Besides Kim Hajin, Group 6 had the 41st ranked Simon Delick and the 20th ranked Yi Jiyoon. Group 3 met them coincidentally, and now they were taking a break together.
Group 6 had an easy time in the beginning with only a few wild animals appearing on their hike, but they had unknowingly entered an illusion barrier.
“Yeah, I think we must have been lost in there for an hour or so. But suddenly, that guy told us to move with a frustrated face.”
Simon Delick pointed at a man sitting by a tree. Chae Nayun glanced over to that direction. There, Kim Hajin was looking at his smartwatch.
“At first, we were like, who is this kid? But then he went ahead and found the exit instantly.”
Chae Nayun nodded silently.
“Oh right, did you decide on your team for the upcoming team challenge?”
Simon Delick asked, changing the topic.
Just like he said, there was a team challenge coming up. Although nothing about it was announced, team challenge was a joint training exercise that was a tradition in Cube.
Chae Nayun shook her head.
Teams for the team challenge had to be fair. As such, top-ranking cadets like Chae Nayun, Kim Suho, Yoo Yeonha, and Shin Jonghak couldn’t team up.
Most teams were composed of ‘one one-digit rank, one two-digit rank, two three-digit ranks, and one low-rank magician’; or ‘two two-digit ranks, two three-digit ranks, and one upper-rank magician’. Of course, specific rankings were taken into account as well.
“I’m thinking about asking Kim Hajin.”
At that moment, Yi Jiyoon who was sitting quietly suddenly interjected. Caught off guard, Chae Nayun’s body shook a little.
Kim Suho laughed and chimed in.
“Hajin? He’s a good choice.”
“Kim Suho, you’re close even with him?”
Yi Jiyoon asked with a smiling face.
Although Kim Suho felt his relationship with Kim Hajin was a little vague, he still nodded. Then, Yi Jiyoon’s face brightened.
“As expected of Suho, you have so many connections.”
Like a sly fox, Yi Jiyoon was good at flattering people. Chae Nayun felt slightly displeased.
“But why Kim Hajin? There are bad rumors about him.”
Simon Delick asked in a slightly jealous tone. Just like he said, there were horrible rumors about Kim Hajin. On the other hand, Yi Jiyoon was on the popular side. Not only was her pure and innocent face well liked by guys, her Gift was also one of the best among supporters.
“Everyone wants to have you on their team, Jiyoon.”
She could shoot magic arrows imbued with a special buff. As its effect was exceptionally strong, most high ranking guilds in the country already had their eyes out for her.
“Kim Hajin is the best candidate among three-digit cadets. He’s smart and his combat prowess is exceptional. You remember his fight with Kim Horak, right?”
Yi Jiyoon sent Kim Hajin who was sitting far away a meaningful look. No one knew whether he had heard Yi Jiyoon’s praise, but he scratched his cheek. Yi Jiyoon turned her gaze to Chae Nayun.
“Nayun, what do you think?”
Yi Jiyoon and Chae Nayun were stereotypical social media friends, the type that only exchanged likes and comments online.
Chae Nayun brushed her hair aside and replied nonchalantly.
“Well, you can team up with him if you want. Why ask me?”
Although that’s what Chae Nayun said, she certainly felt the same way.
Kim Hajin was too good of a resource for someone in the 300’s. No, in the first place, he wasn’t someone who should be sitting in rank 334. For both Yoo Yeonha and Chae Nayun, this was a matter of fact.
“Really? Then I should try asking him today.”
When Yi Jiyoon seemed ready to go, Chae Nayun hastily spoke up.
“He’s really picky. So um, he might not say yes.”
“That’s… um, you might get hurt, Jiyoon. He’s a bit cold.”
“Nayun is right. Haven’t you heard the rumors about him?”
Simon Delick also chimed in. Clearly, he was excited to bad-mouth Kim Hajin. Immediately, he began to recite some of the ill rumors; that Kim Hajin goes to Seoul every weekend to visit brothels and nightclubs, or that he receives money from gangs and other violent organizations, or that he has several sugar mommas…. They were exaggerated rumors completely blown out of proportion.
