“You won’t drown even if you fall in there, you know.”
A pleasant voice rippled in the air. Her voice sounded louder than usual, perhaps owing to the fact that not one soul could be found nearby.
Shortly afterwards, the shape of a lone person broke out from the darkness and revealed herself.
She wore crisp and pure-white blouse, with a black jacket on top, and the so-called grey H-line skirt that proudly showcased the stunning figure. She completed the look of a typical business woman with a leather-bound bag as well.
“You see, it’s not all that deep around here, so unless you were planning to frolic in the water, then….”
Her voice trailed upwards as the words neared the end of her sentence. Although she was cosplaying as a serious business woman, the way she spoke was rather playful.
Seol slowly withdrew his feet from the water; at the same time, the unknown woman formed a faint smile.
“Are you perhaps Seol….”
“Who are you?” (Seol)
The woman chose not to finish her words, and instead approached him in a leisurely gait. With a practiced hand, she produced a business card and pushed it to him.
“This is me.”
Seol took a quick glance at the card.
When Seol showed no indication to accept her card, Kim Hahn-Nah withdrew her hand as the atmosphere was getting kind of awkward between them. She instead presented him with a handkerchief.
“Use this. I personally find a grown man crying a bit too much.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Again, Seol didn’t accept her gesture and chose to wipe his face clean with his sleeves, instead. Others might have been somewhat miffed by Seol’s level of alertness, but she seemed to be rather intrigued by it.
“I once heard that a gambling addict wouldn’t budge an inch even if a pretty and very naked girl throws herself at him. I guess that was true.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Seol carefully studied the face of the intelligent beauty behind the pair of spectacles. He clearly remembered seeing her in that dream.
To be specific, he remembered seeing her during the dream’s very beginning. A strange woman approached the dream version of him as he sat by the riverbank drinking beer; she said that she had a great news to share with him.
It really did sound like a great news. She said, she’d enable him to earn more than enough money to pay back all of his debts, and still have lots left over. And that, if he was willing to work harder, he’d get to earn even more moolah, too.
The moment she handed over an envelope full of cash, the dream version of Seol was completely entranced.
He had to sign the ‘Contract’ in return, but the Seol of then couldn’t be any happier. After all, easy money suddenly found its way to his hands. Back then, he was even considering becoming a medical test subject for cold, hard cash.
He only got to find out that he got royally screwed over only after he signed on the dotted line. He got dragged away to a place he’d never even heard of before, and it turned out that the Contract he signed was actually a slave contract.
Although this happened within the dream, when Seol recalled all the incredible and intolerable cruelty and hardships he had to endure, his teeth began gritting all on their own.
‘No, hang on a minute here.’ (Seol)
Seol suddenly realised something.
The things he had dismissed out of hand as a nonsensical dream were actually happening for real in front of his very eyes. When he came to recognise this crucial fact, the boiling emotions within his heart cooled down rapidly and his alertness only increased even further.
“You’re a lot calmer than I expected.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“I thought you might show a reaction when I mentioned gambling just now.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
For sure, from Kim Hahn-Nah’s perspective, his reaction was slightly out of her expectations. But she didn’t know – Seol’s attention happened to be focused elsewhere at the time.
“Oh, well. It’s cool with me. This way, I’m sure our chat will progress that much smoother.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“Our chat, is it?” (Seol)
“Yes. I’ve come today to tell you about a really gre~at news.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Even though she was the one to say those words, Kim Hahn-Nah was giggling away in delight. Meanwhile, Seol couldn’t disguise the shock on his face.
A really great news….
They were the exact words he heard in his dream. He was this close to accepting that dream as the prediction of things to come rather than some random nonsense now.
“Well, now. How about….” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah slowly lowered the leather bag on her right arm to the ground. When the top gap “naturally” slid open, the contents within were spectacularly exposed to Seol’s sights. 50,000 Won notes were neatly packed to the brim inside the bag.
“….Taking a bet with me? How about it?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
She got down to business. This young man’s background had been thoroughly researched already; the only remaining thing was to pick the right timing to throw the bait.
The gambling addicts were some of the most easiest types to reel in. However, she always aimed to be as perfect and watertight as humanly possible. So, she picked those moments when the target would never be able to refuse the offer.
