A flurry of mishaps and misfortunes with ups and downs. Events that had both of them in danger at times and others that made them both laugh. A zany adventure and time that Neol could confidently say marked the best moments of his life.
And like that, a year had passed. The anniversary since meeting Rena by chance on that day what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Like that day, the sky was a clear blue and the sun was bright, warm but not burning. A beautiful spring and almost summer day.
Since he finished with his exams early, he decided to do some shopping to buy some gifts. While he didn’t get a chance to celebrate her birthday a few days ago, he figured that he’d make up for it with the one year anniversary.
Walking out of the mall, he hopped into his car, gently tucking in the limited Mintendo Switch he got underneath the passenger seat. At the same time, he patted his coat pocket, making sure the other gift was safe and secure.
Seeing that everything was, he turned on the engine and started driving.
Recently, things had started to slow down regarding his bad karma and Rena’s bad luck. His hypothesis about the two cancelling each other out seemed to be correct, since nothing bad had happened for a while.
In fact, the worst thing that happened to Neol recently was forgetting his phone at-
A car horn. Screeching brakes. At the intersection, a car blowing past the red light and headed towards Neol’s car.
‘Tch. I knew it.’
Without hesitating, he pulled on the emergency brake and switched into reverse. Slamming on the gas, his car spun backwards, just out of harms way.
But it wasn’t over. While he dodged that car, it forced him into oncoming traffic.
That was what he expected though.
Switching back into drive, putting his brake back, Neol pressed on the gas again and sped out of the way.
It was just in time. The moment he sped off, five cars crashed behind him, filling the air with car horns and explosions.
Neol glanced at it in his rearview mirror and then frowned. “That’s not good…”
A bad feeling.
Not wanting to risk things, he sped up his car to head back home quicker.
But just as he turned the corner down the straightaway a couple of miles away from his apartment, he got a bad feeling.
Trusting the instincts that had kept him alive to the current day, he parked his car at a meter nearby and quickly got out, making sure to grab the bag from the passenger’s seat.
After that, he frowned, wondering why he got that feeling of imminent doom.
Staring at the street up ahead, he wondered why that might be the case.
And then another car drove past. Then, when it drove over the sewer lid in the middle of the street-
Flames erupted along the street, stopping just a few buildings in front of where Neol parked his car.
He narrowed his eyes and muttered, “Twice, now?”
Once was odd. Twice was a coincidence.
And coincidences didn’t happen for Neol.
He frowned and got back into his car, backing up to go the long way around… Or that was the plan. But when he turned the key, his car didn’t start.
Neol’s frown deepened and he got a bad feeling. Pulling out his phone, he started running home on foot, taking the back alleys back.
The phone rang… and rang… and rang. Three tones.
She always picked up by the first. And since she was at home right now since her classes had finished and they promised to have dinner when he got back, it was impossible for her to not have heard it.
Shaking his head, Neol put his phone away.
Maybe she was just cooking or something… Right. Nothing bad could have happened.
But to confirm it, he had to get back.
Seeing a bike leaned against the wall nearby, Neol grabbed it and started pedaling.
This time, nothing eventful happened on the way back. Still, Neol kept his guard up all the way to the building. Swiping in and marching past the entryway, he ran over to Rena’s apartment and swiped the spare card she gave him- Or he intended to. But the door was slightly ajar.
His eyes widened and he pushed it open. “Rena?!”
Silence. But there was water running in the bathroom.
Was she taking a shower?
Neol hoped so and made his way inside, setting his bag off to the side, completely forgetting about using it as a surprise.
Rena’s laptop was on, showing her latest projects. The map of a fantasy world for the game she was working on.
To the north, the human empire. To the east, a place inspired by ancient China. To the south, the demon realm. To the west, a mountainrange for the angels. And in the center, the world tree and a hidden area for super bosses.
There was a word document open, detailing each area. But the cursor was left over a word half-typed.
“Rena? Are you home?”
Fear gnawed in his heart. Neol quickly made his way to the bathroom.
It was shut, the shower running.
Neol knocked on the door. “Rena? I’m coming in!”
With just those words, he opened the door and flung it open.
If he was wrong about his worries, he would apologize and take whatever punishment she had to throw at him. But-
The shower was running and the curtains were open. There was even her phone, sitting on the sink and a bit wet, as if she was just using it as she stepped out.
Neol stiffly walked over and robotically picked up the phone, glancing at its screen.
It was open to the messenger app. On it, a text message was left incomplete.
[Hey you! It's our anniversary today, so I won't forgive you if you forget to-]
Neol’s heart pounded.
Impossible. Right? This was impossible.
She was here. This place was secure. He made sure of it.
For someone to come in and abduct her…
Neol grit his teeth and set the phone down. Without wasting any more time, he ran back out and to the front desk, slamming the door shut behind him.
The receptionist was a young woman. Probably only a couple of years older than Rena.
