Chapter 151. 3 years (5)


Creator’s Sacred Grace, guild leader’s office.
Kim Suho and Yi Yeonghan were sitting in front of Yun Seung-Ah. However, all three parties present seemed to have their own worries as their expressions weren’t good.

“Here, it’s the official application form.”

Yun Seung-Ah initiated the conversation as she put two application forms on the table. Kim Suho and Yi Yeonghan picked up the forms simultaneously.

[Creator’s Sacred Grace Application Form]

Starting salary of 400 million won plus performance-based benefits.
Compared to the 150~200 million won salary average Cube graduates received, it was a hefty amount, especially considering Creator’s Sacred Grace’s current situation.

“Oh?”

Yi Yeonghan’s expression brightened. He seemed to have had monetary worries.
However, Kim Suho was the opposite. He looked more worried than anything at the high salary he was offered.
Creator’s Sacred Grace has been in the red for a while. This was something most of the public knew because of the numerous articles that popped up daily. Creator’s Sacred Grace suffered astronomical punitive damage in lawsuits and settlements to wounded or killed victims of their failed Tower campaign. To make up for their losses, they had to conquer at least 30 small Dungeons.

“…It might not be enough, but this is the best we can do.”

Yun Seung-Ah misunderstood Kim Suho’s expression.
In truth, Creator’s Sacred Grace’s budget was at its limit. Not only could they not afford to give out any more, some of the amount that was offered also came out of Yun Seung-Ah’s pocket.

“No, it’s fine.”

“I’m happy too with this amount.”

Kim Suho didn’t say anything in consideration of Yun Seung-Ah’s pride, and Yi Yeonghan signed the form satisfied.

“Great… then you can go take a look at your assigned offices.”

“Yes!”

“…Yes.”

Kim Suho and Yi Yeonghan left, and Yun Seung-Ah was left alone in her office.

“Haa.”

She let out a deep sigh.
Money. Money. Money.
This word continued to haunt her from all directions. She never thought money would be a problem she had to face, but the amount of debt she incurred in the past two years was 5 billion won.

“My net worth used to be 5 billion won….”

Yun Seung-Ah laughed self-mockingly and picked up her phone. She no longer hesitated to make calls to borrow money. Her pride was long gone from all the bank trips she had to make in the past two years. Rather than worrying about today, she was more concerned with figuring out how to survive the next day.

Tiriring—

—Hello?

“…Hello? Unni?”

—Oh, what’s up?

“It’s me, Yun Seung-Ah.”

—I know.

“Ha, haha, right.”

Yun Seung-Ah laughed awkwardly.
After hesitating for a bit, she chose the easy way out.

“How have you been doing lately?”

—Hah? Anyways, do you want to reconsider? We still have seats open.

Aileen quickly made a counteroffer. Taken aback, Yun Seung-Ah was at a loss for words.

—Why do you care so much about that guild anyways? Do you want to be a guild leader that much? Even when you have to go through so much? Last time I checked, your guild was still at rank 20.

“…It’s rank 13 now. We recovered a bit. Plus, it’s been my dream to become Creator’s Sacred Grace’s guild leader ever since I was young. I achieved my dream, so um… Unni.”

—What.

Thanks to what Aileen said, Yun Seung-Ah’s tension loosened.
She decided to be a bit more shameless.

“Can you lend me some money?”

**


…2028, June.
Because of the ‘Silver Moon’ phenomenon, monsters all over the world began to go wild. Governments began to issue a state of emergency and ordered guilds to destroy monster habitats.
Creator’s Sacred Grace’s Hero, Kim Suho, showed fantastic results. He destroyed a settlement of ‘Blood Bears’ located in Suwon’s mountain range and became the youngest intermediate-rank Hero as a result.
Soon afterwards, Shin Jonghak achieved a similar result and also became an intermediate-rank Hero.

…2028, August.
Essence of the Strait’s businesses, ‘Monster Corpse Dismemberment and Refinement’ and ‘Mana Crystal Refinery’, were founded. Even in Korea, these two factories contained state-of-the-art mana technology.

“We’ll start the ribbon cutting ceremony~”

The opening ceremony was grand. Essence of the Strait’s guild leader, Yoo Jinwoong, its vice-leader, Yi Jin-Ah, SH Agency’s CEO, Park Soohyuk, the mayor of Uijeongbu, and Yoo Yeonha were all present.

Clap, clap, clap—
Along with a roaring applause, the ribbon cutting ceremony ended.

“Good work.”

