༺ Group Assignment (3) ༻
Hua Ran stopped coming to the group meetings ever since that day. Like… well, I could understand why she wouldn’t want to come, but how could she be so small-minded? Was she a kid or something?
Actually, she was a kid.
Something I forgot quite often because she looked like a high schooler was that Hua Ran was just a kid who had been born three years ago. Just like myself, she did have the memories of the original owner of the body, but she hadn’t been there for long.
“W, what should we do? Mr. Korin?”
“Well… what else can we do? We just have to do it by ourselves.”
“Doesn’t everyone have to participate in the group assignment?”
Right, that was the problem.
It was the same back when I was going to college on Earth but what exactly was a group assignment? Because they put emphasis on cooperation, the non-involvement of anyone reduced marks. This Academy… took all the frustrating elements there were in a Korean university.
As someone who had been a group leader for 7 years, there were times when I mercilessly took the name out of the finished product whenever there was a troll.
What did the professor do back then?
Welp, that’s a lack of cooperation right there. Boom, there goes your mark!
Those damn professors… They tended to be very stubborn just because they weren’t the ones doing it.
“We have no other option now.”
“We must bring Hua Ran back for our marks and our eternal glory!”
Alicia asked and in response, I grabbed onto her shoulders and looked into her eyes.
“Umm. Yes? Captain?”
“Unfortunately, I have no idea on how to improve the moods of sulky girls.”
“…I think you can just do as usual though?”
“I will entrust this matter to you, Adjutant Alicia! Girls should be better at this than myself! There are things like special empathy abilities and stuff between girls, right? Anyway, you know what I’m trying to say!”
She gazed back at me with a displeased look on her face.
“If you think about it, this all started because you teased Ms. Hua Ran, Mr. Korin…”
“I trust you Alicia! I will be working on your part in the meantime.”
“Mhmm… I, if you insist…”
Alicia stood up in a hurry with a resolute look on her face. It seemed that she was very tired from compiling a report for the group assignment.
“I’ll be back soon, Captain!”
After a salute, Alicia started sprinting to the special dormitory where Hua Ran should be at.
“Do you think she’ll be able to do it?”
Jaeger asked a natural question. Thanks to moving together with Alicia as a group these days, he too had an idea of how clumsy Alicia was.
“There’s nothing for you to worry about. Alicia is the best counter-attacker later on but she’s a good enough tank in the beginning.”
“What do you mean?”
After a while…
“Hing… she didn’t even open the door for me.”
“Did she hit you?”
“N, no? A fork did come flying through the door though.”
“Hmm, good. So it’s not like she wants to kill us or anything as of yet.”
Alicia returned with not a single wound on her body!
As if she read my impure motive, she called me while squinting her eyes.
“Looks like her fury level is sitting at around Level 2 or 3. Good, let’s get this done in a breeze.”
“Mr. Korin? You didn’t send me to see how angry Miss Hua Ran was or anything, right?”
I gently ignored the sharp question thrown by Alicia.
Hua Ran spent her last few days in laziness.
She was annoyed by Korin Lork teasing her after her humiliating defeat at the group meeting.
“Hmph… he just got lucky.”
Was it really just luck though?
Although that question did rise up in her mind at times, Hua Ran tried her best to ignore it because admitting that would be the same as acknowledging her defeat.
She was born strong. As a beast that was born from a living corpse that was close to death, she didn’t need to train at all because her fists were stronger than magic, spearmanship and everything.
Countless martial artists, soldiers and generals all fell before her, so how could a mere knight…
『Rather than someone like you who looks down on things like this as being insignificant, don’t you think I’m better suited to be called a strong person?』
If she wasn’t a strong person… if she wasn’t a beast of destruction that could overturn any irrationality… then what worth did she have as a being that was born through another person’s death?
A sound reached her ears from outside the building, so she unconsciously opened the window to gaze at the source of the sound.
It was Korin. He was standing on a tree branch that was going over the dormitory fences while playing an acoustic guitar.
“For now the day bleeds, into nightfall and you’re not here to get me through it all~. I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug.”
Hua Ran glared at Korin with a cold gaze. As if he was satisfied with the fact that he managed to catch her attention, Korin walked across the branch while playing the guitar.
“I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved! – I’m sorry! Please let me pay for my mistakes!!”
She seemed puzzled by the strange scene of Korin apologizing while playing an acoustic guitar, and didn’t know how to react.
“But now the day bleeds~! Into nightfall!! And you’re not here~ to get me through it all!!!”
