A Monster Who Levels Up
"Ahjussi, do it with me." (Yi Yu-Jin)
As soon as Kim In-Soo turned around and left, Yi Yu-Jin asked Sae-Jin for a fight.
On the seventh day, which would be the next day, it was reserved for things like measuring of Mana and Magic strength, psychological tests, and having interviews with Knights Orders, so realistically, this was it for her to reverse the rankings. However, Yi Yu-Jin looked a bit anxious, since if Sae-Jin refused, then that would be the end.
Unfortunately, Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin was dazedly staring at the empty air and didn't reply to her request. Feeling a little frustrated, Yi Yu-Jin grasped his arm and shook it. Only then, he turned his head towards her direction.
"Let's do it." (Yi Yu-Jin)
"…Do what?" (Sae-Jin)
"The duel." (Yi Yu-Jin)
"Uh… Ah… Sure thing." (Sae-Jin)
At his easier-than-expected agreement, her expressions turned weird. But that only lasted for a short while. She began energetically smiling.
"As expected, Ahjussi is really manly and straight forward! No backing out now, right?" (Yi Yu-Jin)
"Yeah, sure." (Sae-Jin)
And so, the meal time came to an end and the cadets started performing light exercises to prepare for the upcoming duels.
One hour later.
All the remaining cadets gathered at a huge dueling arena on the fourth floor of the Tower.
Kim In-Soo told the cadets to greet the observers hidden from the view, and so, they bent their backs 90 degrees. That signaled the beginning of the duels.
Most cadets thought that the procession might become rather tedious as there were a fair number of participants, but when the things actually got going, every battle lasted only for a way, way too brief moment.
No, that didn't mean high-ranked cadets chose to fight against a low-ranked ones, though. The thing was, these high-ranked cadets were mindful of the scoring system and so, they tried not to fight against opponents with too low a rank, but then, many low-ranked cadets who were confident of their chances in duel began provoking the high ranked ones instead, and somehow, successfully got the duels going.
*SFX for lights (?) falling*
A flash of light shooting out from Goh Yun-Jong's blade melted a nameless male cadet's sword, thereby ending the 35th duel. And it had been only 25 minutes after the start of this whole duel thing.
"The 9th ranked, Goh Yun-Jong, winner."
"Nicely done!" (Yi Yu-Jin)
Elated by the victory of her friend, Yi Yu-Jin stood up from her seat and shouted out loudly.
"Next, Yi Yu-Jin and Jin Seh-Hahn. Come up on the arena."
Her joy only lasted for a brief moment, however. As soon as her name was called out, her face became incomparably stiff.
Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin made his way up on the arena first and she followed him up soon after.
As the two of them faced against each other, different lines of thoughts flowed in their minds.
'…Now how should I handle this? Do it with one punch, just like until now?' (Sae-Jin)
'Surely, he has no experience in duels like this, so I must not give him time to get organised and attack him right away… But, something doesn't feel right. Maybe, I should take my time, and wait for a gap…' (Yi Yu-Jin)
It was kind of obvious that Yi Yu-Jin's thoughts were a lot more weighty compared to her opponent's.
"Who do you think will win?"
Observers couldn't hide their excitement as the main match was about to get under way.
"I still believe Yi Yu-Jin would win this one. Yi Yu-Jin might have graduated from the Academy at a younger age than Yu Sae-Jung, but she's a Knight who is willing to become a repeat test taker just for an opportunity to enter Eden. There should be quite a gap between the two as far as actual combat strength is concerned."
Observers spoke out their own educated opinions. Someone said that, after using
a special finishing move, the duel would end quickly, judging by what had gone before. Some disagreed and said their skill levels were similar so it might continue on for at least 5 minutes…
But in the midst of this, out of the blue, a shout loud enough to shock everyone into stupor exploded out from the arena below them.
"…That's the end! The 1st ranked, Jin Seh-Hahn, winner!"
Even the referee's voice was trembling, as if he was confused somewhat.
"…What was that?" (Kim Yu-Rin)
Stunned by that sudden, unexpected announcement, Kim Yu-Rin quickly got up from her seat and with her own two eyes, checked the situation at the dueling arena. There was Yi Yu-Jin toppled over, clutching her stomach, while standing in front, Jin Seh-Hahn looking at the girl, his fist clenched tight.
The duel was clearly over.
Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin scratched the back of his neck, looking embarrassed slightly. He wasn't planning to finish things up this fast… but even he didn't expect Yi Yu-Jin to madly dash towards him, and so, he ended up swinging his fist.
And the result of that simple punch was this.
Yi Yu-Jin was drooling all over the ground while unable to recover her wits; meanwhile, all the other cadets were dumbfoundedly staring at him.
