This chapter was brought to you by AnmesicCat, Boyce, Charles, Lastear, and Lei, Special mentions to MooDavid.
Giran Magic Institute
A ray of light struck the magic tower. Sparks came off the equipment attached to the transmitter as light particles gathered. The light particles that moved along the complicated tangle of glass tubes soon transformed into the shape of a person atop a magic circle.
It was a normal-looking youth, which was actually rare in the virtual reality game where 90% of players changed their appearances. He really couldn’t be called handsome, and there was a surprising grain of truth in calling him ugly; this incomparably vague character’s name was Ark.
“Pant, pant, arrived at last… bleh, BLEECH!”
Ark retched with a green face.
“I thought I was gonna go mad. I’ve never even been carsick, this is really…”
From Jackson to Giran, letter movement only took 3 minutes. That was the time it took for cup noodles to become done at the perfect state for eating. But that mere 3 minutes dealt Ark mental damage that he didn’t want to experience a second time. Still, it was quite fresh and fun at first. When he turned into particles of light, it felt just like he was leaving his body. The sense of weightlessly becoming one with the air! Since he was cutting through the sky in such a state, it was like he had become wind. Everyone has probably imagined it once; becoming a wisp of wind and speeding over mountains, valleys, and plains. That imagination had become reality.
“Woaaaah, this is awesome!”
That sense of liberation! That freedom!
A cheer burst out of him as he looked at the scenery that was speeding past. But it didn’t even take 10 seconds for his cheer to turn into a scream.
The sudden jumps, dives, and turns that unfurled!
Would riding a rollercoaster without the seat belt feel like this? No, it felt like being in a cocktail cup being swished around by a bartender. He jolted from side to side, and the sky and ground flipped countless times…
It still seemed like the floor was shaking underneath him, so he couldn’t even stand up straight.
‘Dammit, what the hell is this frickin’ over the top reality!’
“Are you Ark?”
He heard a rough voice from behind him. Turning around with sunken eyes, he saw an old Magician with a beard that fell to his chest approaching him.
“Do you know me?”
“I just received word from the Jackson Magic Institute. But I knew of your name before that, from the crewmen of the Silver Arrow who arrived a few days ahead of you.”
“Ah, did they arrive well?”
“Of course. They couldn’t come meet you because they’re out on other business, but they told me to send you their greetings.” The old Magician laughed awkwardly as he shrugged his shoulders. “But it looks like you’re not in any shape to ask after their health. Are you okay?”
“Honestly, I can’t really say that I’m alright.”
“Well, letter movement is still in the testing stage, so it couldn’t have been a comfortable journey.”
“It’s not just at the level of not being comfortable though?”
“Apparently the weather was particularly bad today so letter movement was also several times more unstable than normal. Even if we are the Magic Institute, we can’t do anything about the weather. So to speak, you had bad luck.”
“Ah, is that so? Thanks so much for your kind explanation. Why didn’t you tell me that a few days earlier?”
Ark glared at the old Magician who was smiling as he explained. But even if his insides were heaving, Ark wasn’t one to talk carelessly to a NPC.
The Magic Institute reward that he’d been waiting and waiting for was right in front of him. There was no reason to complain and lower the Magic Institute NPC’s mood.
“But ah, the promised…”
Just when Ark was about to gingerly bring up the topic at hand, the old magician slapped his knee as if he had just remembered.
“Ah, just look at my state of mind. Introductions are late. My name is Bargenhart Shannen. I’m the president of the Giran Magic Institute.”
‘The Giran Magic Institute president?’
Ark swallowed what he was about to say and stared in surprise at the old magician, Shannen.
There were about 20 Magic Institute branches set up throughout the large cities of Schudenberg Kingdom. The Giran Magic Institute was the place that centralized all those branches. Therefore, it meant the Giran Magic Institute president was the NPC who had the highest status amongst the Magicians of Schudenberg Kingdom. You’d have to be a guild master affiliated with the Magic Institute to meet this top NPC.
“If it’s fine with you, can you spare some time to drink a cup of tea?”
Ark hastily drew out his business smile as he nodded.
Truth be told, he wasn’t in the mood to leisurely share idle prattle. Leaving the nausea from the aftereffects of the letter movement aside, Ark was only interested in the Magic Institute’s reward right now. But in both reality and the game, personal connections were the most important aspect. What’s more, it was hard for a normal player to even glimpse this high ranking NPC’s face, and he had amiably approached Ark first. There was no reason to refuse.
You had to make an impression on people in lofty positions first. Also, in light of his experience so far, there was a 90% chance that a situation like this was connected to a quest.
“I was just wanting a steamy cup of tea because my stomach isn’t feeling so well.”
“That’s a relief.”
Shannen pointed to one side and a door on the opposite side automatically opened. A table with refreshments was prepared in an tidy room that emitted the atmosphere of a study.
“The heroism I heard of from the former bosun of the Silver Arrow, Jabel, made a very deep impression.” said Shannen slowly as he raised his teacup. “Not only did you remember in such a crazy situation and rescue the crewmen, but you also nursed the refugees out of your own accord even though no one forced you to, yes? Everyone knows that they were the right things to do and that they should do them, but it’s not easy to actually take action. I was truly touched.”
