Song Hyun-woo read the final report on the screen in front of them.
“Well, both Raine and Roberts made it, so we both lost a bet,” Ava said with a yawn. It was late, and all she wanted to do was go home and sleep. “Ten bucks each, so they cancel out, right?”
“Yeah,” Song Hyun-woo said. “But anyway, I’m quite impressed with Caraway’s response to her loss. It’s amazing how fast she converted her crushing disappointment into motivation.”
“I think so as well. But why is Raine Williams in her team?” Hugh asked. “His leg injury will keep him from doing anything in a team unless he can cough up the money for a healing magician’s services.”
“We’ll give him a loan or some shit for healing,” Steele said. “Two months is bullshit.”
“I’ll pay for most of it,” Song Hyun-woo said.
“Hm? Why?” Hugh asked.
“While he’s injured, he’ll keep learning Ephrian and work as a translator. He’ll probably be satisfied with how much he can make from that and never go beyond it.”
“That’s fine, isn’t it? At his current rate of improvement, he’ll probably hit 200,000 a year in just two or three years from translation. I imagine that same amount will be his limit with hunting.”
“He has the potential to do much more than that. In a few years, he might hit 400 grand a year from hunting.”
“You really think so?”
Hugh shrugged. “Alright then.”
. . . .
Edgar poured himself another glass of tequila and glanced at his phone. He had one message after another from his father, his sister, and his cousin. He had over 30 missed calls.
He felt like tossing his phone into the trash.
Fuck it, the New World has no reception. Maybe they’ll think we left early. He drank.
“Hey, what should our team do for day one?”
“I don’t know. Kill some goblins?”
“Nope, nope. You’re good with the bow, so you’re fine. But me? I’ll have to be at the front with a spear and a shield. I’m not going to fight a goblin without some more training.”
“Then there we go. Day one is training day. Maybe all the way to day seven.”
“There have to be some safer jobs, though.”
Edgar shot a glance behind him. Two guys sat right behind him, drinking whisky and chatting. Edgar felt like he’d seen them before, but he couldn’t remember where.
Did we already get our teams or some shit? Edgar wondered. He unlocked his phone and saw that he had an email from June. He opened it.
Urgh. Raine Williams. At least June’s on it. He didn’t recognize the other three people’s names.
“How tough do you think an orc is?”
“Not tough enough to live after I shoot an arrow at its face.”
“Pfft, come on. You’re not always going to have the chance to do that.”
Morons. Edgar poured the last of his tequila into his glass and drank. The kind who die in their first month.
Orcs were no joke. Edgar learned from his father how difficult it was to kill one. And they often wore stolen helmets, so the head was a bad target. The torso was just as awful, since it was often protected with a stolen gambeson and sometimes even chainmail as well. The legs were the best target.
Edgar got up. He stumbled out of the bar and headed back to the Gilman Tower. As much as he wanted to keep drinking, he had the restraint to avoid buying another bottle of tequila on the day before he left for the New World.
. . . .
What kind of bullshit is this? Does someone at Hopkins have a grudge against me? What did I do? Raine stared at the email with a frown.
“Hi Raine, your team for the next month will be composed of: you, me (yay), Edgar Roberts, Kayden Caldwell, Cecily Caraway, and Ava Wolfe.”
Meh, I won’t even be able to do any work with them anyway with my leg like this. He closed his email and started watching a video on Russian grammar.
That was how he was spending his Saturday. Studying. His mind felt numb. He wanted to take just one day off, one day to lie around and do nothing. But he was scared that if he didn’t keep on learning as fast as he could, he would spend a long time sitting around in the New World and making no money.
Eat. Study. Rehab. Eat. Study. Rehab. That was his Saturday from the moment he woke up all the way until 7:00 PM.
Then he received an email from June notifying him that he was going to have to put away his phone, his laptop, and everything else on him that contained metal the next morning.
He sent some emails to his friends, stating that he was going to be unavailable for a long while for work, and that they didn’t have to worry. Then he headed out, pulled 800 bucks out of an ATM so he wouldn’t walk around in another world with just 50 bucks in his wallet, and returned to the Gilman Tower to crash in bed early.
The next morning, the new employees got ready to leave. They grabbed their things and went down to the lowest floor of the Gilman Tower, B3, to put away their metal-bearing belongings. Raine got a wooden crutch to replace his metal one. And they each received a stuffed backpack.
“So what’s in here?” Max asked June. He patted his backpack.
“Cinnamon,” she said. “Maybe 20 pounds of it?”
“Oh, no wonder it’s kinda heavy.”
“I’m just curious, but has competition brought down its price over the years?” Raine asked.
“Nope,” June said. “We have a deal with Xiyashi and Shields.”
“Sooo...collusion?” Vick asked.
June smiled wryly. “Yup, collusion.”
There were rows and rows of lockers in front of them. Each new employee was given a specific one.
Raine put his phone and laptop inside his locker.
“Absolutely no metal, right?” Raine said. “Not even metal buttons?”
“Yup, even that vanishes,” June said.
Ah, so that’s why the uniform doesn’t need a belt. He put his slacks and his belt into his locker.
“The human body has some metals like calcium and magnesium,” Grant said, passing June his own phone. “So does going to the other side harm us?”
Even Grant had accepted that there was another world by now.
“No, no. There’s far too little metal in a person to get taken.”
