Chapter 132. Crossroad (3)


On an afternoon, Chae Nayun was peeking her head into the Sacred Flame class.

“Argh, when is it ending?”

Sacred Flame’s chief instructor, Yi Yeongjin, was rumored to be overly zealous, and it seemed to be right, considering he spent 20 minutes giving the end-of-the-class announcements.

“What, is it still not over?”

“I know, right?”

Kim Suho walked up to her and asked.
Chae Nayun glared at Yi Yeongjin through the window. From the looks of it, he didn’t plan on dismissing the class until the cadets in charge of cleaning duty finished their task.

“Ah, it’s finally over.”

At that moment, the instructor tapped his desk, and the cadets got up at the same time. The classroom’s front door opened, and a huge lump walked out.
It was the over 190 cm tall giant, Yi Yeonghan.

“Oh man, were you guys waiting for me?”

Chae Nayun responded to Yi Yeonghan with her expression.

“…What’s up with that face?”

“Shut up and move.”

Because of Yi Yeonghan’s height, Chae Nayun couldn’t see behind him even when she tiptoed. However, even when Yi Yeonghan moved over, she couldn’t see Kim Hajin in the classroom.

“Geez, why you gotta hurt my feelings like that?”

“Oh please. Where’s Kim Hajin?”

Hearing Chae Nayun’s question, Yi Yeonghan’s face instantly turned to one of schadenfreude. His eyes formed crescent moons and his eyebrows danced up and down.
Chae Nayun held back the urge to smack him.

“What?”

“Ha, so our little Nayun is finally being honest with her feelings~”

Surprisingly, Chae Nayun didn’t overreact to Yi Yeonghan’s teasing tone.

“Yeah, I am. Do you have a problem with it?”

Because Chae Nayun spoke as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, Yi Yeonghan found himself at a loss for words.

“…Huh? Uh, no… I don’t.”

Kim Suho, who was watching Chae Nayun with a smile on his face, cut in.

“So, where’s Hajin?”

“Over there. Look, he’s coming out now.”

Yi Yeonghan pointed at the back door. Chae Nayun turned her gaze. Kim Hajin was walking out of the classroom.
Was it because she hadn’t seen him in two months?
Each of his movements seemed to be in slow motion.
His footsteps were light and inattentive, his clothes and hair were neat and stylish, and he was expressionless like a dead fish.

“Wait, Kim Suho, you’re also looking for Kim Hajin? What about me? Am I a livestock to you guys?”

“I’m leaving.”

Chae Nayun quickly sped away and ran into Kim Hajin. Not expecting Chae Nayun to bump into him, Kim Hajin stopped and lowered his gaze.
Their eyes met. Chae Nayun smiled brightly.

“Hey, Kim Hajin, wanna go out for dinner together?”

As she said that, she stealthily locked her arm with Kim Hajin’s. She felt her heartbeat speeding up from her bold move. However, Kim Hajin didn’t say anything and shook her arm off.

At that moment, Chae Nayun felt another gaze and quickly turned around. A blonde girl walked out of the classroom.
It was Rachel.

“…Oh, Rachel, it’s been a while.”

Chae Nayun waved her hand. Rachel glanced at Chae Nayun and Kim Hajin.

“Yeah.”

With just that one word, she walked past them. Chae Nayun stared at the back of Rachel’s head, then pulled on Kim Hajin’s arm again.
However, Kim Hajin didn’t budge.

“What, you’re not going?”

Kim Hajin smiled bitterly.

“…I don’t have time today.”

“You don’t even have time to eat?”

Chae Nayun pouted. First, he didn’t reply to her letters or messages, and now he was avoiding her? Was he playing hard to get?

“I have work to do, so I’ll be busy around dinner time. But we can eat lunch together tomorrow.”

Lunch.
Although it wasn’t quite what she wanted, she was more than happy with it.

“Okay, then… promise.”

Chae Nayun held up her pinky.
Kim Hajin stared at it fixedly, then put his hand on Chae Nayun’s shoulder.

“See you tomorrow. Lunch will be on me.”

“…Eh?”

Chae Nayun’s cheeks turned red even at such a lighthearted touch. She looked up at Kim Hajin and nodded bashfully.