"M, my luck is pretty good, eh. Didn't expect you to move the way I wanted you to. Really, my luck is the best." (Sae-Jin)
…He felt the need to say something under those intense gazes, so, he did.
After the first stage of the duel had come to an end, cadets rested their bodies while waiting for the expert's arrival.
Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin continuously chugged down bottles of water as he got nervous about running into Yu Sae-Jung. On the side, Yi Yu-Jin remained silent, totally downtrodden. There were traces of tears on the corners of her eyes, even.
It was then, Yu Sae-Jung made her entrance.
She was, without a doubt, an idol.
Not only the quietly-seated cadets stood up quickly in order to take a good look at her, even the referee for the duel, Kim In-Soo, stood there totally dazed as he gazed at the woman who seemed to exhibit a bit more mature charm than before.
*SFX for soles of high heels making noise*
Despite coming to duel, Yu Sae-Jung wore a pair of high-heels. She ascended the arena and spoke while sweeping her gaze over the cadets.
"…My evaluation standard is straightforward. If you can withstand one strike from me, I'll give you a fair amount of score." (Yu Sae-Jung)
Yu Sae-Jung's attitude was incredibly cold and distant, which was completely different from when she was with Sae-Jin in private.
"Since I don't have a lot of time, let's start quickly, from the bottom. The last person in the rankings, please come up." (Yu Sae-Jung)
And the second half of the duels - or, in this case, 'guidance', began in this manner and ended faster than the first half. None of the 70 or so cadets could receive Yu Sae-Jung's strike with a wooden sword, so the whole thing only needed about ten minutes or so.
There were six different types of Magic Tattoos inscribed on her small and petite frame; Sae-Jin finally got to see for himself just what kind of a mini-monster he had inadvertently created here.
"Next… Yi Yu-Jin?" (Yu Sae-Jung)
Yi Yu-Jin replied back loudly and quickly dashed forward. Although there was only a two-year gap between the two, seeing the overwhelming appearance of her role model, twinkling lights had returned in full force within her eyes.
"Well then, shall we get started?" (Yi Yu-Jin)
Yu Sae-Jung spoke as she lightly swung the wooden sword. Although it looked light and weak, the amount of pressure Yi Yu-Jin felt crashing down on her was far beyond her expectations.
Yi Yu-Jin let out a strange shout and somehow, was able to endure the strike by the skin of her teeth.
Yu Sae-Jung began counting up to five while maintaining the strength and Mana she imbued in the sword, and then withdrew the weapon.
"Heu uh uh…"
Becoming dead-tired after encountering that one attack, Yi Yu-Jin plopped down on the floor, her legs shaking uncontrollably.
"Very good." (Yu Sae-Jung)
Cadets began clapping their hands as the second person to pass after Kim Myoung-Hahn had appeared.
"Okay, and next is…?"
Finally, Kim Sae-Jin in Jin Seh-Hahn's disguise hesitantly entered the dueling arena.
But well, the way Yu Sae-Jung was staring at him seemed to indicate something was afoot.
"…Shall we?" (Yu Sae-Jung)
Since Sae-Jin's voice had become deeper due to the Beastification, he was not too worried, but still… Quite strangely, instead of attacking him, Yu Sae-Jung began to carefully study his facial features.
He thought he might get discovered if this continued, so he rushed forward first, instead.
Her face, flushed with an unexpected surprise, and a wooden sword loaded with Mana coming down right afterwards.
Sae-Jin grasped that sword with his bare hand and stood there 'enduring' for about ten seconds, before determining that this should be enough and let go.
And to put the finishing touch, he deliberately let his legs tremble and plopped down on the floor as well.
Yu Sae-Jung narrowed her brows and stared at this guy, before opening her mouth.
"…Very good, but still…" (Yu Sae-Jung)
…This man, I feel like I've seen him before somewhere.
However, she didn't blurt out the words that might increase her time staying here. Going home early from one's duties would only make one feel good, after all.
"That's it for today, then. End of the test. I'll be on my way first." (Yu Sae-Jung)
While singing inwardly, she quickly moved her feet while happily imagining a certain someone potentially waiting for her back home.
And so, that was how the Knight evaluation test had come to a disappointing end.
Jin Seh-Hahn had refused all the earnest invitations from the various Knights Orders and volunteered to work for Eden; and currently, he was leisurely waiting for the reply that would arrive in a week's time.
The day was an ordinary Summer's Saturday, when the weather was really stuffy and the baking heat was infused into the blowing winds.
Inside the aircon-cooled house, Kim Sae-Jin was gently stroking the back of the sleeping Yu Sae-Jung while quietly thinking to himself.
'I wonder who might win in a fight between the Orc Chieftain and the Lycanthrope…'
…Well, his thoughts weren't all that important, though.
