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Kang Chun-seong’s strength need not be mentioned and I too, if I put my mind to it, am capable of using Sylph and causing a major accident.
If she has any brains at all, the research center won’t behave maliciously towards examinees such as us.
-We found your identity and called you out of the blue so I understand your apprehension. Please, be rest assured that whatever we talk about will not be unfavorable to you.
“I understand. Then we shall meet at Cheonan station.”
After hanging up, we go into a nearby coffee shop, one at a time.
Kang Chun-seong seats himself next to the window and watches out of it.
I sit down at a nearby table, drinking an iced Americano, waiting for Cha Ji-hye.
I wonder how much time passed this way.
[I am at Cheonan station.]
A text arrives from Cha Ji-hye. I use a map app to send her our location.
Soon after, a young woman and black formal clothes appears at the café.
Unbeknownst to me, I am amazed.
She is a beautiful woman for whom a short haircut and black formal clothes are surprisingly appealing on. Her long and firm legs are wrapped in white pants and reminds me of a deer.
As soon as she enters the café, she purposefully walks over to me immediately. It is a strong walk, unlike a woman. Step, step, her red ankle boots hit the floor with discipline.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Kim Hyun-ho.”
Cha Ji-hye sits directly across from me.
I stare at her and ask.
“Are you a soldier?”
“How did you know?”
Cha Ji-hye’s eyes go big and round.
Her expression is cold but her surprised face is actually pretty cute.
“You don’t waste words, your walk is strong, and your hair is short so it just reminded me of a soldier.”
At this she bites her lower lip and quietly mumbles.
“I still look like a soldier…”
“Nothing. Anyway, I will go order and come back.”
She briskly walks over to the counter and puts in an order to the female employee.
“One caramel macchiato, one mint chocolate bagel, and one strawberry waffle set.”
For a moment I almost laugh.
She emanates the soldier pose but orders all these sweet things and its cute. Is she trying to distract me by making me laugh?
I glance over at Kang Chun-seong. Kang Chun-seong gives me a slight nod. It means there are no others.
She finishes her order and returns to the table and starts talking right away.
“I will introduce myself first. I am Cha Ji-hye of the Korean Arena Research Center. I was in the army, bypassed national intelligence agency, and became a researcher at the Korean Arena Research Center.”
She’s not your average woman.
“When you say researcher, what kind of work do you do?”
“We research any and all information about the existential world, Arena, and its exams. For me, I am in charge of combat and survival., and I am looking to assume the role for caring for the examinees that will join. But…”
Cha Ji-hye glances over to the side as she talks.
“Is the person over by the window an examinee from the same team?”
“I knew before I entered the café. You will have verified that I came alone, won’t he join us for our talk?”
“… I suppose.”
A sharp and discerning eye.
Eventually I call Kang Chun-seong over to our table.
Cha Ji-hye asks of Kang Chun-seong.
“What is your name?”
“I will not say.”
Kang Chun-seong bluntly refuses.
As he does so, Cha Ji-hye’s eyes glow fiercely.
“Your intonation means you’re Chinese.”
“Apart from a height of 185 cm, your well-toned physique may be because of a physical strength buff skill, but I think you are originally fit from having well acquainted yourself from specialty martial arts. And guessing from your extreme wariness, I think I will be able to find out your identity within the day by looking through a police database. Am I wrong?”
I am astonished. Wrong, my ass. She nearly got it all.
Kang Chun-seong exposes his teeth threateningly.
“You must not have thought that I can shatter your neck.”
“Do you really think I came alone?”
Even the great Kang Chun-seong makes a surprised face.
Then, Kang Chun-seong’s gaze becomes increasingly cold, and the two are locked in a death gaze.
“The caramel macchiato, mint chocolate bagel, and strawberry set are out.”
Cha Ji-hye gets up suddenly and runs over.
In an instant, the stormy tension dissipates into nothing.
Perhaps it is due to the plentiful sweets, but Cha Ji-hye returns in a much lighter mood.
She begins cutting her waffles with a knife and talks.
“I did indeed come alone.”
Kang Chun-seong’s face is blank. I am sure my face is akin to his.
She happily eats her waffles like a normal woman, but doesn’t blink an eye at Kang Chun-seong’s threats. She is originally a soldier and national intelligence, and Cha Ji-hye really isn’t average.
“I don’t like this kind of tension or wariness. We really want to help examinees survive.”
Hm, I cannot just take those words for granted.
Of course, it doesn’t seem like she approached us with bad intentions. But I am sure they are not going to blindly offer us aid either.
At the end of my thought, I open my mouth.
“While I was waiting, I went online. All the posts I made have been erased.”
“Yes, basically to prevent social panic, we are keeping the exams and Arena a secret.”
“Is that all?”
“What do you mean?”
“It didn’t even take half a day for you to find out who I am, erase all my postings, and come meet us ASAP. It seems too fast paced for a Korean government institution.”
“This is what I am thinking. There are other research centers like this, not just in Korea? I don’t know the reasons why, but they too are trying to convince examinees to join them. I am guessing that there is some benefit to be gained through examinees, or is this all my own delusion?”
“Wow, you are incredible.”
