are fully available to Kim Dokja, which makes him far too dangerous.”
“Then remove the tree’s spirit from him.” says Yoo Joonghyuk.
Anna Croft shakes her head. “Do you think I haven’t considered that? The life with you was his first life, so he’s spent most his existence bound to the tree. Removing it would rip his soul in half. He would return to the crown prince that you knew, but I have a feeling that you want all of him.”
Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung nod.
“There you have it. They will stay together, and once he dies, Kim Dokja will never reincarnate again.”
“What will happen to him then?”
“You’ve heard that the afterlife plans to restructure soon, correct? ‘Hell’ is now officially returned to the ‘Underworld,’ though the system is completely different. It’s a progressive system that focuses on understanding and growth rather than simple reward and punishment, inspired in part by your endeavors with the pop-up bar. I was promoted to the director of the heavens, meaning that I will oversee this new system. Hades agreed to return to his position as King of the Underworld and to take on Kim Dokja as Prince of the Underworld when he dies.”
“You,” she points to Yoo Joonghyuk, “will return to the afterlife police force where you will identify and locate spirits with tough grudges. Then you,” she points to Han Sooyoung, “will design dreams to tackle these grudges. The three of you will work together to shape this new afterlife.”
Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk let out breaths of relief. That’s not a bad deal for either of them. There is still one concern.
“Does this mean we have to wait until Kim Dokja dies to see him again?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks.
“That is how it should be.” The second the words leave her lips, Anna Croft’s entire office trembles.
Anna Croft looks to the sky and says, “calm down.” Then she turns to the side door of her office and says, “you too.” The trembling stops as Anna Croft pinches the bridge of her nose. “I merely said that is how it should be, not how it is. You can come out now.”
Kim Dokja emerges from the side door and makes a beeline for Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk. The three immediately wrap their arms around each other, and Anna Croft reminds herself that she only needs to get through this one last bit before she can go home.
“As demonstrated, your boyfriend is part God, and possesses a massive amount of power. He needs people to keep him in check.”
“I’m so distraught,” says Kim Dokja dryly, “I need help.”
“...the shock of losing you two made him a terrible actor, apparently. Anyway, I’m sending you two down to live among the humans with him. Your bodies will age like regular humans and you will need to work for a living, but I will give you the basic knowledge of the Korean education system along with any other knowledge needed for your chosen careers. Oh, and you can’t have children but you will keep your ghost abilities. That is everything, now get out of my office. Your friends are in the lobby.”
The hallway from Anna Croft’s office stretches across the building, and as they walk down it, Kim Dokja quietly slips his hand into the hands of his companions.
“You weren’t joking about storming hell for us,” Yoo Joonghyuk teases.
Kim Dokja tightens his hand. “I’m a man of my word.”
“...I’m sorry, we both are, for leaving you.” At Yoo Joonghyuk’s words, Kim Dokja presses his eyes shut and takes in a breath. When he opens them again, he has a soft smile on his face.
“It wasn’t your fault. Have you heard? Hades agreed to adopt me in the afterlife.”
It wasn’t their fault…it was Michael’s fault, but what happened to the man? Could he still be out there in Kim Dokja’s subconscious? Han Sooyoung stops walking. “Hey, there’s something that I forgot to ask Anna Croft. You two keep going, I’ll catch up with you later.” Then, faced with Kim Dokja’s doubtful stare, she adds, “it’s nothing weird, I promise.”
She jogs back up the needlessly long hallway to Anna Croft’s office. Just outside Anna Croft’s door sits the boy from the afterlife orphanage, still reading the same large story book. What’s a kid like him doing in Hell? Han Sooyoung carefully crouches down beside the child.
“Hey, kid. Long time no see. What are you doing here?”
The child visibly brightens when he sees Han Sooyoung.
“It’s you! I’m reading.”
“The same book? Did it end well?”
The child nods. “It did.”
“So you liked it?”
“Uh-huh. It’s my favorite story.”
Anna Croft calls out to Han Sooyoung from inside her office. Han Sooyoung responds that she’ll enter in a minute, but when she turns back to the boy, he’s gone. Damn, the brat is good at disappearing.
“Back so soon?” Anna Croft asks when she reenters her office.
‘What happened to Michael?”
“Ah, I forgot to mention, didn’t I? We found him.”
A large, shit-eating grin spreads across Han Sooyoung’s face. “Did you now? You know, I have some creative ideas for his fate if you’re interested.”
Anna Croft chuckles. “I’m sure that you do. Unfortunately, we found Michael a month before we found you. He reincarnated. Since the regular methods of hell didn’t work on him, we took a page from your book. He believed himself to be someone looked down upon, with no power.”
