Chapter 133. Crossroad (4)


A poor hillside town on the outskirts of North Hamgyeong Province.
In this dilapidated place was an office with a half-broken neon sign.

[Yoo Jinhyuk Office]

Despite there being an office that carried Yoo Jinhyuk’s name, only ordinary shops and stores were set up around it. From its location, no one would believe that this office was the home of such a powerful ability user.
In truth, this place was initially a wasteland with nothing but Yoo Jinhyuk’s office.
Because Yoo Jinhyuk’s clients came from Violet Banquet, the location of his office was irrelevant. This hillside town didn’t even exist before he arrived.
In other words, the arrival of Yoo Jinhyuk marked the creation of this town.

The monsters Yoo Jinhyuk drove away to found this office, the monsters Yoo Jinhyuk killed because he wanted to have a peaceful night of sleep, and the monsters Yoo Jinhyuk hunted to earn money.
His selfishness transformed the area within a 1 km radius of his office into habitable space. As a result, poor and ignorant people flocked to this place.

At first, Yoo Jinhyuk was apathetic. He didn’t care who came to live next to him, nor did he believe he had anything to do with them. Even when monsters invaded the town while he was gone, killing residents and destroying farmland, he believed it was something they had to deal with themselves.

But 3 years, 5 years, 7 years, 10 years, then 12 years went by…
What started as a tiny village came to form a little town. Witnessing the flow of time and seeing familiar faces give birth to new lives, Yoo Jinhyuk couldn’t help but admit that he was now bound to the town.

As such, he didn’t run away at Chae Joochul’s beckoning.
Yoo Jinhyuk the Investigator.
Before he realized, he had become the patriarch of a town.

Wiing—

His helmet vibrated, signaling that he was out of magic power.
Yoo Jinhyuk took off his helmet and got up from the couch he was sitting on.

“What did you find out?”

The secretary asked. Yoo Jinhyuk silently walked up behind her.
On the secretary’s computer screen was a picture of a large tattoo.
Three streaks, two forming a cross and one forming a crescent moon above it.

“….”

Yoo Jinhyuk stared at the tattoo.
Although he figured out the location of the murder, this was the only thing he could find out due to the density of magic power in the area. When the barrier surrounding the area exploded along with a storm of demonic energy, Yoo Jinhyuk shot his eyes open, fully prepared to suffer from magic power deficiency. It was then that he saw it, a brilliant tattoo that was shining on someone’s upper arm.

“…Is it Jesus?’

“Are you mad?”

“I mean, there’s been a monster suspected of being Fenrir, and we’ve even seen a Cyclops. Who says there can’t be Jesus?”

The secretary scowled at Yoo Jinhyuk’s groundless murmuring.

“Stop messing around and just tell me what you saw. This is important.”

“…I found something out, but it’s not related to the culprit.”

Yoo Jinhyuk couldn’t identify the culprit from the tattoo he saw. Since he couldn’t find anything out about the culprit, he decided to trace the victim. He figured he could discover the motive by doing so.
However, even after exploring the past for dozens of days, there were no clues leading to the culprit other than the tattoo, and today he even discovered a more shocking truth.

“What is it?”

“Chae Jinyoon… became a Djinn.”

“…Huh?”

The secretary’s face stiffened.

“No, I shouldn’t say Djinn. The examiner said what he became was above a Djinn. So… a devil, I suppose?”

“A devil?”

“I’m not sure. But Chae Shinhyuk wanted to hide this fact, and the medical examiner seemed to have accepted his request.”

However, it seemed the examiner couldn’t abandon his conscience and duty, as he didn’t cremate the real corpse and kept it stored in his basement. The body that was cremated was shockingly a fake that was made to look just like the real body.

“Then… what about the culprit?”

“There’s nothing more I can do. There’s not much time left, and finding the culprit is outside my capability. It’s impossible. But this tattoo…”

Tok, tok. Yoo Jinhyuk’s finger poked the computer screen.
Although it wasn’t so unique that only one of such a tattoo would exist in the entire world, it wasn’t an entirely common tattoo either.

“Tell Chae Joochul that this is the only evidence. As for the information we found out about Chae Jinyoon, encrypt it and keep it archived in our Violet Banquet database.”

“W-What if people find out?”