Whatever the case may have been, he was really enjoying these past couple days of peace. It was then, a beam of light shone from a certain crystal nearby. A magic communication from Kim Yu-Sohn had come in, so Sae-Jin hurriedly picked it up.
- "Sir, it's Kim Yu-Sohn."
Kim Yu-Sohn wasn't someone who'd contact him for no reason. His voice seemed heavier than normal as well.
- "I had a dream, sir."
Whenever he said that, Sae-Jin's heart felt like it would stop beating for a moment. A conditioned reflex he developed, where his anticipation and the dread of what might come next were blended together.
- "It seems that… going forward, the future might get a little difficult, sir."
"Can you give me the details?"
- "I saw the scenes of countless boss-level Monsters flooding the world, sir. The monster bird from before was nothing more than just the beginning. And it's not just Korea, either - when I saw the broken bits of news broadcast flashing by in my dreams, even the different distant countries will be suffering similar events."
Kim Sae-Jin became speechless as this revelation was just too sudden.
- "That is why, there's a great need for us to prepare from here onwards."
"…You say… preparations?"
- "Yes, sir. Within the basement of our Guild, we have numerous Goblins, as well as Griffins and Hero Orcs that grow stronger each passing day. However… these won't be enough going forward, at least from the visions I saw in my dream. I suggest we strengthen Knights Orders who are friendly with the Guild…"
Unlike his past self, Kim Yu-Sohn's words were lengthy, disorganised and hurried, which meant Sae-Jin couldn't quite grasp what the veteran Mercenary was trying to say.
There was a reason why Kim Yu-Sohn was feeling the urgency, however.
"Well, for now… I don't quite understand it but regardless, I shall do what Mister Kim Yu-Sohn has recommended. Please, talk to Mister Jo Hahn-Sung and set a plan of action for the future."
- "Yes, sir… I understand."
Kim Yu-Sohn replied powerlessly.
Calamities created heroes; Kim Sae-Jin and his Guild met the necessary conditions and possessed abilities to become exactly that; with Sae-Jin's abilities to pump out countless potions which would be highly sought-after in the upcoming troubled times, as well as to craft fine weapons, Vampires and their sinister plans could be rendered all useless.
Plus, the fame, wealth and the honour of the Guild and its Master, Kim Sae-Jin, would literally shoot towards the heavens.
However, there was a thin line separating between a 'Hero' and a 'Monster'. One wrong step, and a hero would become a monster in no time.
And Kim Sae-Jin's mind wasn't really settled at the moment. In the dreams Yu-Sohn had every now and then, Sae-Jin was always worried and fearful. Maybe he couldn't sense it consciously, but his purest sense of self where his Human and Monster Forms were all blended into one and rooted deeply within, was certainly feeling that way.
"In that case, sir, I shall give you a call again after having a meeting with Mister Jo Hahn-Sung." (Kim Yu-Sohn)
- "Please do."
Kim Yu-Sohn ended the communication with those words and let out a long sigh.
The dream he experienced this time was quite lengthy. He could see the majority of it. That was why he remembered the words "回光返照 (회광반조)". (TL: Hwee-Gwang-Ban-Joh. Sorry for leaving it in the raw Hanja form. The literal meaning is "the sun's light brightening up the sky just before it sets". Basically, one's mind clearing up moments before death, or something close to that effect.)
Suddenly, he sensed something rushing out of his throat, so he quickly covered up his mouth with his hand. Dark crimson liquid escaped between his fingers and dripped down to the floor.
After throwing up the blood, Yu-Sohn quietly gazed at the crimson stain on the floor. He could clearly feel that he didn't have much time left - this damn Vampire's curse that was eating away what little life he had left.
'I hope that my son, Sun-Ho, can do a good job after I'm gone.'
Yu-Sohn had properly educated his son before all this, and he, Sun-Ho, was already performing a lot of work as the head of the Mercenaries. So, he'd have little trouble continuing on with his legacy.
But still, he seemed to have trouble dealing with Kim Sae-Jin.
Sae-Jin didn't mind letting someone else take charge. No, he was the type of person who actually welcomed it as long as there were no ulterior motives. This came about because of a lot of fear accumulating within him that made him worry about making the wrong decisions - especially more so, if the effects of his decisions could create large ripples.
'…I should create an opportunity for a sit-down soon.'
With darkened eyes, Kim Yu-Sohn stared at the world outside the window. The bright and fine sunlight cascaded down to earth. It was truly a beautiful image, worthy to be titled the 'ordinary life'.
< 29. Eden, The Tower of Knights (3) > Fin.
(TL: $4 left out of $50 for this week's first sponsored chapter.)