A Monster Who Levels Up
(TL: This chapter is here thanks to these generous donors: Gerald C, Keneth P, Donevin T, Mario R, Erik A, Maxwell G, Dale B, Timothy W, Karlis A, Jan B, Stephen M, Donald B, Robert R, Martin G, David R, Daniel T, Dennis D, and Philipp G. Thank you for your support.)
The ranks of Vampires were divided into six.
From: slave → commoner → henchman → Believer → Apostle → and finally, the Elder.
And to clarify further, the rank of slaves wasn't filled by Vampires. This was the class consisting of those non-Vampire races under the spell of 'charm' magic. In other words, they were literally slaves under the beck and call of the Vampires.
On the other hand, a Vampire had to be at least of the rank of 'foot soldier/henchman' in order to be treated as a real fighting force; the ones in this rank possessed combat prowess equal to that of low Mid to Mid Tier Knights or C~D ranked Wizards.
From here onwards, every elevation in rank corresponded with the hike in power equal to that of Knight's Tiers. So, at the level of an 'Apostle', it was at least around the mid High Tier Knights or the Wizards with rankings around A-.
However - if one was only strong at performing magic but not so much in physical abilities, then that person was as good as a sitting duck for the Lycanthrope. That was the case with the 'Apostle' Sae-Jin had captured alive just now, when this guy was compared to the other Apostles that attacked him and Hazeline a few days ago.
The name of this poor Apostle he caught was 'Rhosrahdel'. (TL: 로스라델) As he was still too young, the powers of his bloodline hadn't fully manifested yet, and thus his strength was no better than that of a 'Believer'.
"…It's the truth!!" (Rhosradel)
At least, according to his own mouth, that was.
"Well then, is that all the info you know?" (Sae-Jin the Lycan)
"Yes, yes!! Besides the stuff already revealed to the world, and the fact that Bathory is jumping around in anger, that's all I know, I swear- Ahhaaaahark!! Euahahaaark!! Ahhhakk!!"
The ever-so talkative Apostle began screaming his head off utterly frightened as soon as Sae-Jin pressed his face closer. This reaction was quite funny, so Sae-Jin let out a light chuckle that sounded like a threatening growl.
Because of that, though, foams bubbled up from the corners of the Vampire's mouth as if he was about to faint again.
Sae-Jin was a bit miffed about this, thinking, 'Is the Wolf's appearance that scary? I thought I looked pretty good, especially among other Wolves…'
Stepping back, Sae-Jin lightly scratched the fur on his chest with his claws while falling into a deep thought. He had already finished establishing the Dark Energy Link between himself and this Vampire. Since all his Skills increased in Proficiency Levels after his evolution to the Lycanthrope, if he went around this smartly, couldn't he be able to insert a mole within the Vampires' ranks?
"Oh, yeah. Isn't it possible to identify those 'slaves', normal people under the charm magic or whatever?" (Sae-Jin the Lycan)
He thought of this just now. This was the one of the main reasons why Vampires could exert enormous influence in the world, despite their numbers being low. Although this terrified guy did tell him that a full fledged Apostle could control up to five 'slaves with will', he still hadn't mentioned how big the scale of this whole thing was yet.
"H, huh? I, I don't know yet, who controls which slave. I haven't talked to many other Apostles because I'm still too young!"
"You don't even know your own slaves?"
"No!! Nononono. Of course I know who they are. I can tell you all you want to know, of course!"
Was it because this fool was still immature? His somewhat "honest" attitude even took Sae-Jin aback greatly. It was as if there was no need to even do the whole Dark Energy Link thing at all.
"There are only three people under me. An entertainer named Oh Yeon-Hui, an assistant prosecutor for the Seoul Metropolitan Area, Kim Soo-Ho, and finally, Yuk Soh-Hahn, a recently elected member of the National Assembly."
But when this Apostle told him of the type of people that was under his charm spell, Sae-Jin couldn't help but be astonished. To think that someone like Oh Yeon-Hui, who was considered as the top actress in South Korea was a 'slave' - not to mention, a prosecutor who was in direct contact with the centres of political power, as well as a member of the National Assembly, too…
Didn't this mean, Sae-Jin now had influence on those three, too? At this unexpected bonus, Sae-Jin's lips quivered in happiness.