“I wasn’t trying to tease you!”
Even though he actually was, Korin concealed his intention.
“I was bad at conveying my true thoughts! Please give me another chance!”
“And…! To be frank, you also did something wrong, Hua Ran! We were both insincere to each other. Please get together with me again!”
Hua Ran started closing the window with a cold gaze. That was when Korin stopped her in a hurry.
“Are you serious?! Are you seriously going to do this to me! Huh?! I will give you one more chance! If you settle your feelings and come down for everyone, I will forgive you with my benevolent heart and give you a warm hug!”
The window continued to close.
“Wait, Hua Ran!”
She halted her hands that were about to shut the window.
“You know what? Society is even harsher than this! I know you’re feeling embarrassed for getting shit on by a random Grade 5 knight that you were looking down on, but you never know what’s gonna happen in this world! It’s fine to have embarrassing and uncomfortable truths thrown at your face! You have to build such humiliating experiences to become an adult!”
The gust formed by the sweep of her fingers broke the thick branch like a sugar cane. Caught off guard, Korin landed on the ground right on his bum.
With that, Hua Ran closed the curtains and returned to the other side of her room.
“…Mr. Korin. Are you okay?”
Hanging off the top of the fence, Alicia asked in concern while peeking into the dormitory.
“Hah… do kids enter puberty as well?”
“I thought you said you were confident.”
“I tried to persuade her with enough rationality and logic! I even added the seasoning with my intense emotions!”
“Those emotions were the biggest problem I think…”
“It’s crazy that you managed to come out without being punched.”
Jaeger’s criticism was very reasonable.
“What are you gonna do? Doesn’t look like that’s going to be resolved in a day or two.”
“Well, that wasn’t too bad,” I replied.
“How was that not bad?”
“Because I didn’t get smacked by her. She’s a nice girl.”
“A nice girl wouldn’t run away from a group assignment, buddy.”
“And they wouldn’t punch people just because they’re in a bad mood either.” Alicia added from the side.
Despite the criticisms from the two other people, Korin stood back up in determination while dusting his butt.
“Now, there is no other choice but to rely on our last resort.”
The sun settled before long as several lights were lit up to illuminate the darkened house. As someone who had been living at this dormitory for roughly half a year ever since she came from the east, Hua Ran knew that it was about time.
– Knock knock!
She judged based on the slight leftover scent of blood that the one who knocked on the door was the housemate who recently joined the dormitory.
“Junior Hua Ran~. It’s time for dinner~”
As if she was used to it, Hua Ran closed the notebook that was on the desk and stood up from her chair. Opening the door, she found an amicable 2nd year senior with water-colored hair wearing a bright smile on her face.
“We have a special menu today!”
“Potatoes are always special but it’s a little different tonight!”
‘There is a chef today~!’ said Marie, which instilled a bit of expectation into Hua Ran’s mind, because usually, the meals at this dormitory were limited to the ones made by Josephine or Marie, or the ones brought from the Academy cafeteria.
While heading down to the dining room, she smelled a unique scent and realized the identity of the dish that was currently being made.
It was the familiar smell of mackerel. Looking back, it was because of Korin that she first had that fish.
Even though she was put in a terrible mood just by thinking of Korin, she nonetheless considered it a positive thing that he taught her about the fried-mackerel set meal. The reason she wasn’t grateful was probably because of her pride.
Despite not showing it on the outside, Hua Ran went to the dining room with a rare hint of expectation inside her.
After all, having fish was very rare in this dormitory.
Josephine preferred vegetables whereas Marie liked eating heavy meals with chunks of meat that she always brought from somewhere.
Because Hua Ran prided herself for not being ‘a kid’ that winged about food, she hadn’t said anything about it.
At last after arriving at the dining room, she pushed open the door as a deeper surge of a fishy smell seeped into her nose.
– Clap clap!
The sonorous welcome was something she had also heard from a sushi place that she had visited with Korin. However, unlike the past, this time the owner of the voice was…
It was none other than Korin Lork.
“I’m not eating.”
Saying that, Hua Ran turned her back with a flick so Korin hurriedly shouted at her back.
“Y, you might regret it if you don’t eat this!”
Hua Ran turned her head back as Korin returned a good-natured smile while pointing at a fish that had just finished cooking.
Actually, she was a bit hesitant to go back just like this because it was true that she was starting to feel hungry. Although Korin Lork was so annoying that she wanted to punch him once, there was no logical reason why she should turn him down from preparing a food that could satiate her hunger.
