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    Moreover, the ones who were causing a bigger commotion than anyone, despite saying they wanted to handle things quietly, were Han Yeong-jae and Yang Ga-eun’s group.

    – We only have five minutes. If we don’t finish within that time, this place will turn into a beehive. So, hurry up!

    Lee Do-seon’s voice was drowned out by Han Yeong-jae’s cannon fire. Every time he fired his bazooka, a one-meter-wide hole was gouged out of the pier’s surface. Yang Ga-eun, determined to stab the long-haired Esper in the neck, moved so fast she was almost invisible, while Jang Gi-jun was protecting Lee Do-seon and Yoon So-jin, and Seok Ji-ho was…

    “Since the seniors seem busy, we’ll take care of the child!”

    It seemed they were too engrossed in their hero play.

    Bang! Following Ha-gyeom, Seok Ji-ho landed on the pier and smashed the cargo container where the child was.

    ‘Don’t do anything embarrassing that you’ll regret later. Remember.’

    Clearly, he had forgotten Lee Do-seon’s warning given before they left the center. Trying to take responsibility for the most important target of the mission, despite being a rookie.

    – What are you doing, Seok Ji-ho? Are you crazy?

    Just then, Yang Ga-eun, who had captured the Esper and was pointing her spear at him, spoke. Ha-gyeom flinched but didn’t have time to think about the aftermath. He and Seok Ji-ho started inspecting the shattered container.

    Inside, they found a young girl in pajamas, curled up and unconscious, likely drugged to make her easier to transport.

    “Argh!”

    At that moment, the Esper who had been knocked down by Seok Ji-ho got back up. His unusual hairstyle, half blue and half red, caught their attention.

    “Shin Ha-gyeom…!”

    In a blink, the Esper’s shuriken was aimed directly at Ha-gyeom. But Seok Ji-ho, moving at an incredible speed, swung his blade, causing the shuriken to clash with the sword and scatter with a clang.

    – Secure the target first!

    Yang Ga-eun shouted, watching the scene. Sensing the danger, Han Yeong-jae fired his bazooka continuously in this direction, forcing the Esper to retreat. Along with a hand signal, Han Yeong-jae ordered Seok Ji-ho.

    – Carry the kid and run, you idiot…!

    Weeeee! Weeeeee!

    Finally, the sirens of Zone 0 blared loudly, having detected the commotion at the pier. The previously dark pier was suddenly illuminated as if it were midday.

    Everyone at the pier looked up at the outer wall of Zone 0 in unison.

    One second of silence.

    Yang Ga-eun quietly asked,

    – Can you do it?

    “If I can’t, I’ll die trying!”

    – You sure talk big.

    In the end, Ha-gyeom quickly calculated the situation as he watched Seok Ji-ho carrying the child on his back. The guide who was supposed to be monitoring them had forgotten to create a purification wave and was just sitting there, while Han Yeong-jae was covering the Esper. Ha-gyeom’s role was clearly to support Seok Ji-ho in moving the target.

    “Didn’t you hear? Run! I’ll create a wave for you, so just get to the boat without looking back!”

    Ha-gyeom pushed the momentarily hesitant Seok Ji-ho. Extending a wave to the boat over 800 meters away wasn’t difficult if he didn’t worry about internal injuries. Lee Do-seon and Yoon So-jin would help as well.

    Weeeee! Weeeee!

    Noticing the siren getting louder, Ha-gyeom stood his ground and expanded his wave. The once calm wave grew in intensity, causing ripples on the surface of the previously still sea.

    “Quickly…!”

    Seok Ji-ho nodded and took off with a noisy sprint. Ha-gyeom focused on the increasingly powerful energy, watching him go.

    Though it was his power, the more he used it, the harder it was to bear the immense pain that came with it.

    “Ugh…”

    Once again, an overwhelming pressure that felt like it was going to crush his body hit him. Ha-gyeom endured it with gritted teeth.

    Watching the situation unfold, Lee Do-seon spoke.

    – Don’t hold your breath, Shin Ha-gyeom.

    “…I can’t move. You know my stats. My efficiency was only 40% when we measured it this morning.”

    – I gave you advice, not permission to whine.

    As Yang Ga-eun and Han Yeong-jae’s efforts were nearing their climax, Lee Do-seon couldn’t just help Ha-gyeom alone. Sweat soon formed on Lee Do-seon’s forehead as he had to manage both sides.

    He added sternly.

    – We’ll handle things here, just keep your eyes on Seok Ji-ho.

    How could he keep an eye on someone who had already become a mere dot in the distance? However, seeing the wave nearly engulf Zone 0, Ha-gyeom felt a bit relieved.

    Bang! Thud!

    Amongst the loud impacts, the massive wave’s surface shone with an emerald hue, sparkling like the sea under sunlight on a white sandy beach.

    Since the invasion, no one had seen such a sight, even the enemy’s gaze was drawn to the wave.

