Episode 38

Living Under One Roof With Meowi (1)
6 days ago
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“…Um, Seha.”
“Hmm?”
“S-Seha said it, so I guess this must be right, but…”

Meowi fiddled with her fingers, gauging my reaction.

Her yellow pupils darted back and forth.

“C-could it be that w-we came to the wrong place… No, right? I-is this really the place for the second phase of the exam… like you said?”

Indeed, it wasn’t unreasonable for her to look puzzled.

She must be wondering why we suddenly came to an arcade.

But that’s because Meowi wasn’t a full-fledged mid-level hunter yet.

Those who have been around the block a few times would have realized it as soon as they saw it.

‘This is where it is~’ they’d say.

I smiled broadly and gently played with Meowi’s soft cat ears.

“Don’t worry. It’s definitely in here.”
“Meow…”

As we entered, what appeared was indeed the scene of a typical arcade.
A place filled with game consoles you’ve probably heard about at least once and the people who enjoy them.
And the usual chatter filled the air.

“Wow, damn… that’s insane. What? Who invited that one? Don’t tell me it’s So-hee unnie. Did she switch guys again?”
“Probably not? Isn’t she just here to hang out?”
“Whew~ That handsome Oppa over there? Wanna hang out with us?”
“Saying ‘Oppa’ when you’re an old maid! Move! I, being a year younger, should be the one talking to him!”

I’ve gotten used to it by now and just let it slide.
But it seemed that Meowi, who was standing next to me, didn’t feel the same.
Swoosh! She stepped in front of me as if to protect me.

“Meow!”

Spreading her hands and shaking her head as a no.
In her own way, she was trying her best to protect me, and it was quite adorable to watch.

“What? Is she his sister?”
“They’re not even the same species, are they?”
“Could she be… his girlfriend?”
“…She looks more like a middle schooler, no matter how you look at it, though?”

Meowi, offended by the last word, exclaimed, “Haak!”

“I-I’m an adult!”
“Little one~ You know you can’t lie to your sisters~”
“Meow!”

True to being the main tank, Meowi drew the aggro on her.

Meanwhile, I looked around.

‘…It must be somewhere around here.’

Before long, I spotted a counter bar at the very corner of the arcade and mentally shouted bingo.

Uniquely, this arcade had two counter bars.

The first one, right at the entrance, properly greeted customers and guided them to games.
The second one looked like it would only attract flies.

Logically, it was an incomprehensible setup.
Why would they need two counters?

‘Well, that’s because…’

The real ‘business’ of this arcade starts through the second counter.

I approached a yawning female employee with a bored expression and spoke to her.

“…Yaaawn…“
“Excuse me?”
“Huh, what?”

The female employee, who was yawning until then, suddenly opened her eyes wide as saucers. She absentmindedly opened her mouth and wiped the drool with the back of her hand.

“…Wow, shit. This is sick.”
“…Pardon?”
“Thanks for the eye candy.”
“…Ah, you’re welcome.”
“So, what brings you here? Oh, are you looking for retro games?”

Okay. It has begun now.
I nonchalantly pointed to the bottles of alcohol displayed behind her.
Her face stiffened slightly at my gesture.

“Shall I get you a drink then?”
“Yes, I’m a bit thirsty. Do you have ginger ale?”
“No, but we do have whiskey.”
“Then I’ll have that. Two glasses.”
“Do you know the price?”
“Isn’t it 5 bills?”

At my words, the female employee nodded slightly and silently poured the drinks.
Seeing her expectant look, I didn’t hesitate to reach into my pocket and hand her a thick envelope of cash.

“Checked. Do you know the rules?”
“Yes, I’m fully aware of them.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you once you finish drinking. I’ll leave this open.”

The female employee got up and disappeared somewhere.

Just in time, Meowi, looking tired, returned to me.

Her hair was a mess, as if she had been petted by the women.

“Meow? Oh, Seha. Did you order drinks?”

Meowi sniffed the whiskey glass with a puzzled tilt of her head.

“…This is just oolong tea.”
“It’s a 15-rated game, after all; real alcohol would be a bit risky.”
“…Huh?”

I smiled and stroked Meowi’s head.
As she enjoyed the touch, murmuring ‘meow~’, she whispered softly, checking her surroundings.