Yoo Yeonha shook hands with Park Soohyuk. These two factories were made possible thanks to Essence of the Strait’s partnership with SH Agency. SH Agency’s numerous hunters provided them with monster corpses, making the cost of production much cheaper.

“So from now on, we should transfer all the monsters Fenrir kills to this place?”

“Yes, but in front of me, you can just call him Kim Hajin.”

“Ah… yes, understood.”

“Then I’ll take my leave.”

“Yes, see you later.”

After giving Park Soohyuk a warm smile, she approached Yoo Jinwoong who was waiting for her by the limousine.

…2028, October.
The number of aerial and oceanic monsters exploded. Because of this sudden increase, island countries like Japan and England were greatly impacted. A portion of England’s islands and Japan’s Kyushu island were immediately designated as intermediate-rank danger zones.

…2028, December.
Japan requested assistance from Korea and the Hero Association, while England put out mercenary recruitment ads to deal with the situation themselves.
Frankly, their decision was met with ridicule from the rest of the world.

Then…
2029, February.

On Baekdu Mountain’s summit, where fierce wind blew…

“Ready.”

A battle was about to take place.
Strangely, even the spectators were clad in qi reinforcement. This was because Baekdu Mountain’s mana-infused wind was different from ordinary wind. As today’s wind carried especially threatening energy, it was no different than knives that could cut skin.

“….”

Amidst this iron wind that would have cut apart ordinary people’s flesh, Chae Nayun was glaring at a man. Her muscles were tense, and nervousness cooled her head.

“Start.”

As soon as the start of battle was signaled, Chae Nayun pulled out a 1.8-meter longsword. Highlander’s Claymore. It was a historical-grade artifact gifted by Chae Shinhyuk.
On the other hand, her opponent only had an ordinary sabre.

“Come.”

Chae Nayun didn’t rush forward. Instead, she swung her sword from a distance. Her longsword instantly transformed into a 20-meter-long beam.
However, her opponent was no slack. He calmly blocked her sword and rushed towards her.
Woong—
As the man’s sabre shot towards her, Chae Nayun jumped high enough to touch the clouds.
From the sky, she changed to a reverse-grip. She was clearly trying to strike down with her sword, an ultimate technique she learned secretly.

“…Haaaaap—!”

With a roar, she descended.
Objectively speaking, what Chae Nayun did was only a simple jump-and-strike attack.
Her opponent easily dodged her attack. The simple nature of the attack made him suspicious.
However, the ‘real’ attack was what came next.
Chae Nayun twisted her sword, which was still stabbed into the ground, in a 90-degree angle.
Magic power instantly erupted from the ground.

“What!?”

The man didn’t have a chance to react.
A thunderous roar rang out. As though a volcano was erupting, cracks appeared throughout the entire arena, and terrifying pillars of magic power shot out. Looking closely, one could see that the pillars all had the image of swords.
Swept by the wave of giant sword pillars, the man flew backwards helplessly.

“….”

Their battle ended in only three breaths.

“…Chae Nayun wins.”

The judge pronounced the victor.

“Thank you for the lesson.”

Chae Nayun sheathed her sword and bowed.
The man who was sent flying raised his upper body and gave her a thumbs up. The spectators watching the battle broke out into cheers and applause.

“Heh.”

Yoo Sihyuk stared at Chae Nayun with a satisfied smile.
Chae Nayun wiped off the sweat on her forehead and bowed to Yoo Sihyuk.

“You’ve grown a lot.”

Yoo Sihyuk was genuinely impressed.
Chae Nayun was only 21. Only two years had passed since she began to train in Baekdu Mountain.
However, she grew faster than anyone else who trained in Baekdu Mountain. She poured every second of her free time into sword and magic power practice, allowing her to achieve victory over the instructor who taught her for the past two years.
At the same time, Yoo Sihyuk felt a bit sad.

“…Like you said, you’re more than ready to return to the secular world.”

Today was the day Chae Nayun was leaving Baekdu Mountain. She still had an old grudge to resolve and old debts to repay.
As her master, Yoo Sihyuk wanted to hold her back. Although she grew in might, he knew her heart was still wavering.

However, Chae Nayun was firm in her conviction.
KWANG!
After putting her sheathed sword down, she bowed.

“Thank you for everything.”

Yoo Sihyuk stared at her with a somewhat dissatisfied look. Then, he decided to ask her one last question.

“Do you really plan on joining a guild?”

