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    If I had known it would come to this, I should have smoked cigarettes, pulled all-nighters more often, and ruined my lungs and eyesight while I was alive. So that even if someone tried to buy my organs, they’d say, “This guy’s no good, is he?”

    My current body was in top condition for the black market organ trade. I did it for my own good, but it only ended up benefiting others.

    Blink. Blink.

    After regaining consciousness, my vision flickered amidst the regret that followed. It was like a lamp running out of oil.

    I tried to gather my wits and move my body, but my hands and feet rattled in front of my blurry eyes. Upon checking, I found that my hands and feet were tightly tied to the chair. My mouth must have been taped shut too, as I felt stuffy and frowned. It was undeniably a scene of kidnapping and confinement.

    Anyway, since I had been kidnapped, I thought I would inevitably find myself on a shrimp fishing boat when I opened my eyes, but fortunately, I didn’t hear any sounds of waves.

    Instead, a strange man was sitting in front of me.

    A man holding pliers with deep bloodstains.

    A sudden chill ran through my entire body.

    In a brief moment, dozens of crime thriller movies I had seen flashed through my mind. A scene from a movie I had watched without much interest was unfolding right before me.

    Trying to turn my head away from the weapon that captivated my gaze, making my soul shudder, I looked straight ahead. The man’s face, which I couldn’t see properly while distracted by the pliers, finally fell into focus at the end of my sight.

    ‘……’

    If it weren’t for the fact that I had been kidnapped and the person in front of me was the kidnapper, I would have let out a short gasp.

    Although slightly pressed down by the hood, it wasn’t a face that could be hidden by that alone. His eyes were raised like a cat’s, his skin as white as someone who rarely saw the sun, and his black pupils had a subtle hint of blue, with a beauty mark under his eyes.

    Overall, his features were pretty and delicate. Even though he clearly had the same eyes, nose, and mouth as me, his unique aura made him feel strangely foreign.

    Forgetting that he was a kidnapper, I stared at his face, feeling a familiar sensation. The energy emanating from him was quite familiar. It wasn’t an energy I could easily forget, so I instantly realized who the man in front of me was.

    It was that man.

    The man I had seen at the center, the one who had his face covered with a mask and sunglasses.

    I couldn’t match him right away since I had never seen his bare face, but his energy made it clear.

    So the feeling that our eyes had met back then wasn’t just my imagination.

    Luck isn’t on my side.

    I should have immediately run out of the center and gone home instead of thinking lightly of it.

    I blamed myself for causing this mess by dismissing it as a misunderstanding and finishing all my business. My ominous premonitions had always been frighteningly accurate, yet I made a foolish mistake.

    I was curious about the face beneath the mask, but I didn’t want to find out this way. It was an unwanted reunion, so Geon-joo, with eyes wide open, gathered his wits. His mind was in turmoil, but there was no time to dwell on the confusion. He had to find out why he was kidnapped before being harmed.

    Whatever the reason for kidnapping me, someone with no connection to crime, one thing was certain—they had business with me, seeing as they didn’t kill me right away.

    I didn’t particularly want to live long, but I still didn’t want to die at the tender age of twenty-two. It would have been less unfair if I hadn’t even gone to the army, but I had been discharged just six months ago. I had awakened and taken a leave of absence from school a few days ago, thinking I’d make some proper money.

    I didn’t believe in the existence of ghosts, but if I died like this, I wouldn’t even be able to ascend to heaven out of the unfairness.

    If I handled the situation well, they might let me live even after their business was done.

    They say if you enter a tiger’s den with a clear head, you’ll survive. I waited for the kidnapper to speak, feeling like I was daring him to come at me, but the words uttered by the man, who exuded a dangerous energy, were unexpected.

    ‘Pretty boy.’

    My firmly established resolve crumbled in an instant. I was taken aback by that, and then again by the man’s reason for kidnapping me.

    ‘Want to work under me?’

    Or you can die, whatever.

    He said it nonchalantly, as if he hadn’t just kidnapped me. As he spoke, he lightly swung the pliers, and his behavior felt like it was implying that he could kill the likes of me whenever he wanted if he felt like it.

    And it was true.

    What resistance could I put up with my hands and feet restrained?

    Even if I had awakened as a B-rank hunter and become far stronger than others, that only applied to awakeners of lower rank than me and ordinary people.

    The man before me was clearly a high-rank hunter.

    One very accustomed to murder, at that.

    The man’s voice, telling me to die if I didn’t want to work under him, echoed briefly in my ears, making me flinch as my hands were tied behind the chair. I tried moving them just in case, but they were so tightly bound that even slightly twisting my wrists made my skin sting and ache.

