A Monster Who Levels Up
(This sponsored chapter is brought to you by these suave cool cats: Josh G, Caleb D, Dale B, and Gerald C. Thank you for your support!!)
It was an early Summer morning, but the temperature was already very high. Hazeline was waiting for Kim Sae-Jin's arrival in the Incheon International Airport.
"…Hey, isn't she an Elf?" (A passerby 1)
"Look at her pale skin. I think you might be right." (A passerby 2)
"Should we go and ask her?" (A passerby 1)
It was fine for her to wait, since she was the one who showed up earlier than scheduled, but still, Hazeline found it hard to endure those pointed stares of curiosity and envy thrown at her way thanks to the thick robe she happened to wear at the moment. Hell, one or two thoughtless morons lowered their line of sight and tried to take a peek at her face without holding back, even…. Just like now, with these two buffoons.
Hazeline wanted so bad to shower these clueless idiots and their ugly mugs with a deadly magic spell, but held herself back by relying on some superhuman endurance.
'…My temper has gone softer by a lot, huh.' (Hazeline)
If it was in the past, she'd have caused an incident by now. While feeling amazed by her own mellowing personality, Hazeline pulled out her phone.
- I'll be arriving there shortly. I meant to arrive there earlier, but several Paparazzi got stuck on me.
She was about to call Sae-Jin to find out where he was, only to see a text message from him sitting unopened in her phone. Hazeline typed a reply No need to rush without thinking too much and sent it, then began browsing the web.
To appease her boredom, she began messing around various portal sites, and before long, curiosity overtook her so she typed the words 'Kim Sae-Jin' in the search engine.
- Kim Sae-Jin.
One of the most-talked about persons.
The profile pic shown was of a rather cool-looking man; and the information about him popping up on the search results were good enough to slap the faces of most middle-of-the-road celebrities. There were lots of photos of him walking by the pavement, totally unaware; stories of his daily activities; and his act of kindness that no one knew about until now… he even donated close to $1 million to the orphanage he grew up in.
As she was deeply immersed in the depths of Internet, she heard a voice calling out from somewhere and so, she slightly lifted her head to look.
"Ah, my apologies. The thing is… those Paparazzi." (Sae-Jin)
A tall, leggy man wearing a pair of sunglasses was walking straight towards her direction.
Although he only wore a simple white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, his tall height and the perfect body shape brought those clothes to life, while his voice that sounded sexy no matter where it was heard caused all the attention to focus on him.
Hazeline dazedly stared at the deep smile drawn on the lips visible below the sunglasses, the kind that celebrities liked to wear, before waking up suddenly and glared at the man in a somewhat unhappy manner.
"It's fine. I only waited for twenty minutes, after all." (Hazeline)
The promised time was ten o'clock, but now, it was twenty past ten. Kim Sae-Jin could only scratch the back of his neck.
"I'm truly sorry. We got held up trying to deal with the paparazzi." (Kim Sun-Ho)
From behind Sae-Jin, Kim Sun-Ho emerged and began apologising in his stead.
"…I said, it's fine. Let's hurry and get going." (Hazeline)
Feeling awkward now, Hazeline quickly turned around and pulled her carry-on bag, heading towards the boarding gate.
The airplane that used Mana Stones as a fuel source only needed one hour to land on the city of San Francisco's International Airport. Although the trip took only one hour, thanks to time zone differences, currently it was eight i
n the evening in California. Still…
Since his Trait operated on the internal clock instead, he had quite a bit of free time. However…
- Over there!!
*SFX for countless number of camera flashes going off*
The crazy explosions of camera lights and the questions from the crowd of reporters went off as soon as Sae-Jin's traveling party left the airport's gates, and they were more than enough to make him and his group dizzy for a brief moment.
"What the?!" (Sae-Jin)
"Wha, wha, wha, what…" (Hazeline)
Compared to how Hazeline reacted, one could say Sae-Jin was much more cool-headed. Seeing the throng of welcoming (?) crowd filling up the airport, her legs continued to shake uncontrollably before she dived behind Sae-Jin and hid there.
"Mister Sae-Jin!! D, d, do something!! I, I, I, I can't, handle, th, this, you know…!!!" (Hazeline)
"Guild Master Sae-Jin!! Please look this way!! This way!" (Unnamed reporter)
"For this potion export deal, the current Vice President Skendahl of the USA made an unprecedented move and sent the words of his appreciation to the Korean government and has expressed his anticipation. What are your thoughts on…" (Unnamed reporter 2)
Hazeline looked like she might throw up at any moment now, yet these reporters, speaking in Korean somehow, continued with their 'rush'. Kim Sae-Jin helped her stand before she collapsed and signaled Kim Sun-Ho with his eyes.
