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    “S-rank… you say?”

    Do-joon was the most surprised he had been so far.

    The impact of the S-rank was that immense. S-rank doesn’t simply mean a higher rank than A-rank. There’s a reason why they are praised and called masters.

    “You’re saying you’ll promote me to S-rank?”

    “No, that’s not what I meant. It’s not something that can be done just because I want it.”

    Chairman Son Chang-il shook his head.

    Unlike A-rank, which can be reached solely based on ability, the S-rank evaluation process is much more complex.

    The association, the other three masters in South Korea, and various organizations and groups judge based on ability, reputation, and achievements.

    It’s not something that can be done just because the chairman pushes for it.

    “So that’s why you mentioned support.”

    “If you want, I can provide equipment, dungeons, or even bring in dungeons from overseas. I have the connections for that much.”

    The chairman spoke proudly.

    Despite his appearance, he was a free hunter who had been active abroad in his youth. That experience led him to be appointed as the current chairman.

    To discuss a slightly different matter, there are also somewhat political reasons for this.

    Since his main field of activity was overseas, he has no connections with domestic guilds or other groups. He doesn’t have a large domestic base.

    In other words, he is a neutral figure.

    His own inclination was also moderate, and yet his skills and achievements were solid, which is why he rose to the position of chairman.

    “To become S-rank, reputation is important. In crude terms, you need to stand out to even be considered for evaluation or anything else.”

    “That’s true.”

    “Not all A-ranks are subject to evaluation. On a global scale, A-ranks are barely worth mentioning.”

    Perhaps because he had tasted foreign culture, the scale of his words was different.

    According to Do-joon’s common sense, even A-rank hunters are strong enough to be counted on one hand. There are less than 100 of them in the country.

    However, as the chairman said, from a global perspective, it’s a small country with nearly 100 talented individuals gathered.

    It made sense that not everyone who reached A-rank would be subject to evaluation.

    “For the sake of reputation, the quickest way is to accumulate eye-catching achievements. To do that, just going through domestic dungeons won’t be enough. It’s not like there are that many A-rank and S-rank gates, right?”

    “In the end, you’re saying you’ll send me to high-grade gates overseas.”

    “I can send you on a dispatch under my name as much as you want. With your outstanding skills, not many places will refuse.”

    Do-joon fell into thought. As if sensing that he was on the verge of agreeing, the chairman quickly added.

    “Constantly traveling abroad can be tiring. But if you endure that hardship for a few years, you’ll become S-rank. As a man, don’t you want to stand at the top at least once?”

    “……”

    Do-joon became lost in thought.

    The chairman’s words made sense. The idea that going abroad would be faster for building achievements, and that the association could help with that.

    If he were to go to foreign dungeons alone, there would be a mountain of troublesome issues. First, just matching with foreign dungeons would be a challenge. Then there’s the issue of cooperating with the hunters there and various other things…

    Above all, he doesn’t even know foreign languages well.

    ‘Here, Ji-ah takes care of all the bothersome administrative work and miscellaneous tasks.’

    Abroad, he would have to handle administrative procedures with the local association himself. If he were to partner with the chairman, even those aspects could be resolved.

    However…

    “In the end, it’s a story for when I have the skills to become S-rank, isn’t it?”

    “Hmm? Well, that’s true.”

    The support the chairman was talking about was ultimately just a side benefit. The most important core was his own abilities.

    To put it the other way, if he had the skills…

    “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to decline.”

    The side benefits would naturally follow.

    Although he was somewhat shocked by the mention of S-rank, the proposal itself didn’t have much merit for him. After all, he had the labyrinth.

    ‘In the first place, it’s not like the association determines S-rank anyway.’

    Rather than traveling abroad, it would be better for improving his skills to continue alternating between dungeons and the labyrinth as he was doing now.

    Plus, there was training with Kalish and playing with So-eun, which he couldn’t neglect.

    For someone with a lot to do, he didn’t find the idea of belonging to an organization appealing. Spending all day on airplanes and traveling abroad would take up a lot of his time.

    “Hmm…”

    The chairman let out a sigh at Do-joon’s refusal. He tried to persuade Do-joon again.

    “I heard you’ve rejected all guild proposals so far. Even the four major guilds were all turned down. It seems you’re reluctant to belong to an organization, is that right?”

    “That’s correct.”

    He couldn’t say the reason, but…

    “Think about it again. Of course, there are many hunters who operate as freelancers without belonging to a guild. Russia’s Master Irina and China’s Yang Yang are said to work alone. But do you think they’ve always been solo from the beginning?”

    The chairman shook his head.

    “Even they initially belonged to organizations. Through those organizations, they learned the ways of the industry, naturally built connections, and at the same time, didn’t forget to train themselves… It’s because of those days that they shine even brighter now as freelancers. There’s a big difference between someone who has been in an organization and someone who hasn’t.”

    It was a very persuasive argument.

    Not only did the chairman’s expression and tone convey sincerity, but the content itself was also convincing.

    If Do-joon had been refusing simply because he disliked organizational life, he might have been persuaded by these words.

    However, he shook his head.