"Keuhm. You only use big shots like them as slaves?"
"Oh, no, no, no. My luck was on the better side. I charmed them before they became famous and then I quietly supported them within my means. They climbed up to where they are by their own hands."
That was quite an acceptable answer.
"How interesting. However… since I got what I wanted, you no longer have any uses for me." (Sae-Jin the Lycanthrope)
Sae-Jin deliberately made an eerie smile and opened his palm wide. His hand, which was twice the size of the Vampire's head, drew a threatening shadow across the walls.
"Noooo!! Eu, euhaaaaahk!! P, please, waaaaaaiiiit!!"
The young Apostle's body writhed around while crying like a baby. At the same time, he began hurling insults towards his useless 'colleagues' with a high-pitched voice that might split apart in a moment or two. Trashy henchmen, Apostles and Believers that were good for nothing, and finally, even his owners, the Bathorys.
How pathetic and desperate he must have been.
Sae-Jin grabbed the Apostle's face and spoke. Since his mouth was covered by that huge hand, all he could do was to nod his head urgently.
Showing how much he wanted to carry on living, this Vampire even began licking Sae-Jin's palm.
Looking down on this desperately pathetic weakling, Sae-Jin's lips twisted in an evil smile.
Five days later, the promised day with Kim Yu-Rin.
Sae-Jin waited for her to arrive in front of the Orc village and when she showed up like clockwork, he quickly changed into the Hero Orc and received her.
It seemed like Yu-Rin wanted to genuinely converse with him, judging by how much she was yapping on and on, but the 'Hero Orc' simply headed straight for the sparring arena. Although it was nominally a sparring arena, it was nothing more than some piece of land made up of rocks and earth for wrestling matches.
However, the actual sparring easily transcended the shabbiness of the arena with its ferociousness that matched up to a real battle.
The destructive mace attack that crushed the atmosphere itself, as well as the sword aura that cleanly carved through the air.
Humongous explosions of sounds reverberated around as if there was a mountain slide happening somewhere every time two weapons collided, with each one representing different combat style but ultimately, displaying similar levels of destructive power.
But in all honestly, Kim Yu-Rin wasn't going all out. Of course, with the exception of her Trait, she was using all of her physical prowess, but her true power lay with that Trait of hers.
For Sae-Jin in his Hero Orc Form, though - he was actually giving it 100%. He didn't activate the Warrior of Reversal, but as the spar progressed, his reasoning gradually faded away.
And in the end, watching her deftly deflect his attacks repeatedly and try to land in counters made him furious beyond words and he activated the Warrior of Reversal.
As one would expect, the atmosphere changed rapidly as reddish aura oozed out from the Orc's body.
Unfortunately for him, her confused state lasted only for a blink. She struggled to deflect the mace powerfully smashing down on her, and then quickly dashed in closer to the Orc before hitting him on the arm with her Trait, 'Desideratum' active.
To him, it felt a like a small pebble lightly tapping on his skin. Quickly dismissing it as nothing important, the Orc tried to shove her away into the distance with a shoulder tackle.
However, as if he was glued to the ground, his feet wouldn't budge. Only then did his hotheadedness cool down a bit, realising what just had happened here.
'She assigned purpose into her sword.'
The reason why she could become the youngest-ever Highest Tier Knight, even if her Trait was not a growth-type.
She had used her Trait, in the end.
"Since you used a Skill first, I'm just returning the favour, right?"
Yu-Rin looked at the struggling Orc as if he was the cutest thing and then lightly tapped him in the head with her sword.
"It's my victory." (Yu-Rin)
'But you cheated!!' (Sae-Jin)
He was getting angrier the more he stared at Yu-Rin's beaming smile that showed how assured she was of her victory, which made him struggle even harder instead.
As long as he was the Orc, there was nothing much he could do against its nature. He knew well enough he shouldn't struggle so much, yet he tried to free his feet nonstop.
Muscles all over his body bulged like balloons ready to pop and blood vessels protruded visibly on his face.
"You should just give up now. The restraints won't be undone so easily since I spent quite a lot of Mana so…"
But she did not count on the Orc's persistence perfectly lining up with the 'System' itself.
- The power that can interfere with the natural phenomena that is the foundation of the world, as well as able to resist the Concept and the Principle. (TL: yes, this is the literal TL.)
