A Monster Who Levels Up
"Will it really remain as a series of potions? It kind of looked like our honoured genius alchemist is working alone without a workshop…. Ah, but how could he meticulously craft this kind of potion all by himself? Looking at things like this, you can really feel that geniuses do exist in this world for real."
Right now, they were taking a short break from answering the endless deluge of phone calls. When the employee spoke in admiration, Hazeline let out a sigh and leered at him.
"…Uh-whew. What will I do, when even you start referring him as a genius? That’s just an empty shell of a praise tacked on the guy to make the mass media and the Knights Orders sweat extra hard for a bit. So, what d’ya mean, he’s a genius?! Just give it a rest, already. A genius, a greatest, a maestro, a virtuoso - none of those words should mix up with our profession, and neither should we try to use them."
"Eiii… But it’s all coming from the community chat room sites first. Right now, even the Alchemy Cafe is in an upheaval. They are asking if they could meet him…" (TL: a Cafe is not a physical coffee shop but an internet forum a la Discord or Reddit. Just your everyday Korean slang term…)
Feeling good in the knowledge that this great sales result would lead to fat bonuses for everyone, the male employee was chatting away in a high-enough spirit, but he calmed right down the moment he came in contact with inexplicably icy gazes. He had stepped onto a potential land mine without realising it. Seeing the sight of Hazeline lightly biting her lower lip with the corner of his eyes, the employee’s forehead broke out in drops of sweat.
"Hey, you. Are you still looking at those? Didn’t I repeatedly tell you not to waste your time in those damn gossip sites? Because that’s where the f*cked up bastards hiding behind the veil of anonymity spread around vile, baseless rumours!"
"I’m truly sorry."
The employee apologised in earnest as he knew the Manager deeply hated excuses and hasty explanations.
"Fuu… No need to apologise, instead, just go and do your job. I’ll make sure to ask what our genius alchemist’s deepest thoughts are or what the plans of his future happen to be."
The employee left her side and as soon as all signs of people around her were gone for good, Hazeline grabbed her mobile phone. She was acting complete opposite to how she’d been coldly treating her subordinate just now, her demeanor currently full of respect.
– Ring, ring.
She waited for a while, but in the end, all she got was "The person you dialled is busy…"
"He said he’s got only a home number so why isn’t he picking it up?"
Hazeline cocked an eyebrow in dissatisfaction. She’s been calling the number 10 times already, but for some reason she couldn’t even get a single answer.
– Ppiiii…. Please leave a message after the tone.
"Hello…. Sir Alchemist? This is Hazeline speaking. I’m the only person who knows this number so please relax. The reason for me calling you this time, is… I was wondering if you’d like to have a work-related dinner with me some time…"
Thanks to Alchemy, his worries over money had been solved. The reserve price for his potion per bottle was $450K US. On top of that, he had already sold 2 through the sales commissions, one for over $620K, and the other for over $530K.
Even after deducting the sales tax and the Alchemy House’
;s cut, he would still end up pocketing well over $1.3 million US. This was an amount he’d never even dreamt of having in his life. However, he also couldn’t have imagined seeing this amount leave him in one go, either.
The minimum cost of a single, unattached house located the closest to Gangwon Province’s Monster field easily exceeded $1.3 million.
At first, when he heard the amount he just couldn’t believe it but after hearing the explanations, he understood the reasoning, just a little.
The house he looked at had a garden the size of 60 pyung, (nearly 200 square metres) an underground bunker equipped with a generator, and had been "insured" with a Knights Order for a "prioritised protection" in case of Monsters’ appearance - and to top that all off, the whole building was reinforced with magic engineering to withstand assaults from Monsters of Mid Tier or lower. Hearing about all these points, even Sae-Jin ended up thinking that 1.3 million was on the cheaper side.
He returned to the cave, thinking that spending all that money at once seemed wasteful but he couldn’t chance it in an apartment complex with his condition as was, and also the issue with the time reared its ugly head while considering locations further than this, so he decided to settle in that house as soon as the money came in from the completed sale of the potions.
‘Well, that’s that, but I wonder when I’ll evolve again.’
The worries and fears he had certainly lessened with the promised income but couldn’t completely be assuaged. The core issue he had, "Can I live on as a Human?" was still there.
Now, he could maintain his Human Form for 100 minutes but really, that didn’t exactly qualify as being a human, after all…..
‘The condition needed for the evolution of the Brown Wolf to the Grey was the Minimum Reputation.’
He evolved together with the message that said about 100 people became aware of his existence. If the rest of the evolution was tied to this concept than that meant he had to deliberately expose his Grey Wolf Form to as many people as possible.
However, that was easier said than done; most would try to hunt him down the moment he showed up. Sae-Jin could only sigh out grandly.
But there wouldn’t be any changes if he stayed put like this. He’d be able to find even a sliver of hope only when he started moving his body and hit the wall head on.
