A Monster Who Levels Up
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(TL: This extra chapter is brought to you by these wonderful individuals: Jan B, Joscha D, Dale B, and a mysterious person who didn't leave behind his/her name when making the donation!! Thank you for your support!! Means a lot.)
On an early morning of a certain day in April.
Hazeline was walking towards The Monster's HQ for the first time in a long, long while. She convinced herself that she was simply out on a stroll, but the truth was, she couldn't muster up the courage and give that man a call, so she was hoping to borrow the power of divine intervention.
Now that she was here, though, she noticed that not just the HQ building but the entirety of the Guild's grounds seemed to have changed a great deal. The vast site of the Guild already boasted a stunning scenic view, but there were five or six brand-new monolithic megastructures that she hadn't seen before, and so, she didn't know which one she was supposed to enter. And there were lots of employees surrounding her, all of them arriving for work as this was still an early morning.
She hesitantly stood there amidst the busily-moving bodies of the employees, before slowly approaching one of the buildings where the most of the crowd was headed off to. She could sense a dizzy spell trying to trip her up just now, what with being surrounded by so many people like this, but somehow endured it as she walked up to the entry gate.
It looked like she needed to use an employee's card here; wondering for a bit, Hazeline carefully fished out her Guild membership card and pressed it onto the sensor.
It was then, a loud, automated voice of a woman came out of the speakers, saying, [Miss Shenarine, the Guild member].
'The Guild member'. Those three damn words.
Almost immediately, noisy and lively entrance hall became dead silent, and the eyes of the surrounding people gathered towards her.
Hazeline froze up like a statue in the very posture of pressing the card to the sensor.
Although their gazes contained the feelings and emotions of envy as well as admiration, she was still very much frightened by the fact that their attention was focused solely on her. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call this a severe case of agoraphobia…
A female employee approached Hazeline, whose head had simply blanked out.
"Ye, yes. I'm Shenarine. P, please save me." (Hazeline)
Even her tongue had frozen stiff. The female employee tilted her head at this sight.
"Ah… This is TM's HQ building, ma'am. You can still enter it if you wish, but… By any chance, are you looking for the Guild's HQ, instead?"
"Yes, yes, yes. Right, that place." (Hazeline)
Hazeline pulled the hood down much lower and stuck right next to this employee. It couldn't be helped, since there was no one else to rely on except this woman. The employee seemed to be a bit flustered, but still, she made some calls and then brought Hazeline outside the building.
"It's over there."
After walking for about five more minutes, they could see the Guild's building. Thankfully, it was rather quiet around here. Letting out a huge sigh of relief, Hazeline finally released the iron vice-like grip on the female employee and lowered her head.
"Thank you so much. I did come here before, but… Everything had changed a great deal." (Hazeline)
"Oh, no. It's alright. If you need a guide again, please don't hesitate and give me a call."
Hazeline hurriedly pocketed the business card of the female employee and entered the Guild's HQ. There was only one person present, a receptionist, behind the counter in the spacious lobby.
Hazeline immediately glared at the receptionist. Seeing the pointy tips of the ears, she seemed to be an Elf as well.
She seems way younger than me, so she should appropriately show some respect without me telling her, right?
As she continued to shoot the glare filled with her own little delusional thoughts…
"Wah, today's training was so tough."
"But still, this much is on the easy side, you know?"
From the passage to her side, accompanied by noisy chattering, a group of Knights walked out, their hairs still moist. It was a group of five women, and besides Yu Sae-Jung and Yi Hye-Rin, the other three were new Guild members.
"Uh? Unni? What are you doing here?" (Yu Sae-Jung)
Hazeline was turning around to escape the moment she saw Yu Sae-Jung's face, but too bad, Sae-Jung recognised her first and greeted her.
"She is one of the founding members, Wizard Shenarine." (Yu Sae-Jung)
Yu Sae-Jung made introductions to everyone as Hazeline began panicking inwardly. Then, with a brilliant smile, Yu Sae-Jung took Hazeline's hand.
"Shall we go and eat together? The cafeteria here makes great food, you see." (Yu Sae-Jung)
After she was 'dragged' into the cafeteria in a daze, Hazeline found it difficult to acclimatise to this noisy atmosphere. Just how could they be this chatty with one another? Her ears might bleed the following day from all this yapping…
"Ah, that's right. Miss Shenarine, by any chance, do you know who this Wizard of Bangbae-Dong is? I've never seen a commotion quite like that one before. I hear that scouts from overseas Wizard Towers are scouring Bangbae-Dong, trying to find him."
"Ah… I also have no idea who that could be. It feels like a famous Wizard pulling a fast one, but… But I've turned my back on the wizarding world some time ago." (Hazeline)
The Wizard of Bangbae-Dong was one of the 'hottest' Wizards currently in the Korean peninsula. And the reason for that was simply because as a Korean Wizard, he got mentioned by the international media. It was like, [Grimoires that are perfectly corrected - just like how it was with the world of Alchemy, will there be another Korean Wave in the world of magic as well?]