With Yoo Sihyuk’s recommendation, Chae Nayun was able to become a Hero without going through an apprenticeship. However, Yoo Sihyuk knew Chae Nayun well. For the work she wanted to do, being a mercenary was more suited than being a Hero.

“Yes.”

Even so, Chae Nayun nodded firmly. The twisted smile on her face bothered Yoo Sihyuk slightly.

“If you want, I can introduce you to the Vast Expanse.”

“I will have to decline that offer.”

“Why?”

“…You sure have many questions.”

“What’d you say?”

Heh. Chae Nayun smirked.

“It’s been my dream to become a Hero, so it’s only obvious. I don’t want to give up on it with lame excuses.”

She remembered hearing about it. That it was foolish to give up on a dream because of a man.
She agreed with it one hundred percent.
Out of spite, out of refusal to lose, she planned to become a Hero.

“…Fine, then pack your belongings and leave. I assume you can go down by yourself.”

“Of course.”

“….”

Yoo Sihyuk turned around to hide his hurt expression. Chae Nayun remained bowing as Yoo Sihyuk walked away.
Koong.
Chae Nayun didn’t raise her head until her master’s office door closed shut.

“You’re the best, Unni!”

“That was amazing, Noona~!”

After waving her hand at the younger disciples who looked at her like an idol, she returned to her room. Living here for the past two years, she had grown quite accustomed to this place.

“Let’s see, what do I need to pack…”

After opening her suitcase, she looked around the room for things to pack. But because she didn’t bring much to begin with, there wasn’t much to pack.
Then suddenly, she saw a pack of cigarettes sitting on her desk.

“…How many did I smoke today?”

She tilted her head as she put one in her mouth.
When she lit it, cigarette smoke entered her mouth.

“Cough. Auu, so bitter.”

She couldn’t get used to this acrid smell no matter how many times she smoked. It was likely that her body just wasn’t suited to smoking.
Even so, she still smoked three times a day. She felt it was her duty.
So that she doesn’t forget.
So that it doesn’t weather from time.
So that she doesn’t forgive subconsciously.
For these reasons, she took on this hated smell three times a day.

“…Eh?”

While she was looking around the room smoking, she caught sight of a gaming helmet sitting in the corner of her drawer.
A bitter laugh came out. She remembered often playing with it four years ago.
To reminisce the past, she picked up the helmet.

“…Hmm.”

She put her cigarette out and lied down on the bed.
Tok, tok.
She pressed the button on the helmet and found that it still worked.

“Should I give it a try?”

She put the helmet on for the first time in years.
The helmet’s iris scanner activated as the world around her turned dark.

[Iris scan has been completed.]
[Nayunjajangman-ssi, welcome back.]

“Yeah, hi.”

She didn’t plan on playing anything. She only wanted to reminisce.
But when she logged in, there was an alert in front of her.

[Today is the last day of service for ‘Gladiator of the Century’. We would like to give a warm thanks to all the support you have given us over the years.]

“Eh?”

The game she used to enjoy that once dominated the gaming scene had met its end. It seemed it couldn’t withstand the test of time.
Feeling somewhat bitter, Chae Nayun logged into Gladiator of the Century.

—I logged in one last time T.T
—Me too~ I used to love this game.
—Is anyone from the Hero clan~?

The lobby was full of people who came to reminisce like her.

“Should I play it one last time?”

Wondering if there was anyone to play with, Chae Nayun looked through her friend list.

“…Ah.”

There, she found someone who was more like a memory than a friend.

[Extra7 (currently online)]

A smile emerged on her face. She opened the private message window, but seeing the conversation she had with him before, her face stiffened. She was embarrassed and annoyed at the same time.

“Auu, you crazy idiot loser.”

Chae Nayun was about to wipe the message log but stopped. Although she couldn’t bear to watch her younger self’s immature conversation… she knew they would disappear once the service ended.

‘They’ll disappear even if I don’t erase them.’ Telling herself so, she slowly typed on the message window.

[Um, Hyung-nim. Are you… awake?]

**


I was lying in bed.
Recently, there hasn’t been much to do. The laptop update was still underway, and there was a while to go before the start of the next episode I knew.
As a result, training and playing around was all I’ve been doing lately. I’ve gotten quite used to this lifestyle thanks to finding a few dramas and variety shows to watch.

“…Ehew.”

The most painful part was going to bed. I had trouble falling asleep as all sorts of thoughts constantly plagued me.
Insomnia. It was a chronic condition I suffered from.

“Oh right.”