‘Well, let’s avoid the Knights for now, and show up only in front of the Hunters.’
"Can we do it?"
"No problem, no problem~ No need to worry so much. It’s just a Low Tier creature with a slightly bigger body. Other Hunters are just exaggerating the truth."
One was a Mid Tier, another a low Mid Tier, and lastly, another low Mid Tier. This temporary party of three Hunters consisted of one woman and two men. The woman was full of high spirits and took the lead but the following two men had their shoulders slumped. It was as if they were being dragged along by the woman in front.
"When three Hunters gather, we can bring down any Monster! Isn’t that what you guys have said? That’s why we became companions, right?" (TL: the last line said something about being step siblings, and it didn’t make much sense to me, so companions it is until someone can suggest a better alternative. OG: 의남매 맺었잖아)
"Hey, that story is already 15 years old. And back then, we were Knights, not Hunters." (TL: this line also greatly confused me. Not sure if this guy was saying they were Knights 15 years ago, which seem quite unlikely as you will see in the next chapter, or the woman’s saying about three Hunters the previous paragraph was actually supposed to be three Knights instead and he was pointing that out.)
"Whatever, dude!! Why are you guys acting so down, anyways? If it’s a Wolf the size of a tiger, then the remains would fetch quite a nice price and if we find a mid rank Mana Stone in its heart…. you know what that means, right?"
She spoke loudly and happily while making the round coin gesture with her fingers but the dark shadows on the men’s faces showed no signs of alleviating.
There was a rumour floating around the Low Tier hunting ground of late. The insidious rumour spoke of a unique Monster prowling the area, the "Unique Grey Wolf."
The number of Hunters witnessing this tiger-sized Grey Wolf had already surpassed high tens, and after earning its nickname "Unique Grey Wolf", the various stories related to this creature had upended the mood of the Hunters Cafe. In fact, the mood had almost reached a point where TV stations might send people to investigate it. (TL: again, the Cafe here is not an actual shop, but an internet forum.)
But quite unlike any other Hunters who would have prioritised their safety first, this woman had dragged these two guys along while raising a fuss.
"I said, no problem, no problem at all~"
The unique Monster, or possibly a mutated one. The term referred to creatures that had went through changes induced by an inborn condition or acquiring something along the line, and began growing in an unnatural way until it became far stronger than all of its peers.
The famous examples included the Sabre-tooth Tigers, the Manticores - a Monster with a Human head, a lion’s body, and wings of a bat - and the Dragon Turtles.
These were top tier Monsters that even a party full of High Tier Knights would find difficult to hunt, and these creatures were usually found in the unreachable,unreachably high and remote parts of the Gangwon’s mountains where they would continue their lonely but battle-filled existences.
But to think, there was a unique Monster roaming around freely in the Low Tier hunting ground? This woman was thinking that… this was simply a stupid, unrealistic rumour that even the resident Knights tasked with combating the non-standard Monsters had found utterly laughable.
But the two men thought differently. A Grey Wolf with a size of a tiger. They definitely saw its bright and fearsome eyes. Not personally, of course, but online in the Hunters Cafe.
Its amazing figure standing proudly and staring at the Hunters with the full moon serving as its backdrop, made them stunned at its gorgeousness rather than stunned into fear, made them sense its nobleness rather than its savagery.
"You also saw that, right?"
"I did, but so what? I’m telling you it’s not a unique Monster. If it was one, then the Knights would have mobilised by now. And if this bastard was strong, then why the heck are there so many witnesses? They all would have been dead already."
What she said was true. Unlike the regular, garden variety Monsters, those labelled as Unique were capable of unleashing special attacks based around magic, which would create equally unique signatures. If that signature was felt, then the resident Knights would be swarming the Low Tier hunting ground, busy patrolling the place high and low.
Plus, the testimonies of the eyewitnesses were a bit weird as well.
They said that the huge Wolf just appeared like a ghost and blocked their paths until the Hunters chose to retreat. They did add that they got scared of its intense eyes and its size, and were too busy running away with tails between their legs, but it meant that this creature didn’t come out to hurt people.
"It’s just a slightly bigger wolf. And we know that all bigger Monsters have Mana Stones in their hearts. Sure, it should be as strong as it looks, but….. hell, as a Mid Tier Hunter, I didn’t bring this bad boy just for a show!!"
She pulled out a handgun from her back pocket. Called KM-758, it was an expensive gun designed to chamber and fire rounds of armour-plated Mana bullets that were especially effective against the beast type Monsters.
"Eh? Where did you get that from?"
"This Mid Tier ranked lady is on another dimension from you guys. I bought it from the cash I earned by participating in hunting with various other parties. With this bad boy, as soon as we find this Wolf, it’s as good as a dead meat."
At the entrance of the weapon that was far more trustworthy than her words, the men began to regain some of their former courage.
