Did he hear that right? Jin-Woo ended up doubting his own hearing, then.
Cha Hae-In was the Vice-Master of South Korea’s top Guild, and her skills were ranked to be among the very best, but she willingly walked into a Guild that hadn’t even taken its first baby step yet?
Unless she was being threatened into coming here, how could this situation make any sense? But then again….
‘Uh, well, just who’d be brave enough to threaten her?’
Jin-Woo decided to bring up the one person with enough clout to potentially threaten her in South Korea.
“Did the Association President order you to do this?”
Cha Hae-In formed a confused expression, evidently not understanding why Goh Gun-Hui was being brought up in this discussion.
“Why would he….?”
It was Jin-Woo who couldn’t understand what was going on here, so why was she making that face even though she was the reason for all this confusion?
‘No, hang on. Let’s calm down.’
It was a situation where most people would’ve been left too stunned or get overexcited, but Jin-Woo was able to stay calm as he pulled out a chair to sit on Cha Hae-In’s opposite side. He then wordlessly stared at her.
He only needed to focus for a short while. As the time visibly slowed down in his perception, various bits of information about her flowed into his brain, one at the time.
Her heartbeat, her breathing, even the glow within her eyes. She was doing her best to look composed, but there was no fooling Jin-Woo’s sky-high Perception.
So, the question was – why was she forcing herself to this extent and trying to enter the tentatively-named ‘Solo Play’ Guild?
Jin-Woo had to ask her.
“Don’t you still have some time left in the duration of your contract with the Hunters Guild?”
Now normally, the Guild would negotiate contracts with Hunters in five-year terms. Cha Hae-In joined the Hunters Guild two years ago when she was evaluated to be a rank S, so at a bare minimum, she should still have three years left in her contract.
“I have enough money to pay the penalty for breach of contract.”
Cha Hae-In’s collected answer only elicited Jin-Woo’s head-tilting.
Most of the time, such a penalty fee would be between two to three times the original signing fee.
Thinking about the exorbitant sum the Hunters Guild must’ve forked out in order to sign up a rank S Hunter like her, one didn’t need to be a genius to figure out that the breach of contract penalty fee would be absolutely horrendous, as well.
Since he was about to speak to her about harsh reality, Jin-Woo’s attitude became very business-like.
“Our ‘Solo Play’ Guild simply can’t afford to pay the kind of signing fee your skill set warrants, Cha Hunter-nim.”
“T-the name of your Guild is ‘Solo Play’??”
“You have a problem with the name that the Vice-Master and myself came up with?”
“…No, not really.”
Cha Hae-In let a soft sigh escape from her, and continued on.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s fine if you don’t pay me the contract signing fee.”
She didn’t mind signing a contract without any payment, even though she’d have to pay an enormous breach of contract fee to the Hunters Guild?
‘What is she scheming here?’
Jin-Woo’s eyes narrowed to a slit.
When their eyes stayed locked for a while, Cha Hae-In could no longer endure the silent pressure and averted her gaze. Her heart was beating a step faster than before, too.
Jin-Woo’s ears perked up. His acute sense of hearing didn’t miss out on a single change taking place inside her.
‘Is she hiding something?’
At this point, he simply had to ask her or he’d die of curiosity.
“Why are you willing to go through such a wringer just to join our Guild?”
As expected, Cha Hae-In couldn’t easily answer him and kept her mouth resolutely shut. And seeing her face redden like that, it became oh-so-obvious that she was hiding something from him, too.
‘Wait a minute…’
Now that he thought about it, he remembered sensing that something was different about her even back in the funeral venue. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking of, but she could have been planning to do this for quite some time already.
Jin-Woo quietly waited for Cha Hae-In’s answer. However, she kept her head lowered and for a long while, didn’t say a single word.
‘….But, how can I even explain myself to him?
….That I sensed your presence next to me even after I lost my consciousness from the attack of that mutated ant monster?
….That, I felt safe and warm after picking up on your scent as I sank deeper into an empty and endless dark void?’