“No, no. That was something anyone would praise. Is that all? The ingeniousness and boldness you displayed when succeeding an impossible operation by using the Spear of Thor was incredible enough to make me immodestly burst into a cheer. Well, though the Spear of Thor which cost thousands of Gold to make was broken beyond repair thanks to that.”
“That… I’m sorry.”
Ark watched Shannen with a guilty expression. ‘Surely he’s not asking me to pay for it?’
Thankfully Shannen wasn’t thinking about it so seriously and burst into jolly laughter. “Hahaha, I didn’t bring it up to blame you. An item has to be used where it’s needed to get your money’s worth. There’s no point if you spend ten thousand Gold to make it but you don’t spend it where necessary. In any case, your deeds were great enough that it’s not out of place to call you a hero. However, that is not the reason I took an interest in you. It was actually what you did after that.”
“Huh? After that?”
“You took 1st place in contribution in this operation, right?”
“How did you know that?” Ark asked back in a slightly surprised voice.
Since he had the Magic Institute’s Badge on him, of course the Magic Institute would be able to check how much contribution he had accumulated. Only then would they be able to prepare a reward suitable for the contribution points. But Ark hadn’t fathomed that Shannen would be aware of the ranking when even the Lord of Jackson hadn’t known.
With a faint smile, Shannen lowered his voice. “The 3 Great Guilds are a larger and more massive organization than you know. You might have thought you didn’t reveal yourself, but the Magic Institute, the Warrior Guild, and the Merchant Guild have memorized the name of Ark. Although, I can’t say if that is a good or bad thing for you.”
The NPCs of New World were really not to be underestimated.
Ark hadn’t registered his contribution ranking in the Hall of Fame. Of course, he had been certain that the only ones who knew that would be himself and Global Exos. However, it seemed that it wasn’t such a simple issue.
Besides the historical background, New World was no different from reality. Unlike existing games, the NPCs here didn’t just move and think based on the information they were given. Like people in reality, they were existences with perfect AIs that thought and gathered necessary information on their own initiative. Like players, the experiences and thoughts of these NPCs produced variables separate from the system.
‘To think such a thing would be possible…’
Actually, Ha Myung-woo had already explained something like this in the reception room before. But hearing the explanation and experiencing it yourself was a completely different feeling.
‘Well, I didn’t register in the Hall of Fame because I didn’t want to attract the attention of the players…’
It wasn’t much of a problem if an NPC knew. No, this could be a good thing, since there would be more NPCs like Shannen who approached him while praising Ark’s contribution.
“That’s why I definitely wanted to meet you. Just why did you hide the fact that you took 1st place? And why did you suddenly hide yourself, not even showing up while the foreigners who rose to the top 10, including Sir Alan, were all being praised? Can you tell me why?”
“There wasn’t a great reason for it. There wasn’t really a reason to hide, but I didn’t want to put myself out there and show off. Shall I say that I didn’t have the confidence to deal with the attention I would receive from it? I just did my best with what I was given, and I was more than satisfied enough with the fact that I helped.”
“It’s just as I imagined. Admirable! I don’t know about others, but I rate that attitude highly. It is never easy for a hot-blooded young man to control his ambition.” Shannen nodded with a satisfied expression. Then he continued in a low voice, “In fact, I’ve been waiting for a person like you.”
“A warrior with the strength and courage to win in any situation, no matter how difficult, and also has the prudence to keep a secret. I thought that such a person would be able to listen to my concern. How about it? Are you such a person?”
Ark’s eyes glittered. He was right on the mark with his guess that this might be linked to a quest. Without delay, Ark gave the answer Shannen wanted to hear.
“Of course. I am always prepared to hear the concern of another person. In addition, I don’t like speaking out in front of others, so no one will know my requester’s trouble.”
A request is always welcome! A thorough guarantee to safeguard the customer’s information!
Ark presented words that were like the advertisement phrases of a moneylender.
It seemed like he scratched the itch properly. Shannen nodded in satisfaction. “Good, you’re very much to my liking. Then let’s get right to the point. I’ll tell you this in advance, but this is a very delicate problem. It could easily deal a fatal blow to the Magic Institute’s status if it were to get out. However, I’ll believe in the actions you showed in Jackson and tell you.”
‘Ah, how long is he intending to go around and around dodging the point?’
Around the point when his annoyance was slowly boiling up, Shannen finally brought up the main subject. “The issue I want to discuss with you is about a stolen artifact.”
“It’s called the Heartsoul Bead. As one of the ancient relics, it is a dangerous item imbued with powerful and ominous magic. If this artifact were to fall into the hands of evil, there is no knowing what kind of horrible calamity it will bring about. That’s why it is something that the Magic Institute has been sealing away since long ago… one year ago, it vanished completely.”
Listening to the explanation, Ark tilted his head. “The Magic Institute is an extremely large organization, right?”
“Of course. It is a guild with 70 branches all over the continent. If you add in the sub-guilds founded by foreigners, then there’s too many to count.”
“Then are you saying that the Magic Institute wasn’t able to find it for a year even with such power?”