Chae Joochul.
After slowly losing his emotions from a side-effect of his Gift, he became a sociopath who was unlike his old self.
This old man was so frightening that he could terrify even Yoo Jinhyuk’s level-headed secretary.

“That’s exactly why we should keep it archived. Not even that old man can touch Violet Banquet. Plus, don’t you think we should hold on to the only card we have against him?”

“…You want to fight back?”

The secretary asked with a trembling voice.

“No, I wouldn’t say I’m fighting back.”

In Korea, there were few who could fight Chae Joochul. Only a member of the Nine Stars or Shin Myungchul, who died five years ago, would be capable of doing so.

“If I’m killed, it’ll be on you to tell the world. You’ll get revenge for me, right?”

Yoo Jinhyuk smirked and looked out the window.
The scenery was outdated, as though he was looking at Seoul in the year 2000.
He wondered when this town would catch up to the modern era.

“I… still want to live on. You see, there’s still a lot I want to do and see— aak!”

PANG—!
At that moment, a soccer ball suddenly hit the office window.

“…Haha.”

Yoo Jinhyuk laughed feebly, then opened the window.

“Hey, you little brats! I made you a playground, so why are you playing soccer here!?”

“Huh? Oh, we got chased out by hyungs.”

“…That’s none of my problem! Don’t play soccer here!”

KWANG. Yoo Jinhyuk slammed the window closed.
But at that instant, a lightbulb went on inside his head.
He could practically hear the electric pulse flickering through his synapses.

“Brats… children… a kid…”

Someone who didn’t have a grudge against Chae Jinyoon but had a grudge against Chae Joochul.
There was one such person.
His niece, Yoo Yeonha, had once asked for a background investigation….

“…No way.”

However, he laughed and shook his head. That boy didn’t have the ability to cast such a powerful barrier. If he did, he would have attacked Chae Joochul directly. After all, a sociopath like Chae Joochul wouldn’t feel much from his grandson’s death.

“Oh right, Chief.”

The secretary suddenly spoke up, as though she just remembered something.

“Gangwonland contacted us. The anti-monster system is apparently completed.”

“Oh? Great, tell them I’ll be there to pick it up.”

“There goes our money again.”

“We need to pay for it somehow.”

Yoo Jinhyuk let out a deep sigh and looked outside the window once again.
How much he was attached to this town was something he had to hide from Chae Joochul no matter what.

**


Friday’s final afternoon training.

[Tactics against Monster Armies]

It was one of the classes I applied for. There wasn’t a special reason for it. I just thought it suited me.

“Rachel-ssi, do you want to team up with me today too?”

Of the 40 cadets gathered in the park, the only cadet I knew was Rachel.

“Yes, gladly.”

Rachel smiled brightly and nodded.
Just like that, Rachel and I paired up, and I received envious gazes from the other male cadets.

“Alright, hold your partner’s hand and gather in front of the cave!”

The instructor in charge of the training shouted.
Him telling us to hold our hands was undoubtedly a figure of speech. However, Rachel looked back and forth between her hand and mine.
Seeing that my hand wasn’t moving, she tried to reach out to grab my hand, then hesitated and looked up at me like a puppy.

“Ah, um….”

“We don’t need to hold hands.”

“…I, I see.”

She let out a dry cough.

“Alright, line up! Each team will go in, starting from Team 1!”

Following the instructor’s directive, we entered the cave.
Perhaps because there were only forty cadets in the class, the cave didn’t seem crowded at all.

“Ah, there’s something there.”

After walking for a bit, we arrived at a ten-way crossroad. Next to each road was a sign that read O or X. Ones that read X were likely taken by other teams.
We chose one of the open paths and walked in.
Ssss—
A chilling wind swept over us.

“It looks like we’re up against skeletons.”

“Skeletons?”

“Yes, it looks like there are at least a thousand of them.”

Clack, clack, clack.
The sound of bones clacking.
Sssh, sssh.
The sound of wind blowing through bones.
An army of undead warriors was waiting for us.

“Two against a thousand… it looks like we’ll be graded on how we deal with the situation.”

Rachel quickly came to a conclusion.

“Maybe not. They’re only skeletons. We should be able to take care of them.”

I held up my handgun with one hand and my two knives with the other.