Han Sooyoung scoffs. No power? He was one of the most powerful people in the kingdom, and condemned spirits rarely advance up the leadership chain in hell. If anything, Michael was privileged.
“We reincarnated him as someone with no power or privilege, so he can see what it is actually like to be the person he saw himself as. It may comfort you to know that when we found him, Michael was badly beaten.”
...it does comfort her a little. “Will he keep his memories?”
“We erased them, but as he grows older, we will return a select few so that he remembers his position and mindset.”
“What if it cements his views even more?”
“We will monitor him to make sure that he doesn’t harm anyone in this life. If this doesn’t work, we will try again in his next life without his memories. Such is the nature of reincarnation, each new life shapes us differently. In that sense, I suppose it’s fortunate you didn’t accept my offer of rebirth as a chaebol. Even some of the kindest souls end up in my office after those lives.”
“Are you worried about me?”
“No. I don’t want to deal with you again. Is there anything else you wished to ask?”
Han Sooyoung ponders the question for a moment.
“Have you ever seen God?”
“No. No one has. Why do you ask?”
A familiar child’s laughter echoes throughout the room. Judging by Anna Croft’s non-reaction, she must not have heard it. God’s favorite, huh?
“Nevermind, see you around.”
“Before you go, I must tell you this. Heaven almost never allows this extent of a second chance. Enjoy this life, because when you return, there will be a lot of work for you. Trust me, I speak from experience. ”
“Thank you, Anna.”
“You dyed your hair?” Han Sooyoung combs her fingers throughout the ends of the Cinnabar’s white hair.
“Yup, I wanted a change of pace. And that’s not all I did.” The Cinnabar rolls up her sleeve to reveal a small band of infinity symbols around her arm.
“Eh? That’s actually pretty cool. Maybe I should get a tattoo, like a dragon on my forearm or something.”
“You too, Sooyoung-ssi? You must be careful with the placement, you’ll be a working woman soon.” Samshin is practical as always. Han Sooyoung waves the concern away.
“I’ll be self-employed, of course. I’ve run my own business for too long to have a boss.”
“Yeah? And what will you do?”
“I will...figure it out later. That time in the abyss was my first vacation in 500 years, I can put off thinking about labor for a day or two. How are the three of you at Minosoft? Are you still working with Lee Jihye?”
“Sort of. Lee Jiye was hired to fill the vacancy in the QA department, but the three of us don’t work together anymore.”
Shit, she forgot that Kim Dokja’s contract expired soon. He mentioned that his company didn’t switch him to a contract position, something that didn’t seem like it would change.
“You are thinking I was let go, aren’t you?” Kim Dokja sticks his nose into their conversation.
“Well, I wasn’t.” He almost was.
The last day of his contract was torture. Both his lovers were lost to the universe, yet he wasted his time crashing into digital walls. In the middle of a mind-numbing conversation with the resident dumbass of the dev team, Kim Dokja snapped. He went on a tirade listing everything wrong with the game he tested, from major plot holes to minor details the design team forgot to follow up on. He ranted long enough he actually began to feel bad for the other guy. Apparently, someone from the game design department overheard and offered him a position by the end of the day.
“The company said that they admired my attention to detail which is useful for creating fantasy settings. They transferred me to the game design team. I’m working on a game called Peace Land, a mix between a life-sim game and a fantasy action game. Like Constellation Crossing meets Doomed.”
Yoo Joonghyuk perks up. “I enjoyed those games.”
Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja discuss Peace Land while Han Sooyoung turns back to Samshin and the Cinnabar. “If he still has a job, that means one of you doesn’t work at Minosoft anymore.”
The Cinnabar raises her hand. “You’re looking at the newest member of the Anti-Corruption Agency. If you ever need more grudges, come find me. I see a lot of bastards that could use a nightmare or two.”
“Don’t give her ideas,” says Uriel, “Han Sooyoung doesn’t have permission to operate her bar for the time being.”
“I don’t? Oh, uh, right, I don’t.” Behind Uriel’s back, Han Sooyoung gestures for the Cinnabar to talk to her about it later.
Uriel rolls her eyes. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that. As an afterlife judge, I cannot condone illegal acts.”
“An afterlife judge, huh?”
The angel brightens. “Yes! I transferred from Death duties back to my position as an afterlife judge.” Uriel missed her friends, the other afterlife judges, and this job allows her to spend time with Gabriel.
“Then are you the one who sentenced Michael?”
“Yup! What did you think? It was good, right?”
