A Monster Who Levels Up
Inside a country house located in the rural Jeolla Province, the location shoot for a certain entertainment programme was taking place. The programme was called ‘Knight’s Country House’, considered as the hottest among the rampantly expanding number of Knights-related shows currently.
The concept of the show was as the title suggested.
Nine Knights would reside in a house located in the Monster-free area of Jeolla while performing ‘missions’ and ‘games’ planned out by the producers, as well as cooking their own meals and have honest chat together.
At first, the idea might sound rather plain, but by having 9 people with strong personalities, many entertaining situations were captured on film. For example, as eight out of the 9 participants here were groomed to become Knights from very early ages, only one knew how to cook rice properly, so naturally, chaos ensued whenever it was meal time.
Among these colourful characters, the one with most amount of fans were, of course, Yu Sae-Jung.
Although she maintained an indifferent expression most of the time, the dazzling smile brighter than the sun itself that sometimes leaked out made her such a charming woman on screen. It truly wasn’t an exaggeration to say that this programme was instrumental in her official fan club being established.
So, in a way, Yu Sae-Jung had greatly benefited from this show, as well as being its most important contributor.
"It’s been too long, Sae-Jung~~ This Unni thought she was going crazy from wanting to see you~~!!" (TL: Unni is the female equivalent of Oppa.)
"…Even though we saw each other two weeks ago?"
The filming of the episodes took place every fortnight, for the period of four days and three nights, and so, it somehow did feel like it had been ages since all nine of them could sit down in one room together. They had gathered in the living room while sharing greetings among each other, and then waited for the producer to give them a new challenge.
"Wowsers, Sae-Jung! What is that necklace?"
While they were waiting, a female Knight named Kim Hui-Soo pointed at Sae-Jung’s necklace and asked.
"Yea, yes?? What?"
Although she was expecting it but now that the question was finally here, Sae-Jung couldn’t help but feel quite nervous. She did have an excuse called "indirect advertisement", but… Well, this necklace was the very first gift that man had given her, after all.
"Hmph. Did a boyfriend buy it for you?"
A male Knight sitting on a couch while putting on a serious air spat out while looking dissatisfied.
He was Sohn Chul-Joon, a High Tier Knight from the Goryeo Knights Order - and supposedly, having a romantic interest in Yu Sae-Jung. Although the said interest was nothing more than Sae-Jung who couldn’t cook to save herself, utilising his skills a bit; but since they looked good together on screen, the producers, the writers and the viewing public came up with their own narratives all on their own.
"Wow, is it true? OMG, a really big event broke out before the filming even began?"
"The filming started already, though?"
"….Anyhow, Sae-Jung, did a boyfriend really give you this as a present? No, no, did Sae-Jung have a boyfriend before? Wow, Chul-Joon Oppa is so screwed now~"
Right away, all nine Knights began yapping away, with Yu Sae-Jung’s necklace being the focal point. This was the charm of this particular show, where the scenes of chaotic yammering would often fill the airwaves.
"N, no, it’s not like that!!"
In the end, Yu Sae-Jung had to shout out and only then, the sounds of their conversations died down.
Yu Sae-Jung’s face reddened as if it might burst open from all the attention poured onto her by her co-stars and the film crew, which numbered around 60 people.
If this was her
normally, then she would’ve assumed the same cold indifferent attitude and end this fiasco right there, but since it was related to Kim Sae-Jin, she couldn’t maintain a calm facade at all.
"Well, it is a present, that’s true…"
"But it’s not from a boyfriend, is that what you’re saying?"
Sohn Chul-Joon chuckled lightly and for some unknown reason, slicked back his hair.
Too bad for him, Yu Sae-Jung didn’t reply.
Honestly speaking, she had never been in a romantic relationship before, and maybe because of that lack of experience, she was getting quite conscious of Kim Sae-Jin’s presence, which was unlike her.
They did embrace, sure, but since he didn’t say it out aloud, it seemed certain that they were not an item. But what if he doesn’t like it, if she declared that fact right here?
"…What the, so, it’s true?"
