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    I stared at the man with a dumbfounded expression.

    His bullshit wasn’t even worth listening to. If Salt were the type to obediently hand herself over to a stranger, I would have given her to the president long ago.

    “If you hand her over quietly, I’ll at least spare your life.”

    ‘Hmm. That wording was a bit odd.’

    It’s common knowledge that Salt is my pet, and pets have a homing instinct that makes them reluctant to part from their owners. That bastard must already know that much.

    And yet, he’s saying he’ll spare my life as long as I give him Salt?

    ‘He plans to kidnap me after getting Salt.’

    If he’s going to abduct me, I’ll naturally put up a fight, and Salt could get hurt in the process. So he intends to secure Salt first before taking me.

    ‘Ha. He may look like a mere vagrant, but he uses his head more than I expected.’

    Not only did I have no intention of handing over Salt, I also didn’t want to deal with this guy. If he were an S-rank, I’d try coaxing him with the promise of purification, but judging from the electric attack just now, he’s not even S-rank. C-rank or B-rank at best.

    ‘Let’s just bail.’

    The fact that he’s going to such lengths to kidnap me, in an alley full of CCTV cameras, despite the high risk, meant there were items at the house that could stop him.

    So why bother fighting when I could simply go inside and resolve everything?

    “Alright.”

    I grabbed Salt from atop my head and bent down as if to set her on the ground. The man’s gaze followed Salt’s movements.

    “I’ll leave her here and…”

    With one hand holding Salt and the other touching the ground, I shouted.

    “[Transmute!]”

    As the ground rose up at my will, forming a wall, I dashed toward the front gate.

    Just before my hand reached the gate, I spotted a yellow electric current and hastily withdrew my hand.

    -BOOM! Crackle

    “Fuck. Tryin’ to trick me?”

    I swiftly dodged the incoming electricity.

    “Salt! Get inside!”

    As we had trained beforehand, Salt took flight like a captive bird and hid inside the pocket where Haegeum was.

    I touched the ground, blocking the rushing electric current with a wall. If my attacker were a monster, I could at least shoot it with a mana gun, but that bastard was human.

    Having already made myself thoroughly detestable to the government, even if that asshole attacked first, I could be unjustly accused of assaulting a person.

    “They said you don’t need arms and legs!”

    The man, who had climbed down from the fence, was wielding a large lightning-shaped weapon. The crackling sound seemed to indicate the weapon was charged with electricity.

    “[Transmute!]”

    A huge stone wall rose from the ground, but it crumbled under the man’s swinging weapon.

    “Damn D-rank.”

    ‘If my rank were just a bit higher, I could have withstood that weapon’s attack.’

    As I dodged the weapon aiming to sever my arm, I shouted “Transmute” once more.

    “You think you can block me with this?”

    Fuck. I wasn’t thinking that either!

    Using alchemy, I created a stone club. It was a bit heavy, but not so much that I couldn’t swing it.

    “A club? Not even a sword?”

    The man burst into laughter.

    It was only natural. Hunters typically wielded weapons like swords, spears, or whips. Using a club was unheard of.

    ‘This will do.’

    I couldn’t use a sword anyway. As long as I could swing it, a club was better than a sword with a thin blade.

    “Shall we have some fun?”

    I intercepted the man’s swinging weapon with my club. Ugh. This bastard is way too strong.

    Every time I blocked the lightning-shaped weapon, I could feel my muscles trembling.

    “Block this too.”

    The man formed a spinning electric ball in one hand and hurled it at me. Instead of dodging, I bent down and created a wall from the ground.

    “Hahaha. This is entertaining.”

    As the wall crumbled with a crunch, I charged at the bastard before he could react.

    And before throwing the club, I used Transmute to create sharp arrowheads and launched them at him.

    “You fucking-!”

    “Tch.”

    He dodged most of them, but the man, grazed here and there by the few remaining arrowheads, roared in anger. Wiping the blood from his cheek, I saw crackling electricity behind his back.

    ‘The distance. Damn it.’

    I had no intention of holding out until the bodyguards arrived in an hour. My plan was to find an opportunity and flee into the house at any time, but in the process of evading the man’s attacks, I had strayed too far from the gate.

    “Fuck. I won’t let you off easy!”

    The sky darkened in an instant. It was the phenomenon that occurred when the ultimate skill, Heaven’s Punishment, of an Electromancer, which I had heard about from Ga-eul who was interested in abilities, was activated.

    “Shit!”

    I thought he said he wouldn’t kill me! Heaven’s Punishment is lightning! How many people could survive being struck by lightning?!

    I started running frantically to escape from the man.

    -BOOM!

    A bolt of lightning struck the spot where I had been standing. The man cackled.

