1 Prologue: The Ascetic.

"The more I live, the more I realize humans can survive anything as long as they're not alone."

Lorn kicked himself back on the swing and continued speaking to the kid next to him.

"Why? Because we don't think about our situations from an objective standpoint. We think about them by comparing them with the situations of others. If you're struggling but you see another struggling the same as you, you'll endure the pain. But if you're struggling and see another thriving… well, you start to realize you're not so different from those petty villains you see on Saturday morning cartoons."

He took another glance at the convenience store across the corner. Nothing.

"Maybe not at first. At first, you'll try to drag your sorry self to the level of others. To become their equals. But sadly, only the lucky can succeed at that. But you're not without options. Out of sheer… raw humanity, you give up on helping yourself. You start trying to pull those above you to your own level."

Lorn really hoped his guts were wrong, but they were non-stop warning him of the ever-closing danger.

"And only when you find someone at your own miserable level, you feel satisfied. You feel complete. You're not alone in your suffering. It's a completely fucked up way of thinking, but it's how we are born. We can't help it. But… that's all fine and well. It's just humans being humans."

Lorn's smiled, seeing the pondering expression the kid was making.

"But you know what I can't accept? People who push people down below, even when they're standing high above them. Those people are the worst of the worst. In my eyes, a loan shark is the embodiment of that wrongness. Using his victim's weakness, a usurer lures the ones above them to their own level; destroys his victims' lives piece by piece before there's nothing of value left in their names."

Five years ago, Lorn was fearless in their faces, high on the lingering promises of big tables and big wins. If only he had a thousand dollars, he could easily turn it into millions. The arrogance of it all.

Lorn couldn't believe he was someone like that in the past. But he supposed it was inevitable for him to be arrogant with. What did he overcome to come to the States in the first place? Of course he was going to underestimate a few debt collectors.

"When people fall into debt for the first time, they think they'll be able to pay them off eventually. But what they don't know, is that as long as they don't pay the whole debt in one go, a loan shark will keep leeching off of them. You see, they don't really want the whole money. They want to keep you indebted, so you'll forever feed them whatever scraps you might find. And they'll do anything in their power to keep it that way. It's a perpetual state of life. There's no point in trying hard."

Lorn tried hard. He even stopped gambling and started working his ass off. He worked two jobs at the side, played with stocks and crypto on the side. Even made good money off them. Lorn wasn't an idiot. In fact, he was terribly capable. If he didn't have his idiotic god complex five years ago, he could've been standing on top of the world. No, he was sure of it.

But he could never find enough money to pay his debt in full. Every time he got close, his debtors would come to take them all. They were never going to leave him alone.

"So, how do you get out of this situation? One option, is gambling. Win big and get out. Simple and easy," Lorn paused. "Sounds good. Doesn't work," he chuckled. "The other option is to run away. Go to a different country. Might work, but there are some demons out there willing to chase you to the end of the world. So, what other option do you have? Funnily enough, the solution is to completely give up on life."

The kid looked up, confused by the words.

"What happens if the victim refuses to find money? Defeated by his circumstances, the victim devolves into a leech that survives off the streets. Obviously, it's bad for the usurer's business. One of their cattle stopped providing milk, after all. So what do they do? Of course, they resort to violence at first. But they find that the victim shows no response. They hit you a bit more before realizing the futility of it all. At that point, they're simply hitting a bag of flesh. No point to it all. Debtors are surprisingly a practical bunch."

Lorn smiled wryly. This past half a year was the most peaceful he had lived. He had in a sense, became enlightened. He experienced the bottom of the barrel, but because he had chosen so, it didn't feel so bad. It also helped that he had hope. After his debtors left him alone, he could rise again. This time, there wouldn't be anyone to stop him from rising.

"After the debtors leave, finally, the victim can get on his feet. He is smiling, because finally, he can live again. Finally, there's no one to haunt and demand his money. He can finally live for himself again…"


Lorn looked at the kid.

"The victim needs to be careful," he said. "He can't be too loud. Because if the debtors see him again, he's going back to that miserable life once again. In fact, they've already seen him. They're like sharks. They don't let go unless they've eaten you whole."

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