For a Skill acquired during a spar, there seemed to be lots of words popping up into his view. However, the Orc hurriedly dismissed those trivial matters and forcefully squeezed out every little drop of strength from this entire body.
And then - with sound of dirt falling off, his foot began to lift off the ground for real.
At that moment, Yu-Rin's face was dyed in the deep hues of utter shock.
As expected, it was still impossible to break free out of her restraints with only an F- Skill. The Orc faltered grandly in total exhaustion and even ended up dropping his mace.
The Orc became furious at the fact that his final struggle was all for naught, and at the same time, Yu-Rin was wordlessly swallowing down her saliva.
That was an event she had never experienced before. And so, she failed to understand what just happened there. Sure, there were times when she didn't have enough Mana, but when her Trait did activate, it would always work for her no matter what.
While she was lost in her thoughts, the Orc began throwing tantrums as if to say having his legs restrained was getting rather irritating. She only then recovered her wandering mind and tried to pacify the Orc.
"Please wait for two more minutes. That restraint is supposed to last for three, you see."
It was now the break time after the sparring had ended.
The Orc walked towards Kim Yu-Rin who was busy wiping the sweat off her forehead, and handed her a wooden container with spring water in it.
"Oh. Thank you so much."
Yu-Rin smiled brightly and thanked him but Sae-Jin lightly dismissed that while plopping down on the ground to recheck the details of the Skill he had acquired.
- The power that can interfere with the natural phenomena that is the foundation of the world, as well as able to resist the Concept and the Principle.
Both its name and the description sounded simple and ambiguous at the same time, but the longer he thought about it, it became clearer just how much potential there was with this Skill.
Able to interfere with the natural phenomena that was the foundation of the world, as well as the 'Concept' and the 'Principle'.
From those words, what Sae-Jin could come up with was - the Concept of Space, and the Principle of Time.
The actual possibility of this Skill allowing him to distort Space and reverse the flow of Time was pretty low. Especially considering that he earned this Skill during sparring, so understandably, his faith in it took a big hit.
But then again, there was this one thing that overwhelmingly restored his faith in this Skill, somewhat:
It was the amount shown on his Proficiency window. It was even lower than three decimal points, and he had to really concentrate to see the actual figure of [0.00075%]. If it was like this, then wouldn't that mean a lifetime of hard work might just get him to around the level of D~E at most…?
"You are not curious anymore?"
As he was submerged in these tough thoughts, she suddenly began talking to him. She was staring at the Orc who seemed to have zero interest in her with a pout.
"What… oh. Right."
The reason why she met with Kim Hahn-Seol. The Orc nodded his head and asked her about it.
"You don't seem to be curious about it anymore… but well, a promise is a promise, so…"
Yu-Rin let out a fake cough and continued.
"It's simply a favour from him, asking me to investigate and compile a report on a certain man. One of my subordinates happens to be close to him. I don't like doing it, though, since it feels like I'm snooping around behind that person's back."
She then subtly studied the Orc's reactions. His facial expression remained the same as before: fearsome.
"Oh, that. Uhm, explaining that is a bit… complicated, so, uh… You see, we're affiliated with the government of… No, wait. I have a boss, you see. And this boss wants a detailed report on some other people. The reason for that is to… uh, make governance easier… well, honestly, even I don't know the real reason. I'm just doing it as I've been ordered to. If I don't, then it'll be troublesome for my Order."
Now that he'd heard it, the matter wasn't so important after all. Now that his misunderstanding over how serious the matter was resolved, all tension left his body and so, the Orc let out a mighty yawn.
"Ahahahahat… What is this? Even Orcs yawn?"
Kim Yu-Rin burst into a child-like laughter after seeing the Orc's ill timed yawn.
The favour Kim Hahn-Seol asked Yu-Rin was nothing more than a pretext, and the truth of his intentions was revealed after a week had passed by.
He was a member of the Society, 'Trilogy'. Not only that, he was its founding member, to boot - although ever since he became a government minister, he had left the Society, at least on the surface. It was Trilogy that resolved the disgraceful scandal he was suffering from in the past.
