A Monster Who Levels Up
Chapter 96 part2
The flow of the battle reversed in a heartbeat as soon as the band of Orcs jumped into the fray.
The shock wave spreading out in the air easily blew away thousands of tentacles blanketing the sky like a dissipating fog.
And that lull in the constant attacks of tentacles naturally gave the Knights much needed breathing room; now that their own pace had been regained, they were in the position to go on the offensive.
*SFX for tentacles rushing forward*
However, the number of tentacles shooting out from the Monster bird seemed to know no end.
Still, the assault from these elite Orcs were no laughing matter, either.
Whenever they swung their destructive maces, tens of hundreds of tentacles turned to dust. These Orcs didn't rely or care for style or technique, just focusing on brutal strength only.
The Orc that was the most heroic and magnificent roared out aloud and kicked the ground hard, jumping into the air.
His leg strength allowed him to jump up several tens of metres with absolute ease, and he went straight towards the Monster's cockscomb…
*SFX for tentacles shooting something out*
Instinctively sensing the approaching danger, the tentacles mounted on the Monster bird's body began spewing poison towards the Orc while making a strange noise. But the Orc didn't give a damn and simply activated the Leviathan's scales to the absolute maximum.
Although the Monster fired off the poison confidently, it had no effect on the scales, other than washing off the dirt and making them look more shiny than before.
'It's not enough.'
But, unless Sae-Jin was in the Lycanthrope Form, it seemed that this was the limit of what the Orc's leg strength could do; he was actually aiming for the creature's weakness, its comb, but he could only reach the edges of its wattle on the neck.
Since there was little he could now, he used the Skill 'Fierce Strike' on the wattle, instead.
The clear and vivid roar resounded at the same time as the attack connected. The Monster bird writhed in pain after its vocal cord was attacked, but it couldn't cry out that destructive crow anymore. Now the things had come to this, the plan B was proving to be better than he initially thought.
*SFX for tentacles attacking*
However, the tentacles were not suffering from the same pain as the Monster bird itself, as they were separate entities to begin with. Since its host's life was in danger, all the tentacles seemed to lose any reasoning whatsoever and focused solely on one target, rushing towards the Orc that had attacked the Monster bird.
And well, that was the biggest mistake this Monster could ever make in its life.
Pressed for time, Kim Yu-Rin shouted out one word as she dashed towards the Monster bird. Other Knights shared the same thought as her and every one of the 10 Knights present jumped towards the Monster.
But in all honesty, there was no need for all ten of them. It was enough with Kim Yu-Rin there. She squeezed out every ounce of Mana from her body and activated the Trait 'Desideratum', imbuing the sword with the strongest purpose she could load the weapon with - "faint, never to wake up".
The moment Yu-Rin's sword struck the Monster, its body began to falter to the side slowly.
Even Yu-Rin herself faltered and squatted down as well. As she didn't have enough Mana, her Trait would remain activated for ten seconds at most, but that ten was more than enough.
After all, it didn't matter if those tentacles still thrashed about, as the Monster bird lying on its side unmoving was no better than a chicken waiting to be slaughtered in the end.
On top of this massive fallen chicken, the group of Orcs and Knights descended.
And so, that was how Kim Sae-Jin was able to read yet another feel-good alert window.
The actual reason why he brought along these elite Orcs to this place was quite simple. He thought that, judging from the clues he had seen until now, he might evolve into the Orc Chieftain if he led other Orcs in a group hunt.
And his expectation was right on the money.
What hair? Does my hair represent the Skill Level or something?
Initially, he felt somewhat disappointed by this. But well, when he checked his Status Window, his jaw hit the floor. With the exception of Mana Affinity and Magic Strength, every other Stat saw an explosive increase of over 100 points each.
Plus, the amount of time he could suppress the instincts of the Lycanthrope, the time he could spend as the human Kim Sae-Jin, had increased to over 18.5 hours… So, yes, in that moment, he couldn't be more happier even if he tried.
The end of the battle finally came with the Orc Chieftain ripping off the Monster bird's cockscomb; the only thing that filled this vast open space was deathly quiet stillness. Ten Knights tried to control their heavy breathing, all the while staring at the group of Orcs.
As expected, the first one to move among them was Kim Yu-Rin. She carefully moved her feet towards the Orc Chieftain.