    “Huff… huff…”

    Even as his veins felt like they were about to burst, Ha-gyeom kept his eyes on the scene he had created. It was clear he had done well as all his teammates shook their heads in approval.

    – He’s coughing up blood again, is he okay?

    – Leave him be, just…

    Jang Gi-jun, who had been quiet all along, pointed out the key issue, and Yoon So-jin replied.

    Around that time, Yang Ga-eun threw the Esper she was fighting into the sea. Han Yeong-jae did the same. With the guides incapacitated, the enemy Espers, now covered in blood, had a look of bewilderment in their eyes.

    As they caught their breath, the gate of Zone 0 opened. The heavy gate that had been closed for defense was now opening, signaling an imminent attack.

    – Did you see Seok Ji-ho running? Everyone, move like you mean to be at least half as determined as he is!

    Lee Do-seon, Yoon So-jin, Yang Ga-eun, and Jang Gi-jun moved as a team. With Seok Ji-ho running to protect the target, Ha-gyeom was left to cover Han Yeong-jae.

    With a heavy boom, Han Yeong-jae landed in front of Ha-gyeom, the smoke from his bazooka billowing out.

    “Ah…!”

    Of course, he didn’t bother asking if it was okay to move him. Ha-gyeom’s vision spun, and the next thing he knew, he was draped over Han Yeong-jae’s shoulder.

    Thud!

    Without a word, Han Yeong-jae leaped into the air. Unable to focus on his energy, the wave flickered dangerously.

    Ha-gyeom stared at the gaping gate of Zone 0. It was as dark and foreboding as a black hole, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away from it. Even though it seemed they should launch an all-out attack to eliminate the intruders, the gate, once opened, emitted only a suspiciously eerie breeze.

    ‘It’s time now…’

    Ha-gyeom thought secretly. In an area unknown even to his teammates, he had been waiting for this moment. Meanwhile, with just three leaps, Han Yeong-jae reached the outer wall and shuddered.

    “What the…?”

    Sensing something suspicious, Han Yeong-jae muttered abruptly. While Ha-gyeom, being a guide, couldn’t sense it, Han Yeong-jae, being an Esper, could detect even the slightest movements. Ha-gyeom felt the vibrations through Han Yeong-jae’s body and realized the time had come.

    At that moment, something sharp started moving inside the gate…!

    As nausea overcame him, Ha-gyeom’s eyes lit up.

    Indeed, it was time.

    “F*ck!”

    Just as Han Yeong-jae realized it, something thin and tough like a snake’s tongue shot out from the gate of Zone 0.

    A jet-black snare.

    Moving faster than light, it approached the two of them and in an instant, wrapped around Ha-gyeom’s neck.

    “Ugh…!”

    Ha-gyeom only realized it was a snare when he felt the choking pain around his neck. In the blink of an eye, he could no longer feel the scorching heat of Han Yeong-jae’s body, and his head rang from a violent impact against something.

    His spine might have shattered. The pain was immense.

    “Shin Ha-gyeom…!”

    Han Yeong-jae’s cry echoed in his ears multiple times. As if in free fall, Ha-gyeom quickly distanced from him, marking the end.

    Pulled by an unstoppable force, he couldn’t even spit out the blood pooling in his mouth. He tried to slip his hand inside the noose strangling his neck, but it was futile. His limbs and lungs felt paralyzed, unable to resist.

    Did it take even five seconds to be dragged into the total darkness of the gate?

    Suddenly, Ha-gyeom found himself on a floor full of protrusions. There was no smell, no temperature, no sound….

    A sharp pain, like being slashed, emanated from his lower back.

    His breath was cut off.

    …There was no other way to describe it.

    * * *

    After the meeting ended, Ha-gyeom entered Kim Hye-jeong’s office and spoke before she could even open her mouth.

    “Why did you call me? If you’re going to ask me to move out again, the answer is no. I can’t do that…”

    Kim Hye-jeong, who was pulling down the blinds by the window, rubbed her ears as if his words were grating on them. She then perched on the edge of her desk, looking at Ha-gyeom with an expressionless face.

    “Don’t jump to conclusions… Who said I called you for that? Stop being noisy and sit down.”

    Still suspicious, Ha-gyeom sat in the chair at the table with a disgruntled expression. Ignoring his dissatisfaction, Kim Hye-jeong manually lowered the blinds facing the hallway, cutting off the view from outside.

    “I called you because of a mission, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t interrupt with unnecessary comments, Ha-gyeom.”

    When the word “mission” came out of Kim Hye-jeong’s mouth instead of asking him to move out, a puzzled look appeared on Ha-gyeom’s face. His energy control skills were subpar, and he had just finished his training, so what kind of task could she possibly have for him?

    “A mission?”

    “Yes, a mission. More precisely…”

    “…”

    “Shin Ha-gyeom, your solo mission.”

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