Sohn Chul-Joon momentarily lost his composure. Regardless, Yu Sae-Jung didn’t open her mouth for a long time, until…
"Not from a boyfriend, but it’s a gift and a sponsorship deal at the same time…"
In the end, she denied it.
As soon as Sohn Chul-Joon let out a sigh of relief, this time the female Knights jumped on her like a pack of hungry animals. Even though they were Knights, well, they were also women as well. The ladies began asking about the necklace, such as where did she buy it, how much was it, was that ruby real, etc, etc…
"Well, everyone, please calm yourselves. We’re filming for real now."
Only when the producer stepped up did the noisy hullabaloo come to an end.
‘But the signs are good…’
There was a huge grin plastered on the producer’s face. It was understandable, as a potential gold mine had been unearthed only after the cameras began rolling for less than 30 minutes.
On top of that, the rare sight of Yu Sae-Jung being so shy was wonderful enough to make him want to embrace her himself….
‘No, no, no no, that’s not it.’
The producer quickly shook his head and then displayed a board with the participants’ mission written on it.
"Well, you guys must be feeling peckish by now. Why don’t we have something to eat first?"
An afternoon with the sun blazing down.
Seven Knights left on the mission, or the collection of ingredients, for their food. Meanwhile, Yu Sae-Jung stayed behind to learn how to cook from Sohn Chul-Joon.
Even though it was called how to cook, with no ingredients to practise, she was just cooking rice for now. But Sae-Jung was paying 110% attention to what Sohn Chul-Joon was saying.
Before, she only pretended to learn as there were cameras filming her, but from some time ago - no, more correctly, that moment with Kim Sae-Jin, changed her thought process greatly.
Thinking about the appearance of Sae-Jin enjoying her cooking… just imagining that alone made her happy.
"Is this enough?"
Yu Sae-Jung pointed at the pot filled with rice while carrying a needlessly determined expression.
"Yeah. There’s just enough water and it looks good."
Seeing her adorable appearance, Sohn Chul-Joon chuckled slightly and reached out to pat her head. However, the speed of Yu Sae-Jung’s reaction was incredible, and his hand ended up dancing in the empty air.
"…Keheum. Oh, a mosquito."
Getting embarrassed now, Sohn Chul-Joon waved his hand around twice more as if there really was an insect there or something.
"Let’s make the soup next."
"I’ll buy you something more expensive later on."
During the break between the filming, Sohn Chul-Joon suddenly pointed at Yu Sae-Jung’s necklace and laid on a thick smile.
"I meant that thing."
Discussing about buying something expensive to a 3rd generation Chaebol was the strangest thing as she could buy anything she wanted - but for the sake of maintaining a certain public image, in the interviews she always said that she lived frugally while being given an allowance. So, the misunderstanding of Sohn Chul-Joon was, well, understandable.
"You mean, something more expensive than this?"
Yu Sae-Jung looked at him with a slightly disbelieving face. Maybe this situation came about because the artifacts from The Monster hadn’t been unveiled to the world yet. Yu Sae-Jung found Chul-Joon’s attitude of looking down on the gift necklace rather disagreeable, but he remained ever so confident.
"Obviously. I know that the true value of a gift isn’t judged solely by its price, but I can tell there will be much more prettier necklaces for you out there."
With a slightly strange expression, Yu Sae-Jung stared at him for a while, before…
"…You probably need to bring out a pink diamond if you want to top this necklace’s value…"
She muttered out softly.
Unfortunately, as he was too deeply appreciating the depth of his own comment, he didn’t get to hear what she said.
"Mm? Did you say something?"
"…No, not really."
While Yu Sae-Jung was learning how to cook for Kim Sae-Jin, the man himself was training hard in the underground "members-only" training facility below the Society’s headquarters.
"Wow, what is this?!"
But Sae-Jin wasn’t alone in the facility. That was because the Knight Order that was chosen to partner up with The Monster, the Raven Order, had sent a Knight to aid him in his training.
"Mister Sae-Jin, your physical abilities are pretty good!!"
And the Knight assigned for this task, Yi Hye-Rin, was busy praising him.
Yi Hye-Rin was second only to Kim Yu-Rin in the looks department within the Raven Order, and thanks to her sociable personality, she was far more active than Yu-Rin in the entertainment industry.