As the desolate wind blew across the land and tickled past the ankles, Yu-Rin carefully gathered both her arms in front of her chest while looking up at the Orc. That faint smile on her lips seemed to represent her current state of emotions.
"…You did come. But you said you wouldn't."
She shyly opened her mouth. The Orc slightly turned his head to look down on her.
The thing was, her face was caked with sweat as well as with dried and unidentifiable black blood - which pretty much made her look not so good at the moment. On top of this, his sensitive nose was picking up some atrocious odour drifting out of her that reminded him of clogged up sewers.
However, while totally unaware of her current appearance, she became more and more abashed at the Orc's pointed stares, and began twisting her body this way and that.
The Orc let out a hollow chuckle and turned around to leave. Since he became the Chieftain, he got what he came here for. No need to endure the smell of sewers if he could help it.
"Wait, Mister Orc!!"
Kim Yu-Rin was about to chase after the back of the cold and indifferent Orc, but then, someone appeared out of nowhere and grasped her arm, stopping her.
It was Yi Hye-Rin this time as well. Yu-Rin's face hardened as she yanked her arm loose.
But Yi Hye-Rin played this smartly, and instead of saying anything, she simply showed the reflection of Yu-Rin's face on the polished surface of the sword. And the face that stared back was… really something else.
Yu-Rin's jaws went slack after receiving a powerful mental shock, seeing that pathetic appearance. Even her consciousness wanted to blank out as well.
The information embargo on the Boss raid was lifted the moment the Monster was defeated and all the participants returned relatively unhurt. The news media that watched the battle from a great distance all hurriedly began doing their thing.
Disregarding all else, the news of the Hero Orcs entering the raid spread around and began snowballing into something bigger. The public didn't pay much attention towards the unexpectedly-high strength of the Monster bird, and rather, the event of the Orcs helping out in the raid stole all the headlines away instead.
Among the razor-sharp focused attention, Kim Yu-Rin's opinion that the Knights could perform the raid together with the Orcs got reevaluated favourably, but during the post-raid press conference, the person herself seemed rather downtrodden for some reason.
Thanks to Yu-Rin's press conference, the Orc was able to get an unexpected and explosive reaction from the female half of the populace. They were saying something about him being the "bad boy" type that women fell for.
On the other side of the spectrum, many academics became incredibly excited, saying that this event would go down in the annals of the world's history as the beginning of a new era and many of them even began writing dissertations on it as well.
However, the man responsible for causing all this havoc, Kim Sae-Jin, had to go to a rather weird place on the first day of August.
"How many?" (Unnamed Knight 1)
There was a tower in the Gangwon Province that rose up very high into the sky. A tower that was absolutely overwhelming in its presence among the forest of skyscrapers, and at the same time, utterly different from them in concept.
This tower was often referred to as the holy land of all the Knights out there, and had the name Eden attached to it.
"The number that passed the final preliminary elimination is 205. It's quite a lot." (Unnamed Knight 2)
"It's no longer the level of 'quite', though?" (Unnamed Knight 1)
Eden annually ran an evaluation test to officially appoint Knights and assign ranks to them. And today was the day when the Lowest Tier Knights - the ones that would be assigned to the Orders all over the country - would be selected.
Normally, the participants of this test were cadets from the Knight Academy as well as those who had awakened their Traits.
Cadets without Traits were still allowed to participate if they presented their grades from the Academy. As for those who awakened their Trait recently, one only had to prove that he or she possessed a 'useful' Trait to enter.
"The ratio is?" (Unnamed Knight 1)
"Almost all of them - no, with the exception of one, everyone else is either a cadet taking the test for the first time, or one who is repeating it. Ten of the newbie cadets possess Traits, sir." (Unnamed Knight 2)
"Anyone interesting we should look out for?" (Unnamed Knight 1)
"Yes. There are three." (Unnamed Knight 2)
The subordinate Knight handed over a chart to his superior officer.
"First one is Yi Yu-Jin. A female, scored very highly in the proficiency of wielding Mana. Judging by how well she can control her sword aura already, I assume she might be referred to as the new Kim Yu-Rin or even Yu Sae-Jung in the near future." (Unnamed Knight 2)
"…Is it a trend nowadays that talented female Knights must look like a supermodel?" (Unnamed Knight 1)
"Haha… Well, there's nothing we can do about that, sir. When a woman wields Mana, that process alone always smoothes out the skin tone and subtly reshapes facial structure to the so-called ideal form, after all."