"Please do not worry." (Kim Sun-Ho)
As soon as the message was received, Sun-Ho and the subordinate Mercenaries bravely stepped forward and created the exit route. As expected of former Knights, they were worth every penny, and both Sae-Jin and Hazeline faced no further troubles as they left the airport.
After that chaos, the traveling party could just barely arrive at the luxury hotel located downtown in Los Angeles. Called 'Promance', almost all the floors from the ground all the way up to the penthouse suite, were booked out. And that penthouse suite occupied the entire top floor.
"For now… looks like we'll have to form a contract with both 'Rockemend Potions' and 'Tryth Potions', or at least with one of them. They are the biggest suppliers this side, after all." (Hazeline)
Right now, Hazeline and Kim Sae-Jin were holding a business meeting on the penthouse suite.
"They are both corporations, though?" (Sae-Jin)
"But of course. The way things operate can't be the same between Korea and the States, you know." (Hazeline)
The situation of the Alchemy world in the States was rather different compared to that of South Korea.
Within the border of the comparably tiny South Korea, the small to medium Alchemy Houses took over the duty of potion supply. But in the far, far bigger US of A, two or three big corporations held exclusive rights to distribute potions in a given State. And since the political and financial muscles of these corporations were indeed powerful, the Alchemists here couldn't maintain their anonymity as much as their counterparts in South Korea.
Put simply, although this set-up was better for the wider market as a whole, it was actually more disadvantageous towards the suppliers - the Alchemists themselves. (TL: Just so you know, I do not agree with this author on this point. This set up seems far better for individual Alchemists if you ask me. But I'm not the one writing this novel, just a measly TLer, so…)
"All the proposed terms sound good so far. Minus the distribution fees, 85% of profits will be handed over to us." (Hazeline)
But Kim Sae-Jin's Guild was seemingly a 'special' exception to this rule.
The truth was, though, it wasn't just Kim Sae-Jin only; the federal government had initiated a new policy of 'looking after' their own Alchemists quite recently. And that was due to the potion drought, obviously.
A steady, near-unchanging peace had been maintained throughout the world for a long time, and that led to the lessening of the dangers inherent in Monster hunts. That, in turn, led to a decline in the demand and supply of potions. But now, with the sudden explosion of chaos caused by Monsters happening all over the globe, the demand had gone through the roof literally overnight…
But only the South Korea was able to escape this flow of events happening in the world, as its potion supply had been quite healthy for a while thanks to a certain 'genius' Alchemist's efforts - the Goblin.
"…Well, in that case… Let's meet them first and then decide." (Sae-Jin)
If it was any other businessman, he would have to carefully assess the terms offered and the people offering them, but fortunately, Sae-Jin possessed a certain trump card that allowed him to decipher the true intentions of any person he met.
Of course, no truly successful businessmen worth their salt would be completely 'innocent', as it were. But still, it would be a big help if he could pick the lesser of the evils available out there.
"Yes, let's do that. For now, it's getting late already, so get some rest for tomorrow." (Hazeline)
Hazeline unhurriedly gathered the scattered documents and then got up, heading towards the adjoining room to the right side.
As an aside, thanks to Kim Sae-Jin's Trait, it was decided that the penthouse suite would be shared between him, Kim Sun-Ho and Hazeline - but it was Hazeline who ended up with the best room there.
"Then, let's end here for today." (Sae-Jin)
As soon as Kim Sun-Ho nodded his head, Sae-Jin changed into a wolf.
However, even at this sudden transformation, Sun-Ho's expression didn't change.
The following day.
Kim Sae-Jin and Hazeline went and met the representatives from the two aforementioned corporations in turn. Both of them offered the very best terms they could afford, in order to not miss out on this chance to break through the current potion drought; and disregarding a few minor details meant to keep in check the rival influences, both contracts seemed quite profitable for Kim Sae-Jin.
Also, after the two meetings concluded, these corporations even did something wholly unnecessary and roped in a high-ranking government official from the current federal administration to stop by at the hotel and greet Sae-Jin and company, asking if there was anything he could do.
"We've already concluded talks with the Korean government. With this deal in place, the partnership between the Korean government and our side will strengthen even further." (Unnamed government official)
"..Is that so?" (Sae-Jin)
In all honesty, Sae-Jin found it a bit burdensome by the fact that a measly little potion export deal could change the future direction of a country, but the official, the Vice Minister from the Monster Affairs Ministry, continuously emphasized this point in order to inflate the importance of this deal.
"Of course. After all, you have chosen the United States of America ahead of everyone else - soon, I believe Mister President will hold a press conference and directly announce the deal to the public." (Unnamed government official)
"Keum. Right, by the way, I see that your Korean is really fluent." (Sae-Jin)
But, feeling his face getting hotter, Sae-Jin just had to change the topic. Honestly, it was rather mystifying to see a well-dressed white man speak so fluently in Korean.