    He had a clear reason for refusing.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Is that so… That’s a shame.”

    The chairman lowered his head bitterly.

    In his opinion, Do-joon was someone who would inevitably reach S-rank one day. He was confident in his ability to judge people.

    No, even if his eyes were knotholes, there wouldn’t be anyone who couldn’t recognize Do-joon’s value.

    Reaching A-rank level of skill within a year wasn’t something that could be achieved simply by awakening good skills.

    ‘That’s why I wanted to maintain the relationship.’

    The association is always short on talent. If they could recruit Do-joon now and support him fully, they thought he would become a pillar supporting the association in a few years.

    But to think he would refuse so decisively.

    Hiding his disappointment, the chairman just sipped his tea. Do-joon extended his hand to him.

    “I refused the talk about joining the association… but I look forward to working with you on the business side.”

    At those words, the chairman’s eyes lit up again.

    That’s right, it’s not the end. Even if they couldn’t become family, they could still maintain a cooperative relationship.

    “Not at all. I’m just grateful, hohoho.”

    The chairman vigorously shook Do-joon’s hand with a lively expression.

    For his age, he had quite a variety of facial expressions. Do-joon burst out laughing without thinking.

    That day’s meeting ended on a warm note.

    *

    That afternoon.

    Do-joon climbed the back mountain where he always trained.

    —You refused well. Choosing to wear a collar that’s not in your destiny just because you crave fame is not a wise decision.

    Do-joon swung his spear in the air as he stepped forward. He was doing some simple stretches before starting the main training.

    “Still, there are enough merits to being S-rank. They’re not called masters for nothing.”

    —Hmph, to become a master, you have to go through evaluations here and there? What kind of master is that!

    “Pardon?”

    Do-joon stopped thrusting and looked at Kalish.

    —A master is not someone who receives evaluations from others and looks over their shoulders. A master is a being who is praised just by being there, without having to go around proclaiming their strength. That’s what you call a master.

    Kalish went on a passionate speech. If it were him in person instead of the spear, he would have been spitting quite a bit with that tone.

    —Those evaluations and assessments or whatever… Ahem, it’s obvious what level the masters here will be even without seeing them. Don’t worry and just focus on training diligently. If you have the skills, fame will naturally follow.

    “It’s not that I’m obsessed with fame, but…”

    Still, everything Kalish said was right. Didn’t he think the same thing in front of the chairman? In the end, what’s important is one’s own ability.

    ‘If I continue to build my skills like this, I’ll be able to reach S-rank someday. There’s no need to struggle desperately to make it happen sooner.’

    That was the conclusion Do-joon reached.

    It’s not like rewards will fall from the sky just because he becomes S-rank, so there was no reason to climb tenaciously. He could enter even S-rank dungeons just by being A-rank anyway.

    So his task was set. To endlessly train without stopping.

    Do-joon grabbed the spear again.

    Threads of mana unraveled from his body. One strand, two strands… Soon, he could release up to twenty strands without difficulty.

    —By the way, you’re quite reckless. To think of tearing more mana at that moment.

    “I was desperate too. I thought if I couldn’t finish it then, we would all die.”

    —It would have been truly dangerous. You weren’t the only one there at that moment.

    Do-joon nodded. That was the reason he became desperate.

    Swoosh-!

    The spear wrapped in mana decorated the air. Just the aftermath made the mountain scream. Trees shook and the ground was dug up here and there.

    When it was ten strands, the number was simply doubled, but the power was more than that.

    —I’m surprised. Your progress up to ten strands wasn’t particularly fast. You just had an ordinary level of talent.

    “Is having talent ordinary?”

    —Of course. To be called extraordinary, you need to have the martial talent to wield the spear like your own body the moment you first grab it.

    His standards were too high.

    —Anyway, you weren’t at that level. But to think you would surpass your limits in an instant at that moment…

    “I was lucky.”

    —There’s no need to be humble. Growing in real combat, that must be your talent. Now, even twenty strands is manageable, right?

    “Yes. It’s a bit amazing too.”

    —That’s how it usually goes. It’s only hard to take a step, but once you do, it becomes easy as if it was never difficult.

    Originally, in any field, once you reach a certain level, you never grow steadily. Every step you take, a wall appears and blocks you.

    When you’re facing it, it seems like the highest and most solid wall, but once you break through and look back, that wall is nothing.

    And the result of that was the current Do-joon.

    If he were to fight that elf again, he would probably be able to win easily without struggling this time. Kalish could see that.

    Do-joon swung the spear for a while. He corrected his posture and controlled mana under Kalish’s guidance.

    It was a daily routine since he started training with Kalish.

    After sweating profusely like that, he sat down on a rock.

    —You’re doing well. I’m already looking forward to the next real combat. Hohoho.

    Do-joon chuckled at Kalish’s words, as if it were his own matter.

    ‘About that…’

    His spear technique was clearly improving. That must mean he was getting stronger.

    However, Do-joon never forgot. The fact that the foundation of all his power ultimately came from the Copy skill.

    He took out an item from his inventory.

    ‘I can’t neglect the Copy side either.’

    It was the elf’s sword he had brought back after killing Eldora.

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