“…Do you really believe that nonsense?”
“Hey, Delick, have you personally seen him?”
Unable to endure his rambling, Chae Nayun and Kim Suho interrupted him simultaneously. Taken aback, Delick’s pupils trembled.
“W-What, am I wrong?”
Chae Nayun glared at Delick silently, then got up.
Kim Suho clapped his hands and changed the atmosphere.
“Alright, let’s get going, guys. Otherwise, we’ll be late.”
Night, after end of classes.
Yoo Yeonha finished preparing for a video call. Her face was completely covered, and her voice was changed as well.
Today was the first meeting with the information guild she established, Falling Blossom. She cleared her throat as to not have a voice crack.
Soon, the video call began. The three team leaders of Falling Blossom guild greeted Yoo Yeonha with bare-faces.
“It’s nice to meet you all.”
—It’s an honor, Master.
Yoo Yeonha was satisfied with the team leaders’ respectful tone.
Falling Blossom’s members were people Yoo Yeonha personally evaluated and recruited. Although their resumes might not be spectacular, she snatched them up without hesitation if they had potential.
There were 21 founding members.
Yoo Yeonha separated these 21 members into three teams.
Members of the first team were Spies. They were in charge of gathering information on rival guilds.
Members of the second team were Hawks. They were in charge of locating and identifying new Dungeons or monsters above the high-intermediate rank.
Members of the third and final team were Shadows. They were in charge of taking care of Yoo Yeonha’s private requests.
“Team 1’s top priority should be to find out the plans of rival guilds, namely Creator’s Sacred Grace and Desolate Moon. Team 2 should…”
Yoo Yeonha began to talk in a formal manner that made it hard to distinguish even her gender. After giving Team 1 and Team 2 their respective missions, she ended her call with them.
Now, only Team 3 remained. Members of Team 3 were elites that Yoo Yeonha was especially careful in choosing.
Team 3 would thoroughly work in the shadows. From background investigations to tailing to kidnapping, threatening, and, if it came down to it, killing, they were to be Yoo Yeonha’s secret weapon.
“I command you to thoroughly dig up the following members’ backgrounds. However, it is strictly forbidden to hurt them or to be discovered.”
Yoo Yeonha gave Team 3 information on five individuals. However, four of them were only there to fill the number. There was only one she wanted to know.
[Kim Hajin – 17 years old]
—From Seoju Orphanage.
—When he was 9, he was discovered by periodic orphanage inspection and entered Agent Military Academy.
—Currently 334th ranked Cube cadet.
—Supplied Essence of the Strait with information worth hundreds of millions of won.
That was Kim Hajin.
Team 3’s team leader went away with an affirmation.
Yoo Yeonha nodded in satisfaction, then jumped into her bed.
I opened my eyes, awakened by the alarm.
When I stretched, I noticed something light stuck to my side.
It was Evandel.
Puu, puu. She was letting out tiny breaths while sleeping. I grinned and put my finger over her nostrils.
One second, two seconds, three seconds… Evandel quivered and shook my hand away.
A smile bloomed on my face. I stroked Evandel’s soft hair for five minutes before getting up.
“…You’re awake too?”
On the living room couch was a cat Evandel made. The cat jumped down from the couch and walked up to my feet. When I tried patting it, it growled.
This cat wasn’t an illusion or a spirit. It was a real cat Evandel made with her ability.
Although it had no other ability other than being cute, it would become strong and help me out one day.
I put on my clothes. I had to go bring breakfast. Of course, it was more convenient to eat outside and head straight to class.
But nowadays, I felt happier eating together with Evandel.
I put on slippers and went out.
When I was waking to the cafeteria while yawning, someone approached me giving off a fragrant scent.
“Where are you going so early in the morning?”
It was Yoo Yeonha. She seemed to be out for a morning jog as she was wearing a comfortable-looking tracksuit.
I replied briefly.
Yoo Yeonha made a nasal sound, then began to walk alongside me.
“Anyways, I noticed your ranking went up a lot.”
“Yeah, I think it’ll stay in that range in the future.”
