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    I flipped the covers off and abruptly sat up in the bed.

    I needed to meet Mei, one of the reasons I came here today.

    ‘She owes me a favor, so she’ll join the Cradle party.’

    Since an oracle had decreed that the world would be annihilated if the Cradle wasn’t conquered, there was a high probability Mei would join the party. However, China might oppose Mei’s inclusion.

    In the novel, Taeju had tried to recruit an S-rank Chinese hunter as a party member, but it fell through due to China’s opposition.

    If they opposed even an S-rank hunter, what I intended to bring was the world’s sole SSS-rank healer – Mei.

    From China’s perspective, not only did the Cradle manifest in Korea rather than China, but if Mei were injured or killed while trying to stop it, it would be nothing but a loss for the country, so they would absolutely refuse to send her.

    However, unlike the S-rank hunter from the novel, Mei wasn’t affiliated with the Chinese authorities.

    When Chinese citizens awaken as hunters or healers, they become part of the authorities regardless.

    But Mei’s mother was Chinese while her father was American.

    She grew up in America and awakened there as well.

    Her activities in China were simply at her Chinese mother’s recommendation.

    So if Mei herself wished to go, China had no grounds to stop her.

    “I wonder where Mei is staying.”

    As I tried to get up, Taeju entered.

    That luggage seems to be mine. Did he meet Shin Sooha? But why does his expression look like that? Like he got slapped by a stranger or something?

    Hyung. The tournament has been canceled.”

    Oh, China must have made a tough decision. I expected it to be canceled, but I thought they would insist on pushing through, even having captured the Vampire Queen, considering the money spent on building the venue and hosting the event. They’re a country that could easily afford to do so.

    “The flight?”

    “The government will arrange it. An early morning flight tomorrow.”

    If it’s the government, it means Korea will provide it. Ah, so that’s why China couldn’t push through – there must have been protests from other countries.

    ‘They would raise hell if the hunters who went to other countries got caught up in a monster wave and died, especially since those gathered are rankers.’

    I nodded and rose from my seat.

    “Where are you going?”

    “Out for some air.”

    “Don’t go out. The atmosphere outside is quite hostile.”

    What reason is there for hostility? The monster wave has been dealt with, and the ranking tournament has been canceled, so everyone should be busy packing. Don’t tell me this asshole is deliberately trying to stop me from going out?

    “Are you confining me now?”

    “It’s not confinement, it’s because it’s dangerous out there. Since we’ll be leaving on an early morning flight tomorrow, just stay here until then.”

    Does this guy not know the meaning of confinement? Telling me I can’t go out and must stay in this room is the very definition of confinement.

    “I don’t want to fight with you, hyung. Especially not here. I’m already frantic as it is. I need to take care of the Sunset Guild members too. So just stay here.”

    “You don’t need to look after me, do you? I’m registered as Shin Sooha Guild Leader’s escort, after all.”

    “That’s been canceled. Shin Sooha Guild Leader canceled your escort registration, so you’re basically an illegal immigrant now. So stay here.”

    What a load of bullshit. An escort registration isn’t some post-it note that can be slapped on and ripped off. Does it even make sense that it can be canceled like that?

    Even if it’s Shin Sooha, I know that’s an impossibility.

    “Hyung. Let’s talk again after we return home.”

    Since I didn’t respond, Taeju let out a sigh and began packing his luggage. Unlike me, who only stayed for two days, Taeju had to pack for his ten-day stay, so he had more belongings to gather.

    While watching Taeju move busily, I slipped into the bathroom and opened the window.

    “Salt. You saw Mei, right?”

    “Ppi.”

    “Find out which room she’s staying in and come back.”

    “Ppi.”

    With an affirmative response, Salt flew out the window.

    “Hyung, what are you doing?”

    Taeju, who had conveniently stepped outside, received a dismissive wave from me.

    “Salt wanted to fly around, so I opened the window.”

    “…Really?”

    He seems suspicious, but what can he do when I’m right here? He can’t even understand what Salt says.