“That’s…” Shannen shook his head, looking troubled. “I understand your question. However, the Magic Institute is in a position where we cannot openly look for the Heartsoul Bead.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Heartsoul Bead was being guarded by the Magic Institute, but strictly speaking, it doesn’t belong to the Magic Institute. A long time ago, the Schudenberg Royal Family requested that the Magic Institute safeguard it. If it gets known that the Heartsoul Bead was stolen, the Magic Institute will have to take responsibility and will be put into a very difficult situation. That is why we couldn’t openly seek the location of the artifact.”
“So in the end, you mean that maintaining the secret you entrusted to me and being careful is so that the Royal Family doesn’t find out.”
“It’s not just the Royal Family.”
“We have to be more careful of the Warrior Guild and the Merchant Guild than the Royal Family.”
Shannen went on to explain that even if the Schudenburg Royal Family were to find out, they could use political force to soothe them to a certain degree. The Magic Institute had that much influence. But those methods wouldn’t work on the Warrior Guild and the Merchant Guild, who wielded influence rivaling the Magic Institute. On the surface, the 3 Great Guilds solved the continent’s problems while holding hands, but they were actually rivals waging a cutthroat power struggle. If they were to find out about the artifact robbery, there was no knowing what kind of ridiculous demand either guild might impose using the incident as an excuse.
‘Hmm, I’m roughly starting to understand the power structure of New World.’
The relationship between the Schudenberg Kingdom and the 3 Great Guilds… the worldview of the New World that surrounded Ark was slowly becoming more complicated. It wasn’t just New World, but most online games had a unique worldview. There were power relations between the various organizations and countries that existed within the game.
Of course, there was no need for you to give yourself headaches thinking about it in your beginner days. In addition, the power relations didn’t often affect the players. But the situation would change as your level grew higher and you did harder quests. Depending on how the worldview was set up, situations would branch into countless choices, and the player’s experience would be affected based on their choice. For example, doing a quest for Party A could make you the enemy of Party B.
However, Ark didn’t think about it too seriously. ‘I can’t be afraid to build a house for fear of splinters.’
There was still more he didn’t know about New World then what he did know. With the little knowledge he had, he was in no position to shirk this and that. No matter how realistic it was, New World was an online game; what the player Ark had to do and what he was interested in wouldn’t change.
He would solve the quest given to him and receive a reward!
There was a need to know the NPC’s inside story in order to solve a quest, but there was no reason for it to get more serious than that. Though of course, he needed to make a serious expression in front of the NPC…
“It seems like you have many concerns.”
“Indeed, it has been a year since the Heartsoul Bead was stolen; it seems that the Warrior Guild and the Merchant Guild have gotten wind of it. They haven’t been frankly expressing their suspicion yet, but if they’ve caught on, then the secret won’t be kept for much longer. More so if we flounder to openly look for the artifact, of course.”
“So that’s why you’re asking me, someone who has no direct relationship with the Magic Institute.”
“That’s exactly right. You proved that you aren’t one to betray someone’s trust because of greed with the Jackson incident. I can believe you and entrust it to you. How about it? Do you think you can help?”
“I have never turned away from a person seeking help”
“Are you saying you’ll accept?”
“Of course. If it is an item that could bring about disaster to the world, we have to recover it no matter what. However, I don’t know where to start since there aren’t any clues.”
“I wouldn’t have even brought it up to you if we didn’t have a clue.”
“Is there something?”
“It’s something that happened a while back. The Guards took care of one of the thieves that had infiltrated Giran, but something like this came from him. The Guards felt magic power from it, so they asked the Magic Institute to examine it.”
Shannen showed him a small shard of iron that glittered with silver luster.
“It’s a shard that fell off the Ward that was sealing the Heartsoul Bead.”
“So that means someone among the thieves around Giran stole the Heartsoul Bead.”
“Are there any other clues?”
“Unfortunately, that’s all we currently know.”
Ark sighed at Shannen’s answer. One of the thief gangs around the extensive Giran had the artifact. Wasn’t that information as vague as telling him to find a grain of sand in a desert?
‘Well, whatever. There must be some way to solve it since I received the quest.’
Ark had intended to immerse himself in hunting around Giran for a while anyways. Rather than thoughtlessly hunting, he would be more motivated if there was some kind of objective. Moreover, the quest was about something very serious. Since it was such an important matter, that meant he could expect a considerable reward if he solved it. There was no reason to refuse.
“I’ll do my best.”
As Ark nodded, the quest information window popped up.
Find the Heartsoul Bead!
The president of the Giran Magic Institute has offered you a secret task. One year ago, the Heartsoul Bead, which was under the protection of the Magic Institute, was stolen. Shannen suspects that one of the thief gangs active near Giran is the culprit. You must gather more information from the thieves and find the Heartsoul Bead.
However, you must maintain completely secrecy for this task. If the task is exposed to an NPC within the Royal Family, Merchant Guild, or Warrior Guild, then the situation will worsen. Should that happen, Shannen will cancel the task and harbor animosity towards you, who was unable to keep the secret.
Should you cancel the quest or fail, Friendship with the Magic Institute will become 0. In addition, if the secret is exposed, the Merchant Guild and Warrior Guild will become hostile towards you even if you succeed the quest.
Quest Restriction: Within the top 50 for contribution in the Hero Assembly quest. At least 50 Friendship with the Magic Institute.
‘Eh? What is this?’