"That's how it was… But it's okay for you to speak less formally, you know! It's fine for you to not use honorifics, since you're so much older than us."
Hazeline really wanted to tell this girl to shut the hell up.
"Ah, right. Uhm, by the way, Unni… Is it really… no? With Jin Seh-Hahn?" (Yu Sae-Jung)
However, Yu Sae-Jung, who was definitely not a Wizard, had something else in her mind.
Although more than a month had passed, he was still a big topic of discussion among the populace. Hell, it seemed that people would still talk about him even after a year later, what with the martial art school that took after his name, 'Jin Mudo', now having over ten thousand disciples, as well as the UN creating a special award called 'Jin Seh-Hahn: The Hero of the World'.
"No, really, it wasn't like that. We were… just close." (Hazeline)
"Ng. But, still…" (Hazeline)
Seeing Yu Sae-Jung looking disappointed for some reason, Hazeline decided to add in a couple more unnecessary words.
"But I still liked him, a lot." (Hazeline)
Suddenly, the lively atmosphere cooled down rapidly. Since this wasn't what she wanted, Hazeline quickly waved her hands around while smiling awkwardly.
"No, no, I'm just kidding. Besides that, Sae-Jung, did you… get a ring already?" (Hazeline)
Hazeline was busy searching for another topic to talk about, but even she realised her own mistake as soon as the words left her mouth. She shouldn't have asked this, for her own sake…
"Oh. Yes, Oppa gave it to me." (Yu Sae-Jung)
"Wow. Really? It looks so expensive!! How much was it?" (Yi Hye-Rin)
While Hazeline was swallowing down the bitterness in her mouth on the side, Yi Hye-Rin was busy raising a fuss.
"Actually… he personally made it for me. There's only one like this in the whole world." (Yu Sae-Jung)
"Seriously? Oh, my, gosh!! So envious of you right now!! That's an artifact, though, right? What kind of effects does it have?"
"…Well, it improves the skin and smoothes out the wrinkles." (Yu Sae-Jung)
This 'artifact' ring certainly possessed one of the most fatal effects for the women folk…
Hazeline quietly bit down on her lips while listening to the conversation. She wasn't being overwhelmed by negative thoughts, such as I also want one like that.
'But I'm the oldest here, though…'
…Well, some part of her felt like that, but it wasn't everything.
Something was rising up inside her. Could it be frustration, anger, jealousy or envy? Or maybe, all of the above?
"Oh, really? Mm… So that's how it was. But, did you know?" (Hazeline)
Hazeline put the spoon down on the table with an audible tap.
"The one who met Mister Sae-Jin first was probably me? When he literally had nothing, it was me who borrowed him 5 million. Back then, he pretty much relied only on my help all the time…" (Hazeline)
No one asked her to say this, yet Hazeline really, really wanted to let this one out of her chest.
Other Knights nodded their heads and went, Oh, so it was like that, and thought nothing much of it, but Yu Sae-Jung was different. She furrowed her brows and then spat out her reply.
"It was probably… before Mister Sae-Jin became a Hunter?" (Hazeline)
It was way before Yu Sae-Jung's time. Biting her lips, she desperately rolled her brain into gear. And finally, something did come up.
"I also met someone who resembled Oppa back when I was really, really young, you see? I think I was 7 or 8. It was 14 years ago, in terms of yea…" (Yu Sae-Jung)
"But that was someone just resembling him, though. Please, stop demeaning yourself." (Hazeline)
Two of them glared at each other with hotly burning eyes.
"Well, still. It doesn't matter who met who first." (Yu Sae-Jung)
"What matters the most is, who's standing beside him now." (Yu Sae-Jung)
Hazeline's eyes began twitching, out of the blue. The newbie members cautiously studied this rapidly worsening mood between the two of them, and decided to quietly vacate their seats. However, Yi Hye-Rin stopped them. Her reasoning was that, it was always better to share such a fun development with other people.
At the same time when Hazeline and Yu Sae-Jung were waging a psychological warfare against each other…
Kim Sae-Jin stepped into the lush, verdant mountainside with two Mercenaries by his side. Breezes caressed the still mountains, causing the leaves to rustle; every now and then, sounds of wild animals growling could be heard.
And within this pristine land where there were no traces of humanity, Vampires were in hiding. Sae-Jin turned his gaze towards the Mercenaries, feeling slightly worried. Since he wanted absolute secrecy, he only brought two Mercenaries along. A man and a woman, they were the best of the best from the Company, personally selected by Kim Yu-Sohn for this job. They were more than qualified enough to act as his guides.
