Chapter 29. The Contract (4)

As soon as he settled down in front of the PC Room's computer, Kang Jin-Ho began setting up the mouse to how he liked it. It wasn't the same make and model as the mouse he used at home, resulting in a feeling of disharmony, but that shouldn't matter as the game's parameters were still identical.

Oh~! Something about this scene looks so professional!” Jeong In-Gyu chuckled good-naturedly.

Kang Jin-Ho responded with a relaxed grin, “Fufufu...

Heh, I guess you're serious about winning today, then! You ain't gonna mess around this time, I hope?”

“Don’t worry...”

Jeong In-Gyu was still under the impression that Kang Jin-Ho had been messing around and hadn’t taken the matches seriously the last time they were here in the PC Room. That was the only plausible explanation for the sudden catastrophic drop in Kang Jin-Ho's skill level as if he had become somebody else. People did have off days when their conditions weren't so hot, but your fundamental gaming 'sense' wouldn't just disappear overnight like that. As the old saying said, "Form is temporary, class is permanent." 

Jeong In-Gyu believed that Kang Jin-Ho wouldn't have played like a rank amateur no matter how bad his condition was, unless he was just being a troll. That line of thinking was inevitable, as Jeong In-Gyu had no idea that this 'version' of Kang Jin-Ho had been living for decades in another world.

Kang Jin-Ho smiled in satisfaction as he stared at the monitor—or, more specifically, at his rating appearing on the login screen. It said '1,700.’ He couldn't quite dig through his faint memories and recall if his past self ever reached that kind of rating. Such a high rating was only possible thanks to inner energy vitalizing his brain, leading to his literally-tireless concentration.

No wonder Kang Jin-Ho was so confident of his victory today. He glanced at Jeong In-Gyu and asked a question, “How will the teams be assigned?”

“I convinced Yeong-Wuk to come, so he will be joining us. So, me, you, and Yeong-Wuk in one team.”

“I see. Then, Tae-Ho, Min-Jae, and Yu-Min are our opponents?”

“That's right.”

Kang Jin-Ho furrowed his brow a little. “Is Yu-Min any good, I wonder? Will it be fine to make him play for the other team?”

Carelessly lumping Park Yu-Min with the other team only for them to lose could make the boy's standing with his peers even more precarious. He was unable to lift his head much in the class lately, and today might make things even worse.

"That's fine, Yeong-Wuk also sucks anyway."

Oh. No problem, then.”

Unfortunately for them, Lee Tae-Ho didn't seem to share their opinion. “Hey?! Why are we teaming up with Park Yu-Min?”

There was a certain risk to teaming up with an unproven player. Especially when they were betting on stuff—obviously, no one would be happy to get lumped with the unknown factor called Park Yu-Min at such short notice.

Jeong In-Gyu shrugged his shoulders. “In that case, you take Yeong-Wuk.”

Lee Tae-Ho glanced at Song Yeong-Wuk and let out a lengthy groan. Park Yu-Min might be an unknown, but Song Yeong-Wuk was practically at the bottom of the heap. Lee Tae-Ho sighed and turned his head toward Park Yu-Min who was making a slightly apologetic face. "Hey, Yu-Min. You know how to play this game, right?"

“Y-yeah.”

“You aren't lying, right?”

"No, I'm not. I definitely know how to play it."

"Hah..." Lee Tae-Ho shot a sharp glare at Jeong In-Gyu before sighing grandly again and returning to his seat. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that there wasn't much difference between Song Yeong-Wuk and Park Yu-Min.

Once the teams were set, Kang Jin-Ho paid close attention to the monitor. Real-Time Strategy games like Galaxy required a wholly different management skillset when switching from solo play to team battle. For today's victory, Kang Jin-Ho had been practicing not just solo matches but team battles, too.

“Let's start.”

“Got it...”

The lobby was created, and all the players joined it.

“We're playing for the PC Room fees, got that? Don't whine when you lose to us!” Lee Tae-Ho snarkily declared.

Jeong In-Gyu snorted derisively. "Deal. However, I raise you ice cream for everyone."

Lee Tae-Ho's eyes shook powerfully just then. However, a man should not retreat like a coward at this provocation! “Fine. Then, I re-raise you sodas and ramens, too.”

Huh, I guess you want to be squeezed dry to death today.”

“You can always give up if you're scared, dude.”

Jeong In-Gyu gritted his teeth. His opponents seemed to have grown a bit too cocky for their own good after winning a handful of matches the last time they were here. The best medicine to treat such arrogance was total and complete annihilation. "Dude, you sure know how to ramble on, don't ya? Let's see who will be whining later on."

Ohhh~? Would you listen to Jeong In-Gyu and his big-man talk?”

“Sure, sure. Let's begin already.”

“Let's go!”

Kang Jin-Ho clutched the mouse slightly before letting it go. Today was the time to avenge the humiliation of their last encounter. Unfortunately for him, though, he had forgotten that many things in this world wouldn’t go according to plan.