    Realizing there was no escape, I mulled over the man’s words. From the way he told me to work under him, it seemed he was running some kind of organization.

    Was it a syndicate?

    Judging by the burly man next to him calling him “hyung-nim,” it seemed like a gang. Or maybe it was some kind of mafia that smuggled drugs. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t a clean organization.

    How could it be a good organization when they seemed so used to kidnapping and killing people?

    Strictly speaking, it was as good as being told to become a criminal. Seeing no way out, I observed the man’s reaction. He seemed to belatedly realize that my mouth was covered and told the man beside him to untie me.

    The tape was ripped off by a rough hand. It must have been on for quite a long time, as the area around my lips felt numb.

    Only after my respiratory system was freed did I realize I had been short of breath. My breathing instinctively grew louder. I inhaled deeply, my chest swelling, then slowly exhaled, and the man sent me a persistent gaze as if telling me to answer now.

    Click.

    The weapon in his hand moved once more. It seemed like a signal that he would smash my head if I gave an answer he didn’t like.

    Showing a frightened attitude would be no different from offering my body to be torn apart, so I calmed my pounding heart. As the silent confrontation dragged on, the man’s eyes narrowed.

    Feeling like I couldn’t delay any longer, I tried not to seem too hasty and, after a brief pause, asked him to untie my remaining hands and feet. The man readily untied the ropes, as if daring me to struggle if I wanted to.

    He untied me so easily that it dampened my will to resist. When he asked in a leisurely voice if I was ready to answer now, I held back an empty laugh.

    What was the point of waiting for my answer?

    If I refused, I would die here, beaten by the pliers.

    It was a question with an obvious answer. Yet he demanded an answer from me, so I had no choice but to consider it as a deception. Was it some kind of twisted hobby? I wondered.

    For a brief moment, impatience flickered across the man’s face. If I had blinked, I might have missed it—it was only for a fleeting instant, but I caught it because my eyes were wide open.

    Impatience, you say.

    Why?

    The thoughts that had rapidly turned even when I was knocked out by a heavy blow to the head accelerated once again. Geon-joo, who had reviewed the attitude of the kidnappers toward him since regaining consciousness, bit his lip hard after much contemplation, arriving at a single hypothesis.

    To keep from laughing.

    It wasn’t a laugh of joy or amusement. It was closer to an empty chuckle that burst out from absurdity and doubt.

    Why?

    A huge question mark seemed to be etched in his mind. Unable to understand, he looked at the man, who had been waiting for his answer all along and suddenly narrowed his eyes as if gauging something.

    ‘What’s your objective?’

    He asked, harboring the hypothesis that had occurred to him, and a ridiculous answer of talent acquisition came back.

    He instinctively knew.

    That wasn’t the objective, but merely a means to achieve some other objective.

    What he needed to find out was the man’s true objective, so he opened his mouth again and engaged in conversation several times. When he answered that he would join the guild, he saw the man subtly relax. It was a reaction that reinforced his suspicion.

    And yet he claims talent acquisition is the sole objective?

    He was well aware that he was more outstanding than others. The manager at the Awakener Registration Center kept praising him whenever there was a chance, and his other awakened friends also said his growth was fast. However, that was only in comparison to new awakeners.

    Who would believe that the leader of a massive guild would personally come to recruit someone who had awakened only seven days ago?

    Moreover, it was the Night Rats Guild.

    The notorious criminal guild, Bat, which was on people’s lips every other day.

    There was no way recruitment alone was the objective.

    There was something more important.

    Something that made even the leader of that Night Rats Guild impatient.

    That unknown something stimulated his primal curiosity.

    There were two things he could be certain of.

    That man needed him.

    Therefore, he wouldn’t kill him.

    Those two things were all he had, but the intuition that guaranteed them was enough to soothe his mind, which had been unsettled by the sudden kidnapping. The mere absence of a threat to his life made his thinking more flexible, and his composure returned, allowing him to face the man more calmly.

    Kwon Sa-yoon.

    The name of the Night Rats Guild’s leader, unknown to the public.

    Just the fact that he had learned it made him feel pleased, as if he had become someone important, and gave him a sense of standing above others. He wondered how he would feel if he uncovered the real reason that man was trying to hide from him, the reason he needed him.

    If that’s what makes you desperate, could I stand as your equal by finding out that reason?

    He wasn’t particularly interested in power, but now that things had turned out this way, it piqued his curiosity. Realizing that an opportunity that wouldn’t come twice had fallen into his hands, he wanted to find out.

    The reaction the Night Rats Guild’s leader, who made the world tremble, would show when his secret was exposed to him.

    And the rewards that would follow that achievement.

    To do that, he first had to find out the purpose the man was hiding from him.

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