"…I'll leave the guiding to you guys." (Sae-Jin)
At Sae-Jin's command, the female Mercenary called Rejen took a large stride forward.
"Please follow me."
Sae-Jin followed behind her large, confident footsteps, while the male Mercenary guarded their rear.
And the place beyond the still forest, where Sae-Jin stopped after ten minutes of travel, was…
*SFX for chilly winds blowing across*
…It was a seriously scary-looking precipitous cliff.
"What the heck is going on here…" (Sae-Jin)
Suddenly, Sae-Jin recalled a certain urban legend about satnavs inadvertently leading people towards deadly cliffs. When he glared at the two escorts with questioning eyes, they hurriedly shook their heads.
"All you have to do is to get to the bottom of this cliff. It might be difficult for regular civilians, but it should be perfectly doable for you, Mister Sae-Jin." (Rejen)
Rejen made her excuse and stood on the cliff's edge.
"I'll stand guard here."
The male Mercenary spoke out this time. Thinking that only this guy got the easy job, Sae-Jin shot him a look of discomfort. However, the male Mercenary feigned ignorance and cautiously avoided making eye contact.
"…So, I must really jump down from here?" (Sae-Jin)
Sae-Jin peered over the edge while voicing out his doubts. It sure was steep, this cliff. It was so deep that he couldn't tell whether there was a solid ground at the bottom, an ocean, or even a pit of flames down there.
"Will you be able to make it? Do you need any assistance?" (Rejen)
Rejen asked in a worried voice.
"No, uh, it's fine. I can… make it alone. I think." (Sae-Jin)
Sae-Jin breathed in deeply and peered over the precipice once more. But, it still was a steep cliff, still giving him a strong case of vertigo. Plus, there was a powerful wind blowing up from the bottom, too…
"Should I help?"
Rejen asked him again.
"…H, how will you help me?" (Sae-Jin)
Sae-Jin reluctantly decided to concede to the reality of the situation.
"Hold on tight." (Rejen)
Rejen wrapped her arms around Sae-Jin's waist without a single change to her expression. Only then, Sae-Jin spotted a pair of animal ears hidden under her hood. Oh, she was a Soo-in.
Unfortunately, all unnecessary thoughts regarding her race was cut short.
Well, even before Sae-Jin could get ready, she jumped like a cute kitten over the cliff, while still holding onto him.
A somewhat pathetic scream of a guy echoed around the cliffside. The male Mercenary slowly approached the cliff and peered over the edge, before he…
…Rubbed his chest down while breathing out a healthy sigh of relief.
Holding his still-dizzy head, Sae-Jin got up on his unsteady legs. Thanks to calling forth his reserve of Mana before it got too late, he didn't suffer any external injuries.
"So, where are we going next?" (Sae-Jin)
"Over there." (Rejen)
At the place Rejen pointed at, there was a plentiful suspicious-looking piece of weird but huge boulder blocking a small corner of the cliff's face. There was no need to accuse them for being way too relaxed with their 'security', though. After all, even the 'condition' of the entranceway was rather scary dangerous already.
Sae-Jin gulped down on his saliva and approached the boulder. That's all he did. However, even though he didn't do a thing, with a noisy grumbling, the boulder slid inside the cliff and revealed a passage.
He took a glance at his back and saw Rejen without her hood studying the interior of the passageway with lots of interest.
"Let's go together." (Sae-Jin)
"…But can I?"
"Yes. But, please don't interfere while I talk to them."
Well, seeing that they opened the door without asking, it meant they were probably willing to have a chat with him. Rejen nodded her head and with light, airy steps, entered the passage first.
Inside the passage was dark and surprisingly lengthy. And the further they walked in, the stronger the smell of blood got. But, rather mysteriously enough, this smell was somewhat different from every other Vampire Sae-Jin encountered before. It was a bit hard to explain why.
"…Someone's coming." (Rejen)
Rejen was leading the way, but she stopped in her tracks with her ears standing stiff, then she raised her arm and blocked his progress.
"Who's there!!" (Rejen)
A cry like a wild cat from her, and a shape of a person covered in a thick robe rose up from the darkness.
And it was a Vampire. Unbeknownst to him, Sae-Jin began gritting his teeth. However, this Vampire leisurely studied the two and slowly began speaking.
"…It has been a while."
A while? Sae-Jin tilted his head.
"What do you mean by that?" (Sae-Jin)
"Oh. Ah, my apologies. I mistook you for someone else."
Someone else. Probably meaning Sae-Jin's father.
"In any case. We have been waiting for you. Are you willing to follow me in?"
Sae-Jin quietly glared at this figure, and then…
…He slowly nodded his head.
< 36. Fading Skeins of Thread (1) > Fin.
(TL: $43 out of $50 left for next week's first sponsored chapter.)