“You’re using two knives?”

“Yes.”

This was the first time I was using two knives with my gun. Using all three weapons was too hard for me previously, but it was different now that I had Dexterity.

“They must have a commander. I’ll crush his head.”

My eyes could clearly see a skeleton commander sitting on a palanquin, surrounded by thirteen skeleton magicians. As long as I dealt with those fourteen, it should be a piece of cake to defeat the rest.
Rachel looked at me fixedly, then smiled bitterly.

“…As I thought, Hajin-ssi is always full of confidence.”

“Yes? Oh… um, I guess that’s why I’m your master.”

“Oh, right.”

Rachel snickered as though she just remembered it and nodded.

“Then let’s go. Wait until I make the first attack.”

I released Stigma’s magic power and infused light attribute into the knives. Then, I threw them in opposite directions.
My first target was the commander.
My attack didn’t need to be strong. Just a simple snap of a wrist was enough.

Whoosh—

After leaving my hand, the two knives drew a huge arc around the left and right area of the cave and flew toward the skeleton commander.

Clack, clack.

As expected, the skeleton commander was nimble. It raised its hands to easily block the knives, but a light attribute bullet was already shooting toward his head.
As all three attacks were simultaneous, there was no way it could have avoided all attacks.

With its head pierced by the bullet, the skeleton commander’s skull cracked in half and crumbled.

*

After the battle.

“Haa… haa….”

It seemed fighting a thousand opponents took a toll on Rachel’s stamina as she sat on the ground, breathing heavily. Her clothes were disheveled, and her hair was drenched with sweat.

“Are you tired?”

“Yes… haa…”

To be honest, I wasn’t. I couldn’t possibly be tired when all I did was pull the trigger from the back.
Suddenly, a voice rang out from the speaker phone above us.

—Perfect! Team Rachel and Kim Hajin, perfect score! Collect your breath and come out!

The instructor seemed impressed to say the least.
Rachel was glad to hear it. She widened her eyes and held her arms up.

“Whoo~”

While I was looking at her with a smile, I noticed her disheveled hair.

“Ah, Rachel-ssi, do you have a comb?”

“Eh? N-No, I don’t.”

“Mm….”

I still walked up to her. A sudden, unbearable urge sprouted up within me.

“Sorry, your hair is too disheveled….”

“My hair?”

“I’ll fix it for you.”

I put my hands on Rachel’s hair. Immediately, Rachel froze.

“W-Wait, w-why… aahng, that tickles.”

“Hold on just a minute.”

“Wait, why so suddenly….”

My hands moved by themselves, ignoring Rachel’s resistance. I honestly didn’t know why I was doing this either.
I just followed my instinct. Soon, Rachel’s disheveled hair became cleanly tidied, with a portion of it tied in a pretty ribbon.

“…There.”

I showed Rachel a mirror.
When she looked at her hair, she widened her eyes in shock.

“H-How? You didn’t even have a comb.”

“I’m wondering the same thing.”

I looked down at my hands.

“Maybe my hands have a magical touch.”

**


11 p.m.
I walked to an empty park near my apartment and focused. I was training my Stigma usage.
Concentrating Stigma’s magic power for instantaneous movement – Dash.
Emitting Stigma’s magic power under my feet and leaping up vertically – Jump.
Enveloping myself with Stigma’s magic power and teleporting dozens of meters away – Blink.

“…Kuaa.”

After using all three Streaks of Stigma trying out different movement abilities, I sprawled out on the ground and collected my breath.

Bzzzz—

At that moment, I received a call on my smartwatch.
The caller was Chae Nayun.
I sighed as soon as I saw her name.
Should I pick it up? Or should I ignore it?
The call ended as I was hesitating, but she called me again immediately.

Bzzzz—

I calmly stared at the smartwatch vibrating on my wrist.
Without a choice, I closed my eyes and picked up the call.

“Hello?”

—Hey, where are you?

That was the first thing she asked.

“I’m home. Why?”

—…I heard you’re commuting.

“Yeah, did you just find out?”

—What? That’s because you never told me! Do you wanna die?

Chae Nayun blurted out angrily and then fell silent.

—You should have told me earlier.

Her voice was full of disappointment.

“What difference would that make?”