After actually checking the quest description, the conditions were more particular than he thought. Ark had planned on gleaning information from the Guards that had executed the thief or from a mercenary NPC first. It would have also been good to ask a merchant NPC, who had to keep tabs on thief information at all times. But if there was a condition that he couldn’t be found out by the Merchant Guild and Warrior Guild, then it would be tough to interact with them.
‘I have to find a single bead in the vicinity of this huge Giran in a situation where I can’t even ask NPCs for information… dammit, I’m starting to think I made a mistake.’
However, he had already accepted the quest. His Friendship with one of the 3 Great Guilds, the Magic Institute, would be reduced to 0 if he abandons the quest, so he had no choice but to try whether he felt he would live or die.
‘It’s uncomfortable on many fronts, but it can’t be helped. I’ve accepted the quest, so I’ve got no choice but to look for a way somehow.’
Ark set aside his worries about the quest for now. That was because the reward for the quest he had already solved was more pressing than worries about a new quest. Also, Ark’s second objective, obtaining information about Snake’s metamorphosis, was an urgent matter. Since it was something that had happened because of a magic ingredient, getting info from a Magician would be faster.
But Shannen just tilted his head. “I do know about the Fruit of Basium. It is used as a magic ingredient for various things, but the fruit itself has a fatal poison. If a Human, of course, or any monster were to eat the Fruit of Basium, they would perish. But to think that there is a creature that survived even after eating it… I don’t know how that came to be. And I know nothing about the Alamone Larvae. I’d have to look for materials on it, but I can’t be sure since it is a race that went extinct long ago, even in the Netherworld.”
“I see…” A quiet sigh flowed out of him on its own.
Snake only had 6 days left now. To be honest, he had half given up on successfully ending the metamorphosis. But there was no guarantee that another opportunity like this wouldn’t come again. If at least for that time, he needed to figure out the secret to Snake’s growth beforehand. But if even the Magic Institute’s president didn’t know, then just where in the world was he supposed to find the information?
“I’m sorry about that.”
“No, it can’t be helped.”
“Then there’s just one thing left to do. I should give you the promised reward,” Shannen said, as if to excite the mood.
Needless to say, Ark’s depressed eyes became luminous as a result.
Shannen grinned as he nodded. “Actually, after receiving the report on the results, I had quite an enjoyable worry to consider until now. I didn’t know that there would be someone among the Magic Institute’s volunteer troops who would accumulate more than 50 thousand contribution. You can be proud of yourself, since it means you contributed that marvelously. So you know, how about you choose the reward yourself?”
“Are you saying I can choose it myself?”
As Ark tilted his head, Shannen lightly clapped his hands. A door opened on one side as a young Magician walked out.
“Did you call, President?”
“Guide this friend to the repository on the 10th floor.”
“To the repository on the 10th floor?” The young Magician asked back with a surprised expression.
“Yes, this young man is that qualified. Allow him to take one item of his choice, no matter what it is. He has already received permission from the upper echelons.”
“Ark, I’ll rise first.”
At the end of those words, Shannen left the room.
The young Magician approached and politely bowed. “Please follow me.”
Ark followed the young Magician to the 10th floor. Once he got out of the elevator that moved via magic power, he was blocked by a stone gate engraved with a complicated pattern. As if it had several layers of Protect on it, the stone gate crawled upwards with a heavy groan only after the young Magician worked on it for a while.
‘Damn, these, these are all items?’
At the sight that was gradually being revealed with a radiant light, Ark’s eyes became as wide as saucers. All kinds of items were on display, packed closely and in abundance within the large stone chamber. Each and every one of them were shining brilliantly; he could tell they were Rare items in one glance. So to speak, they were lumps of money!
It was a spectacle that would set any gamer drooling.
“This is the repository where the Magic Institute’s most precious treasures are gathered,” said the young Magician with a proud expression. “Even the cheapest one here would likely be well worth 100 Gold. Also, you are the first stranger to enter this place. Since you have Master Shannen’s permission, please select one of the items here. We will give that to you as a reward.”
“One… you say?”
“Yes, one. I’m saying this by way of caution, but you will only have one chance. Please choose carefully.”
The young Magician replied firmly as he operated a device. Then there was a sound of machinery as the display case protecting the items was pushed up. As a result, the brilliance shining from the items became a level stronger, making his eyes hurt.
‘Be careful or whatever, you say…’
Ark gulped down his saliva as he went around the room.
As the young Magician had said, any one of them would reap 100 Gold. No, they were Rare items well worth hundreds of Gold. Since he was surrounded in such items, it felt like he couldn’t breathe.
‘Gulp, are you telling me to choose one from all of these?’
The young Magician had spoken as if to do him a kindness, but to Ark, there was no greater torture than this. He had to pick just one item in a room filled with Rare items that were so close he could touch them if he reached out his hand? Rather than hearing that he’d be given one, he heard it as taking away all the rest.
But Ark steeled himself with all his effort. ‘Be, be cool, Ark. This is really a chance that doesn’t come twice. One choice can bring in several tens of Won, no, several hundreds of Won. If I get excited and choose foolishly, I might regret it for the rest of my life!’
There was a trap to the Magic Institute’s reward. If he put his hand on an item and checked its info, that would be the end of it. In other words, it was the same system as the blind auction.
