Chapter 234

It seemed Soyoung had come to the zoo by herself. Sungyoon asked her where her parents were, but she had a difficult time coming up with an answer.

A child around Shinhae’s age was roaming around the zoo without her guardians. Sungyoon frowned at the situation. It was child negligence that bordered on child abuse.

However, Sungyoon had to berate himself.

‘I have no grounds to accuse others of child negligence...’

Of course, the thought of child neglect hadn’t crossed his mind at the time, but Sungyoon had left Shinhae behind to go to the Moon. Moreover, he was still doing it now. Thankfully, Jimin had taken pity on Shinhae and looked after Shinhae like her own child. If not for Jimin, Shinhae would've been waiting for Sungyoon by herself.

The thought was frightening.

Soyoung didn’t look like a stranger to him anymore.

‘Should I call the police?’

The child looked at him with earnestness in her eyes. Her eyes kept shining as she looked around. Sungyoon initially had no idea what she wanted to see so badly, but he soon noticed that Soyoung's eyes became ardent whenever her gaze landed on the animals.

Her mouth had fallen open from just seeing the elephant walk.

‘… I guess I can let her stay for a little bit longer.’

Sungyoon was still worried about leaving Soyoung alone.

Also, Shinhae had taken a liking to the girl, and she liked the fact that Soyoung had a bigger reaction than her.

“Did you say your name is Soyoung? Would you like to accompany us?”

Soyoung blinked with her big eyes as she looked at Sungyoon.

***

Soyoung was very curious about her surroundings, and she even seemed amazed by the bricks making up the road.

‘Did she come from the deep countryside?’

Sungyoon knew that some isolated villages didn’t enjoy much of what civilization had to offer. And when he thought about it, Soyoung's clothes did look old fashioned.

‘Did she ride the train up here to see Seoul?’

Soyoung, who looked old enough to enter elementary school, had taken the train by herself to view Seoul. It was a storyline commonly used in books and movies. However, the girl’s unique behavior made Sungyoon think that it could be true.

‘… I’ll have to look after her until the end.’

In a short while, the two children became very close to each other. They held hands as they walked forward. Shinhae had been dragging around Soyoung for almost half the time, yet the expression on Soyoung's face showed that she was enjoying it.

The two looked like sisters of similar age, holding snacks in their small hands.

The money Soyoung had was only enough for the entrance fee. When Sungyoon realized that, he had bought lunch and snacks for the girls. Since he felt sorry for Soyoung, he bought her quite a lot of food.

Soyoung was very cautious in accepting it, but once she did, she enjoyed the food as if she had never eaten such delicious food before.

The faces of Shinhae and Soyoung held bright expressions. As if they wanted to conquer the whole zoo in one day, they tirelessly toured the zoo. However, as all good things must come to an end, evening arrived. The sky turned red, and the zoo would soon close down.

“Well, it’s time for us to leave now.”

“Ooh! I want to play a little longer.”

Shinhae complained. Soyoung didn’t voice her opinions, but she also looked disappointed.

However, the situation was out of Sungyoon’s hands. He couldn’t throw money in the faces of the zoo employees, like in the Korean dramas, to keep the zoo open past their operation time.

“The animals have to go to sleep. If they don't, they will get an ‘ouchie’.”

The faces of the two children darkened. However, they accepted Sungyoon's explanation. Their gaze then traveled toward the giraffe that was languidly standing in its pen. The girls looked wistful.

“Mr. Giraffe! I’ll come back next time!”

“Bye!”

The two children waved their hands, but ignoring them, the giraffe continued to sway its tail as it walked away.

After saying goodbye to the animals, the girls came back to Sungyoon.

“Where should I take you, Soyoung? Should I contact your parents?”

“Ah. That is...”

Soyoung’s eyes shook.

Sungyoon once again remembered his previous theory. Soyoung might be a brave country girl visiting Seoul by herself. 

Soyoung’s eyes, which had been rapidly moving, suddenly came to a stop, and her expression darkened. Sungyoon looked in the direction where Soyoung's eyes were focused.

He saw a man quickly approaching them. At a glance, Sungyoon could tell that the man was annoyed and angry.

