“What do you mean, drop the act?!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min got triggered by that, but Yi Ji-Hyuk simply looked at her and tutted grandly.
Since she was already in the full ‘fan meet-and-greet’ mode, she could only shoot him a subtle glare while smiling radiantly to everyone else.
“Do you have to be like that even in here?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“And why shouldn’t I? Isn’t this an official event?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Yeah, sure. Veeeery official.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk continued to tut away.
He just couldn’t figure out why this shorty transformed into a weird little creature when she was shooting TV shows or standing before complete strangers.
“Just how long do you think you’ll add on top by being like this?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Add what on top?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Extra time added to your remaining career, obviously. It looks to me almost on its dying legs.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“You!! Imma kill you!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min tried to pounce on him like a feral beast ready to tear him apart, but Yi Ji-Hyuk simply extended his hand, grabbed her head, and lightly pushed her away.
“There you go. Keep being yourself, will ya.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Oh, my goodness me. What was I doing?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min quickly covered her mouth and smiled in a very fakey way.
“Ohohoho~, I’m so sorry about that. This kid can be so naughty and sometimes, unfortunate scenes do occur when dealing with him.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“I, I see….” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Choi Chang-Hyuk’s expression was deeply crumpled by then.
‘They are way too freaking friendly!!’ (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Oh, dear Jesus, dear Buddha-nim….
How can that Yi Ji-Hyuk be in such a relationship with Jeong Hae-Min?
How can heavens be so uncaring like this? This is so unfair, you hear me?!
This is simply too much!! (Choi Chang-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
“How do you do?” (Seon-Mi)
Choi Seon-Mi smiled brightly. Although her face was smiling, Jeong Hae-Min didn’t miss the displeasure hidden beneath that smile.
‘Would you look at this girl?’ (Jeong Hae-Min)
She had been battling it out in the entertainment industry for over a decade. Even if you were supposed to hide your true intentions and emotions then show only a smile outwardly in wider society, nothing could even remotely come close to the entertainment industry in terms of faking it.
Jeong Hae-Min’s been so battle-hardened by now that she was no longer a veteran soldier but straight up a living legend, so of course she wouldn’t miss such obvious signs.
“Hello to you, too. It’s nice to meet you.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Ah, yes. Me too. I heard you were really busy lately, so what brings you here exactly?” (Seon-Mi)
“I wonder about that myself. I am indeed really busy, but he begged me to come and brighten up this place a little.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Yi Ji-Hyuk tilted his head in confusion.
Is she talking about me? (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
“When did I?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He reacted rather honestly just then, but Jeong Hae-Min utterly ignored him with a bright smile.
“You see? He can be so mischievous.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Aha, that’s why you’re here.” (Seon-Mi)
However, Choi Seon-Mi didn’t let go of the opening.
“By the way, what is your relationship with Ji-Hyuk? I mean, to me it looks a bit weird seeing you come to an event like this.” (Seon-Mi)
Jeong Hae-Min’s eyelashes trembled imperceptibly.
‘This girl, she’s still on it?’ (Jeong Hae-Min)
‘Why did you even show up here in the first place?’ (Seon-Mi)
Jeong Hae-Min maintained that bright smile. It was her business smile perfected through countless past encounters. Meaning, she’d not make a simple mistake of baring her emotion to a little kid before her eyes.
“Isn’t it fine for a friend to accompany him?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Is that what you think?” (Seon-Mi)
“….Ah!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min suddenly covered her mouth and formed a surprised expression.
“Ah, I’m so sorry. I was in your way, wasn’t I? I hadn’t thought about that. I’m a little clueless on matters like that, you see. In that case, I shall be on my way now.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“…..Excuse me?” (Seon-Mi)
That prompted rather vigorous and vocal reactions from the males.
“W-where are you going, Miss Hae-Min?! But, you just arrived!”
“Hey, Choi Seon-Mi! Who do you think you are, questioning Miss Hae-Min for gracing us with her presence?! Get outta way!”
“An autograph! Please!”
“Hey, get away from there!”
The sudden outpouring of criticism finally cracked Seon-Mi’s expression just a little.
‘T-this dang nine tail fox of a woman….!’ (Seon-Mi)
‘Kiddo, you’re still way too early to touch this.’ (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min smiled triumphantly and turned around while looking suitably uncomfortable.
“C-can I sit over here?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Of course, of course! Please, have a seat over here!”
“N-no, this here is more comfortable to sit! See how wide the cushion is!”
Yi Ji-Hyuk silently observed the ongoing spectacle, before opening his mouth.
“Well, this is a fine mess, alright.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
That was exactly what this was.
The atmosphere was getting weirder and weirder still.
Something or rather finally settled down within the previously-boisterous mood, but that led to everyone present to think about quite a lot of things.