Thankfully, Ark had a perceptiveness that had been polished and refined in the blind auction house. But that ability actually became a hindrance here. It would be easy if the good and bad were cleanly divided instead. However, this place was literally a treasure storage. The goods inside the room all looked incredibly awesome. No, all of them were good. Since had to choose the one that was the best out of them all, it was hard for him to appraise them properly because his greed kept flaring out.
‘Gasp, this sword… it looks good! Just what stats does it have?’
Ark was stretching out his hand as if drawn like a magnet before he shook his head, startled.
‘No, no. Get ahold of yourself, Ark. There’s no time limit, so there’s no need to rush. Look at them all and choose the one that looks the best out of them!’
Ark composed his breathing, which had become rough. Then he began to carefully check out the items as he went around the repository. Cold sweat trickled down his forehead, as if he had just gone through a battle. Then, when he had gone through around half of the items—
He felt his waist being constricted as Snake squirmed. Having as much interest in items as Ark, it seemed that Snake was also overexcited. But Ark had no time to pay attention to Snake’s reaction.
“Don’t distract me, Snake.”
As Ark glared brusquely at it, Snake lowered its head with a sullen face. Snake pestered him a few times after that as well, but Ark had no leisure to pay attention to such a reaction.
Stats varied wildly between items, even if they were all Rare. It was common sense that an item with a high level restriction generally had higher stats; even if it was a Rare item, he wouldn’t be able to expect much money or performance from a level 10. On the other hand, if it was level 100, then he would be able to get an enormous price for even a simple Magic item.
Therefore, Ark’s choice centered around the item with the highest level restriction. And after roughly 30 minutes had passed, he was finally able to narrow it down to three items.
A longsword that emitted a frosty blue luster.
White plate armor engraved in a golden design.
A leather helmet decorated with jewels of five colors.
As befitting of items he had picked and found, the energy they exuded was unusual. Having picked three items for the time being, Ark agonized for a long time.
‘I’m gonna go crazy. I’m certain these three are items at the highest level here…’
In the end, Ark started ruling them out one by one through the process of elimination. ‘There’s no merit to getting an item and just selling it. It’s best to use it for as long as its worthwhile before selling it. For that purpose, it’ll be better to give up on the item with a high chance of being for Warriors only.’
Accordingly, the plate armor was out.
‘The rest are the sword and helmet… Dammit, this is as hard as choosing between black bean noodles and spicy seafood ramen. But even if they both have magic effects on them, it’s way harder and more expensive to acquire a weapon than armor. My ultimate objective is to sell it in the auction anyways, so if I had to choose between the two, it’d have to be the sword. Alright, I’ve decided. Huhuhu, now, how awesome an item will it be…’
[T/N: Black bean noodles and spicy seafood ramen are very common Chinese-style foods in Korea.]
Having made up his mind, Ark stretched his hand towards the sword.
At that moment, something he’d never even imagined happened.
Hiss hiss, HISSSSS!
Restless ever since Ark narrowed it down to three and started agonizing, Snake suddenly yanked on his waist. Having been concentrating on the item alone, Ark was dragged over with nary a chance to resist. Then, in the moment when he was about to catch his balance with a shocked face—!
Wasn’t Snake desperately extending its neck and stretching out its tongue? And then, in the space of a cry, Snake gulped down a frayed book that was lying on the side.
It was after that the display case closed with the sound of machinery.
A message window suddenly popped up before his eyes.
Deadly Poison Preparation Tome (Rare)
Usage Restriction: Thief-related profession at level 50 or higher.
“A tome? A TOME, YOU SAY?”
Ark’s face went green. Just what kind of unexpected bombshell was this?! Out of all the items that he could get hundreds of Gold for, a fucking tome?
Granted, a Rare tome was also a considerably valuable item. But no matter how precious it was, it couldn’t compare to a Rare weapon. Even worse, Deadly Poison wasn’t even a tome for all professions. Since it had a profession restriction, he couldn’t expect a very good price for it.
“W-what the hell is this, Snake!”
As Ark screamed, Snake shrank away, startled. Ark ground his teeth before hurriedly staring at the young Magician.
“You saw, right Th-this is a mistake. I wasn’t the one who chose, so please let me choose again.”
But the young Magician replied with a smooth smile. “Of course, you cannot.”
Th-th-thump, a quest window came up.
The quest ‘Magic Institute’s Reward’ has been completed.
You, who contributed greatly to protecting Jackson Castle, received a reward worthy of your effort from the Magic Institute. Even with many treasures left in front of you, you have decided to be satisfied with a small reward. The young Magician will report your humility, and Shannen will be deeply impressed once again.
With this, your contract with the Magic Institute has ended.
+50 Friendship with the Magic Institute.
Ark’s scream rang within the repository.
* * *
“…This is a disappointment. Snake!”
Having been rolling around on the ground tearing out his hair for a while, those were the first words Ark spat out.
With a very downcast face, Snake was on the verge of tears. It was a very pitiable sight, but there was not a whit of sympathy in Ark’s eyes.
The glamorous longsword that had emanated a blue chill was still shimmering in front of his eyes. There were many weapons with magic effects, but swords that showed such obvious magic effects were certainly few and far in between.
Just how much damage would it have had? What kind of options did it have?