“Not bad, I like the delayed memories idea.” If this were a grudge, she might’ve given him a similar dream.
Kim Dokja loudly clears his throat. “I heard someone beat Michael up.”
He’s baiting her. The little brat looks far too smug to not be the one who did it. Well, they’ve had their happy reunion, so now she can tease him a little.
“I heard. It was probably one of the souls he absorbed.”
“Yes, well, I suppose they are among those that would hate him. Not the ones with the most reason, but a good guess.”
Yoo Joonghyuk catches on to what’s happening. “Dokja is right. For the extra work Michael created for her, Anna Croft would want to attack him too.”
Kim Dokja narrows his eyes. “I know what you’re doing.”
Han Sooyoung smiles at him politely. “Hm?”
“I have the power of the 4th tree now, you know.”
Yoo Joonghyuk nods, expression blank.
Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung burst out laughing, and Yoo Joonghyuk kisses Kim Dokja’s cheek. Han Sooyoung follows suit, asking, “did it feel good?”
“It felt amazing.”
“How did you get to Michael before anyone else found him?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks.
“Lee Gilyoung, the current Samshin, can control insects. I asked the boy to let me know in advance if his roaches found Michael, and he did.” When he found Michael, the man cowered inside a circle of roaches. It was almost too easy to exact his revenge.
“Listen,” says the Cinnabar, “I’m glad you three are together again, but I have to go. Jung Heewon has a date with Lee Hyunsung tonight, so I need to wake up from this nap.”
The rest of the group agrees to go their various ways. Before Yoo Sangah wakes up, Samshin asks Han Sooyoung to keep in touch, “even when I’m awake.”
“Yeah,” the Cinnabar chimes in, “come over for a beer sometime. That goes for all of you, don’t be strangers.”
Han Sooyoung isn’t excited over the idea of sharing Kim Dokja’s tiny bed with two fully grown men. But the bed beneath her is more than spacious enough for the three of them.
“Dokja? Where are we?”
Kim Dokja sits up and smirks.
“My apartment. Why? Is something the matter?”
“Your apartment? This place is too nice. Just how much of a raise did they give you?”
“DIdn’t I tell you? I’m a wealthy man. My mother won her case against my father’s family. They had to repay all the money they took from me. More importantly, in six months, she’ll be a free woman.”
“Have any reporters bothered you lately?” asks Yoo Joonghyuk.
Kim Dokja shrugs. “It isn’t too bad. As long as my mother isn’t planning a sequel about her legal corruption experiences, it should die down soon.”
Han Sooyoung hums. “A book based on personal stories, it’s not a bad idea.”
“Will you become an author?”
“Maybe. I have multiple lifetime’s worth of stories, after all. Would you read my work?”
“What about you, Joonghyuk?” Han Sooyoung asks.
Yoo Joonghyuk shrugs. “I could become a professional gamer.”
“Mm. You already have connections in the industry with Yoo Mia.”
“It’s something to think about later.”
Kim Dokja hums. “What should we think about now?”
“How is it now that you can touch people?” Yoo Joonghyuk asks.
“It’s great. Fantastic now that the only two people I want to touch are back.”
“You want to touch us, hmm?” Han Sooyoung raises her eyebrows.
“I didn’t mean it like that!”
Han Sooyoung and Yoo Joonghyuk exchange a knowing look as Kim Dokja’s blush spreads across his face. It’s been 500 years, shouldn’t they indulge to celebrate?
“Why not like that?”
Thank you everyone for sticking around to see the end of this story! It's my first time writing a fic this long, I hope that you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
[Hsy, in the abyss: do do dodo do Do Do Do (do do do), do do Do do, do DOOoo
Hsy, yjh impression: I’ll kill you
Hsy: I should take this time to work on myself
Hsy, kdj impression: I’m a Reader]
[6 months after their return:
Yjh: I’m going to start streaming, keep it down this time, especially you Sooyoung
Hsy: Why me?! Dokja’s the bigger brat.
Yjh: Your voice carries
Hsy: Fine, I’ll write while you stream. Dokja, what will you do?
Kdj: Lay down and think deeply about how much I love you?
Hsy: In other words, you’re taking a nap.
Kdj: I’ll prep the table for the celebration of my mother’s release tonight. Did Yu Jungheok confirm that he’s coming?
Hsy: Yes, he and Lee Seolwha are bringing Shin Yoosung too.
Kdj: No, not Yu Joongheok, Yu Jongheok.
Hsy: Oh yeah, him. He’s coming.
Yjh: Shut the fuck up.]