For the dudes, they began sharpening their senses, hoping to figure out the reason why someone like Jeong Hae-Min listened to Yi Ji-Hyuk’s request and showed up here, while the ladies had grown very wary of her unexpected entrance to the scene.
Especially for Choi Seon-Mi, as she was practically grinding her teeth.
‘That nine tail fox of a woman!’ (Seon-Mi)
Since she was also in the same category of foxes(?), she knew the truth. That current outward appearance of Jeong Hae-Min? That was completely fake, systematically built up to look pretty to the onlookers.
Her broadcast-worthy reactions when dealing with this particular private function was causing Choi Seon-Mi endless amounts of ire, but somehow, she didn’t mind that as much.
No, what made her innards boil was the fact that the diminutive idol was sitting riiight next to Yi Ji-Hyuk.
Sure, Seon-Mi might have said some disparaging things about him, but the truth be told, she wasn’t stupid enough to not recognise how successful Yi Ji-Hyuk was. No, hang on a minute – if they were talking about the ability to judge a man’s worth, then Min Ye-Jeong’s eyes weren’t even on the same level as hers.
Out of the same-old, same-old school alumni present, Yi Ji-Hyuk was the best-positioned out of them all, whether it be his background, his current job, or well, even his character.
But then, the spot right next to him was being occupied not by her former classmates but some random tumble-weed that rolled in with the passing wind, so rather obviously, Seon-Mi’s innards continued to boil away.
What p*ssed her off even more was…
“Ah, you said you’re an NDF agent, yes?” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
“Ah, yes. I am.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Choi Chang-Hyuk’s question was answered by Jeong Hae-Min with a bright smile. That smile was basically an automated response system. Seon-Mi even began worrying about the idol’s facial muscles developing a sudden case of cramp from all that forced smile.
“Working as an entertainer must be really difficult, yet you even protect our country, too! You’re truly amazing, Miss Hae-Min!” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
“No, not at all.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min politely waved her hand around.
“I’m not an entertainer working for the NDF, but an NDF agent who received the blessing from the organisation to also have a side job as an entertainer. That’s why I’ll always be grateful when doing my job.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Ahh, as expected!” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Choi Chang-Hyuk continued to nod his head as if he wanted the whole world to know about Jeong Hae-Min’s wonderful heart.
‘That stupid dumba*s….’ (Seon-Mi)
What was he doing, busy praising Jeong Hae-Min like that in this place? That was an action of a man who still hadn’t figured out that praising her would naturally mean praising Yi Ji-Hyuk, instead.
‘You shouldn’t talk crap behind his back, then.’ (Seon-Mi)
That dude was busy saying all sorts of rubbish about Yi Ji-Hyuk when the latter was absent about a minute ago but now, he was doing things that elevated the target of his scorn to a new height. What a fool he was being right now.
“Miss Jeong Hae-Min, you’re a space/dimension related ability user, yes?” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
“Yes. I’m a teleporter.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Wow. Isn’t that, like, really rare?” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Jeong Hae-Min smiled bashfully.
“Honestly, I’m not much of a help. Ji-Hyuk and the others fight the monsters, and I’m more like a shuttle for them. Kinda like a bread shuttle, if you will.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Eii, what do you mean, you’re a shuttle.” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
“Still, it’s a nice ability to have when you’re touring. I can just zip to my destination even if it’s far away.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
It was here that Yi Ji-Hyuk decided to butt in with a less than impressed expression on his face.
“Oh, so you’re a tour shuttle, then.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I was wondering why they were letting an ahjumma participate, but I guess she has her own… Ouch?!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He jumped up in pain when a hand sneaked under the table to angrily pinch his thigh.
“Is there a bug in there or something? Did you get bitten?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“…..There’s a human-sized bug here.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Oh, my? Is it a pretty bug, then?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Urgh.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk shook his head and settled down on his chair again.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Jeong Hae-Min. I’m Jo Ji-Woong, affiliated with KSF.”
“Oh, my? You work for the KSF? Does that mean we met each other before in the past?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Technically, yes. I did see you in the distance during one of the operations.” (Jo Ji-Woong)
“Ah, I see. It’s nice to meet you.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jo Ji-Woong smiled refreshingly.
The celebrity version of Jeong Hae-Min was nice and all, but to him, every person from the NDF was the object of respect.
Of course, he’d still unhesitantly refuse without even giving it a moment’s thought when asked to join that organisation.
‘My life is important, after all.’ (Jo Ji-Woong)
If he was like Jeong Hae-Min who was a non-combat agent, then sure thing, why not – but as he was a combatant who needed to use his own body, he’d be on his one-way trip to the underworld during the very first mission by joining a hardcore organisation like the NDF.
It seemed that both Yi Ji-Hyuk and Jeong Hae-Min weren’t aware of it, but the gap between the NDF agents and none NDF agents was basically an uncrossable wall of 4 dimensions. The organisation began as a gathering of the strongest ability users in South Korea, but the difference in power initially wasn’t this great.
