CH 2

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“What about the boss?”

Sehwa asked as he lit a cigarette.

“… Huh?”

“Is the boss not here?”

“Um… no, he’s coming with the new director.”

Maejo kept stuttering his words, which was unusual of him. The guys who surrounded Sehwa also shut their mouths one by one. They observed Sehwa’s sunken eyes blinking slowly through the smoke, his cheeks thinned from sucking on a filter, his slender chest inflating and sinking, and his lips opening and closing. Their expressions were so serious and calm that it was difficult to believe they had just threatened and beaten people.

Sehwa noticed their cold stares as well. So,​

​“Did you say the new director was in charge of drugs?”

He touched on a topic that could ignite everyone’s anger. The murmurs of the many people who had been sullenly sulking were shattered instantly. The guys behaved even more roughly as if they were embarrassed to have been momentarily mesmerized by Sehwa’s charm.

“What the fuck is so great about a guy who sells everything, that you’re going to pay him to move to a place he’s never heard of?”

“That’s right. What’s the point of shuffling the deck until your fingerprints are worn off if he runs the business into the ground. We’re already at the back of the line for treating the players anyway.”

Their pointless complaints became more and more powerful. They looked restless, itching to vent their anger at someone. Anyway, Sehwa quietly sucked on her cigarette. One must know when to leave. If he said anything more, he would be showered with unwarranted insults and slaps. In this case, the best answer was to either keep her mouth shut or run away.

“Still, thanks to recruiting that director, the boss was able to buy a land in three-star district.”

“Huh? Three-star? Really?”​

“Um, but it seemed to be a scam. It was a construction site with only a small area, but they said that it was a land with a lot of potential.”

“If there’s really a stream of water, do you think the place would have been left alone until now? He should have been suspicious from the beginning.”

That’s right, who buys real estate without actually looking at it, Maejo murmured as he approached the drum. Those outside the castle found it difficult to enter even two or one-star districts, let alone three stars. Even if he owned the greatest gaming establishment outside the castle, he was no exception, and Maejo wasn’t saying that because he didn’t know.

“Come to think of it, I heard from a guest yesterday about the word ‘Castle.’ It also mean a star? Did you know that?”

Odong spoke carefully as if he didn’t want to look down on the big men standing behind him. A brief pause was followed by a belated taunt from all directions, wondering if he didn’t know either. Most of the guys who get angry probably didn’t know. The residents here were largely from outside the castle and had not even received mandatory education. ​

The capital is divided into districts ranging from the five-star, which is closest to the river, to the one-star, where finding a stream of water is difficult. The higher the number, the better the district and all the rare and beautiful things were concentrated in the better district. For instance, rivers. Mountains. Flowers.

The massive stream of water that once spanned the entire country and reached the sea has gradually dried up, and it is now a valuable resource available only to the privileged. Yet, a tiny stream was believed to flow near some residences up to the three-star district, and violent conflicts were fought over whether or not the area should be included in the four-star level. It was just a meaningless story to Sehwa, who had never seen the river or the city inside the castle.

“That’s why the area outside the castle is called Hwan. Because they surround the city like a circle.”​

“That, is that so?”

Odong touched the tip of his nose for no reason. As if embarrassed, he kicked the drum that lit the fire, and black ash flew everywhere. ​

“Oh, don’t do that! Don’t you know there was work here yesterday?”


“Yes. So don’t kick it. It might be ash dust from the burning of the loser who was brought here.”

“Oh, fuck!”

Maejo and Odong stepped back with pale faces. Moran laughed as he lit the fire. Sehwa still had a sullen expression as he removed the nameless flower petals from his sleeve. Still, this place is not far from a one-star district, so some flowers have bloomed. It was more like a weed that could grow even after receiving dirty water, but still, flowers were flowers and it made him feel good to look at them.

Outside the castle, spring came especially late in this district where the lower classes like Sehwa live. Even though it was a planned city that the military department was putting heart and soul into maintenance every time to build a defense line, most of the places were not exposed to sunlight. Until mid-April, it was chilly like autumn, and then a thunderous heat wave came without any time for defense. It was a winter that made you sweat so hard that your flesh would fall off in no time.

Areas outside the castle where flowers do not bloom properly were not given pretty letters that mean stars. The administrative district, which was given the name Hwan without a surname because it was an outskirts and defense line that encircled the main zone, was further subdivided into the fourth, third, second, and first Hwan. As the number got smaller, it was the same whether it was a star or a hwan, but the weight given by the star and the hwan was vastly different.​

Only in official documents and the news were they referred to as Hwan, but most people refer to it as Won for convenience. That was anonymity mixed with mockery and self-deprecation. As the saying goes, those beyond the one-start district were shoving it down their throats, selling cheap entertainment like four won and three won.