"It's only a par for the course. Because of the current outbreak of all these Monster-related incidents across the world, the core interest of us at the Monster Affairs Ministry is centered around on Alchemy and weapons. Whether it's Alchemy or weapons - especially in Alchemy - there are a lot of disadvantages if one does not understand Korean." (Unnamed government official)
"…That's how it is?" (Sae-Jin)
This was probably because the website called Alchemy Page that Sae-Jin and Hazeline had co-founded, as well as various recipes and thesis written about ingredients they had began revealing publically since a while ago.
"Yes. By relying on others to translate and explain the new information appearing in real time on Alchemy Page, isn't it the same thing as voluntarily falling behind everyone else?" (Unnamed official)
On Alchemy Page, an 'Alchemist-exclusive space provided by The Monster', the Goblin Alchemist had revealed accurate information on medicinal ingredients that not many knew about, as well as recipes for painlessly concocting low to mid grade potions. Higher grade potion recipes were withheld, though, since they were trade secrets, after all.
Thanks to this, the internet-loving Alchemists migrated en masse away from the Alchemy Cafe website and found a new home in The Monster's Alchemy Page. Unlike the Alchemy Cafe which was full of gossip and back talk, the new site was filled with academic discussions regarding the art and science behind Alchemy, thus drawing in and educating many Alchemists in the process.
And now, just like what this government official was saying, many Alchemists were utilising this website not to fall behind the others. And the site had soon evolved into a world-famous academic forum where many visitors were learning the Korean language in order to make a better use of the valuable info available there.
As an aside, for some weird reason, Hazeline hated the Alchemy Cafe, so whenever she took a look at its near-instant decline into oblivion, compared to her own Alchemy Page that was growing in popularity every day, she had this content grin etched on her face.
"In that case, have you decided on the contract yet?" (Unnamed government official)
"We are still deliberating on the matter." (Hazeline)
Hazeline replied in his stead.
"By the way, both of them were trying to play some kind of trivial tricks with us, you see." (Hazeline)
Seeing the official's expression darken, Sae-Jin added his words right away.
"But since we came all the way to the States, we do plan to make this contract happen." (Sae-Jin)
"Ah, ahahaha. That's a relief to hear." (Unnamed government official)
Sae-Jin also broke out in a short laughter after witnessing the colour return to the official's face.
"Ah, that's right. If they try any other strange tricks, please do not hesitate and give me a call. Here's my card." (unnamed government official)
Seeing this earnest attitude of caring about Sae-Jin more than his own country's corporations…
"Of course. We'll give you a call." (Sae-Jin)
…Sae-Jin didn't refuse the man and received the card.
And so, all the meetings concluded by 9 in the evening.
Kim Sae-Jin, Hazeline, Kim Sun-Ho as well as other Mercenaries returned to their quarters, thinking that they might get to enjoy the remainder of their stay in this ultra-upmarket hotel as a paid-for holiday.
AM 00:00 - midnight.
Kim Sae-Jin's eyes snapped open in the middle of the night.
There was a nearly imperceptible tremor and the ominous aura. Even while feeling uncertain, his body must have sensed the approaching dangers, as his claws had extended out already.
He couldn't tell where this feelings of danger was originating from. But the instincts of the Wolf told him there was no time to spare.
He shot out from his own room and headed straight for Hazeline's.
As soon as she was woken by the shape of a wolf bursting into her room as if breaking the door down, Hazeline screamed her lungs out.
"W, w, w, what do you think you're doing right now?!"
With one hand, she pulled the blanket tightly while the other hand was getting ready to fire a magic spell. Her voice shook as she asked.
"Get, get out of here, right now!! Kkyack!! M, Mister, Sun-Ho, and what are you doing here, too?"
Before Hazeline's screams could end, even Kim Sun-Ho was rushing into her room as well.
And at the same time…
An unsettling vibration shook the entire hotel.
Instinctively, all three present turned their heads to left. They had sensed something looking at them.
And there, beyond the wall made of thick plate glass, they saw a pair of terrifyingly huge red eyeballs staring at their direction.
On that grotesquely distorted face, the only things that seemed relatively normal were those two eyes.
It was a Doo-Urk-Shi-Nee. (TL: Well, this is a sub-type of the Dokkaebi. There is no Western equivalent that I can think of - just think of a Japanese Oni crossed with the Attack on Titan's giants. And you're halfway there.)
They moved really fast. Changing back to the Human form, Sae-Jin quickly embraced Hazeline and began running to the opposite direction from the huge Monster.
"Cast the magic barrier, now!!" (Sae-Jin)
And then, while shouting at Hazeline held tight in his arms, Sae-Jin ran to the right and broke through another thick plate glass, descending hundreds of metres down to the ground.
< 30. The Right Start (3) > Fin.