“Seha… So where is this secret place? I heard it costs quite a bit. I’ll pay for everything this time. You applied for the Order, and you gave up half–”
“It’s already paid.”
“…Meow?”

I explained.
The female employee who left earlier was one of the managers of this secret place.
And the oolong tea we were drinking was proof that the transaction was completed.

“Wh-What?! You’ve already paid for this?”
“Yes.”

The entrance fee to this ‘secret’ place totaled 50 million won bills.
It was exorbitantly expensive, but fortunately, it wasn’t a one-time fee.

‘Good grief, it costs 100 million won just to increase to 3 stars?’

Though it was a high amount, it wasn’t wasted.
The value of achieving 3★ was that significant.

“…S-Seha, at least give me your account number.”

Ah, how dare a character from ‘GAL’ try to pay me?! Characters should just be grateful to be cherished by their guides.

“There’s no need. We’re in the same party, right? If I’m short on money later, you can cover for me.”
“…Okay.”

Despite her answer, Meowi’s downcast face didn’t brighten.

“Then will you do something better than money?”
“Whaaat? What is it? I’ll do it!”

This is what I was waiting for!
I eagerly reached out my hand.
I stretched out her soft cheeks with both hands, pulling them long.

“M-m-meeeoooow~ Don’t!”
“Hehehe.”

Ah, this is worth more than hundreds of millions of won.
Her squirming was so adorable that I wished time could stop.

But I had to swallow my regret at the interruption.

“Excuse me? Are you ready to come down?”

The employee, having finished preparations, waved us over.

“Ah, we’ll be right there.”
“Meow?”

Meowi and I immediately followed the female employee.


Screeeeech.

The sound of a heavily lubricated wheel turning echoed around us.
The place we entered, guided by the employee, was a shabby-looking elevator.
As she pulled the lever, it started descending with a clunking noise.

‘…How old is this thing?’

Just as I worried about a possible fall.
We soon arrived underground.

“…Wow.”

Meowi gasped, her mouth opening in awe.

The basement was a huge white compartment, as large as a school playground.

Inside the compartment, there were partitioned personal spaces, each equipped with a sizable gaming console.

These were models rarely seen in the arcade upstairs.

Moreover, despite the vast space, there were so many people that there was a line of people waiting behind them.

But there was an even more astonishing fact.

“…All hunters.”

The place was full of superhumans who had awakened their [Status Windows] and could manipulate a power called magic.

They were wearing large armor or shields, carrying staffs or weapons, performing ridiculous dances, or engaging in 1-on-1 PVP against augmented reality opponents that appeared before them.

“Ugh… Damn it!!!”
“So embarrassing… I want to die now…”
“Ah, this game really sucks!”
“No, crazy, how the hell do you take down that boss with dual angles?”

They all had one thing in common: none of them were playing the game because they enjoyed it.
Some were in so much distress that they could cry from playing the game.

“Ah, I can’t do this anymore!”
“Hey, customer! Don’t hit the game console with a shotgun! What if it breaks?!”

‘…It’s spectacular to see.’

You might have noticed, but all of them were here to prepare for a promotion exam, just like Meowi was.
These were all special game consoles designed for the promotion exam mini-games.

“Let’s see… the little lady got ‘Dance of the Muse’. Do you see game console number 22? You can go there.”
“Thank you.”


A few minutes later.

Meowi, now dressed in light clothing, stepped onto the game console.

Ziiing! A vigorous female voice shouted, ‘READY 3, 2, 1’.

“S-Seha… what do I do now?”
“Do you see the woman in the picture on the screen? Just follow her movements and step on the platforms. You should be able to roughly follow along.”
“I feel like I’m going to fail!”
“It’s okay. That’s how everyone learns.”
“Meeooow.”

Meowi made a sad face at my words.
I felt sorry for her, but I barely managed to hold back my bursting laughter at her fidgeting dance, trying to match the screen.

“Don’t laugh at me!!”
“S-sorry… Pfft!”
“Meeeoooww! Don’t laugh!!”
“Pwahahahaha!”

Meowi’s second promotion test was a dance mini-game known as [Dancer’s Dance].

To be more precise, it was a compilation of those short trendy dances from platforms like XTube or XTalk.

It was a sort of talent show where you would step on the upcoming panels and move according to the precise rhythm and beat, following the set choreography.