“U-Un.…”

**


6:00 p.m. I returned home.
Evandel who was listening to an online lecture stopped the video and ran up to me.

“Hajin, I learned subtraction today!”

She spoke proudly.

“That’s great!”

“I can subtract now. Give me a problem~!’

“Hm, then….”

After thinking for a moment, I gave her a problem to solve.

“What’s nine thousand eight hundred fifty-three minus two thousand six hundred fifty-six.”

“…Eh?”

Evandel’s pupils trembled. She tried to count with her fingers, but she didn’t have ten thousand fingers.
Eventually, Evandel muttered with a trembling voice.

“I, I didn’t learn anything like that….”

“Okay, then what’s twenty-eight minus seventeen?”

This time, Evandel didn’t use her fingers and spoke after a little while.

“…Eleven!”

“Good! You’re a quick learner, aren’t you? You must be a genius.”

“Ehehe.”

I gave Evandel a pat on the head and walked into the bedroom.
After changing into my casual clothes from my cadet uniform, I ate with Evandel in the living room. Today’s menu was steak.
When it became 9 p.m. and Evandel was falling asleep, I left the room and went outside.
After walking past the dorm region, I stopped at a park.
There was someone I had to meet today, and this empty park was the meeting place.

“Haa….”

Sitting on a nearby bench, I let out a sigh. Being alone under the darkness, I suddenly felt depressed.
Recently, I’ve been feeling like I wasn’t myself.
It was as if my 7.207 points of perseverance stat was forcefully holding back my mind from crumbling.

Pssst—
At that moment, a tree on the right side rustled.

“Are you here?”

I raised my hand and greeted the person I was waiting for.
Hearing my voice, Boss walked out of the darkness.

“Yeah.”

“Did you purchase the place I recommended?”

“I did, but….”

Boss asked me to set up an outpost in Seoul for Jeronimo Mercenary to be based in.
I recommended an apartment complex next to mine. It was completely out in the open, which didn’t fit Boss’ style.

“Try living there.”

“…I asked for an outpost, how did you end up recommending a residential apartment complex? I ended up using money for nothing.”

It seemed Boss was unhappy with how much money it took.
To be fair, the apartment complex she bought was a lot more expensive than the one I had. If I remembered correctly, it was at least twice as expensive.

“Let’s go buy some clothes later.”

“…Clothes?”

“Yes.”

Boss’ fashion sense wasn’t as bad as Rachel’s. Her 170 cm stature and slender figure made her look good in anything, but the problem was that her choice of clothes was too manly.

“I’ll help you pick out clothes.”

However, Boss immediately shook her head.
“I don’t need it.”

“Kuhum.”

I felt a bit awkward. I was trying to get her to open up her heart.
After all, Boss had yet to even bring out anything about the Chameleon Troupe. It seemed she still wasn’t sure how to rate me.

“Boss, you bought a huge amount of Creator’s Sacred Grace’s stock, right?”

“…Hm?”

Boss twitched faintly.
Although Boss was supposed to be a bit dense, her greed for money was great. She should already be one of Creator’s Sacred Grace’s shareholders.

“I have a little.”

“I think you should start selling it off.”

“…What’s the reason?”

Boss’ eyes narrowed like a hawk.
When it came to money, she was stone cold.

“I don’t have a good feeling about it.”

However, Boss seemed to have no intention of listening to my advice, as she murmured in a barely audible voice.

“But I only ate 3% so far.”

“Don’t blame me if you pull out too late and lose all your money.”

At my thoughtless remark, Boss frowned.

“…Kim Hajin.”

Her voice was cold and chilling.

“Don’t be so comfortable around me.”

“…Yes?”

“I’m telling you not to be so arrogant. The difference between you and me is like the difference between heaven and earth.”

Her eyes were sharp and her voice was threatening.
I dropped my head quietly.
I shouldn’t have brought up money.

“Anyways, the reason I called you today… was for a proper test.”

“Test?”

“….”

Boss stared at me silently.
I asked again.

“What do you mean by test?”

“…You said you wanted to become an official member of our group.”

“Ah… yes.”

