Part 1: Before Becoming The Heroine’s Next-Door Neighbor
When I first became aware of my previous life, I was 10 years old. Due to circumstances, it is too ambiguous to say that I was actually 10 but for the sake of convenience, I will just take it as such. Now, to explain this matter, I will have to talk about an incident that was a big turning point in my life.
On that particular day, I was caught while pick pocketing, so I was beaten within an inch of my life.
“Did you think you hit the jackpot today? You dare go through my pockets, huh?”
My luck on that day was truly rotten.
The man smelled like money and because he was looking around and walking with a confused look on his face, I thought he was a tourist or a merchant that had taken the wrong turn, but I was completely wrong. I wouldn’t have expected him to be an executive of the new criminal syndicat that had recently taken over the region where I lived.
It was a blunder to take him for someone on the bottom because his face was unfamiliar. Moreover, it was also my mistake to think that he was an easy target because he looked so foolish.
The moment I reached for the money protruding from the man’s back pocket, I was immediately caught by a muscular arm and thrown to the floor.
“Touching me with your filthy hands!”
“Hey, we don’t have time. Don’t overdo it.”
The man’s partner tried to stop him with a lukewarm attitude but it didn’t help much.
The man pushed me into the alley and rained kicks on my body.
In the slums, there were many abandoned children. And here, there were adults that made the children beg or pickpocket, instead of gathering the children together and offering them food or bedding. Skillful children in the group were sometimes given cheap snacks such as candy made from solidified sugar water.
And because the group didn’t accept girls, I hid my gender and lived there, pretending to be a boy. It was possible because I was still young, my hair had grown bushy enough to cover my face and when I wore straw drapes, my gender wasn’t very clear.
“Ptui…! Fucking brat, getting on my nerves.”
The man spat at the side while gazing at me with merciless eyes as I groaned on the floor with my body curled up. I was famous among the children in the group for being nimble, but I was too unlucky that day.
It wasn’t the first time I was caught and beaten while pick-pocketing—it had happened a lot when I first started—but this was the first time I was beaten so severely.
The man beside him clicked his tongue as if saying it was too much but he didn’t do anything else.
They left me alone in the alley and fled the scene. But still, I couldn’t help but be glad that it had ended after this much. If my luck was any worse, I might have died. The sun had already gone down so I tried to go back to my group, but I couldn’t even move a few steps before I fainted on the spot.
And when I opened my eyes again, I was sold to human traffickers.
* * *
Slavery was not illegal where I lived. Of course, it was forbidden to kidnap and sell free people, but I was from the slums and had no parents or siblings. So even if I disappeared, there was no one that would look for me. The group I was part of probably didn’t even try to find me either.
In the slums, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to suddenly disappear one day. I was one of such cases, and it seems that while I was unconscious in the alley, I was captured by nasty people and sold to slave traders.
“Same as before, 50 healthy ones.”
“Aigoo, come come. I’ll pick some useful ones for you again.”
I was sold on the day I arrived at the slave market; who knew whether it was a good thing or bad. The person who bought me was a suspicious-looking individual, covered in black from head to toe.
From the husky sound of their voice, they seemed to be an older man. And judging from the subservient and flattering manner the slave trader spoke, this wasn’t the first he had bought so many slaves like this.
I was transferred onto a wagon with the other slaves this time, and we traveled for two full days before reaching our destination.
“What is this already dying thing? It’s even caked in blood?”
It was only then that my whimpering figure was discovered in the wagon.
The aftereffects of the beating in the alley had caused me to fall ill but it seemed he hadn’t known because he hadn’t checked all the slaves one by one when he bought them from the slave trader.
“Ha. This son of a bitch. I let it pass over nicely last time and this bastard actually secretly sold me something I can’t even use again?”
The man frowned, annoyance palpable in his voice.
The man took off his hat and the face that was revealed was much older than I thought. He looked at me, obviously displeased then he clicked his tongue.
“Tsk. Can’t do anything now.”
It was too late to start going back to the slave market now so it looked like he decided to just take me inside instead of returning me.
But it might have been better for me to have died or been abandoned that day. Why? Because the place I arrived at was a research institute, notorious even in the city of crime, Carnot, for experimenting on living people.
* * *
“Is this all that’s alive this time?”
I was trapped in the laboratory right away. There was a strange fishy smell in the air, and the dreary sound of people weeping could be heard from all around me.
“The results have been similar so far. I don’t think this method works? From the looks of it.”
The woman there unenthusiastically answered the man’s question. Then her gaze moved and fell on me, who was hanging from the man’s side.
“That aside, what’s with the little midget? Did you get deceived with your purchase again?”
“I did not! I picked a young one on purpose.”
It seemed to hurt the man’s pride to let anyone know that he had bought me because he was swindled by the slave trader. Acting as if he had brought me here with intention, the man ordered gravely:
“Put ‘that’ in this one’s body.”
“What…are you serious?”
“All this while, we’ve only tried with adults, so this time, we’ll change the method and see.”
The woman seemed reluctant at first but eventually followed the man’s orders and lay me down on an empty bed.
By that time, my whole body was burning with a high fever and my vision was a blur. The two of them were talking about something, ignoring me, but the sound of their conversation had gradually become faint. So I couldn’t really remember what had happened to me right after that.
I only knew that they had bound my wrists and ankles to the bed and stabbed my neck with something as sharp as a needle. Then I felt something burrowing into me from whatever they had stabbed me with. After that, I fainted from the terrible pain that seemed to be tearing my entire body apart.
For many days and nights, I dreamt of a group of black spiders gnawing on my body. Then around when my hazy mind began to finally focus and the spiders covering my body slowly withdrew…
I remembered the memories of my previous life.
The buried memories of my past burst forth all at once, like water from a broken dam. I was not an alone orphan like I had been till now, I could clearly remember the sweet, happy days I had spent with my family.
The idle days I spent lying on the bed, hugging my dog and reading a book borrowed from my younger sibling.The time I went out with my friends after our college exams and played until it was late. Including the one late night where I was pushed into the middle of the road by a drunk person on my way back home…
I also remembered the blinding lights that swallowed me up shortly after that.
This time, I struggled within countless days in my memory, not knowing if it was a dream or a fantasy.
And then one day, the joyous voice of a man woke me up from sleep.
 He didn’t specify gender-wise so I went neutral.
 Donsaeng is a gender neutral word. I don’t know if she has a younger sister or a younger brother.