After practicing hard here, they would have to enter a designated place called the ‘Floor’, dance, and score passing marks, then they would pass the test.

‘It still seems ridiculous, no matter how many times I see it.’

It might seem obvious, but…
The use of this mini-game for the promotion test was highly divisive among the Supervisors.

No, almost all of them cursed at the GMs and demanded a change in the testing method.

It made no sense that such a noble process of ranking up was reduced to this ridiculous mini-game.

However, at the first anniversary Q&A, a man who called himself the ‘Development Team Leader’ made a remark that silenced everyone for sure.

―Now it’s time for questions from the Supervisors. Uh… a mini-game for promotion… no matter how I think about it, it’s not convincing. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to open up a stronger boss or a special trial to raise the ranks?

Looking at the Supervisors with an expression that screamed how pathetic they were, the Development Team Leader said,

―…Then it wouldn’t be cute, would it?
―…What? You mean to say that’s why you included it?
―Of course, we added it because our characters are cute. Honestly, it brought out the dad smile in us, didn’t it? Don’t you agree?

Indeed.

They had anticipated it, but…

The operators, every single one of them, were out of their minds.

Yet, at the same time, I deeply empathized with their thoughts.

Ultimately, the essence of ‘GAL’ was to chew, tear, taste, and enjoy the adorably cute aspects of the characters.

In that sense, this mini-game was ridiculous, but a truly brilliant choice.

“Meow, meow, meeeooow…”
“Meowi. Lift your left leg higher to the side.”
“Meeeooow!”

Then, here’s where one might wonder…
The mini-game is understandable.
But why the need for a code word and even paying money just for a console game? That’s the question to be asked.

This would become clear when you focus on the fact that this was a society where ‘GAL’ had become reality.

All these gaming devices you see right now, strictly speaking, were precious items that amplify a hunter’s ‘power.’

‘…It can’t be helped then.’

If you failed once, you had to suck your thumb for at least half a year.
If you were a hunter, you would have no choice but to use them.

Thus, these promotional mini-games were commonly seen by the higher-ups, hunters who have secured a certain position and power, and the [Clans] formed by such hunters, as items that make them feel threatened.

Because you never know when a talented newcomer might rise and push them out.

So, about 5 years ago.

Despite numerous objections, they eventually passed a crazy law to regulate these gaming devices under their own surveillance, called ‘Strict Management.’

Ah, just as a side thing, it was said that the [Four Great Clans], who held the strongest power, were actually opposed to it.

Perhaps they already had enough power and were trying to win over public sentiment, but let’s move on from that topic for now.

Anyway, this allowed for the provision of a platform to recruit any promising talents that emerged, which in turn led to various social issues.

Therefore, dancing and practicing in the regular facilities they created were dangerous.

‘…If unlucky, the status window information of Meowi and mine might be exposed.’

This was possible because of a sudden ‘Break Out occurrence’ that killed many politicians who could have prevented this… An unnecessary background, but let’s move on.

In the end, the groups that were pushed out of power started to secretly operate judicial facilities.

Excluding the [Four Major Clans], other [Clans] were aware that such places existed.

It was too much even for themselves, and they hesitated to step forward because they could face backlash if they rashly stepped forward, given the poor public sentiment, so it was due to the considerations of those adults who didn’t want to get involved.

‘…I’ve spoken at length about this.’

Therefore, this secret code was for meeting only those who could truly be trusted.

A firm guarantee of secrecy, pledged on the ‘Origin of Oath,’ was necessary to obtain it.

But I didn’t do it.
So, how did I come to know about this place?

―…There’s a place you should visit; it might help. Just say the passphrase written on the paper below. Look at it once and immediately burn it.
―Thank you, Miss Hyeja.
―But remember… you know it, right? Cameras… take them, okay? Our Meowi needs to be recorded. Okay?
―Of course!

Well, I solved it through connections.

Shortly after, the long-awaited highlight of Meowi’s dance unfolded.

The most crucial and longest-lasting core pose of the promotion exam!

The woman on the screen raised her arms and grabbed the back of her head.

She brought her legs together and started to dynamically shake her waist.

“Meow, Meow, ah… ah… ah? Ah?!”

Not only her pelvis but also her chest swayed in a distinctly obscene manner, causing Meowi’s face to turn bright red.

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