    “Let’s see how long you can dodge.”

    “Fuck.”

    Why does this bastard have so much mana?! Isn’t an ultimate skill supposed to deplete all mana?

    As I twisted my body to avoid the lightning, something came flying. I rolled on the ground, narrowly dodging the lightning-shaped weapon that embedded itself in the ground.

    “Squeak.”

    Salt, who must have fallen out while I was rolling, was calling to me from the ground.

    “Salt!”

    The moment I reached out toward Salt, the man, who had approached without me noticing, grasped her in his hand.

    “Is this the one? The purification bird?”

    “Chirp chirp. Squeak. Squeak.”

    I charged at the man as he examined Salt from various angles, ignoring her curses to let her go.

    “Let go!”

    “Where do you think you’re going?!”

    The man’s foot kicked my abdomen. Despite my endurance stat having increased by one stage, the breath was knocked out of me.

    ‘Fuck. This shitty body.’

    “You bastard. Making me bleed, a mere D-rank?!”

    Kicks rained down on my curled-up body. I could hear Salt’s voice calling out to me, but once the air had been forced from my lungs, my body stiffened and wouldn’t move easily.

    “Squeak squeak!”

    It was the moment I somehow managed to lift my body again and tried to dodge. With a crackling sound, my vision flashed. Even with Salt’s cry to evade, I couldn’t move and squeezed my eyes shut as I watched the lightning descend upon me.

    “Oppa!!”

    ***

    As soon as she exited the mart, Hanseong let out the breath she had been holding. Although she had gone to the store pretending to be fine, her heart couldn’t help but pound due to the many days she had spent avoiding people out of fear.

    “But still, mission accomplished.”

    She felt a sense of pride in having come to the mart alone and ordered tangerines, not accompanied by anyone else. As days like this accumulated one by one, she gained confidence that she could return to her normal self.

    ‘It’s all thanks to Oppa.’

    Thinking of Go-woon, Hanseong smiled sheepishly.

    To Hanseong, Seo Go-woon was simply her savior who had rescued her.

    It wasn’t because he had taken her out of the abandoned house or exacted revenge on her behalf.

    The greatest thing Seo Go-woon had given Hanseong was making her believe in people again.

    “I should have learned sewing.”

    As a blacksmith with deft hands, if she learned sewing, she could make clothes with a certain level of finishing, even if not on par with a Sewing Hunter. The Focus Guild Leader had advised her to learn, saying that as an SS-rank hunter herself, if she studied sewing, she might be able to craft A-rank items, if not S-rank.

    “Back then, I was too busy and didn’t feel the need to learn, but I never thought it would come back to bite me like this.”

    If she had learned at that time, she could have made not only Seo Go-woon’s clothes but also his armor.

    Furrowing her brow in regret, Hanseong took out her cell phone from her pocket.

    -Yeah, what’s up?

    “Hey. Does your guild have a Sewing Hunter?”

    -As if.

    “What kind of guild doesn’t even have a Sewing Hunter?!”

    -We don’t even have a blacksmith, so why would there be a Sewing Hunter?

    At Taeju’s words, Hanseong pursed her lips.

    She had assumed they would naturally have one, considering they were a renowned guild, but they didn’t even have a blacksmith. What kind of guild was that? It was like a neighborhood convenience store.

    “Got it. When will you be here?”

    -Just finished packing. I’ll be there soon. What about Hyung?

    “I’m at the mart, Oppa’s at home. I’m hanging up.”

    Before Taeju could say anything else, Hanseong ended the call and headed towards the house, inhaling the chilly air.

    The scent of food wafted from here and there, as if everyone was preparing dinner. Hanseong chuckled as she suddenly felt a sense of leisure and peace that she hadn’t experienced before.

    That’s when a loud explosion, out of place in the quiet neighborhood, rang out.

    “Could it be…?”

    Her body automatically started running toward the house. Arriving at the scene faster than when she had fled from the Focus Guild, there she saw Go-woon crouching on the ground and a bolt of lightning falling above his head.

    “Oppa!!”

    Without a second thought, she pulled an item from her pocket and threw it at Go-woon.

    As the item landed beside Go-woon, a blue barrier enveloped him. And the lightning struck it.

    With a deafening boom, light flashed and vanished.

    “You crazy son of a bitch!”

    Summoning a hammer, Hanseong charged at the man next to Go-woon. The mere fact that he was holding Salt was enough to know he was the one who had attacked Go-woon.

    “What the? Who’s this bitch?”

    “Who are you calling a bitch, you lunatic?!”

    Hanseong effortlessly blocked the man’s lightning-shaped weapon with her hammer and took something out of her pocket, throwing it at him.

    “Urgh.”

    As the man staggered back from the dispersing powder, Hanseong swung her hammer again.