She was right. Winning Chameleon Troupe over was indeed one of my goals. To be more exact, it was to inoculate Chameleon Troupe, who mercilessly killed both Djinns and humans in the original story.
The reason was simple. Chameleon Troupe played an important role in the middle to late stages of the story.

“But to become one of us…”

Boss unleashed her magic power, creating a human-shaped puppet about 200 meters in front of me.

“Your stats will need to meet our standards.”

I knew what she meant. Mercenaries cared more about ‘stats’ than Heroes as they were judged by clients based on things like strength, speed, perception, and others.

“So attack that magic puppet with all you’ve got. I’ll be the judge.”

But unlike most mercenaries, I had to take this show of power a bit more seriously. There was likely something Boss wanted to see. In fact, this could be the final test.

“You want me to attack it with full power?”

“Yes, use a gun, your main weapon.”

Boss put a barrier around us. With a dome shrouding us, I didn’t have to worry about outside eyes.

“But my strongest attack doesn’t use a gun.”

At my words, Boss tilted her head in confusion.

“…In that case, use whatever you need to show this strongest attack you speak of.”

“Yes.”

Putting on a serious face, I transformed Aether into a bow.
An elegantly designed black bow appeared in my hands, and Boss widened her eyes.

“A bow….”

Feeling keen interest in her eyes, I formed a magic arrow with Stigma.
I infused the attribute of explosion within.

“Could it be… an anti-magic arrow?”

“….”

Because it looked like Boss wanted to see anti-magic, I also added that attribute.
Sssss—
The bow emitted a cold mist as it turned bluish black. This was the color of anti-magic.
Although my arrow became a bit small in exchange, I could tell that Boss was extremely satisfied by the expression on her face.
But I wasn’t done yet.
I still had something to add.

[Medicinal effect – External Magic Amplification]

The sixth medicinal effect that my body memorized came out of my skin and seeped into the arrow. Through this doping, my arrow became sharp like a harpoon.
I nocked the arrow burning with anti-magic coloring on my bow. Feeling the fierce energy emanating from it, I pulled the bowstring.
Although I used three streaks of Stigma like the time I fought the Black Ogre, this arrow was on a different league than the one I used before thanks to using a bow formed from Aether and adding the amplification medicinal effect.

“Mmm.”

When Boss nodded in satisfaction.

Chweeeeek—

I fired the arrow at Boss’ puppet.
The arrow shot out like a bolt of lightning, scattering magic power in all directions.
There was no difference in time between release and strike.
Kooooong—!
Not only did the arrow pierce Boss’ puppet, it erupted into a conical explosion that shook the barrier.
KOONG! KOONG!
The entire space rumbled from the giant explosion, and the arrow’s magic power thrashed against the barrier like a rising dragon.

“….”

Realizing the might of the arrow, Boss stepped in. Before the arrow shattered her barrier, she unleashed her magic power.
From her back, a shadow bloomed like a lotus. As the lotus closed its petals, it devoured my arrow completely.
‘Shadow Lotus’.
It was one of Boss’ cheat-like defensive abilities.

“Haha.”

Boss laughed as she approached me.

“It looked like it was about to destroy the barrier so I stopped it.”

As she said that, she put her hand out.

“…Ah, yes.”

“I’m satisfied. As I thought, my eyes weren’t wrong.”

It seemed I passed the final test. I immediately felt dizziness overcoming me, but I mentally braced myself and grabbed her hand.

“Thank you.”

Boss then squeezed my hand and spoke in a serious tone.

“June 1st.”

“…Yes?”

“On June 1st, there will be a planned group meeting.”

I immediately understood what she was implying.

“If you still want to be with me then, if you don’t mind taking on dirty tasks like me, come find me.”

Boss stared at me, and I stared back. By exchanging gazes, I could understand her thoughts.
Soon, Boss let go of my hand.
I replied.

“…Yes.”

“Good.”

The moon peeked out from the clouds, shining down on Boss.
She was wearing a beautiful smile.

**


Second week of school.
Sacred Flame class was currently in the middle of its common theory class.
Sssk, sssk.
Rachel was busily jotting down the contents of the lecture on her notes. On her face was a pair of circular glasses, which had the effect of lessening the burden on one’s eyes and doing basic calculations.