A thin, bitter smile spread on the superior officer's lips. He was feeling rather disappointed at this idiot subordinate of his for still believing in that superstitious nonsense…
"Next?" (Unnamed Knight 1)
"His name is Kim Myung-Hahn, sir. A male, possessing a unique Trait. It's been named 'Asura', and it lets him control surrounding Mana as his own." (Unnamed Knight 2)
"And finally… He's the only one who is not a cadet, sir. And he's a homeless as well. Apparently, his Trait awakened a while ago when he was about to die from the cold and so he applied for a spot today." (TL: I almost TLed the homeless as a NEET instead. Just so you know.)
The superior officer frowned deeply. Such an occurrence happened every now and then, but whenever he heard of it, it pissed him off, somewhat. To think, these no good wastrels were trying to become Knights relying only on their Traits and not through hard work…
"And what's his name?"
"It's Jin Seh-Hahn."
"…Remember it well, and if he acts like he's about to do something funny, kick him out."
Actually, that was the fake identity Kim Sae-Jin was using.
It was easy to forge a fake identity with the help of the intelligence operatives he had fostered until now, but Sae-Jin's was even more water-tight thanks to Yu Baek-Song's intervention as well.
The biggest issue with his outer appearance was also taken care of, with something called 'Partial Beastification'.
Obviously, there was nothing he could do about his overall facial structure, but his eyelines, the nose and the jawline were all changed slightly to resemble a wolf more closely; and by extending his beard and goatee to a ridiculous degree, he certainly looked like a totally different person altogether.
As for his powerful scent - well, he acquired an artifact that emitted a very unpleasant odour in order to suppress his own.
And the reason why he had to infiltrate Eden's Knight evaluation test while going so far as to change his appearance, was…
One had to look back to a date four weeks ago: 14th of July.
On a perfectly average Summer afternoon, when Kim Sae-Jin held a meeting with Yu Baek-Song within the Guild's office.
Now that she had relinquished the position of the Chief of the SID, Yu Baek-Song's face seemed somewhat conflicted, one part sad, one part glad.
"And when is the date for the inauguration ceremony for the vacant ministerial position?" (Sae-Jin)
"How should I know? It'll be announced when it's ready, I guess." (Yu Baek-Song)
Kim Hahn-Seol was being prosecuted for taking bribes as well as for collusion among many others. Even then, he was still trying to contact Sae-Jin, desperately searching for a way out, but Sae-Jin remained ruthless.
"If you climb up to that position, you can finally find the information we talked about, yes?" (Sae-Jin)
"…Well, the thing is… I already had it checked out." (Yu Baek-Song)
At Yu Baek-Song's words, Sae-Jin's eyes went extra round.
"However, it's not what you've been expecting, not at all. That information is impossible even for me to access." (Yu Baek-Song)
"…What do you mean?"
His momentary expectation morphed into cold disappointment real fast.
"The reason is, I still lack the qualifications. And so, all I could find out was just where the info might be buried in." (Yu Baek-Song)
Yu Baek-Song then sighed out deeply.
"…And where could it be?" (Sae-Jin)
"The 2nd Tier Secret Records Archives, located in the upper mid floors of the tower of Eden. It seems that your father was a Knight directly working for Eden."
"I'm sure you know of this already; Eden is a world-wide organization and is therefore the same as any other independent nation. Obviously, it's different from country to county, but no matter what, unless you're a member of the Eden's administration, it's impossible to extract any information out from there."
Kim Sae-Jin held his head with a pained expression. As the things he had done until now became a waste of time, the amount of disappointment and emptiness he felt couldn't even be imagined.
What came next after disappointment was anger. Besides the fact that his father was seemingly a Knight who worked for Eden, just what kind of truth precipitated a need to treat the information about him as a top secret and hide it away in a location on the tower's upper mid floors?
"…So, in order to extract the relevant information, we need someone to become the Knight of Eden."
"Theoretically, yep. But just who can become a Knight working for Eden at this stage? I mean, it's hard enough trying to become a Knight working for regular Orders, for crying out loud." (Yu Baek-Song)
If one wanted to become a Knight of Eden, then he or she had to forget about one's aspirations and enter the organization voluntarily.
Meaning, after passing the test, one had to give up the chance of going to other Knights Orders and must choose to enter Eden instead.