There was no word in this world adequate enough to describe what she felt back then.
‘Even if I explain it, he’d only say that I’ve gone mad.’
Her heart began beating faster after she learned of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo really being there. She felt so relieved, knowing that she wasn’t imagining things.
She discovered that she wanted Jin-Woo to be by her side in the worst case scenario of her being unable to escape from the cold blade of death.
‘….To think, it’d be like ‘please be right by my side until my final moments’.’
How could she even attempt saying that, when just thinking about it made her blush uncontrollably?
That was an impossible task for Cha Hae-In who didn’t know anything about a normal girl’s sensibilities. That was why she finally spoke up an answer she cooked up before coming here.
“…To be more comfortable.”
She raised her head to meet Jin-Woo’s gaze and continue on with the rest.
“I wish to be live more comfortably….”
Although it wasn’t exactly what she tried to say, it wasn’t a complete lie, either.
She couldn’t even lift her head properly from all the horrendous stink when high-ranked Hunters were standing next to her. But, in contrast, she felt her mind getting peaceful in the presence of Jin-Woo.
The meaning of Cha Hae-In’s ‘comfortable’ was precisely that.
Jin-Woo didn’t interpret the meaning that way, but still, he could understand where she was coming from. He slowly nodded his head from her answer.
She apparently wanted to leave a big Guild like the Hunters, and spend a more ‘comfortable’ time in a far smaller Guild like his.
According to Jin-Woo’s knowledge, Cha Hae-In was either twenty-two or twenty-three years old.
‘I’m sure the burden that a rank S must carry would be pretty heavy for a woman in her early twenties.’
Especially more so, after she felt the threat of death during the Jeju Island raid.
Jin-Woo could easily understand her feelings as he too felt like abandoning everything and running away from it all countless times, back when he still worked for the Association.
Unfortunately for her….
‘Although her plight is pitiable, but…..’
But, he couldn’t just accept her like that.
Why would he have named the Guild ‘Solo Play’? That was because he planned to book dungeons using the name of his Guild and clear them all by himself.
If the minimum number of team members proved to be a stumbling block, then he’d simply hire temps to fill the headcount, just like how it was back when he cleared those rank C Gates with Yu Jin-Ho. That was the smartest thing to do in his quest to level up higher.
However, if Cha Hae-In entered the picture, things would become rather complicated in many ways. Even if they forget about her contract signing fee, wouldn’t she still need money for her daily necessities?
By hiring a rank S Hunter with huge salaries, someone he didn’t even need in the first place and wasn’t planning to put to work either, he’d be committing a massive wastage on a national scale.
‘If I reject a rank S Hunter who’s willing to waive the contract signing fee and join my Guild without a proper reason, it’s going to look pretty suspicious.’
That was why Jin-Woo quickly came up with a plan.
“Actually, our Guild has an admittance test you need to go through.”
“Pardon? But, the job posting didn’t specify anything li….”
Jin-Woo quickly cut off Cha Hae-In’s flustered words.
“This rule is pretty new, so it’s possible that the Vice-Master may have made a small error.”
The glow in Cha Hae-In’s eyes became quite serious at the mention of a test.
“What kind of a test is it?”
Jin-Woo was inwardly taken by surprise from her reaction.
‘This gal, she was really serious?’
Because of her professional pride, he expected her to quit after being told about taking a test. However, Cha Hae-In acted the exact opposite. No, she was actually burning up even hotter with the desire to win.
He could sense her fervour hidden behind that expressionless mask of hers.
‘Is she the type to face any fight coming her way head on?’
Or, was this the case of misplaced pride?
Whatever the case may have been, Jin-Woo couldn’t back off now while staying it was all a misunderstanding.
“It’s to win against the summoned creature I pick.”
He swore that he heard the physical sound of a crack forming on her ego.
‘Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim, is that how low your assessment of me is?’
What a mysterious thing this was. He only looked into her eyes briefly, yet it felt like her voice could be heard so clearly inside his head.
