The Main Characters That Only I Know Chapter 26

Chapter 26

[Paekhwa Management]

Amongst the various management companies with all sorts of names, there was one that didn’t seem to stand out in any particular way, but to me, it was different.

Nostalgic and yet something I would prefer to forget.

Such was the contradictory sentiment evoked by this name.

“We’re here.”

“Eh? This is the place you were keeping an eye on?”

“Yes. Let’s go up.”

I led Kang Hye-rim towards the office of Paekhwa Management. It was located on the second floor, and the entrance to the office was small and shabby. I assumed that it wouldn’t be spacious inside either. With dozens of management companies packed tight like honeycombs in this large building, I didn’t have high expectations.

Knock, knock.

“Is anyone there?”

As I knocked on the door, I could hear someone stirring inside.

“Slurp– Just, just a moment!”

I wasn’t sure what they were eating, but I heard hurried slurping and bustling noises from within. Kang Hye-rim and I exchanged a glance before turning our attention back to the firmly closed door.

After about five minutes, during which it seemed a great commotion unfolded inside, all seemed to be in order as the previously closed door now opened.

“Who is it?”

Peeking out from the slightly ajar door was a young-looking woman with a bob cut that just grazed her shoulders. Her eyes were large and round. There were remnants of food around her mouth – likely from eating ramen – but she seemed unaware of it.

What surprised me more than her somewhat clueless and unsophisticated appearance was that she looked almost unchanged from how I remembered her.

‘No, the atmosphere is definitely different from back then.’

I had met her a few years after the apocalypse had begun. While her outward appearance was similar to back then, the vibe she emitted was significantly different. The woman I knew never had such an air-headed expression.

‘Well, back then she had been through all sorts of harsh experiences, so it makes sense she would be different now.’

Standing idly by was not particularly courteous, so I greeted her with a gentle smile.

“Good day. Is this Paekhwa Management?”

“Yes. But um, may I ask what brings you here?”

She asked with a voice mixed with wariness and anticipation. Her eyes were more on Kang Hye-rim beside me than on me. She had identified Kang Hye-rim as a collector at a glance.

I nodded as if to meet her expectations.

“That’s right. Our collector here is looking for management.”

“You’ve come to the right place!”

The half-open door now swung wide open. Kang Hye-rim and I followed her inside the office. It was cramped and plain as it seemed from the outside, but well-maintained and immaculate – from the office phone to the computer used for business tasks, down to the various papers.

The empty ramen cups piled in a corner… let’s pretend we didn’t see those.

We took our seats opposite each other at a table in the center of the office.

“You said you wanted to join Paekhwa Management, right? Well, let me start with the introductions. I am Baek So-ryeon, the CEO of Paekhwa Management.”

“Wow, the CEO herself.”

“…Though I’m the only one here.”

When I nodded in response, she shrank back a bit and spoke in a slightly defeated tone.

The atmosphere had become quite heavy, but Baek So-ryeon forced a smile and continued.

“But that’s okay! It’ll change in the future! Anyway, you came here because you want to make a contract with our management, right?”

“Yes. The person who wants to make a deal is her.”

I introduced Kang Hye-rim, who acknowledged with a slight nod. She seemed rather austere. Baek So-ryeon’s expression seemed to say, “Is she always like this?” I nudged Kang Hye-rim and said,

“Ms. Hye-rim, there’s no need to maintain your concept here.”

“Oh, really? Phew, that’s a relief. I’m exhausted from keeping it up all day.”

“Eh?”

Baek So-ryeon made a dumbfounded noise in response to Kang Hye-rim’s sudden change in demeanor.

Well, I couldn’t blame her for being confused. Based on appearances alone, Kang Hye-rim epitomized the ideal collector – sharp eyes that radiated intelligence and a cool demeanor that exuded an untouchable aura. It wasn’t for nothing that she was nicknamed ‘Inspector’ – all it took was for her to keep her mouth tightly shut.

Baek So-ryeon had likely been swayed by the charisma emanating from Kang Hye-rim’s appearance. She must have been thinking to herself, ‘To think such a collector would come to my office!’

I felt a bit guilty about shattering her assumptions with the harsh truth.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“It’s here or nowhere.”

“Pardon?”

Amidst our casual conversation, Baek So-ryeon interjected cautiously.

“What’s the relationship between you two if I may ask? I mean, I understand this lady is a Collector, but what about the gentleman…?”

“How do you perceive me?”

I asked playfully, as if to provoke a guess.

Pondering my question, Baek So-ryeon spoke up after a moment of thought.

“Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re a Collector. If you were, there’d be no need to introduce someone else and accompany them here. Yet, you also don’t seem to be affiliated with any other clan or management. Why do you ask?”

“And your reasoning?”

“It should be no more than four lines per paragraph…”

Until I knew how to distinguish.

“It’s as expected… Not for nothing was she seen in a favorable light in the future.”

I suddenly remembered the events of my previous life.

Baekhwa Management. Though it goes by this name now, she would later become the leader of Baekhwa Group, a massive organization leading people after the apocalypse.

She had climbed to the position of leader with her exceptional judgment, insight, and the charisma to lead others. Considering the power-dominated era that was to come, it was an extraordinary feat.

In a way, this spoke to the exceptional abilities she had shown.

And then.

I quietly surveyed Baekseoryeon and Kang Hyerim with a subdued gaze.

They had been surreptitiously studying each other since a short while ago, their curiosity apparent despite seeming like they had just met today, yet also as if they were facing a long-time friend.