However, as soon as they gained some confidence, a powerful fear assaulted them right away. The howl of the wolf piercing the night sky easily swallowed up the budding seeds of courage in their hearts.
"What, what was that?"
Grey Wolves never howled. It was because not only their vocal chords were deformed, the tactic of hiding in the shadows then stealthily assaulting their prey was their most preferred method to hunt and also the reason why these creatures could still live in the Low Tier hunting ground. In other words, they wouldn’t deliberately make a noise to spoil their hunting opportunity.
If that’s the case, then just what was making that howl?
All three of the Hunters, even the woman who was so full of bravado, ended up sticking very close to each other, their bodies shaking like leaves.
The fear that struck them once more came from a lot closer than before. In the end, all three Hunters fell on their butts while holding hands and their bodies planted against each other’s. Even though it was simply a cry of a wolf, they just couldn’t recover from the assault of the fear on their senses that made their bodies go numb.
These poor fellas could never ever had posited that there was a magical effect applied in the howl itself….
"I, I, I’ve already lo, lo, loaded the gun so, no nee, need to wo, worry!"
She grasped the gun with her shaking hands. At the same time, the shivering men recalled with some difficulty the rules of Hunters. They must never surrender to the encroaching fear. The moment they fear the Monster, their lives would be forfeit.
One man brought out a rifle, the other a shotgun. With the sounds of firing pins being cocked, all three of them finished equipping their weapons.
They heard the sounds of grasses covered in descending darkness being disturbed. The tightening, dreadful anticipation suppressed the fear and terror, and the three briefly regained their cool-headed Hunter’s appearances.
They placed their index fingers on the triggers and took aim towards the direction of the sound.
A minute that felt like 10 passed by, and finally, the Monster revealed its face.
But the Hunters couldn’t find the right reaction to this totally unexpected appearance.
The sight of a green skin, a crude metallic weapon held in one hand, and a bone necklace hung around its neck, stopped their mouths from operating. Was this an Orc Warrior? No, it couldn’t be. An Orc Warrior lacked enough self awareness to decorate itself.
The creature that overtly showed off its body and busy sending combative gaze over at the Hunters…. it was an Orc Jaguar. A confrontational individual that possessed strength surpassing an Orc Warrior, it was a low Mid Tier Monster that loved bloody battles. (TL: Yep, the raw definitely said a Jaguar. 오크 재규어)
A low Mid Tier creature. Something that shouldn’t even be here in the Low Tier hunting ground.
"…I think, maybe the machine dividing up the Tiers is malfunctioning again."
Because of its natural inclinations towards combat, Orc Jaguars went around searching for enemies to fight, but one of them coming down to the Low Tier hunting ground was extremely rare. There was a machine installed between the low Mid Tier and the Low Tier hunting grounds that was designed to stop Monsters from getting all mixed up.
But it could only lead the Monsters to behave a certain way and was not what one would call a foolproof system, so every now and then, there were "accidents" like these.
"….I’m really sorry. We came to catch a wolf but something f*cking worse showed up instead."
"We ain’t dead yet. And didn’t I tell you to fix the way you speak? How come for the rest of your life…"
Their conversation got interrupted by the Orc Jaguar’s roar. The three Hunters exchanged several knowing looks. If two of them bought time, then one would be able to survive. So, you wanna live? Nope. What about you? I don’t want to.
As expected, the camaraderie built up over the past 15 years was unshakeable. All three of them said no and just grinned. And finally, they decided to just work together. (TL: so this "15 years" bit is here again. I wonder… Maybe I read wrong. Hmm…)
The male Hunter with the rifle took aim at the Orc Jaguar’s neck and pulled the trigger first. But the Mana bullet designed for the Low Tier Monsters couldn’t pierce the thick skin of the target.
The Monster got enraged by the attack that managed to tickle it and pounced towards the Hunters.
Next was the Hunter with the shotgun.
The scattering Mana buckshots struck all over the body of the Orc Jaguar. But again, there was no effect.
Finally, only the handgun was left. But she knew. This Orc wasn’t a beast type. This gun was them just struggling uselessly….
Rather than her own death, her eyes teared up in apology at the thoughts of dragging her friends to their end here.
And in that moment when she squeezed the trigger of her gun in regret.
The movement of the Orc stopped.
The three Hunters stared in panic at the Orc that was literally a stone’s throw away from them.
But it wasn’t that the Orc had stopped.
Instead, it was busy looking at the right arm that held the crude weapon.
The eyes of the Hunters also followed the line of the sight.
And there was a lone wolf busy chewing on the arm of this Orc, having appeared out of absolutely nowhere.
It was a Grey Wolf.
And it was the very creature the Hunters were looking for, the Grey Wolf with a tiger-sized body.
< 05. A Spirit Beast, the Divine Wolf. (1) > Fin.