Having been unable to acquire it, he came to think of the sword as an even greater item. In addition, a weapon with a frost-related magic effect was something that all players would drool over. Unlike other magic effects that ended with just dealing additional damage, frost-related ones activated the Slow hex at high rates. Thanks to that, there were cases where such items were sold with a premium of an additional several thousand Won, even if they were at the same grade of rarity. That had been replaced with an old tome right before his eyes.
Wasn’t this like going into a buffet that cost a thousand dollars and coming out after eating just green beans?
It was to the point where it would actually be more strange if he didn’t go mad.
“Just why the hell did you do such a thing!”
Hiss hiss, hissss!
Snake put a lot of effort into justifying itself, flickering its tongue. But there was no way Ark could understand Snake’s words, so he could only see it as Snake teasing him. Since the opposite party wasn’t even Dedric, but the Snake he had trusted, the feeling of betrayal was even greater.
“Put away your tongue! Shut up! Dammit, do you know what the hell you did? It was a chance for me to choose any item worth hundreds of thousands of Won, an item that could buy several thousand rolls of kimbap!”
Ahh, what poor imagination, to use just kimbap as a metaphor for the value of hundreds of thousands of Won; but Ark’s staple was the cheap and simple kimbap, so there was no helping it.
“You ate a thousand rolls of kimbap just now! Do you even know?”
At last, tears began to drip from Snake’s eyes.
Dedric grinned as he added oil to the fire. “Kekeke, just look at you. And you’re the one that always gets loved by Master! I knew a day like this would come some day! Master, you can’t let it go. You have to use this chance to clearly teach Snake its place! Snake’s place!”
“Che, why’re you getting mad at me? I’m the one you always kill.”
“Alright, I get it. I’ll be quiet.”
Ark pierced Dedric with a menacing look before abruptly tearing at his hair.
He knew. It was already spilled milk. No matter how much he raged and struggled, the quest was already finished; no matter what he did, there was no way to turn back what was done.
In a case like this, the usual Ark would quickly let it go. Ark was the type to carry out something to the end with all his power once he made up his mind, but he was also quick to give up on things that couldn’t be done even if he tried. But this time, it wasn’t easy to give up on it. A person who thought they had won the lottery, but found out the date was wrong would feel like this.
“Dammit, I don’t need a Familiar that acts as it pleases, scram!”
For some time, Ark clutched his head, and Snake cried.
Once his agitation calmed down a little, he realized something strange.
‘Huh? Wait, how did Snake swallow an item?’
Ark finally realized that there was a contradiction to Snake’s actions. Snake had gone into metamorphosis through the Fruit of Basium. And during metamorphosis, it couldn’t swallow or even spit out items. Hadn’t it tried several times to eat items, but immediately spat them out? But Snake hadn’t expelled the tome yet. Metamorphosis lasted 20 days. He had spent about 13 days in Jackson, so there were still 7 days left.
Just then, Skull, who had determined the atmosphere early on and had been laying low, suddenly leapt up as it forcefully clacked its teeth.
Clack, cla-cla-clack! Cla-clack!
“What, even you… eh? Snake!” Raising his head, Ark burst out in shock.
Snake was lying limp next to Skull. Startled, he urgently lifted Snake and felt it was as cold as ice. Then the scales lost their elasticity as Snake had gone into metamorphosis began to peel and fall away.
“What? What’s wrong? What’s happening? Snake!”
“Ehh? Why is this fella suddenly like this? Su-surely not obliteration?”
“Dammit, this is because of you, Master! All because you said you didn’t need him! We’re Familiars. If our Master casts us away, we can’t live on! How could you obliterate Snake because of a mere item!”
Dedric seized Ark’s hair and shook it around. His relationship with Snake wasn’t good, but it was still a teammate that had been with Dedric so far. He had teased Snake accusingly, but it seemed he didn’t actually feel that way. Not knowing what to do, Skull was also trembling. At the reaction of the Familiars, Ark’s heart plummeted.
‘S-surely not really because I said I don’t need it…?’
Was his relationship itself with the Familiar canceled? Thinking about it, Ark’s face blanched. Though he had gotten angry and snapped at Snake, who had disobeyed him, he didn’t really mean it. Of course! There was no way he meant it, right? Snake’s item storage function couldn’t be traded for even several hundred Gold. No, no! What was important wasn’t an issue of function.
The emotion Ark felt towards his Familiars was special. It wasn’t important now that they were simply helpful in the game. Loyal Skull, Dedric, who always became Ark’s strength in the moment of crisis even as he complained incessantly, and Snake, who thought of Ark as a parent.
Though he had never expressed it, they were no longer just Familiars to him, they were friends who couldn’t be replaced with anything. To the point that he couldn’t even imagine a New World without them…
“Snake, get ahold of yourself. I’m, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It was something I just said because I was angry! Are you telling me there’s a parent anywhere in the world who would throw away his child? You can’t disappear, take strength. I’ll forgive it all so please… please get ahold of yourself! I need you!”
Ark constantly cast the Nursing skill with a shaking voice. In that moment, he felt something slip from his hands. It was Snake. Snake had slipped out and had fallen to the ground, leaving only skin in Ark’s hands.