And that was precisely today.
Seeing how Seol was seemingly entranced by the sight of the bag’s contents, Kim Hahn-Nah became very confident of her success.
Seol slowly raised his head. Kim Hahn-Nah’s two hands gathered together, as if to urge him to hurry up with his answer.
“Not interested.” (Seol)
“Okay, and the game type is…. Eh?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah suddenly stopped her sentence in a dumbstruck pause.
“I’ve quit gambling. Not interested.” (Seol)
Seol put some strength behind his words, which led Kim Hahn-Nah to regain her composure. She blinked her eyes a few times, before slightly tilting her head.
“Even though you could win all this money with just one bet?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“I said, not interested.” (Seol)
“What if I told you that I’ll give you the money, regardless of the results? If I remember correctly, I heard that the amount you owe is quite~ something…” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“I’ll take care of my own matters, thank you.” (Seol)
“In that case, aren’t you at least a bit curious why I’m acting like this?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“I’ll tell you everything. But in return, play a game with me for one round. Of course, regardless of the outcome, this money will still be yours.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
If Seol was being honest here, he was quite tempted by this offer.
Even at a quick glance, he could see over forty bundles of banknotes inside the bag. Seeing her confident and forthright attitude, she seemed trustworthy, and it certainly didn’t seem like that hearing her out at least once wouldn’t hurt anyone.
But, just as Seol was about to nod his head, an alarm bell went off in his head. The still-remaining emotions went on a messy and disorientating riot of refusal inside his mind.
Even then, he couldn’t bring himself to deny this strange feeling of attraction, though.
Going through this turmoil of confusing and opposing emotions, Seol could only breath in deeply several times to calm down.
‘Did I almost…. do something pretty stupid just now?’ (Seol)
No matter how vivid a dream was, you’d forget it as soon as you woke up. However, if Seol could remember this woman even now, that could only mean that she played an incredibly important role somewhere, somehow. He had to be extra cautious here.
“I refuse.” (Seol)
Oh, really? Kim Hahn-Nah whispered to herself.
Now this was an unexpected response. She thought he’d be jumping in with both of his feet as soon as his eyes opened up wide at the sight of the money. The Seol from Kim Hahn-Nah’s knowledge was just that kind of a man.
However, a situation such as this one wasn’t entirely unprecedented, either. Every now and then, people like him would pop up – fools, who held out while hoping to squeeze out more benefits.
Kim Hahn-Nah adjusted her evaluation of Seol upwards by one level. She didn’t dislike someone like that. After all, such a person was somewhat more preferable than those jumping in headlong without knowing what was going on first. Unfortunately….
‘You’ve picked a wrong opponent, you fool.’ (Kim Hahn-Nah)
This wasn’t her first rodeo, so to speak. She had her own methods to deal with guys like him.
“Now, this is getting awkward….” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah pretended to cross her arms over her chest while depressing the inner pocket ever so slightly.
Then, a sound of a phone vibrating could be heard.
“Oh, please excuse me. I need to answer this.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
She pulled out her phone, and then, smoothly connected the earphone.
“Hello, this is Kim Hahn-Nah. Oh~, of course. I’m also in the middle of negotiating with the potential client as well…. Yes, yes…. Oh, is that so? I guess we’re going to recruit that person instead, then?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah sneaked a quick glance at Seol, then….
“Of course! It’s fine. My client said he’s not interested, after all. In any case, I understand~. I’ll withdraw from here as well.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
She then extracted the ear piece and smiled brightly.
“What a coincidence. I heard that the only remaining slot had been filled up just now.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah emphasized the words only remaining.
“But, since you have shown your lack of interest, I guess there’s nothing we can do now. I apologise for taking up your time. I sincerely pray that you’ll achieve everything you’ve set out to do.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah snatched her bag up from the ground and without a shred of hesitation, turned around to walk away. Her steps were light and airy.
She expected either one of the two things to happen here. Either he would stop her right away, or wait for a bit longer, before hurriedly running after her.
“Hold up.” (Seol)
Hearing that, Kim Hahn-Nah smirked.