She sat down on the table, while being under the impression that her attitude towards Korin was still very firm.
In fact, sitting down and waiting for the other person to finish cooking was not something an irritated person would do, but that wasn’t something she could know as a 3-year-old jiangshi that had zero social experience.
“Wait one second! It will be done in an instant!”
In the end, Hua Ran decided to overlook his actions without stopping him.
“…I’m not eating if it’s not good,” she whispered in a soft voice that wouldn’t even reach the person sitting next to her.
Hua Ran had been upset ever since Korin beat her in the bet. Although her discontentment wasn’t as intense as fury, it was inevitable for the loser to be very annoyed by the winner who would not accept a rematch.
The reason she didn’t attend the group meetings was to pay him back and was a way to express her irritation. He tried to persuade in a funny way but her mind was very firm. She was wholeheartedly displaying her irritation and her unwillingness to forgive him.
Well, sitting down to have the meal cooked by the person who made her upset meant it was already over but Hua Ran did not know that. She was even contemplating whether she should forgive him if the food tasted decent or not.
Regardless of her internal turmoil, Korin continued cooking in the kitchen.
For a short moment, Hua Ran savored the scent of the frying fish. Soon, Korin placed down the entire ‘wok’ that had the dish inside on the dining table.
‘The whole thing?’
Inside the large steel wok was something colored in deep reddish-brown.
It was a quick dish that was made by adding chunks of mackerel, potatoes and radish and braising them in a marinade.
“It’s delicious. Even in the army… I mean, even in some camps, you eat this very often. Debone the fish and mix the rice into the sauce here and… Kyaah~. It’ll just be amazing.”
Korin gently placed pieces of mackerel, cooked radish and potatoes into a smaller bowl.
Meanwhile, Hua Ran silently gazed down at the dish. Seeing the red sauce that seemed like the magma of an active volcano, she couldn’t even guess how to approach it.
While she was hesitantly looking at the fish with the chopsticks in her fingers, Korin walked up to her back and came closer.
Taking her two chopsticks and carrying one each in his hands, Korin started separating the bone from the flesh. He removed the large spine and the small bones which revealed the white flesh inside.
After using a spoon to scoop up the marinade inside the wok, he poured a generous amount onto the white flesh of the fish.
“Have a taste.”
Hua Ran carefully cut the fish into bite-sized pieces. She carried one of them into her mouth. As for the taste…
If she had to give it an evaluation, she would say it was crude and miserable compared to the fine-dining restaurants in the city but it was still edible.
While thinking to herself that it wasn’t so bad that she would return the food to the kitchen, Hua Ran continued moving her chopsticks.
I came to Hua Ran’s room after the meal.
The room only had a bed, a desk and a densely packed bookshelf and gave off a very desolate feeling.
“That wasn’t very nice.”
“You were enjoying it weren’t you?”
After living a few years by myself, I inevitably ended up acquiring some cooking skills. Although the menu was very limited, I was quite good at making fried rice and braised mackerel.
“I’ll make you fried rice or something else next time.”
‘I’m not eating if it’s bad,’ Hua Ran added at the end but there was a slight sense of expectation embedded into her gaze.
The fact that she accepted the dinner I made meant our reconciliation had already been decided. There was still some remaining sharpness to her voice and word choice but it was understandable since she was still a child that wasn’t used to getting angry.
“Buy meals instead. That’s more delicious.”
“Of course my cooking is not going to be as good as the ones made by chefs.”
What would you do with your living expenses if you buy every meal outside? I would have asked that question to anyone else but not her. From what I could tell based on the pouch of gold coins that she prepared in the blink of an eye as well as her unhesitant investment for the inn plan… it seemed that she was more loaded than I expected.
But since she wasn’t the type to work to save money, her possession was probably the inheritance of her ‘father’.
Right. The two keywords of Hua Ran’s scenario were ‘father’ and ‘original self’.
I knew why she was acting strong the whole time, as well as how important power was to her.
“Do you know how long it takes for chefs to cook one dish?”
“They take less than 30 minutes.”
“It’s 10 years.”
“From finding good ingredients to preparing and cooking them. It seems that normal chefs require up to 10 years until they can show their own dishes to their customers. Well, that’s probably not the only case but still.”
“Apparently the old owner of your favorite fish restaurant drank only water his entire life to protect his sense of taste and wears gloves all year long to protect his hands from the heat of the summer and the coldness of the winter.”
“…What are you implying?”
“It took me 3 years, to learn enough martial arts to put you down on your knees once.”