I suddenly caught sight of the VR helmet by my bed. Thinking I could put on a sleep-inducing video, I put it on.
As soon as I entered the lobby, an alert popped up.

[Today is the last day of service for ‘Gladiator of the Century’. We would like to give a warm thanks to all the support you have given us over the years.]

“Ah, so this is disappearing too.”

I suddenly realized how much time went by. I remembered playing this game a lot in the past. I even made a friend.
I never said goodbye as I naturally stopped playing the game when I got busy.
Curious, I logged in.

“A lot changed, huh.”

I was put into a waiting room which didn’t exist in the past. It seemed the game developers did everything they could to not fall behind.

“Hm.”

Looking around here and there, I reminisced on the old features and observed the new ones.

[Um, Hyung-nim. Are you… awake?]

Ding— Suddenly, I received a message.
The sender was Nayunjajangman.
I immediately recalled the past.
To be honest, I was happy to the point my drowsiness washed away.

[Yeah, I’m awake. It’s been a while, man. ㅋㅋ]

[I think so too.]

“Oh?”

After four years, the way he talked seemed to have changed. It was more… mature.
It made sense. After all, he had to be an adult now.

[Do you want to play a match?]

Nayunjajangman asked.

[Match?]

[Yep.]

[Sure.]

Since the game was closing soon, I felt more than happy to play one last time.
In the middle of pressing buttons to host a room, I suddenly stopped.
I used to be his master, so I didn’t want to lose to him so easily.

[Let me relog real quick.]

I took off my helmet.
—Scan.
Then, I logged back in after consolidating my helmet.

**


Extra7: [Go?]

[Go.]

The match began after a brief exchange.
I had a sabre and a shield while my old master, Extra7, had an axe and a shield.
The control felt a bit weird as I hadn’t played for a while, but my sharper senses and experience were more than enough to cover it. At least, that’s what I thought.

“Uuk!”

Boom. Extra7’s axe struck my shield, pushing my character back against the wall.
I quickly rolled to the side and dodged his follow-up attack.

“Iik!”

Koong. This time, he attacked my face with his shield.

“Ah, dammit!”

I tried to counterattack after barely dodging his attack.
Whoosh—
However, my character shot up into the air from his sudden summersault.
That was it.
I was hit and killed with a 108-hit combo in the air.
The first set was a complete loss.

“Ha, what the hell was that combo? Jesus.”

An astounded laugh came out. It seemed my old master was still worthy of being my master.

“…He’s so good.”

As soon as my murmuring ended, the second set began.
This time, I took the fight more seriously.
I changed my weapon to a longsword.

**


[Victory]

“…I almost lost.”

Nayunjajangman was much better than before. Or maybe I got worse.
In any case, his sharp and reckless counterattacks were hard to deal with.

[Thank you for the match. I see that you’re just as good as before.]

As soon as the match ended, Nayunjajangman messaged me.

[You improved a lot. Did you continue playing?]

[No, what about you?]

[I didn’t play either. I just logged in after hearing that the service was ending soon.]

[Wow, then you must be super talented. I’m impressed, Hyung-nim.]

“…Pft.”

The way he talked made me laugh.
The kid who used to ask me for dating advice was now a full-fledged adult.

[Ah, Hyung-nim, you’re currently active, right?]

Jajangman suddenly asked a strange question.
Active? This word had many meanings in this world.

[Well, I guess you could say that. What about you?]

Did he also become a mercenary?

[I’m not active yet ㅋㅋ but I will be soon.]

[Oh? Are you a trainee?]

[Something like that.]

I see, so that’s why he became so serious.

[Good luck.]

[Thank you. Ah, don’t you think we’ll meet one day? ㅋㅋ]

I smiled. ‘Regardless of whether you’re an apprentice hero or an apprentice mercenary, I’m no longer someone you can meet so easily.’

[Maybe, if you continue to work hard.]

[I see. Ah, apparently the service is ending soon.]

[ㅋㅋ kk.]

I received an alert too.
—The service will end in 30 seconds.
I smiled bitterly and slowly typed my goodbye.

[Good luck. Be happy.]

Jajangman’s reply came instantly.

[It’s too late for me, but be happy too, Hyung-nim.]

I wanted to reply to him.
I didn’t know what happened, but I couldn’t bear to watch a kid be so hopeless.
However, before I could type anything, my surroundings changed.

[The service has ended.]
[We offer our greatest gratitude to all users who supported Gladiator of the Century.]
[Goodbye.]

Only the game developers’ final messages were left in front of me.

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