Tuhk!

The man stood in front of Soyoung, who lowered her head.

“… Who told you that you could leave by yourself?”

Although his voice was calm, it was obvious that the man was furious. He was pressing down on his anger.

‘As expected, she came out without getting permission.’

Sungyoon inwardly let out a sigh.

“I’m... I’m sorry.”

The child’s body shook. The man snatched Soyoung’s wrist and dragged her away.

Sungyoon felt he was watching a man drag away unwanted luggage, and he frowned. Even if the man was angry due to the worries about the child, his actions were too much. They had crossed a line.

Moreover, the girl's shaking was not normal.

“Unni….”

Shinhae also looked at Soyoung with a worried expression.

In the end, Sungyoon couldn’t hold back. He was the type of man to ignore others, but that aspect of him changed a bit when it came to children.

“Hey, you!”

Sungyoon wasn’t sure if the man hadn’t heard him or if he was ignoring the words, but the man kept walking.

Tuhk!

Sungyoon scurried forward to grab the man’s shoulder.

Tahk!

The man looked annoyed as he slapped Sungyoon’s hand away.

“What the hell!”

The man's eyes held a scary expression. Even the boldest of men would have retreated a couple of steps at the man’s fierce glare.

However, Sungyoon had hunted in the labyrinths. This was nothing to him.

“The girl is scared right now.”

“Mind your own business. Get lost.”

“I'll do so if you change your attitude toward the girl. In the first place, who are you to her?”

Sungyoon had initially assumed that the man was Soyoung's father. However, as he thought about it, Sungyoon realized that he didn’t know the relationship between the man and Soyoung.

“Is he your dad?”

When Sungyoon asked Soyoung, Soyoung shook her head from side to side.

“Then what is he?”

“What does it matter to you?”

“I am a father of a daughter. How can I stand by and watch you treat Soyoung this way?”

The man’s eyes twitched.

“… Soyoung?”

The man glared at Soyoung.

Soyoung’s head dipped further, and he roughly tugged at her arm.

“Ahk!”

The delicate little hand of the child had been forcefully pulled by the man’s rough hand. Soyoung screamed out in pain.

Shinhae grabbed Sungyoon’s clothes, and sparks flashed within Sungyoon’s eyes.

“You told them you're Soyoung?”

The man growled. He was about to pull her arm once again, but—

Tuhk!

Sungyoon grabbed the man’s wrist.

“What the hell?”

“You should stop now.”

“I told you to mind your own business.”

The man tried to move his arm but found that he was unable to. He looked at Sungyoon with surprise in his eyes, but Sungyoon had the same reaction.

‘He’s strong.’

Sungyoon was a Connector, yet he found this man’s strength to be very strong. It meant that his opponent was a Connector too.

The atmosphere between the two men turned dangerous. The children looked uneasy as they gazed at the two adults. The situation looked like a powder keg about to go off.

“Soyoung!”

Suddenly, someone came running toward the group.

“Mom!”

The glum face of Soyoung brightened. A woman hugged Soyoung.

The man clicked his tongue as he let go of Soyoung’s hand, and Sungyoon let go of the man’s wrist.

“You little rascal! Where were you all this time?”

The woman scolded Soyoung. However, Sungyoon relaxed at the sight.

Even though the woman was angry, she stroked Soyoung’s crying face. This exchange was completely different from what he saw from the man.

“I wanted to see the animals...”

Moreover, Soyoung wasn't afraid of the woman. She just looked like a glum kid afraid of being scolded by her mother.

“But still! How could you go out by yourself!”

“I’m sorry.”

When Soyoung begged for forgiveness, the woman hugged her tighter. While she hugged her child, the woman looked at Sungyoon and the man.

She finally became aware of her surroundings.

“What’s going on here?”

The mood between the two men had deteriorated, so the woman asked the question to the man she was familiar with. Soyoung quickly pointed toward Sungyoon and Shinhae.

“Ahjussi looked out for me today! He bought me a lot of tasty food! I also played a lot with Shinhae!”

The woman looked at Sungyoon and Shinhae. She then got up and bowed to Sungyoon.