“Yes? What is it, dear client?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
She turned her head partly around, while feigning some confusion. The facial expression of “Why did you call me?” was simply an added bonus.
‘Although you acted a little off from my calculations, you think the likes of you can win against me?’ (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Just as a victorious smile formed inside her head….
“As long as it’s not a Contract.” (Seol)
….Seol slowly opened his lips.
“As long as it’s not about a Contract, then, I’ll hear you out.” (Seol)
That was what he said.
That was all he said, yet after hearing him, all thought processes inside Kim Hahn-Nah’s brain came to a certain stop. Her mouth opened and closed several times, while she stared at him with a pair of dumbfounded eyes.
“….Excuse me?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
She somehow managed to eke out a reply.
“I’d like….” (Seol)
And his response….
“I’d like to receive the Invitation, not the Contract.” (Seol)
….Managed to completely shatter every imagined scenario in her head.
“….You.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Her previously-smiling face vanished straight away, as if it was nothing more than an illusion. She slowly removed her glasses while her expression became colder and colder.
“….Who the hell are you?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
The way she spoke transformed. Even a faint hostility could be felt from her voice.
“You know who I am.” (Seol)
Seol stopped using honorifics as well, since she too stopped. Her glaring eyes became narrower still.
“You from that side of the fence?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“You know that’s not true better than anybody.” (Seol)
She almost ended up acknowledging that suspicion without a basis.
It was around half a year ago, when Seol was chosen as one of the potential targets. He had not exhibited one suspicious behaviour during that time period.
Most importantly, though – if he had been to the other side even once, then the unmistakable aura of the ‘Mark’ should emanate from him. This alone proved that Seol had no direct relation with the other world.
Facing a situation she couldn’t have imagined in a million years, Kim Hahn-Nah was lost as to how she should proceed from here. This development was far too out of her expectations.
“You expect me to believe you? When you can clearly distinguish between a Contract and an Invitation?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“So, what about it? Is “Invitation” a taboo word that shouldn’t have been mentioned in the first place?” (Seol)
Kim Hahn-Nah could only bite her lower lip at that cheeky response.
“I’m not in the mood, okay? Who was it? Who contacted you first?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“That’s not really important, is it?” (Seol)
Seol deliberately changed the topic.
The things he had spoken up to now were all from the dream – the things about the Contract and the Invitation. He only threw them out there as soon as he remembered. That was it.
However, there was no way Kim Hahn-Nah would know of this little fact. It was better to leave her stewing in her own misunderstanding. This was the only weapon Seol possessed that could subdue this woman.
“What is important is the fact that I want the Invitation, not the Contract.” (Seol)
Kim Hahn-Nah breathed in deeply.
“Fine. Don’t wanna talk? Then, don’t. I’m curious, but that doesn’t mean I have to hear it no matter the cost, anyway.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
One, two, three, four….
Kim Hahn-Nah inwardly counted up, and tried to calm her chaotic mind. However, she still couldn’t erase this feeling that she had been suckered into her opponent’s pace since a while ago.
“Separate from that, explain to me why you want an Invitation.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“Obviously because, I’m not interested in signing a Contract and living like a damn slave.” (Seol)
Seol’s answer was simple. Kim Hahn-Nah’s brows quaked in anger.
“No, you better tell me why I should use up my precious Invitation on a worthless gambling addict like you!” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Seol hesitated ever so slightly, then.
Why was he treating things he saw in that stupid dream as reality? With that thought in mind, he couldn’t help but wonder if insisting on this matter was the right call to make.
It didn’t seem too late now; he could just tell her to never mind and pretend that none of this happened. After all, he had already decided to quit gambling. If he got an honest job and worked hard from now on, he’d be able to regain all the lost trust people had in him.
When he declared that he was not interested in signing a Contract, the strong sense of ‘refusal’ he’d been feeling until now vanished, just like that. The strange and unexplainable attraction still remained strong, though.
Also, it’d be a lie to say that he wasn’t curious, either. There were things he wanted to confirm, as well.
Seol recalled the very last scene of the dream.
The emotions of regret pushed him from the back. It told him to go for it. Only then, could Seol fully figure out what that feeling of refusal from just now was all about. In order to go there, he had to absolutely refuse signing any Contract whatsoever.