And since Sae-Jin’s only habit was watching TV, he obviously knew who she was. Besides that, she was also one of the people who received the Orc’s weapon as well.
"If you rate me with the Knight’s standards, where do you reckon I am?"
"Hmm, maybe… Maybe a low Mid Tier? I think it might be around there."
The reason why the Raven had sent Yi Hye-Rin out of all the Knights in their Order was, of course, the famed honey trap. After all, Kim Sae-Jin was a man, wasn’t he?
"Ah. Is that so?"
At her words, Sae-Jin felt incredibly dejected.
He didn’t strengthen his body via Spiritualisation. So, this meant that the Human Kim Sae-Jin’s Stats had reached the level of a low Mid Tier Knight. That was certainly enough to feel proud about, but…
‘It’s still too much for me to step forward, yet.’
But it was still not enough for him to fight Vampires in his Human Form.
"What the, why are you so disappointed? Even this is something amazing, you know~~"
Yi Hye-Rin still sufficiently praised the downtrodden Kim Sae-Jin. However, instead of such a courteous encouragement, what he wanted was a proper training regime.
"Shall we move on to next part of the training? Is it weapon mastery next?"
"Ah, yes. Let’s do that. Hurry, hurry~~"
After determining his physical limits, it was the turn of weapons-related martial arts training. The Orc’s special Passive, the ‘Weapon Mastery’ applied here. The Skill’s Level was so high that, now he could theoretically wield any type of weapon better than a high level user.
"What should we use first~ Eeny, meeny, miny, moe~~"
Yi Hye-Rin nimbly trotted towards the display cabinet for the weapons and picked up two longswords, of which she gave one to Sae-Jin.
"First, a sword. It’s the most popular weapon, too. Since it’s so~ straight, it’s easy to cover it in Mana’s aura, and it is also the easiest for the beginners to learn how to wield as well. But there are so, so many different types of swords out there. So, the swords we are going to use today is called a longsword…"
Yi Hye-Rin really talked a lot while always smiling brightly. At first, Sae-Jin got slightly irritated, thinking whether her personality was really that positive all the time or not, but…
"Like this, swoosh, swish!! How about it, can’t even see an afterimage, right~~?"
…The more he watched her, he couldn’t help but smile as well. He sort of understood why she was more famous as an entertainer and not as a Knight.
"Ah, by any chance, have you learned how to handle a sword before?"
Yi Hye-Rin asked in a surprised voice when Sae-Jin unsheathed the sword in an expert manner.
"No, not at all. Besides some things I got used to while hunting, I haven’t received any real training."
"Oh… so that’s how it is."
She took the sparring stance while slightly tensing up.
"Well then, should I start the skill test?"
"Please do. By the way, you don’t have to take it easy on me."
When he lightly swung the sword in order to loosen up his wrist, the afterimage of the blade wavered and danced about in the air like a snake.
"…Uhm… You really didn’t learn any swordsmanship?"
His appearance simply couldn’t be called ‘normal’, so she quickly asked him again.
"No, I haven’t. But I might possess some modicum of talent, you see."
At his vague reply, Yi Hye-Rin’s expression became a bit worried.
In reality, she became an upper Mid Tier Knight relying on her Trait and abundance of Mana, rather than her skills with a sword - she was one of those Knights commonly referred to as a "Trait Baby".
Because she was the type who enjoyed living her life, Yi Hye-Rin didn’t pay too much attention on polishing up her swordsmanship which required her to repeatedly perform the same action over and over again. Of course, her talents with the sword were still excellent enough to be on the level of a Mid Tier Knight, but…
"…We shouldn’t use Mana or Traits, right?"
"Of course. I can’t utilise Mana, after all."
Kim Sae-Jin pointed his sword at Yi Hye-Rin. The edge of the blade gleamed sharply.
"…Yes? Ah, Yes. Please, c, come."
Hye-Rin gulped down her saliva and corrected her posture.
Sae-Jin dashed forward without much fanfare.
This would be his first time fighting a Knight as a Human. So, he wasn’t too sure how to proceed with the fight. Instead, he chose to leave everything to his instincts.