Surprisingly, Snake’s scales had regained their former luster and were glossy again. Also, didn’t Snake also have a red stripe on it that hadn’t been there before? That wasn’t all. As if amazed by its own transformation, Snake stared around dazedly before opening its mouth, as if it felt something there. When it did so, two sharp fangs, one on each side, were revealed. It had only been a snake in name until now, and it hadn’t even had any fangs.
But those changes didn’t matter to Ark just then. “Snake, Snake! You rascal, do you know how worried I was?”
Ark abruptly embraced Snake. Snake flinched, confused, before sniffling as it rubbed its body on Ark.
Hiss, hiss hiss hiss…
“It’s fine, I’ll forgive you now. Who cares if it’s a sword or a tome? It’s okay, it might sell for more than the sword. That’s right. Let’s think like that.”
Snake flinched as it lifted its head.
It was then that a message window popped up in front of Ark.
– The tome ‘Deadly Poison Preparation’ has been digested within Alamone Larvae.
“What? Digested? Does that mean it’s gone?”
Alamone Larvae’s metamorphosis has been completed successfully.
A mysterious snake that lives in the Netherworld, whose state hasn’t been completely disclosed.
The Alamone Larvae will undergo metamorphosis several times until it reaches adulthood. When started by a special magic ingredient, metamorphosis will end with the learning of a new skill. The Alamone’s adult appearance and characteristics will be determined based on the skills it learns during metamorphosis.
Alamone Larvae digested a tome and has acquired the skill ‘Deadly Poison.’ Influenced by the skill it learned during metamorphosis, it has evolved into ‘Poison Alamone.’
The Poison Alamone has the special ability of producing deadly poison inside its body by refining poisonous plants. However, the Alamone cannot use the deadly poison itself. In exchange, it will temporarily add a deadly poison effect if applied to any kind of weapon belonging to the summoner.
The number of uses and additional effects of the deadly poison will differ depending on the kind of poisonous plant. In addition, it will be able to refine poisonous plants of higher grades as the skill grows, and deadly poison of a higher grade will have an increased number of uses and greater effects.
However, Alamone currently only has one skill slot. Only one skill can be loaded. In order to use the item storage function, the deadly poison skill must be removed and the item storage function must be reloaded. Skill swapping is possible at any time if there were no items being stored inside the Alamone’s body.
Creature of the Netherworld
* Usable Skills: Item Storage, Deadly Poison Preparation
*Currently Loaded Skill: Deadly Poison (Beginner, Passive)
Ark read the message with a dazed expression. It felt like he had been hit in the back of the head with a hammer. Come to think of it, why hadn’t he thought of that? The easiest way to learn a skill was obviously a tome. But he had just thought there would be some kind of special method at the words “metamorphosis”— he hadn’t been able to think of tomes, the most sensible option.
“You… you knew that tome was Deadly Poison?”
Snake nodded with uneasy eyes.
‘So that’s how it was. That’s why Snake was being so annoying in the repository.’
Only then did Ark grasp the gist of the situation. Well yeah, there was no way Snake would have disobeyed him without a reason when Snake considered him its parent. He was certain that Snake had known instinctively that the tome was an item it needed as soon as it discovered it. If he thought about the actions Snake had shown him thus far, what happened afterwards was obvious. It had probably thought that it could be useful even in battle if it swallowed the tome. That’s why it had prepared to be cursed and had gulped down the tome. Because it was Snake. Ark could guess that because it was Snake.
‘Goodness gracious. I can’t even thoughtlessly scold it since its intention is way too obvious…’
Ark stood up with a severe expression. “Alright. I said I would forgive you, so let’s just say this didn’t happen. It seems to all appearances like a useful skill, but next time you can’t eat anything without my permission again. Understood?”
After saying it, it really seemed like something a parent would tell their child.
Hiss hiss, hiss hiss hiss!
Snake nodded in quick succession as it wrapped itself around Ark’s waist and charmingly rubbed itself on him.
In the end, Ark dropped the charges on Snake. He was particularly weak towards Snake.
‘I can’t hate it because its like this.’
At that, the Dedric who had been on the verge of tears when Snake had become strange soon burst out in complaint. “Che! What’s with the discrimination! When I did something bad, you beat me up like crazy for several days and nights…”
“So that’s why I’m telling you to behave properly at all times.”
“What did I do?! Is there a Familiar as nice as me?”
“Are you going to keep talking back? You’re starting to feel hungry, I see?”
“Ah, Master. Who said anything? Skull, was it you? Did you defy Master?”
Clack clack, cla-cla-clack!
Skull stared at Dedric with pitying eyes, as if saying ‘why did you act up if you were going to just dig your own grave like that.’
At any rate, he had paid a big price and Snake’s metamorphosis had ended with this.
‘Let’s hurry and get out of here. I feel like there’s just going to be more foolishness if we stay here. I’ll know how useful the Deadly Poison skill is after I check it, but what’s done is done, so let’s just cleanly forget it.’
Ark recalled Skull and Dedric and left the Magic Institute.
“Selling level 40-60 items cheaply! Buying accessories!”
“I’m seriously quitting the game today. I’m taking care of my items so use this chance to get your equipment.”
“Recruiting party members who will stay up all night with us. Two spots left. Cleric wanted!”
“Seeking level 70 merc! Payment will be determined later!”
As soon as Ark left the Magic Institute, he was greeted by the sounds of the main street. Hundreds of players were using Shout to do business or look for parties, so it was a complete uproar. But for Ark, who had no interest in shopping for items or parties, it didn’t matter.