Yoo Yeonha nodded, seemingly thinking about something.
By the time the cafeteria was coming into view, Yoo Yeonha asked again.
“Have you thought about your future?”
It was a word that didn’t really click with me, so I just replied half-heartedly.
“I still have a lot of time to think about that sort of stuff.”
“A lot of time? It’s only a year and three months. Once we’re in our third year, we’ll be too busy with things like Hero internships and deployments.”
Just like she said, third years were no different than real Heroes. They only came to Cube once or twice a week and spent the rest acting as apprentice Heroes in different guilds.
Yoo Yeonha continued.
“How’s Essence of the Strait?”
She was clearly trying to coax me.
Essence of the Strait, the guild that would later become Yoo Yeonha’s.
To be honest, it was a guaranteed success.
Although it was currently ranked second because of Creator’s Sacred Grace, it would reign supreme as the unshakable rank 1 guild once Creator’s Sacred Grace failed their Tower of Miracle conquest. This wouldn’t change even when Kim Suho joins Creator’s Sacred Grace and brings it to a new height.
“…I was thinking about becoming a hunter of the Vast Expanse.”
I was half-serious.
Vast Expanse, a hunter group founded and named after Kwangwon, who was comparable in power to the Nine Stars.
Although they operated like a mercenary group, they worked on a completely different scale. The main customers of the Vast Expanse were large guilds or large corporations. Individuals who wanted to employ them had to be multimillionaires.
As hunters of the Vast Expanse were mercenaries at their core, they were given an incredible level of freedom. There couldn’t be a better status for someone like me.
“Though, I’m not sure if I could become one.”
Yoo Yeonha didn’t say anything for a while. When I glanced at her, she was in deep contemplation with a very serious face.
“…I’ll change your mind.”
Then, a determined voice rang out. Yoo Yeonha continued as she stared at me fixedly.
“If I bring what you’ve been looking for all this time, wouldn’t you change your mind?”
‘And what’s that?’ I furrowed my brows.
Then, Yoo Yeonha snickered and suddenly changed the topic.
“Oh right, remember Yi Jin-Ah who bullied you? She got scolded reaaaaally hard. I even have a video of it. Do you want to see it? She’s crying like a baby.”
Yoo Yeonha walked strangely when she was feeling good. Like a daring little princess, she had her hands clasped behind her back and hopped.
Then suddenly, she shot backward.
As expected, there were other cadets some distance in front of us.
“Then I’ll see you later.”
With that, Yoo Yeonha disappeared.
Wednesday, morning announcements.
Kim Soohyuk’s voice was just as loud in the morning as any other time.
“You will need to form a team of five.”
It was finally here.
I closed my eyes and clenched my lips.
Team challenge. It was kind of like a group project. From now, I would be doing rather annoying things as a member of a team. For example, conquering a miniature Tower, capturing artifacts against other teams, or going on team-building trips.
Thankfully, team challenges only lasted until the midterms in six weeks.
“Get into teams that meet the requirement and submit a team member list by the end of next Wednesday. If you don’t have a team by that time, I will place you in teams myself.”
Forming a team was too sorrowful for outcasts like me.
Though, I might be the best choice among three-digit cadets like Yi Jiyoon said.
Tap, tap, tap.
At that moment, I heard tiny tapping sounds.
I turned around. On a seat a little ways behind me, Rachel was tapping on her desk with an anxious face.
Rachel was also in a similar situation to me. The difference was that I was ostracized while she was aloof, but it was the same in that we had no friends.
Since that was the case, it might be good for us to team up.
Plus, I had something to give her as well.
‘Butterfly Seedling Dust’.
I had to give it to her even if I had to use force. Originally, Rachel was supposed to obtain a hint of her Enlightenment during the final exam. If it was delayed any longer, there was a chance that her basic specs would become lower than in the original story.
Although I was a bit nervous, I took a deep breath and sent her a message.
[Rachel-ssi, would you like to team up with me?]
But before she could check my message, someone approached her.
“Would you like to team up?”
It was the robed magician, Tomer.