The start looked rather promising. Kang Jin-Ho speedily unleashed an early-game rush to utterly destroy Lee Tae-Ho's base. Lee Tae-Ho screamed and yelled so loud that it almost shattered the PC Room's windows as he desperately resisted, but nothing he did was effective against Kang Jin-Ho's units moving strategically.

"You attacked me with your cloaked units last time, didn't you?" Kang Jin-Ho growled, proving once more that he was a man who would never forget even the most trivial of grudges. Even though that match happened quite a while ago, he could still remember the humiliation of that day as if it happened yesterday. That was why he swore to himself that today, he would avenge every bit of humiliation he felt that day!

"Uwaaah?! Kang Jin-Ho, you bastard!"

"This isn't enough to appease my resentment!" Kang Jin-Ho finished ransacking Lee Tae-Ho's base, then immediately headed to Oh Min-Jae's with his allies in tow.

Oh Min-Jae had a front-row seat to his teammate's destruction, so he desperately fortified his base with plenty of defense towers. In the end, though, he couldn't do much against the combined three-colored rush and got mercilessly crushed.

The corners of Kang Jin-Ho's lips slowly curled up higher. All of his efforts until today were not in vain. His units moved like actual living beings to shave off and devour Oh Min-Jae's forces.

“It's over.” Kang Jin-Ho utterly annihilated Oh Min-Jae's main base and returned to the center of the map. The only one remaining was Park Yu-Min, but for some reason... He hadn't shown any of his units since the beginning of the match. He had simply stayed within his base doing his own thing, which was typical of noobs.

“I'm going to wrap this up quickly,” said Kang Jin-Ho as he leisurely led his forces to the enemy’s final stronghold.

But then, something weird happened.

A massive number of units began flooding out of Park Yu-Min's base to move toward the center of the map. Kang Jin-Ho could only dazedly stare at the screen as his blue-colored units were one-sidedly massacred by the red-colored enemy units. The difference in the firepower between the two sides was so overwhelming that Kang Jin-Ho's god-level control was instantly rendered meaningless.

'What's going on here?!'

Both sides spent the same length of time building their forces while consuming the same amount of resources, so how could there be such a huge chasm between the two?! Was Park Yu-Min playing a different game altogether? Did he hack the game or something?!

Jeong In-Gyu next to him must have thought the same thing as he nervously glanced behind him where Park Yu-Min sat—but it was pretty obvious from Park Yu-Min's monitor that he hadn't used any hacks or cheats.

But using hacks or whatever wasn't important right now as the events depicted on the monitor became chaotic to the point of being almost indecipherable. The images on the damned screen were changing and shifting seemingly every second or so.

U-urgh...” Jeong In-Gyu felt motion sickness after staring at that fast-moving monitor for a few seconds and had to shake his head slowly. And he was beginning to think that his team was in big trouble now.

Meanwhile, Kang Jin-Ho's hands were trembling nonstop. “B-but, how?!”

The combined forces of Kang Jin-Ho, Jeong In-Gyu, and Song Yeong-Wuk were being slaughtered without mercy by one man.

Huh?!

While they were all going, "Huh, huh?!" in front of their screens, Park Yu-Min directed his forces to attack Kang Jin-Ho's base and made quick work of conquering it. Kang Jin-Ho's comrades met the same fate not too long afterward, although their defeat was even swifter.

Kang Jin-Ho and his stupefied eyes shifted over to Park Yu-Min sitting on the other side. The latter smiled sheepishly without saying anything.

'What the... What is the meaning of that smile?!’

'Wait, is he being bashful right now?’

'I can still vividly picture your units flooding my screen like vicious demons, yet why do you make a face of someone who had won through sheer luck?!'

Kang Jin-Ho's figure began trembling in rage. Today... Today was supposed to be the day he would settle his grudge, so why?!

“One more match!”

“Y-yeah...”

The second match happened pretty quickly.

Kang Jin-Ho's hands moved twice as fast as before. In the previous match, he had been taking it easy for the sake of not making the match 'too difficult' for his friends, but now that he had learned what Park Yu-Min was capable of… There was definitely no time to relax! If he wasn't careful, he could end up suffering yet another humiliating defeat!

'I will not allow that to happen!'

The proverbial flames began shooting out from Kang Jin-Ho's eyes.

Defeat was not permissible. Whether it was playing games or waging war, starting one meant he must win no matter what—that was Kang Jin-Ho's philosophy and his way of life.

He produced his units as quickly as possible and rushed to Park Yu-Min's base right away. Since his opponent showed up with such a huge number of units toward the latter half of the last match, Kang Jin-Ho figured that he needed to destroy Park Yu-Min’s base as soon as possible to ensure his victory this time.

Unfortunately, the end result wasn't all that different from the last match. Kang Jin-Ho's forces trying to invade the enemy base were steadily chipped away by Park Yu-Min's eye-popping control and were eventually slaughtered without too much damage.