Above Cha Ji-hye’s cold expression is a slight hint of amazement.
“All country research centers are working hard to scout examinees. That is why we are moving so fast. Mr. Kim Hyun-ho, are you by chance your team leader?”
She nods her head as she goes on talking.
“As you guessed, there is a benefit to be gained through examinees. That is why we give our utmost support for the survival of examinees, but we do gain a benefit that examinees bring us. There is, amongst our support, a monetary prize.”
“And what is the benefit?”
“It is called majeong.”
“All living and moving things from Arena are carried within your bodies. It is like an energy cohesion, and that energy can be used as a very high efficiency energy source, revealed through research done in America.”
“And so competitively using examinees…”
“What kind of support are you lending in aiding examinee survival?”
“For example, we have this.”
Cha Ji-hye lifts up her sleeve. And underneath it is a charcoal colored outfit that resembles a wet suit.
“It is a battle suit our research center invented. Without some incredible strength, knives won’t penetrate it, and it has incredible thermic capability, making it ideal for camping. Because you can enter exams with clothes, we have concentrated on performance clothes and shoes.”
“Not only that, we are collecting and researching information about Arena. We have completed the entire map of Arena, and found out what flora, fauna, and monsters reside in each location.”
“It wasn’t just empty words when you said you support.”
“Of course. Our priority is the survival of examinees. And your friend?”
“I am Kang Chun-seong.”
“Mr. Kang Chun-seong, as long as you are short of being a brutal criminal, we can give you a new identity, with Korean citizenship. There are already a couple examinees living new lives this way.”
It’s a sweet deal and Kang Chun-seong seems swayed.
“With the majeong you earn from the exams, you can increase your monetary prize and on top of that, based on your various skills, you will receive a salary. How does that sound? Do we still appear a suspicious research center scheming something malicious?”
“No, that is not the case. I would have been suspicious if you told me you were helping like a charity business.”
“You can receive this same deal from other countries, but majeong is a precious energy reserve and working together with your country’s research center will have other benefits. I sincerely wish you decide to join us.”
“It doesn’t sound like a bad thing. I will consult with my team mates and make a decision.”
“Please do. Excuse me, but what turn are you on?”
She is probably asking which exam number.
I slyly smile and speak.
“That is a secret.”
Cha Ji-hye makes a small grin.
“You are indeed sensible. I hope you join us. If you accept, I will become the person in charge of your team.”
“I will think it through practically.”
We get up from our seats and shake hands. Then she sits back down in her chair.
“I wish to finish all the food I ordered first…”
“Oh, please do.”
Cha Ji-hye concentrates on eating her waffles and bagel.
The first one to get up is Kang Chun-seong.
“I will depart first. I will contact you in the evening.”
“Please do so.”
Kang Chun-seong leaves and the two of us, Cha Ji-hye and I, are left alone.
She tastily eats her mint chocolate bagel and Cha Ji-hye speaks.
“There are some things I gathered from watching you two, would you like to know what it is?”
“Seeing as how you haven’t met other examinees, you are under exam 5. You two are still awkward with each other so you’re under exam 3. And Kang Chun-seong may be a criminal but his faith in you, Kim Hyun-ho, means he is not a bad person.”
I’m completely surprised.
She glances up at me and continues.
“Your physique is average but you are the leader, you must have well acquainted yourself with a magical main skill.”
“Well, let’s say that’s true.”
“Is it? You are definitely don’t have a combat skill but if not a magic skill, you are in possession of a more special skill.”
“Let’s stop there.”
“Ha, I understand.”
Then Cha Ji-hye lets out a smile.
Her expression is cold like my older sister, but she is a girl with a rarely seen and cute smile.
After completely finishing her strawberry waffle set, Cha Ji-hye gets up out of her seat.
“It does not matter if it is late at night, so please consult with your team and decide and contact me before this day is up.”
“Aren’t you in too much of a hurry?”
“You are just past the second exam, so your rest period is only 15 days. We must make a decision as soon as possible and then prepare for the next exam. Did you use all your karma yet?”
“No, I haven’t used it yet…”
I say it to that point and then catch myself. Cha Ji-hye lets out another small smile.
“You are definitely past the second turn.”
I am starting to fear this woman.
“Anyway, it’s all good. If you consult with us before using the karma and earn prizes accordingly, it will be all the more beneficial for further exams.”
“Uh, I understand. I will contact you by the end of today.”
“If you agree, we will make the contract and it would be good to go right into exam preparations. Nevertheless, I await your good decision.”
We shake hands and leave the café and part ways.
Right after, I call Joon-ho and Hye-su and explain to them everything that happened today.
Both of them have an enthusiastic response.
“Wow, really hyung? I am of course going to say thank you! Supporting us so we can survive the exams and giving us money, there’s no reason to say no.”
That is Joon-ho’s response.
“What do you think, Hyun-ho oppa? If you agree, so do I.”
That is Hye-su’s response.
Kang Chun-seong contacts me in the evening and he too agrees. It seems it was most pleasing to him, the part about the Korean citizenship.
I send a text to Cha Ji-hye and a reply comes back immediately.
[Please give me the names and address of your team members. We will personally go escort you.]
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