Chapter 18

After signing the contract, Sungyoon left the company.

“Whew!”

Jimin let out a big sigh, and she leaned back in her chair. 

‘I took a step forward once again with this.’

It had taken a long time. After her father went missing, she had made this company in order to find him. Finally, she had acquired the last and most important key to her plan. She felt a small sense of accomplishment. It was as if she had solved a very important task.

However, that feeling didn’t last long. She hadn’t solved everything. No, she had only taken the first step, and that fact energized her.

‘I have to report the contract through official channels, and I have to give him some Gems. Then I have to make sure he gets basic training...’

She was the only employee in this company, so she had to do all the work. She didn't think too deeply on the matter, yet her mind felt faint as she thought about all the work ahead.

‘He was an odd man.’

She wasn’t tooting her own horn, but she knew that she was beautiful. Moreover, she knew what effect her beauty had on others. This was especially true in regard to men. When she made her opinions known, men rarely refused her requests. Most importantly, her beauty was a great asset in important negotiations. It gave her many advantages.

However, Sungyoon didn’t show any signs of letting her appearance affect him. Even those that rejected her offers would linger behind. They tried to make excuses, so they wouldn’t be disliked by her.

‘Didn’t the report say he distrusts women?’

She thought about the result of her investigation into the person named Woo Sungyoon.

‘He divorced his wife on very bad terms.’

Her ex-husband was swamped in debt, so he had to work at construction sites every day. Her daughter was put into an orphanage, yet the ex-wife was living in extreme luxury. She was still living the high life.

‘Trash.’

Jimin’s eyes became cold.

She was pretty well informed on his complicated past. There was a high probability that Woo Sungyoon was stabbed in the back by his former friend and ex-wife. It seemed his ex-wife had a role in Sungyoon’s downfall.

However, there was no clear evidence. This was probably why Sungyoon hadn’t dragged them through courts. It was the reason why he had to shoulder that massive debt.

‘She’s like that woman.’

His ex-wife reminded her of someone. This person was a shallow woman, who would use her children to acquire money.

However, she erased such thoughts from her mind. She would just get stressed thinking about her. It wouldn’t be productive.

Instead, she took out a picture from the desk drawer.

It held a picture of a man and a little girl. The man looked to be in his 20s, and he was plain-looking. The girl had worn a uniform, and a bright smile decorated her face. Jimin looked like a sibling of the man in the picture. The man was her father, Jungbum.

Jimin brushed the picture in a loving manner.

“Dad.”

At that moment, it was as if her icy visage had never existed. Her face was overflowing with love.

But for some reason, there was a darkness in her expression. Even though she had finally taken the first step towards hope, the darkness didn’t leave her face.

Her slender fingers continued to stroke the picture of her father. She had been smiling, but her expression was steadily getting darker.

“Will I be ok now?”

She sounded like a person confessing to a priest. Her words were squeezed out of her throat as she confessed.

“Is it ok for me to give up on you? You won’t mind, right? Is it ok for me to let you go now, dad?”

These were shocking words. She had built this company for the sole purpose of finding her father’s whereabouts. These words shouldn’t be coming out of her mouth.

“I’m so tired.”

Jungbum had gone missing eight years ago. At the time, she had been a high schooler. She had always loved her father, and he had been a pillar that she had relied on. When he went missing, it felt as if the sky had fallen down.

All the adults around her said that her father was probably dead. Her family mourned his death.

As time continued to pass, it was considered a foregone conclusion that her father had died. They held a funeral for him. Despite all of this, Jimin couldn’t accept her father’s death. Unexpectedly, her other family members easily accepted his death. He was a Connector that raided Labyrinths. Moreover, he went into the most dangerous labyrinth called the Great Labyrinth. For such a person, death was a constant companion. In the corner of their hearts, they might have been preparing themselves for this eventuality.