“...!”

And, as expected, the ensuing counter-rush easily made mincemeat out of Kang Jin-Ho's base. All he could do was just sit there with twitching cheeks and glare at his monitor.

Defeat!

Those large red letters floating up on the screen ruthlessly stabbed and ripped into Kang Jin-Ho's far-too delicate heart. He snapped his head over to Park Yu-Min and growled quietly, "Hey, Park Yu-Min."

...Hmm?

“Didn't you say you only play a little bit of this game?”

O-oh. Yeah, I just play casually every now and then, so, like...”

Oho? In that case, what does that make us, then?” Kang Jin-Ho's figure began trembling from the rage he could barely contain. “Are we a bunch of trash?”

“N-no, of course not... It's, uh, it's just that I got lucky.” Park Yu-Min replied sheepishly. The way he tried to be considerate only worsened Kang Jin-Ho's sorrow, though.

Jeong In-Gyu and the others began crowding near Park Yu-Min, not realizing that Kang Jin-Ho was in severe pain.

“Holy cow, Yu-Min! You were really great!”

E-eh? Well, uh... I was just...”

“I thought Jin-Ho was good at this game, but now that I saw you in action, he's just a public lobby noob, isn't he?”

Kang Jin-Ho's heart ached even more. And to make it worse...

"Hey, Yu-Min? Do you think you can win against Jin-Ho using only the mouse?"

Kang Jin-Ho sorrowfully glared at the ceiling. Just what was the point of all the time he spent wrestling against the computer if his revenge would end just like this?!

His so-called friends continued to praise Park Yu-Min. “With your skill level, Yu-Min, I think you can make it as a pro gamer.”

Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly walked over to Park Yu-Min's seat, snatched the latter's mouse away, and clicked on Park Yu-Min's profile icon. The rating was... 2,100.

Kang Jin-Ho's eyes nearly popped out at that. “T-two thousand...?”

Even Jeong In-Gyu cried out in shock. “What the hell?! 2,100?! H-hey, that really is on the level of a pro!”

“Holy sh*t, Yu-Min! You were this good?!”

Kang Jin-Ho's hand gripping the mouse trembled hard. Two weeks of intense practice with this game had gotten him a rating of 1,700. Considering that the rating would get progressively harder to improve the higher it was, the difference between Park Yu-Min and Kang Jin-Ho was quite literally like the difference between heaven and earth.

Kang Jin-Ho began stuttering, “Y-y-you are... pretty good at this game.”

Jeong In-Gyu watching this spectacle quietly whispered into Lee Tae-Ho's ear, “I think Jin-Ho's really pissed off?”

“Right. He might collapse from shock if we're not careful.”

The stiff-faced Kang Jin-Ho grabbed Park Yu-Min's shoulder and spoke in a resolute tone of voice, "Let's have another match."

Huh? Another one?”

“Just the two of us this time.”

“One on one? Okay, sure. Got it.” Park Yu-Min nodded and opened another lobby. “What about the map?”

"Choose whatever you want." Kang Jin-Ho returned to his seat and grabbed his mouse. His teeth were clenched hard right now. Even if their ratings differed so much, one still couldn't predict the outcome of a match.

Kang Jin-Ho simply didn't have enough time to raise his rating, that was all. Yes! Something like a measly rating would naturally climb higher the longer one played this dumb game, would it not?!

Huh? Are you two seriously gonna have a rematch?” Lee Tae-Ho asked.

“That's right.”

Urgh. We have to go first, though. We can't stay here for long, you see.”

"Okay, fine. I'll see you tomorrow, then," Kang Jin-Ho replied without looking away from his screen.

“Well, uh, you gotta give it up first, though.”

Only then did Kang Jin-Ho tear his eyes away from the screen. “Give what up?”

Lee Tae-Ho smiled awkwardly. “Money, of course.”

“...!”

"The PC Room fees, ice cream, the soda, and ramens, too... Hah... How much are they in total, anyway?"

Kang Jin-Ho's trembling hand slowly took out his wallet. The money his parents had sweat blood and sacrificed sleep to earn... was leaking out like this. This money was no mere 'money,’ yet now...!

After handing over the money to Lee Tae-Ho, Kang Jin-Ho shot an incendiary glare at Park Yu-Min. This was all that punk's fault!

"N-ng?!" Park Yu-Min flinched, confused.

Kang Jin-Ho roared, “Let's begin!”

“O-okay.”

“If I think you're going easy on me, I'm going to murder you.”

“You don't have to worry about that.”

Kang Jin-Ho settled down on his seat again and grabbed his mouse.

Just one match!

He needed to win just one, and that was it!

Kang Jin-Ho knew that the gap in their skills was too big. But his wrecked pride demanded at least one victory for it to stand back up again. That was why he gritted his teeth and madly moved his hands.

Jeong In-Gyu looked on at his friend's struggle with pity.

"...Don't give up, my friend."

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