To them, the situation seemed curious and bewildering, but as a third party, I knew the reason.

‘Gumhoo from the past… after the apocalypse, she was affiliated with Baekhwa Group as well.’

Of course, I had never seen Gumhoo after the apocalypse first-hand. I only had a distant, vague recollection from before the catastrophe, when she was a famous collector. However, I had heard rumors that Gumhoo was part of Baekhwa Group.

And she wasn’t the only one. There were other notable individuals known in the apocalypse who were also part of Baekhwa Group.

In the distant future, comrades who had together weathered the apocalypse had met once more, leaping across time.

If there were such a thing as fate, surely they felt some inexplicable pull towards each other.

‘It’s a good thing.’

Had they not been in sync, Baekhwa Group would not have remained so intact for so long after the apocalypse. Besides, I had visited Baekhwa Group several times and was aware of their atmosphere.

At the very least, Baekseoryeon and Kang Hyerim were good friends who got along very well.

Well, I had exchanged words with Baekseoryeon multiple times, and we were… pretty close, to say the least.

I remembered that she is currently running Baekhwa Management here because she had once shared her old stories with me.

But still.

My heart was heavy as I looked at Baekseoryeon.

There was joy in meeting her once again, but also the sorrow of knowing she didn’t remember me.

Above all, the overwhelming emotion tightening around my heart was ‘guilt.’

Seeing her alive and striving to smile brightly made the feeling grow stronger.

Because Baekseoryeon was…

‘She was murdered by Choi Doyoon.’

Not only Baekseoryeon but the entire Baekhwa Group had fallen by Choi Doyoon’s hand.

The reason was simple. Baekhwa Group had clashed with Choi Doyoon.

Despite the apocalypse, Baekhwa Group maintained their humanity and stood by the principle of working together to overcome the world’s challenges. In essence, they were a group representing justice.

Conversely, Choi Doyoon was the epitome of anarchy, a psychopath, a one-man army.

If someone hindered him, he’d kill them; if they got in his way, he’d kill them; if there was any advantage to be gained, he’d kill them.

He was like a cold-blooded killing machine with the word ‘kill’ being the sole command input and output in his mind.

In a way, the clash between Baekhwa Group and Choi Doyoon was inevitable. It was actually surprising they had managed to hold out for as long as they did.

As one of Choi Doyoon’s people, I had done my best to mediate the situation between Baekhwa Group and him. Gathering intelligence, analysis, and other miscellaneous tasks were all my responsibility.

I liked the people of Baekhwa Group; I believed they were truly necessary in this world. That’s why I became friendly with Baekseoryeon, the leader of Baekhwa Group.

When I went to prevent a fight with Choi Doyoon, Baekseoryeon had said to me:

-It’s too late. Whatever you do, relations once soured cannot be undone.

-Still…!

-Even if we pass this time, we’re bound to clash again in the near future. It’s inevitable. It’s a shame. Looks like I won’t be able to meet you anymore.

-……

-Why not leave that monster, who has lost all humanity, and come to our side? I could take good care of you if you were with us.

Was it out of kindness towards me, or because I was deemed to have retained some humanity among Choi Doyoon’s infamous team?

She often made such offers to me.

But I had turned down her proposals. Choi Doyoon was my most steadfast lifeline, and no one else even came into consideration for me.

In the end, despite my efforts, the relationship between Baekhwa Group and Choi Doyoon deteriorated to the worst. They were like oil and water, unable to mix. In the middle, all I could do was delay the inevitable but not prevent it.

And the end result was…

“Yoo Hyun, are you okay?”

“Ah.”

I was brought back to reality by Kang Hyerim’s voice.

“You’ve been zoned out for a while.”

“I’m sorry. I had something on my mind.”

“I thought you might have suddenly felt unwell. So, what will you do?”

“I’ll sign the contract. That’s what I came for.”

Baekseoryeon’s eyes shimmered with emotion at my words. Likely, she had just started her office but didn’t have visitors yet and was at a loss for what to do.

Under such circumstances, a collector who had signed with a teller suddenly arriving must have been overwhelmingly exciting for her.

‘Right. After all, it’s all in the past.’

This Baekseoryeon was different from the one I knew. However, I firmly believed in her talent and the outstanding abilities she would demonstrate in the future.

Personal sympathy may have led me here, but ultimately, I made the choice due to her capabilities.

“We shall enter into a contract with Baekhwa Management.”

“Yes! Welcome!”

She immediately accepted with open arms, without even discussing the terms, signaling her inexperience. The Baekseoryeon I knew would have approached with suspicion first.

Now that we were to coexist in the future, I asked Baekseoryeon out of curiosity, “Do you have a dream by any chance?”

“A dream?”

Despite the out-of-the-blue question, she thoughtfully replied, “Just… to earn a lot of money.”

“I see.”

So that’s why she got along so well with Kang Hyerim; their dreams were alike.

Hearing this, I couldn’t help but smile amusedly.

I was reminded once again of the old times.

-‘What will you do, Leader of Baekhwa Group?’

-We’re more than acquaintances of a day or two, just call me by my name. So what do I want to do?

-Aren’t you tired of enduring these hardships? Someday the trial will end, and the world will become a pleasant place to live again as it used to be.

-A pleasant place to live? I don’t think the world before the apocalypse was all that great either. But, if you really want to know what I’d like to do.

Back then, she had said with a decadent smile…

-Just to earn a lot of money.

True to form, that was a response I’d expect from her.



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