I reflected on my desperate days. I first started with Eight Trigrams. It wasn’t because of anything special and it was simply because that was the first martial arts related book that I found in the library.
Through the Eight Trigrams, I learned how to use the fist and the spear and immersed myself into them until I met my master.
Compared to my party members who all used fancy styles like the Singular Sword of Arden, Flying Swords and elemental magic, my skills were very pathetic.
『Master. When are you going to teach me some killing moves and secret arts? How long would it take for me to kill those monsters if I continue learning basic stuff like this…?』
That was why I complained to my master about teaching me secret moves from the get go so that I could stand on a similar page as them.
“You said weaklings will stay weak even if they practice spearmanship and stuff.”
I reached both of my hands forward to the silent Hua Ran.
“Try grabbing my hands.”
“Here. Make sure our palms are touching each other.”
After slight hesitation, she carefully aligned both of her palms against mine. I closed my fingers and held onto her tiny hands.
“I will now try my hardest to escape from your grip so make sure to hold onto me so that I can’t escape.”
She started clenching her hands as soon as I said that. It felt like my bones would be cracked with one mistake but while withstanding the pain, I pulled my body back in an attempt to escape from her.
I pulled as hard as I possibly could but I just could not escape from her grip.
I even tried to use my legs but it didn’t work and all that happened was me losing my balance, so the two of us ended up falling onto the bed.
Hua Ran was pretty much lying on top of me but she was still holding onto my hands to make sure she would not lose the contest.
“I lost. I lost!”
Her lips curved up after hearing my declaration of defeat as if she was satisfied by her victory. But at the same time, there must be a rising doubt in her mind. If I was as weak as this, and a lot weaker than herself… How was I able to defeat her back then?
“It’s interesting right? I’m a weakling compared to you. You can beat me as easily as this so why did you lose back then?”
“…I didn’t lose.”
“Yes yes. But you did get on your knees.”
“Did the skill I used to block your punch appear like an amazing move?”
Hua Ran didn’t reply but she silently showed her agreement. Actually, the skills I used to put her down onto her knees were block, pull and push.
Such simple actions were just used in a timely manner when she was least expecting them.
“The spearmanship I learned is similar to your favorite fish. It starts from choosing the ingredients. And it starts with a simple punch.”
– You start from the small basics.
『Child, you must always give your very best no matter how trivial they seem.』
Learn how to be caring, and it will leave a mark on your personality.
If it leaves a mark on your personality, it will show on the outside.
And if it shows on the outside, you will become brighter,
If you become brighter, you will move other people,
Move other people and you will change.
And if you change… you’ll become mature.”
『That is why only the people that give their very best sincerely to everything are the only ones that can change the world.』
Hua Ran, who was quietly listening to my words, suddenly asked a question.
“Would something change by learning things like that?”
“As in by diligently preparing ingredients and practicing one spear move on repeat? Nothing might change from just one of them, but…”
This was not a proverb that guaranteed success. It was about one’s attitude to life. Even though it was a very idealistic proverb that might be very difficult to fulfill…
“At least you won’t lose to me again right?”
“Rather than complaining without doing anything, it’s better to be proud after doing something. I want you to try it at the very least.”
“…You only know how to talk big.”
“Huhaha…! That’s true too! Anyone can give encouragement and tell you to try your best.”
Hua Ran started carefully inspecting my palms. While flipping my hands back and forth, she looked at the deep calluses around my hands and curiously fidgeted with them with her tiny hands.
Only after a long time did she let go of my hands.
“We’re good now, right?”
“Good. Give me a high five!”
I opened my palm and raised it into the air but her expression was still very cold. Thinking that it was a bit too much, I was awkwardly retrieving my hand when Hua Ran headed to the desk and picked up a notebook before tossing it to me.
Opening the book, I discovered that it was a report on the spearmanship posture that we prepared for this assignment and its principles. It was the research that she was supposed to be in charge of.
“You did this already?”
Turning her head away, she pretended like she didn’t hear me. It seemed that she had been working on this even though she wasn’t attending the group meetings!
“You adorable little cutie!”
I rustled my fingers through her well-organized hair. Her disheveled hair was quite the sight.
Taking the research report that Hua Ran prepared, I walked out of her room.
“Oh right, the next meeting is at 4:30 pm tomorrow. Let’s meet at our usual spot.”
Although she didn’t reply, I knew what type of person she was. She would definitely come out despite a few complaints.
As I expected, Hua Ran came to the group meeting with the same cold and indifferent expression on her face as usual.
Reference to Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi
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