However, Cha Hae-In didn’t display any of her thoughts and asked in her usual collected manner.
“Which summon will you pick?”
“For you, Cha Hunter-nim, I’ll especially have to pick the strongest one.”
She wasn’t backing down here.
Most likely, she wouldn’t have dreamed it in her wildest imaginations, regarding who became the latest addition to Jin-Woo’s summoned creatures – no, his Shadow Army collection.
Jin-Woo thought that, since her will to win was so strong, she’d give up on her own after tasting defeat. He immediately agreed to the bout.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
“When will the test be?”
Jin-Woo wanted to establish his Guild as soon as possible, so he didn’t want to waste any more time on Cha Hae-In. Since he came up with this idea, might as well do it now.
The location would be the gymnasium of the Hunter’s Association.
A rank S Hunter could rent out the gymnasium whenever he felt like it. It was one of the many special privileges afforded to rank S Hunters.
Cha Hae-In nodded her head. She too wanted to move things along as quickly as possible. They both stood up at the same time as if they made a promise to do that.
It was then, a certain thought flashed past his brain. He quickly called out to Cha Hae-In as she was about to turn the door handle.
“Cha Hunter-nim, please wait.”
“There’s no need to go that way.”
Cha Hae-In formed a confused expression.
There was only one door in the conference suite. He obviously wasn’t suggesting that they should jump out of the window, so….
Jin-Woo quickly walked over to her unmoving frame.
“I have a quicker way of getting there, actually.”
“But, I must be touching you if I’m to use this method, so will it be alright with you?”
Cha Hae-In recalled what Baek Yun-Ho told her about the situation back then. He said that, as all the members of the Korean assault team found themselves in a life-or-death situation, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo suddenly popped up behind him.
‘Is he trying to show me that skill?’
She quickly swallowed her dry saliva and looked up at Jin-Woo’s face that was now much closer than her initial expectations.
“Sorry about this.”
Jin-Woo lightly embraced her.
He thought that such a light hug wouldn’t mean anything to her since he had carried her unconscious frame around inside the ant tunnel, but Cha Hae-In’s face was rapidly dyeing in a beet-red colour.
However, she didn’t struggle or try to get out of his embrace.
‘….His nice scent.’
While her face was getting progressively redder and redder, Jin-Woo cautiously held her to make sure they wouldn’t get separated and finished getting ready.
‘Okay, all done.’
There was this thing he wanted to confirm. And he wouldn’t find as good an opportunity as this one in the future.
“It might get a little dizzy.”
Well, he felt that the first time, so there.
Cha Hae-In only then wrapped her arms around Jin-Woo and whispered her reply.
Jin-Woo raised his head up to his front and issued a command in his mind.
Two of them soundlessly got sucked into the shadow beneath their feet.
It was right at that moment Yu Jin-Ho opened the door and entered the conference suite. He ran out to the local convenience store to buy some refreshments after thinking that the talk might go on for a bit.
“Please, drink these while you two ch….”
A High Orc Shadow Soldier met Yu Jin-Ho’s gaze, and as if he was feeling a bit sheepish over something, scratched the back of his head.
The tray in Yu Jin-Ho’s hand crashed to the floor, and cups of liquid refreshment shattered from the impact.
“W-what the hell?!”
Yu Jin-Ho freaked out grandly and blinked his eyes, but the High Orc soldier was gone without a trace.
‘B-b-but, I definitely….!!’
He rubbed his eyes hard and shook his head to regain his composure. He took another look at his surroundings, but he couldn’t spot a single trace of the monster anywhere.
‘….I guess I’ve been working too hard recently.’
Yup, that must be it, what with seeing a hallucination and all.
Yu Jin-Ho tilted his head and scanned the conference suite one more time, before turning around to find a mop to clean up the mess on the floor. But then….
A thought entered his mind and stopped his feet from moving again.
“Where did hyung-nim and Cha Hae-In Hunter-nim disappear to?”