On top of this, considering the fact that the entrance was open to not just the local candidates but to the rest of the world, the entry barrier was actually a lot tougher than simply being a Lowest Tier Knight. Not to forget, one only got a single chance in life to voluntarily enter Eden, too.
And so, the number of successful applicants that entered Eden in the past three years from South Korea was…. just one.
That showed just how much Eden valued the future growth potential and abilities of its candidates…
In that moment, Kim Sae-Jin stared at Yu Baek-Song. She too stared right back at him.
Silently, a strange but knowing gaze was exchanged between the two of them.
However, Kim Sae-Jin already had a past record of being a Hunter, and also he was just too famous, so it was not possible for him to become a Knight affiliated with Eden, the group that emphasized on its members' 'dedication' above all else.
"…You said you can make any artifacts, right?"
Yu Baek-Song spoke first. Although rare, artifacts that could alter a person's appearance still existed.
"Yes, I did."
Even though he said as much, the truth was, Sae-Jin didn't really need an artifact.
"I heard that Knights of Eden can freely commute as they please?" (Sae-Jin)
"Yeah, that's right. Those people in Eden receive commission from other Knights Orders and the national government, you see. So they do have a lot of free time."
Kim Sae-Jin began smiling in an evil manner.
Wasn't this just a perfect condition for him?
"But can you fight, like, really well?"
"It's one of my Traits, so yes."
Of course, he hadn't yet faced off against a Knight who used Mana at full power during sparring, but even when simply comparing on his physique as a 'human', he was on par with a talented Mid Tier Knight.
"It'll take some time, so will you be okay with that?" (Yu Baek-Song)
"…Why would it take time? Knights only value abilities, after all."
As long as he was careful about the potential camp training, he'd be fine.
And that's how Kim Sae-Jin was able to participate in Eden's Knights evaluation test as Jin Seh-Hahn.
Whenever there was an evaluation, Eden would often invite famous Knights to serve as temporary instructors. And the person invited this time was someone rather familiar even to Sae-Jin.
It was Joo Ji-Hyuk.
He was putting on as much airs as possible and tried to appear commanding to the crowd.
"You'll be participating in various tests once every day for the duration of one week. You can choose to stay in the dormitory located in Eden Tower's 1st floor, or alternatively, choose to commute from home…"
While hearing this, Sae-Jin inwardly sighed out. He wasn't even shooting an episode of 'Undercover Boss' or something like that, and yet, here he was….
"For now, you will take a seat and be on standby. Carry on."
As Sae-Jin was going through the emotions of shame, he missed the end of Joo Ji-Hyuk's announcements and ended up falling into a bit of panic.
"…What the hell."
The applicants who were already familiar with one another began to form groups of same classes, those who were repeating the test, or those who came from the same neighbourhood, etc, etc…
There was seemingly no opening whatsoever to penetrate such tight cliques, and soon, all 204 applicants began sending chilly gazes of contempt towards Sae-Jin's direction, after the rumours of him passing the initial evaluation without a hassle thanks to his great Trait had permeated to everywhere already.
And so, he had become a sore thumb sticking out in less than three seconds.
"…Is he the one?"
"Dunno what Trait he has, but it must've been pretty nice, huh?"
"I heard it from my mom that he's a bum. A homeless bum!! Look at his beard - it's so mangy and stuff!!"
While eavesdropping on the conversations going on around him via his sensitive hearing, Sae-Jin couldn't help but sigh out inwardly again. Didn't matter whether they were Knights or not, the fact remained that they were still a bunch of kids.
"But, hmm. Don't you think he might look good if he got rid of that beard?"
"…So what. The fact is, he is still someone who didn't put in any effort unlike us, just leeching off on that lottery win of his."
He then caught onto someone praising him like a ghost, and his head snapped towards the direction almost like a reflex.
He saw a pair of boy and girl. He might as well call them a handsome couple or some such. There were only two of them and not one more, and there was no one else around them, either.
"…Huh? Isn't he looking over here? Do you think he might come over?"
The boy spoke with an interested voice.
"If he comes, then tell him to scram."
But the girl's was rather sardonic, instead.
'I'm not going there even if you beg me.'
After slyly appraising them over, Sae-Jin shook his head and plopped down on where he stood, before he began stroking the lengthy beard that grew along his jawline. There was something quite addictive about it as he played around with it.
< 28. Changes in the Daily Life, part 2 (3) > Fin.
(TL: $35 left out of $50 for the week's second sponsored chapter.)