Which made sense considering that there wasn’t a big difference between the weakest agent in the NDF and the strongest one in the KSF who couldn’t quite cross over the line.
But now, things had drastically changed.
In the past, people loudly wondered why someone like Park Seong-Chan the Iron was qualified to join the NDF. But him utterly, completely destroying a level 4 Gate all by himself had become a stuff of legend by now.
Also the stuff of legend was his reply when people asked him for his secret boost in strength – “Why don’t you spend just one single month with Yi Ji-Hyuk?”
Jo Ji-Woong finished his greeting, stepped back, and glanced at Yi Ji-Hyuk.
‘It’s so weird, isn’t it. People know who Seo Ah-Young is, but they don’t have a clue on who Yi Ji-Hyuk is.’ (Jo Ji-Woong)
Seo Ah-Young and Yi Ji-Hyuk could no longer be compared to each other, at least according to a consensus among the ability users. Just listening to the eyewitness accounts of the NDF agents or from the other folks, would amply tell you that he was now on a realm that she couldn’t even dare to approach. Meaning, there was not a shred of doubt on who the stronger one between the two was.
But the story publicly announced to society at large was that Seo Ah-Young the Flame Witch was still the number one in South Korea.
‘Is it because he hasn’t stepped forward during the normal Gate operations?’ (Jo Ji-Woong)
If Yi Ji-Hyuk participated in the Gate defence operations and displayed scenes of him sweeping all the monsters away just like how Seo Ah-Young had done in the past, then rumours about him couldn’t be stopped even if the government tried its hardest. However, he was currently not even remotely involved in dealing with the so-called regular Gates.
And so, normal citizens had little to no avenue to learn about his existence.
The government bigwigs tried to clamp down on stories of the NDF leaking out, but how could a living, breathing human being resist spilling the beans on something that he or she knew?
Thanks to that, the stories of Yi Ji-Hyuk’s existence spread out with the KSF agents’ families as the epicentre, but honestly, he was being treated like a spooky urban legend more than anything else at the moment.
His status, in other words, was being treated differently from the likes of the officially recognised representative of South Korea, Seo Ah-Young.
‘And that’s why he’s losing out to a celebrity right now.’ (Jo Ji-Woong)
If the folks in this occasion weren’t former classmates but the KSF agents, then objectively speaking, Jeong Hae-Min wouldn’t be able to garner any attention whatsoever. Seriously now, Yi Ji-Hyuk was standing right before their eyes, so who would even care about her?
“Well, anyways. Imma use the john, okay?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk stood up from his chair, but that prompted Jeong Hae-Min to shoot up from hers as well.
“I’ll go with you.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“What the?! Why would you follow me to the toilet of all places?!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I have to. Being alone is gonna feel weird, you know.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Arghhh, gimme a freaking…!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk got seriously irritated, but he didn’t try to push away Jeong Hae-Min following after him.
And so, when the two of them opened the door and disappeared beyond it, an incredibly heavy silence descended on the venue.
“Hah….” (Min Ye-Jeong)
The one to shatter this silence was Min Ye-Jeong.
“What was that? There’s no way she’d come?” (Min Ye-Jeong)
Even if Choi Seon-Mi had ten mouths, she still wouldn’t have anything clever to say.
“You sounded so slick and educated just then, so why aren’t you saying anything now? Wowsers, this is how rumours start, isn’t it? I nearly believed it to be true, too. Isn’t it amazing, Choi Seon-Mi?” (Min Ye-Jeong)
Seon-Mi’s face was trembling uncontrollably.
Too bad for her, she just couldn’t shoot back with a retort after everything she had said already.
“That’s enough from you. Let’s be honest, what Seon-Mi said made sense, didn’t it?” Choi Chang-Hyuk)
“What is this, are you siding with her now?” (Min Ye-Jeong)
When Choi Chang-Hyuk spoke up for Seon-Mi, Min Ye-Jeong shot him a murderous glare.
“No, it’s not like I’m siding with her or anything but let’s be real here. It’s only logical to think like her. This is exactly like the sun rising up from the west when everyone says that’s not possible, so it’s not right blaming her for it, you know?” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
Min Ye-Jeong still carried an expression of disagreement.
Choi Chang-Hyuk opened his mouth, hoping to change the subject.
“By the way, what’s the real story between those two, I wonder?” (Choi Chang-Hyuk)
He said that out loud to change the subject, but that instead hit the nail in the proverbial head. The venue’s mood rapidly cooled down.
< 368. Is that a problem? -3 > Fin.
(TL: I’ve often heard people decry the “cancel culture” attacking our freedom of speech, but well, this c********** thing is turning out to be the biggest culprit of them all. Events of both entertainment and educational nature are being cancelled left, right, and centre. I don’t want to make a light of this situation, but couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the irony of it all.)
(TL: As usual, please stay safe and practice good hygiene. See you again next time.)