Sehwa was born in the second Hwan, not the fourth or third. The reason why he used the surname Lee was because he was born and raised in the two-won. His mother didn’t even know if he was a boy or a girl. And his father was a gambler who bet on his own newborn child in a match.

Lee Sehwa. At first glance, it sounds like a unique and pretty name, but the meaning was actually quite boring. It was said that the name was given to him on the spot by a player, who told him to grow into a strong and pretty flower that grows nicely on a musty green mat even though he was put as a bet.

Sehwa certainly lived up to his name. He barely survived, going from one illegal gambling house to another, paying off debts he didn’t even know about, and he bloomed like a flower that can be picked at any time. He was able to barely rise to the four-won by using his unusual constitution but… Nothing changed. His two-won life only became four-won. Just as zero is still zero no matter what you multiply it by, Lee Sehwa was still an outsider.

It wasn’t until he struck a deal with Lieutenant Kim that hope began to grow over the terrible despair and resignation. He couldn’t believe the surprising great luck that came his way at first. Of course, Sehwa assumed he was attempting to dispose of him as if he were cannon fodder. The contract had already been running smoothly for two years, despite he couldn’t sleep since he was frightened about when his throat would be slashed. Perhaps Lieutenant Kim’s promise of a new identity would come true if he distributed and stole drugs as instructed.

Sehwa had never had any success in his life. He had never even had a chance because he started from negative numbers. That’s why he was suspicious when things suddenly started to go smoothly. When the amount of money he had to pay back for his house decreased by almost 300,000 won, he would wake up in the middle of the night. Not 3,000, not 3,000, not 3,000, but 300,000? If he paid back 300,000 won in the next six months, it would all be over? He couldn’t believe it when his debt, which he thought would never be paid off, was almost gone.

Sehwa couldn’t believe it and called the house manager several times during the day. He didn’t know how to rejoice when good things happened, so he would curl up and fall asleep like someone being frightened. He felt as though the hazy anguish would choke him at any point when he imagined his poor luck would change.

It was only in these days when the deal was coming to an end, did Sehwa begin to relax a little. If he delivers the drugs three times more, the deal with Lieutenant Kim is completely over. Because he didn’t deliver the rest of the drug into the castle, it would be considerably less of a burden.

Sehwa carefully stroked the luck that fell on him. It wasn’t his fault that he was born in two-won district as the child of a gambling addict. Even the boss, who cried crocodile tears in front of others, was able to live well when dealing with large sums of money. In comparison to such people, Sehwa strove to live a little more honestly, thus he believed to be rewarded. That’s what he wanted to believe.

If only he could move to a one-star district. If only he could get a normal part-time job like his peers, like the ones he saw on TV, and go for a walk in the park with a smile on his face and not worry about how he was going to make ends meet next month. Just imagining it made the inside of his chest tickle. If he endured for a few months, he would become a one-star resident. He would step into the world of stars that were neither two-won nor four-won. From now on, he can live as Lee Sehwa, not Sakura, Samwol, or Hongdan.​

“But from what I’ve heard, the director is said to be very young?”

“What, have we gotten that old?”

“What the fuck, do you think I meant it like that? Sakura, have you heard anything? You’ve been holding onto the drug distribution at the house lately.”

Sehwa, who had been imagining a peace he had never felt before, finally closed his eyes and shook his head. He tossed his cigarette butt into the drum. The trash that was shorter than a finger made an eerie sound as it burnt and eventually turned to ashes. ​

“Well… I don’t know.”​

Sehwa informed the boss that he would stop gambling once the remaining debt was paid off. Even the boss, who would have done anything to stop him, was unable to move in front of the ranking officer. The boss appeared to believe Lieutenant Kim was attempting to steal Sehwa and spy on him. Sehwa simply left the boss to think as he liked because there was no misunderstanding to be corrected.

Most of the people in the house rolled up the drugs, but Sehwa’s performance was superior among them. Lieutenant Kim offered him a deal in the first place because rumors spread in this way. The boss had been giving him a substantial commission every month, but now that the talented one was going to leave in a few months, the boss just drank away his sorrows with a rotten face. Things had improved slightly when Maejo had brought in a big fish not long ago, but the atmosphere in the house was always gloomy.

Then yesterday. For whatever reason, the boss smiled broadly and gathered all the house residents. There’s a little group that arose from the bottom, and they seem to be skilled at handling drugs, so he hinted that he took them in.