“Ah! Thank you for looking after Soyoung today.”

“It’s fine. As someone with a daughter, I was unable to mind my business.”

Sungyoon placed a hand on Shinhae’s head.

“Your name was... Shinhae? Thank you for playing with Soyoung.”

“It’s nothing! I had a lot of fun playing with Unni!”

“Really?”

The woman let out a smile. Unlike the man, she resembled a proper mother. Sungyoon felt the need to speak up.

“I know your child left on her own, but you should be more careful. She might have gotten into a lot of trouble by herself.”

“I have no excuses. I’ll be careful from now on.”

The woman once again bowed.

“Also….”

Sungyoon’s gaze fell on the man. It seemed the man didn’t like the current situation as his eyes were full of anger.

“I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with this man, but please keep him in check. Even if he's angry, he shouldn’t pull a child’s arm like that.”

“You...”

The man glared at Sungyoon as if he were about to charge at him. However, a cold voice froze the man in the place.

“What did you do to Soyoung?”

The woman glared at the man, but the man returned her glare.

“… Hmmph!”

He snorted as he turned around and walked to the exit of the zoo. The woman continued to glare at the man’s back, then she turned toward Sungyoon.

“I’m sorry. I’ll give him an earful.”

“I have no qualms if you do that. Also, I want to apologize for unnecessarily getting in your business.”

“No. It wasn’t unnecessary. It was something I should know.”

The man was nowhere to be seen now. The woman politely spoke to Sungyoon.

“We’ll be going now. Thank you for protecting Soyoung today. I would like to repay you...”

“No. I don't need any repayment.”

“Still, I feel bad about it. At least, let me recompense you for the food that Soyoung ate...”

“It really is fine. Shinhae had a good time playing with Soyoung. That's enough for me.”

Shinhae vigorously nodded at her father's words. The woman hesitated for a brief moment before smiling.

“You are a good person. I’ll receive this kindness with thanks.”

She then patted Soyoung on the back.

“Soyoung, you should say thank you to ahjussi and Shinhae.”

Soyoung took a step forward and obliged.

“Thank you very much for looking out for me today.”

She made a ninety-degree angle as she bowed toward Sungyoon. Then she waved at Shinhae.

“It was fun today! Goodbye, Shinhae!”

“Yes! I’ll see you again next time, Unni!”

Shinhae waved goodbye too.

Soyoung and her mother walked away. As Sungyoon and Shinhae watched their backs, Sungyoon grabbed Shinhae’s hand.

“Shall we go….”

Sungyoon froze when he turned his head to look at Shinhae.

Shinhae’s eyes held a longing expression as she watched Soyoung and her mother walk away. The envy in her expression was evident.

‘… She misses her mom.’

Even if Sungyoon did his best, it wasn’t enough. Other women like Jimin tried to act as her mother, but they couldn’t replace her real mother.

Shinhae looked mesmerized as she continued to watch the mother and daughter until they disappeared. Sungyoon could only look on with sympathy in his heart.

***

After leaving the zoo, Soyoung and her mother went into a high-end hotel.

Holding hands, they conversed with each other. The mother and daughter entered their room, but they paused to find someone else inside.

It was the man who had exchanged some words with Sungyoon.

“Go into your room, Soyoung.”

Soyoung walked on eggshells as she entered her room in the suite.

The man continued to look at her with cold eyes. When the girl was gone, he approached the woman.

“I told you that we shouldn’t have brought her here….”

Sss-ahk!

The woman's hand moved like a beam of light, and something appeared inside it. She didn’t hesitate as she placed the item on the man’s neck.

“… What are you playing at?”

The man glared at her.

“Plu-El.”

Plu-El. It was the same word that the archer had shouted at the man in the black armor when Armstrong's Connectors had entered the labyrinth to find the ambushers.

In fact, the man and the woman in the suite were not speaking Korean right now. They were using the language spoken by the ambushers.

The more surprising part was the fact that a greatsword was pressed against the man’s neck. This greatsword was the one that had been wielded by the black-armored man. 

Plu-El spoke in an icy tone.

“What did you do to my Soyoung?”

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