    “You bastard, let go of our Salt!”

    The handle of the hammer elongated, and its size doubled. Even though it would appear threatening to others, the man giggled.

    “Swinging a hammer at me, an Electromancer?”

    “Idiot. You think a blacksmith’s hammer would fear a little electricity?!”

    With a whoosh, the massive hammer moved. Given its size, it should have been slow, but it flew swiftly toward the man as if a staff were being swung.

    “[Heaven’s Punishment!]”

    At the man’s shout, lightning struck the hammer from the sky, but the hammer repelled it. The man’s surprised expression was short-lived as he brought down another lightning bolt on the hammer, but it continued to deflect the electricity.

    As the man dodged the hammer, which emitted a menacing buzzing sound with each swing, the sound of hurried footsteps came from behind him.

    “Hunter Seo Go-woon!!”

    Clicking his tongue at the sound of approaching bodyguards, the man took out a Teleport Stone from his pocket.

    “Where do you think you’re running?!”

    The moment Hanseong quickly summoned a vault to retrieve a rope item, the Teleport Stone shattered with a crack.

    “No!”

    She hastily threw the rope item, but it fell to the ground without catching anything.

    “Damn it. He got away.”

    Scratching her head furiously, Hanseong turned and ran to Go-woon. He was still huddled on the ground, perhaps due to severe injuries.

    “Oppa. Are you okay?”

    Dispelling the barrier and helping Go-woon up, Hanseong frowned. Blood flowed from his forehead, and one side of his face was swollen.

    “Oh no. What do I do?”

    “Are you alright, sir?!”

    The bodyguards who had rushed over grimaced upon seeing Go-woon. It was because they had failed to protect their charge during the one-hour window they were absent.

    “To the hospital-“

    “No.”

    Go-woon waved his hand.

    “Oppa. You need to go to the hospital and get treated.”

    “What hunter goes to a hospital? I’m fine. Plus, I have potions. I can just take those. Sorry, but could you help me up?”

    At Go-woon’s words, one of the bodyguards lifted him to his feet.

    “Ugh.”

    As soon as he stood up, Go-woon let out a groan, perhaps from a kicked leg, leaving Hanseong at a loss.

    “Oppa. Did you hurt your leg too? Does it hurt a lot?”

    “It’s okay. Just help me inside the house.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Supported by the bodyguard, Go-woon entered the house and sat on the sofa. Hanseong dashed to the bathroom and returned with a wet towel.

    “Oppa. You need to wipe off the dust before taking the potion.”

    “Yeah.”

    Go-woon rubbed his face with the wet towel as if washing up. The towel soaked up dirt, dust, and blood. Even though Go-woon was the one injured, Hanseong groaned as if she were the one in pain.

    “It’s alright.”

    Setting the used towel on the floor, Go-woon took out a high-grade potion from his Bag of Holding and drank it. Immediately, the deep cuts and scratches began to heal.

    “Haegeum. Are you okay?”

    Once the painful wounds had all disappeared, Go-woon took Haegeum out of his pocket and examined her carefully. While rolling on the ground, he had been worried that Haegeum inside his pocket might get hurt.

    “I’m fine. Are you alright, Master?”

    “Yeah. I’m good. You must’ve had a hard time being stuck in the pocket.”

    “I apologize. I wanted to help, but as water and electricity are incompatible, I couldn’t assist you.”

    Go-woon chuckled.

    “It’s okay. I wasn’t even badly injured, so don’t worry about it.”

    “Oppa, I’m sorry.”

    Go-woon tilted his head at Hanseong’s sudden apology while comforting Haegeum.

    “About Salt. I tried my best to catch him, but I let him get away. I promise I’ll somehow find that bastard and get Salt back.”

    “No, it’s fine. You don’t have to do that.”

    Hanseong’s face instantly fell. She felt disheartened, thinking he didn’t trust her with the task since she had already let Salt slip away once.

    “Why are you making that face?”

    “Is it because… you don’t trust me?”

    Go-woon laughed softly. Then, stroking the head of the fidgeting Hanseong, he said,

    “It’s not that I don’t trust you. Salt is my pet, remember? Due to her homing instinct, she’ll either find her way back on her own, or if she’s trapped somewhere…”

    『Breaking news. An unidentified monster has appeared in Osan City, Gyeonggi Province, causing a commotion.』

    At the breaking news from the TV, which had been turned on before going to the mart, the gazes of Go-woon, Hanseong, and Haegeum all turned to the screen.

    『We now connect to our on-site reporter. Reporter Park Min-ji.』

    The TV screen changed.

    A bird larger than a house was flapping its enormous wings, destroying homes and buildings.

    “…Salt?”

    “Hah.”

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