However, Jimin couldn’t do that. She founded a company as soon as she became an adult. Her siblings were fully against her venture. However, her mother was more understanding, and she even let Jimin have her inheritance at an early date. Jungbum was a Connector that had operated within the Great Labyrinth. He had left behind a massive inheritance, which was the reason that Jimin had enough money to start her venture.

At first, she was full of energy and desire as she carried out her work. At the very least, she wanted to find her father’s corpse. She wanted to find even a small memento. At the time, she was sure she would be able to find traces left behind by her father.

However, the real world wasn’t that easy. She studied a variety of subjects. She established her company, and she tried to gather people to her cause. However, Connectors were only interested in going to labyrinths and gathering moonstones. Moonstones were what made the world move. She was merely one woman with a little bit of money. She couldn’t pry them away to her cause. She was an intelligent woman, yet it wasn’t enough.

As each day passed, she became worn out. After founding her company, she hadn’t really taken a break. Her mind and body were reaching their limit.

Above all else, the thing that hurt the most was her efforts in gathering the Connectors. Most Connectors were opposed to raiding the Great Labyrinth. They expressed their dismay before turning down her offer. Still, she was able to find several Connectors willing to contract with her company. Sungyoon wasn’t her first.

However, their goal wasn’t to reach the Great Labyrinth. They were only trying to use Jimin. They used the resources prepared by Jimin. It was supposed to be used to send them to the Great Labyrinth. In comparison to the other companies, she had put a massive amount of investment into 1st Gen Connectors. However, the contracted Connectors used this fact to their advantage.

After their career trajectory had risen to a certain degree, they broke their contract. They moved onto other companies. After a Connector started moving in the right direction, the penalty for breaking a contract became less restrictive. They could easily pay the fee. She didn’t know if she was lucky or not, but all the 1st Gen Connectors contracted to her were decent in ability. Eventually, they became good enough to be useful to other companies.

‘This person might also...’

Seven million twenty thousand dollars was an obscene amount of money. It was an eye-popping figure for a 1st Gen Connector, but it wasn’t high enough where a 1st Gen Connector wouldn’t be able to pay it off. If he somehow had the talent to enter the Great Labyrinth, he would be able to easily pay off that debt in no time. 

‘If that happens, he no longer needs to honor this contract.’

She looked at the contract on her desk. She could clearly see Sungyoon’s signature. The ink had dried, so the contract could be enforced through law now. However, this didn’t mean it was impossible to breach the contract. If he paid enough compensation, he would be fine in the eyes of the law. Even if the penalty fee was large, it was more advantageous to breach the contract if one could handle it. It was better to pay the money than losing one’s life in the Great Labyrinth.

It was ironic. As the talent of the Connector increased, the probability of the Connector honoring the contract decreased.

Her massive wealth was showing signs of drying up now. It was to be expected. She had poured her money into this venture without any thoughts of making money.

Sungyoon was her last hope in terms of her mental health and her physical wealth. If even Sungyoon left her company….

‘It’ll no longer be possible for me to find traces of my dad.’

At that point, Jimin would give up on the last shred of hope she had.

‘I’m sorry, dad. I’m so tired.’

If she gave up on searching for her father, her father would not have been disappointed. In fact, he would have been worried for her since she had toiled so long up until this point. He might have gotten angry at her for continuing such a futile endeavor.

She knew all of this. But despite this, she continued to move forward with the search. She had no choice. She treasured her father to that extent.

However, this attempt would be the end.

Jimin hugged the picture. A streak of tears ran down her cheeks.

She wondered what emotions were contained in those tears. Was it anger, resignation, frustration, or helplessness? Jimin couldn’t identify the feelings, but she silently let her emotions flow out through her tears.

* * *

Jiyoon had come out to volunteer with her club members today. A couple of members had left when Jiyoon didn’t budge at their numerous attempts to hit on her. Still, there were many people that hadn’t given up on chasing after her. She was sick of the men being overprotective of her. She wanted to let out a sigh, but she always participated in her club’s activity. She especially couldn’t miss today’s volunteer opportunity.