He gritted his teeth, and concentrated incredibly hard to comb his memories.
“Not giving me an Invitation would only prove to be disadvantageous for you.” (Seol)
“What did you say?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“You said your name is Kim Hahn-Nah, a director from Shinyoung Pharmaceutical Corporation, right?” (Seol)
“So what?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“That company is pretty famous for continuously developing new types of medicine for the last few years…. Maybe, you guys have some kind of a fishy connection to that world?” (Seol)
The haymaker he threw while feeling half-unsure landed like a charm. He could tell, by seeing her once-leisurely expression crumbling away once more.
Seol didn’t know anything about the other world, prior to having that dream. Which meant that the existence of the separate world was a top secret that the general public wasn’t privy to know.
He didn’t know whether she was forced into keeping this a secret, or willingly agreed to do so, but nevertheless, he figured that this was a weakness worth exploiting. And besides, the Seol of now was a civilian not under any kind of contractual obligations, so he didn’t have to hold back.
“There’s no need for me to walk around shouting at the top of my lungs, though. You know that the 21st Century is referred to as the Information Age, right?” (Seol)
“Are you threatening me?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“And just who was trying to lie first, here? Aren’t we on an equal moral footing now?” (Seol)
“How laughable. You think anyone will believe you? Words of a bloody gambling addict?” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“….Of course, that might be true.” (Seol)
When Seol simply agreed with her assessment without a fuss, a sense of unease slowly bloomed in her heart. Just why was he being so relaxed from a while ago?
“But, will those upstairs think like that?” (Seol)
Suddenly, the sounds of gritting teeth could be heard.
“You couldn’t complete one little Contract, and couldn’t even keep such an important secret, either…. I’m sure they will like it very much.” (Seol)
“You son of a b*tch!” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Finally, Kim Hahn-Nah dropped her facade. Seol knew he was getting really close. Well, a scammer swearing out could only mean that she was about to wave the white flag, after all.
He briefly entertained the thoughts of pushing a bit more, before giving up on the idea. He had whipped her enough, so it’d be better to gently soothe her now, instead. In the end, the final decision rested solely on her shoulders.
“Of course, I too don’t want to do any of that. Just an Invitation would suffice.” (Seol)
Seol took a small step back. Kim Hahn-Nah was still venomously grinding her teeth, though.
“The difference between a Contract and an Invitation is no laughing matter, you get that? I can complete Contracts with my authority, but an Invitation, I can’t.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
“Then, why did you say, your ‘precious Invitation’ just now?” (Seol)
You motherf*cking as*hole, Kim Hahn-Nah chewed on her lower lip.
‘That, that f*cking god b*stard. You said there would come a time where I have to use it. And so, this is it?’ (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Kim Hahn-Nah proceeded to ruthlessly downgrade a deity from another world to nothing more than an offspring of a female dog, while roughly scratching her once-neat hair.
“I’m not lying to you. Even I need to get a permission for a regular Invitation.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Seol shrugged his shoulders. Meeting his calm gaze, her boiling head also seemed to cool down gradually. Signing a Contract was simply a business deal. ‘Invitation’ carried a different connotation, but still, one could say it was an extension of that side of business, as well.
From that perspective, Seol managed to exceed Kim Hahn-Nah’s imaginations. He should’ve been called a real find in the rough, rather than a throwaway slave. This feeling she got right now, was as if she had been talking to a veteran who had fought on that side for many years already.
Even though she knew that couldn’t be the case.
Kim Hahn-Nah took in several more deep breaths, before switching on her phone. Before her thumb could press the Call icon, though, a powerful hesitation managed to stop her.
‘Bloody hell, just how the f*ck did I end up with an as*hole like this guy….’ (Kim Hahn-Nah)
Changing a potential Contract to an Invitation was no easy thing to do. No matter how craftily she weaved her tale, it’d be impossible to escape the questions later on. For a career-centric woman like Kim Hahn-Nah, such a blip on her record could not be tolerated.
She suddenly spoke to him, her thumb still hovering above the Call icon.
“You must agree to three conditions first.” (Kim Hahn-Nah)