When Neol ran up, she flinched and said, “C-Can I help you, Mister Won?”
“Have you seen her? Rena? Did she head out? Did she have any visitors?”
The receptionist slowly shook her head. “I don’t believe so… But I just got on the shift an hour ago-“
“Dammit!” Neol cursed. “What about the surveillance? The footage?”
“That’s… I can check?” The receptionist quickly pulled it up on her screen. But then- “Huh? It’s… corrupted?”
“Useless!” He grit his teeth and then ran off.
Since it was like this… He didn’t want to accept it, but he had to check.
The shady part of town. The same place where Rena used to live. Marching down it, he quickly scanned the people nearby and then picked out a mover. One of the low level grunts that the guys used for petty crimes.
A skinny man with bleached hair. He looked at Neol and said, “The hell you looking-“
Neol closed the gap and grabbed the guy’s neck, his eyes sharp. “Your boss. Take me to him.”
The grunt quickly nodded, his eyes wide. “A-Alright!”
Neol tossed him back and followed after him as he scrambled off. As he did, he quietly put on a pair of black leather gloves.
The grunt ran into a building and shouted. “Boss! Boss!”
Neol walked after him, quietly closing the door behind him.
“The hell are you making such a racket for?” A gruff voice called out and then a man walked over.
Neol noted that he was vaguely familiar. And then he realized it.
A man slightly out of shape. Middle-aged, balding… He was Rena’s manager in the past.
Neol narrowed his eyes and said, “You the one in charge around here?”
“Yeah.” The man spat on the ground. “What’s it to you?”
Neol dug in his pocket and pulled out his phone, showing a picture of Rena. “This girl. Have you seen her?”
The man peered at the phone and then his eyes widened. Glancing back at Neol, he guffawed and said, “Ain’t that a sight for sore eyes… Yeah, I’ve seen her.” He grinned and siad, “My boys just pulled her off the block this morning. Why, she your-“
Silver flashed in the darkened building, followed by a splatter of blood.
The man started to scream, but Neol stepped forward, clamping his left hand over the man’s mouth.
“Where. Is she?” Neol flipped the knife around in his right hand, switching to a reverse grip, and pressed the blade against the man’s neck.
His eyes widened and he quickly shook his head.
Seeing that, Neol lowered he left hand, but pressed harder with his right, making crimson drops run along the blade.
“I-I was joking! She was a girl I wanted to get last year but I hadn’t seen her since! Promise! And the boys haven’t even gone around the block yet today! Swear!”
The man’s eyes flicked to the side, his mouth twitching.
Neol spun and flicked his wrist.
Silver flashed again and then the grunt from before staggered back against the wall, clutching his neck. At the same time, a gun clattered to the ground by Neol’s feet.
He picked it up, quietly checking the ammo.
The man’s eye’s widened. “H-Hold on a-“
A gunshot, followed by a body slumping to the floor.
Neol stared at the corpse and then looked into the rest of the building. Searching through doors, releasing girls that were kept there.
But none of them were Rena.
He made his way through the rest of the area, clearing out more buildings and crime lords. But there wasn’t a trace.
With his head low and his body riddle with wounds, Neol staggered into his room.
Rena was gone. Gone without a trace.
He had hoped that she might have returned when he arrived, that she had just stepped out… but that faint hope was crushed when he checked back in her room and saw it just as empty as he left it.
Clutching her phone in his hand, he stared at the unfinished text message on the screen and fell into his bed.
[Hey you! It's our anniversary today, so I won't forgive you if you forget to-]
Rereading it, he closed his eyes, feeling tears run down his cheeks. Covering his face with his left hand, he shook his head and muttered, “I’m sorry. I…”
Forget to what? What did she want to remind him of?
To come home right away? To get her a gift? To buy food?
He would never know. Not now. And… probably never.
Neol let out a shuddering sigh before muttering, “I thought I changed it.”
He had hope. Hope that his karma had changed. That the people close to him wouldn’t get tangled with the bad luck and die. That maybe, just maybe, the two of them together had gotten rid of the curse. That… just this once, the peace and happiness would last a bit longer. That he had broken free of that karma chasing him down.
It seemed like he hadn’t.
Neol pulled out the gift he kept in his right pocket.
A tiny box, one that could fit in the palm of his hand.
Flipping it open, he stared at the ring sitting inside.
It wasn’t much. A simple gold band and white diamond. A ring with a name and a promise etched on the outside.
“Rena, I’ll always protect you… What a joke.”
He closed his eyes and then snapped the box shut, putting it back into his pocket.
He had promised to keep her safe. He vowed that she would be happy. He swore to protect her… but in the end, it seemed like a man couldn’t defy the heavens.
Exhausted, drained, and heartbroken, Neol slipped off into slumber.
As a result, he didn’t notice it.
An invisible force, spreading throughout the building. The support beams, straining from the tension…
And the collapse.