    I shrugged my shoulders and leaned against the headboard, observing Taeju pack his luggage.

    ‘He’s quite skilled at packing.’

    For luggage, everything should be neatly stacked like Tetris pieces. Piling it up like a mountain, there’s no way it will close properly.

    Watching Taeju struggle to force it, I inwardly clicked my tongue.

    “Ppipi?”

    Found it already? That was quicker than expected.

    Acting casual, I closed the open window and received Salt with my hands.

    “You’re back already? Go fly around some more.”

    “Ppii?”

    Ignoring Salt’s questioning response, I stroked its head.

    -Drrrring

    The familiar sound of a ringtone made Taeju press down on the luggage with one hand to answer the call.

    “This is Seo Taeju speaking. Yes. Yes. Understood. I’ll head over right now.”

    After hanging up, Taeju stared intently at me.

    He needed to go out, but seemed worried I might cause trouble while he was gone.

    Unable to decide, Taeju let out a sigh and spoke.

    “I need to discuss something with the Association, so I’ll be stepping out. Don’t leave this room under any circumstances, hyung. Stay put no matter what, got it?”

    I responded with a sullen expression.

    “It’s hard for me to fight with you, hyung. So don’t go out, alright?”

    Seeming to have urgent business, Taeju left the room without waiting for an answer.

    After some time passed, I rose from my spot.

    “Salt. Which room is Mei staying in?”

    “Ppi. Ppi.”

    At the end of the same floor when looking out the window. So she’s in the opposite hallway.

    “Got it. Let’s go.”

    I placed Salt on my head and Haegum in my pocket.

    “Ppipi?”

    Salt asked if I was really going out.

    “Yeah.”

    It was obvious his claim about it being dangerous was a lie.

    He probably just wanted to confine me, thinking I looked like a lunatic. On top of that, I hadn’t agreed to stay put either.

    I grabbed the hotel room key and exited. While inside the room, I hadn’t noticed, but the hallway was bustling.

    Everyone seemed flustered by the sudden notice to return home.

    “Tsk tsk. What’s so great about fighting?”

    Perhaps it’s because I’m not from this world, but I can’t comprehend the mindset of these hunters at all. Shaking my head, I headed toward the opposite hallway, only for someone to block my path.

    Close to pure white hair, silver-white eyes.

    And a white nun’s habit.

    “…Holy Maiden?”

    “Mr. Seo Go-woon. Could you spare me a moment for a conversation?”

    Why is the Holy Maiden here? Shouldn’t she be at the sanctuary? No, that’s not the important issue right now. She wants to have a conversation? With me? Don’t tell me she heard from God?

    Looking flustered, the Holy Maiden spoke to me.

    “I assume you have many questions for God?”

    “Let’s go.”

    For a moment, Mei crossed my mind but was quickly dismissed. What mattered now was why the damn God had possessed me in this place.

    I followed the Holy Maiden as she led the way.

    Coincidentally or not, the Holy Maiden’s room was right next to Taeju’s.

    Upon entering, a bare interior was revealed.

    There was neither a bed nor furniture, only two single-seater sofas.

    “It seems you’ve arrived ahead of time?”

    “I just got here.”

    Arriving at a time like this. It means the author God knew I was alone.

    For some reason, it felt dirty, like I was being toyed with in the palm of God’s hand.

    “Please, have a seat.”

    “Hah.”

    Suppressing the foul feeling, I sat on the single-seater sofa.

    “So then. Let’s have an open and honest conversation. You know this body’s  been possessed, right?”

    The Holy Maiden nodded.

    “Why am I in this body? I was satisfied with my life and had no intention of even looking at this kind of vulgar detective novel. It’s not entertaining, not moving, just a dirty novel that leaves a foul taste. Why did I have to be possessed in a novel like this? Tell me, what did God whisper to make this happen?”

    “I have nothing I can tell you.”

    Nothing you can tell me? Bullshit. You call me here for a conversation and then say you have nothing to say? Does that make any sense?

    “Are you joking?”

    The Holy Maiden extended her hand.