‘I wonder if Shinhae is doing ok?’

She thought about the cute child, who she had rapidly grown close to in recent days. Shinhae was starting to act lively in front of her, and the sight melted any stress she had in life. If she had a daughter in the future, she wanted one like Shinhae. She caught herself having such thoughts these days.

“Mmm? Is something wrong?”

When they arrived at the orphanage, the president of the club mumbled to himself. Jiyoon looked into the orphanage. It was quite busy inside.

“Oh my. You are here?”

One of the teachers greeted Jiyoon. As she greeted the teacher, Jiyoon was puzzled to see her. Normally, the director of the orphanage came out to greet them.

“Where is the director?”

It seemed the president had the same question as she had. The president looked around at his surroundings. 

“She is greeting a guest, so I came out instead.”

There was an odd expression on the teacher’s face. Her expression indicated that nothing bad had happened. However, she looked flustered. It was as if she had experienced something amazing.

Jiyoon was a bit curious, but she decided to put away her curiosity. She’d rather look for Shinhae, so she started looking at her surroundings. Normally, Shinhae would have come running as soon as Jiyoon arrived. However, she was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Shinhae?”

She asked the question to the teacher. The teacher knew about the relationship that had developed between Shinhae and Jiyoon. If it was any other day, she would have brought Shinhae to Jiyoon.

However, it was impossible to do so right now.

“She is with the director and the guest. The guest is Shinhae’s dad.”

“Ah. Did her father come here to see her?”

She had seen him before. He had looked shabby, but he had been overflowing with love towards his daughter.

“Is it ok for him to come to the orphanage?”

The other children became jealous, so Shinhae and her father met outside of the orphanage. Jiyoon had delivered Shinhae to him once before.

The teacher knew what Jiyoon was referring to.

“It’s ok. He came to reclaim his child.”

“Really?”

It was a joyous occasion. Jiyoon knew how much Shinhae loved her father.

‘Ah. I guess I won’t be able to meet Shinhae anymore.’

She was quite fond of the girl, so her heart ached a little bit. However, her little friend would be happy, so she decided to be happy for her too.

Since the club members were here to volunteer, they eventually dispersed to find work. It happened when Jiyoon was about to be assigned a task from the daycare teacher.

“Unni!”

Jiyoon heard a familiar voice, and she could hear dainty footsteps running towards her. Jiyoon put on a big smile as she greeted the owner of the voice.

“Shinhae!”

“Unni!”

Her little arms encircled Jiyoon’s neck. Jiyoon’s usually mild and reserved self was thrown away, and she hugged Shinhae. This was the first time the club members had seen this side of her, so they were surprised. However, Jiyoon ignored them.

“How are you?”

“Good!”

Fortunately, Shinhae was doing well. Jiyoon mussed Shinhae’s hair, and then she hugged her once again. She could feel the energy within the small bundle of life in her arms.

‘Yes. This is Shinhae.’

Shinhae was the only child with this adorable warmth.

“I heard your dad is here to pick you up. I’m so happy for you, Shinhae.”

She was a bit disappointed, but she erased such emotions as she let out a bright smile. Jiyoon believed she would be greeted with a similar smile from Shinhae.

However, Shinhae’s reaction differed from her expectation.

It was true that Shinhae seemed happy. However, she also looked a bit troubled.

“What’s wrong?”

Jiyoon knew Shinhae well. This was why she had expected Shinhae to let out a laugh that was brighter than the sun. She expected a smile brighter than the Moon. There was no way Shinhae’s smile should be troubled like this.

“Didn’t you say… your name was Ms. Jung Jiyoon?”

At that moment, she heard a man’s voice. She had heard this voice before.

‘It is Shinhae’s father.’

She raised her head. In her head, she remembered the shabby man wearing worn-out clothes.

However, the man she saw was a handsome man in his mid-20s wearing normal clothes.

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