Arriving at Hye-Rin’s position, he lowered his stance in a blink and slashed upwards.
She hurriedly tilted her sword to block the attack, but realised the force behind it was nothing to laugh about. She had blocked just one hit, yet the hands gripping the sword were aching already.
But there was no time to remain stunned. Sae-Jin continuously slashed with his sword. Ferocious and aggressive, his swordsmanship was something that would not be found in any of the textbooks.
Each time she blocked his blows, sounds similar to when bombs went off, resounded out. Hye-Rin just could not believe that there was no Mana involved in his strikes.
"Eu, euah!! Hey, wait!! I surrender, I suuuurrender!!!"
Their sparring didn’t last for long.
She couldn’t endure the immense power contained with the diagonal downward slash of Sae-Jin and lost the grip on her sword.
With a sorry-looking demeanor, Yi Hye-Rin crouched down on the floor and massaged her hands that had a slight trace of blood.
"Huh? I won?"
Sae-Jin dazedly muttered out. And his words ended up poking Yi Hye-Rin’s pride as a Knight.
She gritted her teeth and stood up.
"…It’s because this isn’t the weapon I use usually. Hey, excuse me, Sae-Jin-ssi, you really didn’t receive any training before?"
Already, the honorifics she used had changed from Sae-Jin-nim to Sae-Jin-ssi. (TL: Oh boy. I deliberately avoided TLing this particular honorific scheme of Korean language, but here it is. Basically, a "nim" is comparable to "sama" in Jap novels, while a "ssi" is kinda like "san". So, she’s stopped calling him Sae-Jin "sama" and started calling him Sae-Jin "san" which is slightly less respectful.)
"No, I really haven’t. So, should we stop the training here for today?"
"What do you mean, stop? We still have lots of weapons to go through, you know?"
Yi Hye-Rin smiled forcefully and pointed at the various weapons stored inside the display cabinet. She figured that Sae-Jin only possessed some talent in wielding swords so, while puffing out hot air through her nostrils, she picked up a spear.
"A longsword doesn’t really suit my style. Now, I shall demonstrate spear arts."
Hye-Rin confidently declared.
And then, she lost exactly seven times in a row.
But what mattered the most was that the last sparring was done with her main weapon, a thin-bladed two handed sabre.
Unfortunately, she still tasted defeat, and with her pride trampled on, she ran off back to her home in tears.
"How is the progress?"
– "I’m working hard already, so stop pestering me."
Yu Baek-Song’s terse voice could be heard from the phone’s receiver.
"No, no. I’m not pestering you. Just that, I’d like to let you know that in case you need any assistance or manpower, do not hesitate and ask me. I’m sure you’ve heard of this already, but I am currently establishing a Mercenary Compa…"
– "Don’t need it. I’m hanging up."
"Ahh, wait a second."
Yu Baek-Song was really cold towards him. It was truly a mysterious thing, the way she acted. After all, she couldn’t even resist him when they meet, but over the phone, she was like an untamed cat or some such…
"There is something else as well."
– "So, what is it?"
But seeing that she didn’t end the call first, there must’ve been some lingering aftereffects remaining.
"The Lycan said that, there’s a suspicious hotel."
This was the information given to him by Kim Yu-Sohn. But Sae-Jin made it so now that it was coming from the Lycan, all in order to hide that man’s Trait.
– "Which hotel?"
"Not sure. It was just a hotel."
– "Are you making fun of me right now?!"
There was a trace of anger in Yu Baek-Song’s voice. Kim Sae-Jin ended up carrying a thin smile, while thinking that she was like an angry cat or something.
"I’m not joking. Are you not taking the Lycan seriously now?"
– "…No, that isn’t it. However, he can’t just say it’s a hotel. Is he trying to say we must investigate every hotel in the country?"
"I know, but still, please try your best. I want to help, but as it’s still early days for my Merc Company, I too lack the necessary manpower."
– "No, that’s…. Fuu."
Yu Baek-Song spat out a long sigh, and unwillingly replied that she’d do it.
< 21. A New Starting Point (2) > Fin.
(TL: the amount left for the * gasp * seventh sponsored chapter is: $42.)