"We have detected a plot led by Kim Hahn-Seol to implicate you, the Guild Master. But the matter is quite complicated and it seems that we won't be able to prevent the news from breaking out." (Kim Yu-Sohn)
One could say that this attempt to suppress him wasn't just from Kim Hahn-Seol alone but from a certain 'Guild' as well. Or possibly, a scheme of someone hidden within that Guild, who was from the 'questionable' species.
Sae-Jin was sure of the latter option being true. It was only two weeks ago that Vampires tried to ambush him, after all. It was way too close a time frame to call it a coincidence.
But whatever the case may have been, Sae-Jin was still under the danger of being framed. As for his crimes…. he wasn't 100% sure what, but it seemed to be related to taxes.
"So, what's his beef with me?" (Sae-Jin)
"It seems that Kim Hahn-Seol is going to use the Orc Blacksmith's income tax rates. Until now, the Orc Blacksmith maintained anonymity and used us here in the Society to do business. The problem rises from the fact that the Society's income tax rates and that of the Blacksmith's preferential income tax rates are clearly different, to begin with."
It was true - Sae-Jin did hear that the tax rates for Blacksmiths were lower, in order to 'encourage' more to join the profession.
"Right now, we've been applying the Society's tax rates. But before the Society grew to its current size, we calculated taxes of all proceeds from the sales of the Orc's wares according to the Blacksmith's preferential rates and the rest were deposited into the bank account opened under the Society Chairman's name. That is the most worrisome point at the moment."
Sae-Jin was developing a migraine just listening to this. But being dragged through mud was irritating to him even more. The race of Lycanthropes could not stand being on the receiving end. Honestly, even Sae-Jin was getting really furious right now.
"…What can we do about it?"
"That is… I apologise, but we can't think of a response for this. Even if we forego this Blacksmith's preferential tax rates and pay up the shortfall, that in turn will be seen as a tacit admittance of your guilt… Plus, with the announcement date for the successful Guild promotion being only a month away, whatever we decide to respond with, it will end up negative for us, sir." (Kim Yu-Sohn)
It seemed that the 1st place holder became a bunch of dirty cowards the moment 2nd place closed in. Sae-Jin clenched his fists tightly. His knuckles cracked loudly.
Of course, there was one way he could think of, that would potentially resolve this issue. Most likely, Kim Yu-Sohn also must have thought about it as well. Only that, as Sae-Jin was rather sensitive towards this topic, the veteran Mercenary hadn't mentioned it yet in consideration.
"…Looks like it can't be helped, then. If the news breaks, then I'll reveal that I'm the Orc Blacksmith. However - if it can be blocked somehow, please give it your all."
"I'll do my best."
"Fuu… Yes. By the way, there is something else."
Sae-Jin let out a sigh. His heated breath was full of his boiling rage.
At first, he wanted to use the moderate way. Rather than dragging Kim Hahn-Seol down, he'd rather choose to forcefully push Yu Baek-Song up instead. But now…
"Let's do our own background investigation now. Not only Kim Hahn-Seol, but several of his backers as well - it's time for payback."
The 'Intelligence Agency' that was established within the shadows of the Monster Mercenary Company now boasted over 130 agents. Most of them happened to be Cat-type Soo-ins, and according to Kim Yu-Sohn, there were three of them that were good enough to be inserted into a complicated information warfare.
Obviously, it'd be too much to expect these agents to uncover top secret information erased from the records by the leaders of the current administration, but conversely, finding out about faults of a handful of people would be easier than snatching candy from a baby. And as long as those faults were uncovered, the public and the media will do the follow-up and bury them alive.
Rather obviously, the media people would choose to side with the stronger party so the whole affair might become a battle between the behind-the-scenes backers. But it'd never be a war.
They would never be able to figure out who was attacking Kim Hahn-Seol. And, what would happen under the situation where Kim Hahn-Seol's substitute was already set in stone, someone who could swear her loyalty and obedience, on the surface at least, and also possessing twice the ability? Namely, Yu Baek-Song?
Which choice would they make? Whether to hold onto a walking political liability with heavy losses stacked against him, or to kick him to the curb and embrace a cleanly polished and beautiful pearl, instead?
It was painfully obvious.
Kim Sae-Jin couldn't wait to meet Kim Hahn-Seol two days from now.
< 26. Truth? (4) > Fin.
(TL: And now, there's only one left in the queue.)
(TL: The last remaining chapter will go live tomorrow. And then, I'll be off for a while~.)