—I could live next door.

“…Someone’s already living there.”

—That can be solved with money.

“….”

—I’m rich, you know.

Chae Nayun quiet laughter flowed into my ears.

—Did you forget? As long as you’re with me, you won’t have to worry about money.

I let out a slow sigh and looked up at the night sky.
Seoul’s sky was no different than any other night. A stifling darkness, a darkness that made me suffocate and tremble.

—…Say something.

“I’m just sleepy. Can I hang up?”

—N-No, wait, don’t hang up.

Chae Nayun’s hurried voice echoed in my ears.

—Um… not until I fall asleep.

She continued with a frail, trembling voice.

—I-It’s not like I’m having trouble sleeping. Just that, um, my room is a bit too big.

Her excuse was Chae Nayun-like. I lowered my gaze silently. An ugly rock was lying on the ground.

—Just, just a little bit longer…

I knew I shouldn’t agree to her because of momentary guilt and sympathy. I knew very well that it would only lead to a vicious cycle.
Even so, the reason I couldn’t hang up… had to be because of my guilty conscience.

—I want to hear your voice.

A chilling loneliness grazed my body. Goosebumps rose up and my knees trembled.
With forlorn eyes, I looked up at the night sky.
The darkness seemed to be devouring me.
Up above, there were no stars, light, or moon.

—Hey, just so you know, you’re a re~al bad boy if you hang up after I said all this.

Chae Nayun’s feigned cheeriness was unable to get through me.
I replied quietly.

“I won’t hang up.”

—…Then reply quicker. You’re making me embarrassed for nothing.

“Just talk. I’ll at least listen to you.”

—Talk about what?

“…Did you hurt your head?”

—No, hahaha.

Chae Nayun laughed. Then, she began to talk about what happened today.
What she ate, what happened during class, etc.
But eventually, she brought up something I didn’t expect to hear.

—Oh right, Yeonha’s uncle told me something about the murder…

“…Murder?”

Yoo Jinhyuk. Although his name made me nervous, I had a certain degree of certainty about this matter. Even his power should have restrictions.

—…No, it’s nothing. I don’t want to talk about these things with you.

“What, why, tell me.”

—No, I don’t want to. I only want to talk about good things with you.

When I heard Chae Nayun’s bashful laughter, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her any further.

—Oh, I think I’m getting sleepy now. It looks like the sleeping pills I took are working.

“…Don’t eat too many of those.”

—What, are you worrying about me?

“…Oh please.”

I picked up the water bottle I brought. When I tried to take a sip…

—Hajin.

“….!”

Chae Nayun’s sudden attack almost made me snort water up my nose.
As I coughed, Chae Nayun muttered with a relaxed yawn.

—Good night.

“Ah, erm, yeah, good night. I’m going to bed too.”

—…Hey.

Contradicting what she said a moment ago, she continued.
What was it now?
I strained my ears.

—I want to see you.

The words that seemingly came out of nowhere left me speechless.

—Ah, wait, nevermind. I must not be thinking straight because of the sleeping pills. I’m hanging up! Sorry—!

While I was trying to come up with words to say, Chae Nayun quickly hung up first. I could imagine how she was doing on the other side of the call.

“…Why is my face heating up.”

While I was feeling the temperature of my cheeks, I saw a familiar figure walking over.

“Boss?”

“Hm?”

As I thought, it was Boss.
Last week, she spoke like she wasn’t going to show herself until June 1st, but she seemed to be enjoying Seoul, as this was the third time I ran into her on the streets.

“Kim Hajin?”

“We’re running into each other quite frequently.”

Boss was holding onto a bag of Baskin-Robins ice-cream.
It wasn’t just a pint, but a huge bucket.

“Good, I’ve been wanting to see you.”

Boss hopped over.

“…What, why? Is it another test—?”

“It went up.”

Boss glared at me angrily.

“Went up?”

“Stocks! It’s up 2% compared to when I sold them!!”

Then, she blurted out uncharacteristically.

“…Oh, you really sold all those?”

I spoke thoughtlessly. Although I was confident it would plummet soon, nothing about the Tower campaign was finalized at the moment. It was only natural that their stock price was fluctuating.

“…What did you say?”

However, Boss’ eyes flickered with true killing intent.

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