“Taken? What takes the metal?” Raine asked.
June smiled wryly. “Well, it’s kind of a crazy answer that you won’t believe until you actually go to the New World.”
“I have a question,” Kayden said after he closed his locker. “Is there healing magic or anything in the New World? Like something that could heal his leg?” He gestured toward Raine.
“Yup,” June said. “It won’t be immediate or anything, especially since it’s not a recent wound. But it should speed up his healing significantly.”
What? Raine blinked. “The doctor said I’ll need two months of rehab,” he said. “So how much could magic cut that down to?”
“Maybeee...one or two weeks? That would probably be the limit.”
“What about the cost?” Raine asked. He was hoping he could afford it. He really wasn’t looking forward to two months of rehab.
“For the kind of healing I mentioned, it’s usually about 10,000 vurs, or like…8,000 dollars. But Song Hyun-woo will pay for 6,000 of it this time.”
“Woah,” Max said. “That’s either super generous or…”
“He seems like a pretty rational guy, not a saintly one,” Lukas said. “So it’s the ‘or.’”
June smiled wryly. “Well, recruiters do get three-percent of their recruits’ pay for the first seven years,” she said. “Soooo it’s kind of in their interest to make sure you do well.”
“Wait, so is the 120,000 average for the top tier after the three percent cut?” Arnett asked.
“Yup,” June said. “And you don’t have to do anything. It’s pulled out of your pay before you get the money.”
“Hey,” Kayden said to Raine. “How much disposable cash you got right now?”
“About 700,” Raine said.
“Awesome. I’ll pitch in 600 for the heal,” Kayden said.
“Then we just need two more to pitch in 350 each, and we’re good.”
“Oh, I’ll lend you 200,” June said to Raine. “Your Ephrian is great, and that’s going to be really helpful when we split up the team to do multiple requests at once.”
“I’ll also lend you 200,” Grant said. “I’m not on your team, but it’ll suck if you can’t get that leg healed up quickly.”
“I’ll pitch in 300,” Vick said. “I still have a lot of money floating around from the bonus, and I don’t need most of it.”
Raine tried to refuse, but they insisted.
“Thank you,” Raine said with a smile. “Really. I’ll pay it back as soon as I can.”
“Dude, mine’s a gift,” Vick said, passing Raine 300 dollars. “If you repay me, I’ll spend it on 300-dollars’ worth of food and give the delivery guy your address.”
Raine smiled wryly and thanked him again.
Once the new employees were done putting away their things, they were oddly taken to a room full of weight scales. Everyone had to weigh themselves first with the backpacks off and everything in their pockets out, then with the backpack and their belongings. June said it had to do with the amount of stuff one person could bring with them to the other side.
Then they went to the ground floor and rode the bus to Mount Rialis back to where they’d competed in the individual competition, the building sticking out the side of the mountain.
The new employees streamed out of the bus and entered the building.
They went down a hallway, up a flight of stairs, and into a hall with stone walls and pillars. Right in the middle of it were two steel doors, each over ten feet tall and five feet wide.
If I poke them, will they fall? Raine wondered.
There were several people in the hall who weren’t new employees, people Raine had never seen before. They stood near Song Hyun-woo and didn’t seem like Hopkins employees at all with the way they were looking around in amazement at both the hall and the people in front of them.
“Hopkins never ceases to amaze me with how much they improve this place every time,” one of them said. He was a thin man who looked no more than 40. “And this group of new people looks amazing compared to the one I saw a few years ago.”
“Yeah, it’s incredible. But I can’t stop thinking about Roa Steel. How much do you think the stock went up?” a young man wearing a blazer asked.
“I’m assuming at least 30 percent.”
“I just hope the Expansion isn’t going to mess up the trip,” a young woman in a fur coat said. She sighed. “I doubt I’ll be able to go to my house in Karlis this time.”
“At least we got the discount for the trip,” the young man said with a shrug.
So those are the rich people paying for trips to the New World. But who the fuck wants to go on a vacation to somewhere with goblins and orcs and no modern technology? Are these people idiots?
“The portal will open soon,” Song Hyun-woo said loudly to the new employees. “No matter what happens, do not panic. Just walk forward. The job may involve danger, but this part of it has none. The experienced members go in first. Then our guests. Then all of you.”
Here we go. Time to see if all of this is a sham and I’m an idiot for thinking there might really be another world.
In no more than a minute after Song Hyun-woo spoke, the steel doors in the middle of the hall flew open suddenly and silently.
Raine’s eyes widened. What the fuck?
It was pure white beyond the doors. It wasn’t light. It was just solid white.
20 people, including Ava, strode through the doors. Unlike the new employees, each one not only had a backpack but also a stuffed knapsack in their hands.
The first person who walked through the doors gradually disappeared as she touched the whiteness, as if she were sinking into it. The same thing happened to the next person. And the next.
Raine noticed that most of them looked somewhat nervous. That made him a little concerned.
Meanwhile, he heard more than a few gasps of amazement from the other new employees.
The guests went through the doors next. There were only eight of them.
Then Song Hyun-woo told the new employees to go in. Some strode in excitedly. Others shuffled in nervously.
Raine went slowly simply because of his injury. He felt a mix of curiosity, fear, and anticipation as he approached the doors.
Here we go, he thought. A new world.
He stepped through the doors.