“Difficult, isn’t it? Let’s take a break.”

The professor announced a break around the time cadets were scratching their heads.
Rachel put her glasses down and leaned back against her chair. As her focus loosened, she could hear the whispering voices of her classmates.

—Hey, didn’t Kim Hajin change recently?
—Yeah, and other guys are copying his hairstyle. Though, they look better with it than he does. His face just isn’t that good.
—No, I think his face has gotten better too….
—Rather than that, did you hear that he has something going on with Chae Nayun?
—What? Really?
—Yeah, Chae Nayun said it herself.

Kim Hajin was the topic of the conversation.
Rachel turned towards Kim Hajin. He seemed to be focused on his smartwatch.

“….”

This wasn’t the first time she heard the rumor that there was something going on between Kim Hajin and Chae Nayun. It didn’t seem like a groundless rumor either. After all, Kim Hajin and Chae Nayun were eating lunch together every day.

‘…It has nothing to do with me.’

Rachel told herself that and picked her pen back up. Thinking about it more closely, she might have wanted things to turn out this way. If things went well between Kim Hajin and Chae Nayun, she would be able to treat Kim Hajin more comfortably.

“….”

However, she couldn’t get herself to focus on studying once more. In the end, she glanced at Kim Hajin once again.
He was still on his smartwatch. She couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing on his smartwatch that he was that focused.
He seemed to be on it the entire class period. Was he exchanging messages with Chae Nayun? Did he not care about class anymore because he was dropping out?
Rachel pouted and looked back down at her notebook.
Focus.
Focus.
Focus.
Now is the time to focus on studying.

“…Ah, why is this so hard?”

But soon, an annoyed voice came out of Rachel’s mouth.

**


“Hm.”

Ever since last night, I was thinking deeply about a Gift.

===
[Dexterity] [Low rank] [Null attribute] [Evolving] [Grade 10]
—Dexterity
*Your hands become flexible and skilled.
===

Dexterity.
Although it didn’t look like anything special, it was classified as a Gift rather than an Art.
An ability that applied to everything that used hands, including everyday tasks like cooking, drawing, and writing to combat-oriented tasks like martial arts and swordsmanship.

Currently, I was debating between this passive Gift and another active Gift.
There was one active Gift I had in mind, and it was one that I needed to have five years in the future.
However, active Gifts couldn’t be evolving-type Gifts.
As such, it would be acceptable as long as I saved up the 10,000 SP used to create it in time, like when I created Master Sharpshooter.
In other words, it was better to create Dexterity now and create the other Gift in the future when I had enough SP saved up.
The only problem was that I didn’t know whether I could save up that much SP.

“Argh, whatever.”

After agonizing over the matter for a long time, I just hit enter.

===
[Dexterity] [Low rank] [Null attribute] [Evolving] [Grade 10]
—Dexterity
*Your hands become flexible and skilled.
===

For a Gift that cost 2000 SP, it was rather simple. No, it was simple because it only cost 2000 SP.
It was as I always said, “simple is best”.
Simpler Gifts meant its usages weren’t as limited.
Of course, since it was only grade-10 at the moment, it should only help me with things like cooking and combing.
…However.

[Gifts become linked!]
[With great luck, the link between your Gifts become even more elaborate!]

I suddenly received unexpected alerts on my smartwatch.

[Master Sharpshooter & Dexterity]
[Master Sharpshooter is reclassified as a high-rank Gift and an unawakened ability has been added.]
[Dexterity’s proficiency grade improves to grade-8.]

“What’s this…?”

An ability was added to Master Sharpshooter, and Dexterity received two proficiency grade boosts even though it was created only a minute ago.

“…Oh, right.”

I remembered writing something about Gifts having synergy with each other.
I didn’t expect this to happen, but I couldn’t complain.
Synergy between Gifts.
I told myself to remember as I grabbed my pen to test out my new Gift.
Sssk, sssk.
I jotted down a string of words.
Although I didn’t have bad handwriting, I couldn’t call my handwriting pretty…

“…Wow.”

I was practically Han Seokbong himself.[1]



1. A famous calligrapher

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