    “Speak directly. God wishes to converse with you.”

    Seeing the Holy Maiden’s hand made me suddenly skeptical. In the novel, the Holy Maiden displayed healing powers greater than even healers, but due to God’s unwillingness, the annihilation cultists only grew more rampant, and in the end, she never attended the Great Dungeon. Moreover, God was said to only speak through the Holy Maiden, never directly to anyone else.

    Yet now God wishes to speak directly?

    “It seems you don’t wish to return to your original world?”

    “What kind of nonsense is that?”

    “Why? Have you found this place more comfortable upon reflection? Are you developing a desire to settle here?”

    “Just because one’s mouth is open doesn’t mean words should be spoken so carelessly.”

    I waved off the Holy Maiden’s extended hand.

    “If you truly wish to return, take my hand. God will bestow an answer upon you.”

    I firmly grasped the pale hand. At that moment, it felt as if the world spun a full circle around me.

    ***

    A pure white space, empty of anything.

    No matter how much I looked around, all I could see was white. There were no walls or sky visible.

    Is this the space where God resides?

    “Hey. God, come out.”

    Whether due to the vastness of the space or because it was God’s domain, my voice did not echo.

    “Come out, I said! If you called someone here for a conversation, you should show up, goddammit!”

    『You called?』

    The white space trembled, and a genderless voice resonated in my mind.

    A voice that sounded neither entirely masculine nor feminine, neither childlike nor elderly.

    “Why am I possessing him? Why the hell did it have to be me?”

    『Is that what you’re curious about?』

    “Yeah. Can a God really just toy with a person’s life like this? I didn’t ask to be a possessor! Why did you arbitrarily make me one?”

    『I have been observing your actions.』

    “Ah, I see. Didn’t like what you saw? So you came to warn me like this?”

    God did not respond. Fucking hell, if you’re a God, at least don’t blatantly ignore someone speaking to you.

    “Hey, God. Just send me back. Think of it all as a dream and wipe my memory if you have to, but send me back. I didn’t ask for any of this nonsense. Wasn’t I going to conquer the Tower and the Cradle just to meet you anyway? Now that I’ve met you, there’s no need to conquer the Cradle. So send me back. Send me back to my original world right now!”

    『This is not a novel, but the real world. Did you not hear it through the wisdom seahorse?』

    “What does that matter? Send me back, I said. I’m going back to my world!”

    『Once everything concludes, it shall unfold as I desire.』

    Something warm touched my forehead. Before I could reach out and grasp it, the world shifted once more.

    The empty white space vanished, and the Holy Maiden came into view before me.

    “Fucking hell.”

    I grabbed the Holy Maiden’s collar and pulled her toward me. Despite the sudden action, her expression did not change in the slightest.

    I growled at the Holy Maiden.

    “What the hell is this?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “What does this author God want? Why the fuck did you possess me in this goddamn thing?”

    Even as I spat out the words, the Holy Maiden’s expression remained serene. As if she already knew I would react this way after conversing with God.

    “God’s desire is a single thing – for this world not to crumble.”

    “Then why did you possess me to do it?! If you’re God, can’t you just do it yourself?”

    “It is difficult for God to intervene directly, you see.”

    “What a load of bullshit. Possessing a person living peacefully in another world isn’t intervention? Why the hell did it have to be me?! I’m not the only one who read that nonsensical story, am I? Then why the hell did it have to be me?”

    Fucking hell. Now she’s not even answering, just keeping her mouth shut. You call me here for a conversation and this is a conversation? A goddamn notification? Bullshit. Shitty God. Shitty Holy Maiden.

    I shoved the Holy Maiden away and rose from the sofa.

    “Are you truly certain you wish to return?”

    I turned to face the Holy Maiden, then exited the room.

    Fucking hell. Is that even a question right now? If the Holy Maiden wasn’t just a human subordinate to God, I would’ve decked her, no questions asked.

    “Ah, fuck. This feels so goddamn dirty.”

    “Huh? Hunter Seo Go-woon? Why is Hunter Seo Go-woon here?”

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