‘Alright, now what?’
Ark summed up the situation as he went through the market. The quests Ark currently had were « Find New Settlers » and « Find the Heartsoul Bead ». And although it didn’t have anything to do with the quests, he had to find the Three Marvels. But he still had too little information to seek the Three Marvels, and he’d have to spend a lot of time finding settlers for the quest. In that case, there was only one thing he could do right now.
Hunt down the thief gang around Giran to solve the Magic Institute’s quest.
‘The problem is where to start…’
Having opened up the map, he couldn’t tell where to go. Simply put, it would be in Giran’s vicinity. Giran was 3-4 times larger than Jackson. Naturally, the area that could be called Giran’s vicinity was just as big.
From the Brandt Mountains in the North and all the way to the Argus Mountains in the South, all of it was within Giran’s vicinity. It was near impossible to find the thief gang in such a large area. Even so, he couldn’t just grab an NPC and ask them, either…
‘Might there not be a way to easily find out the location of the thief gang?’
He was able to find that method surprisingly easily.
The answer was the message board placed in one side of the square. Information about the nearby villages or events were posted on the message board. However, it played another role besides that. Information about Chaotic players or thief NPCs with bounties on their heads! He had just passed by that information until now because of his lack of interest. Perhaps because Giran was a large city, the message board was 3-4 times larger than normal. Also, the information was managed separately in categories like Trade, Regional, and Event.
Ark searched the board where the WANTED bounty posters were put up. ‘Are these all the WANTED bounty criminals?’
Dozens of wanted posters with bounties were filling up the large board.
‘Eh? This guy is…?’
Ark was able to find an unexpected face among the wanted.
A thief who habitually plunders Merchants in the vicinity of Giran. Masterful at telling lies; requires particular caution.
Area last seen : Grey Ridge
Bounty: 40 Gold
Bounty payer : Bambino (Foreigner)
‘This fellow, is he still thieving?’
Ark grinned. Leo was the guy who had tried to rob Ark when he was first crossing over to Giran, but got served instead. However, he must have been unable to snap out of his misdeeds and continued to thieve, because his WANTED bounty poster which even had a bold likeness drawn on it was taking up a spot on the message board.
Since a bounty of 40 Gold was 400,000 Won (~$400) in real currency, it wasn’t a trifling sum. It seemed Leo had incurred quite a lot of resentment from the player named Bambino.
If the authorities accepted a player’s request and a bounty was put on them, a WANTED bounty criminal would automatically be locked up in prison if they died at the hands of a hunter. Then they would have to pay a fine and stay imprisoned for a number of days to get rid of their Chaotic status before they were released. In other words, if you were unlucky enough to get caught, it would be a pain in the ass. Because of that, there were many cases where people were careful not to incur too much resentment even if they did a Chaotic deed. It seemed Leo really didn’t have any tact. Though well, it was obvious from just seeing that he had tried to take all of Sid’s trade goods.
In any case, Ark had no interest in the likes of Leo. Ark was interested in thief NPCs, and not just any old heinous thief gang, either.
The Grey Axe Gang (Group)
A thief gang composed of 7 Warriors. Will be rewarded with the bounty if you take down the gang’s boss and bring back his grey axe.
Place last seen: Near Rodellin Village in northwestern Giran.
Bounty: 15 Gold.
Bounty payer: Giran Guard.
The Silver Arrow (Group)
A cutthroat thief gang composed of about 10 people. Will be rewarded with the bounty if you take down the gang’s boss and bring back his bow as proof.
Place last seen: Old Forest in southern Giran.
Bounty: 10 Gold
Bounty payer: Giran Guard.
Unlike the other WANTED bounty posters that were, for the most part, already torn away, the thief gangs had barely been touched. In fact, among the WANTED bounty criminals, the most popular ones were the Chaotic players. If a Chaotic player died, they dropped an equipment item with a 100% chance. Since you could secure a bounty on top of that, you could expect a jackpot. The next most popular were the named monsters becoming well known in a nearby region, because depending on the case, you could get a fairly useful item.
On the other hand, the thief gangs had no merit to speak of. It was hard to subjugate them because they were high in numbers, but there was little chance that a useful item might come out since their overall levels were low. Despite that, the bounty was only 10-20 Gold, so there was no reason to struggle to catch them.
‘It’s comfortable if I don’t have any competition.’
Ark tore off the wanted poster of the thief gang that looked the easiest.
– A new bountied criminal has been registered in your information window.
You have participated in bounty hunting for the first time.
Bounty hunting starts when you register a WANTED bounty poster on the city message board. If you take part and take them down, you will receive the bounty and your city contribution will rise. When your Hunter Rank goes up according to your contribution, you will be able to acquire information regarding stronger wanted criminals and will also be paid various kinds of different rewards.
However, the registration will be canceled if you perish while the bountied criminal is registered, and you can start hunting again after re-registering in the village. In addition, there is a 60% chance that you will lose an equipment item due to the special ‘Looting’ characteristic of the thieves.
Ark’s current Hunter Rank is —.
The usual point was that he had to go back to the village and register again if he died after registering. Therefore, if he went and died while getting rid of the thief gang, he would have to start from the very beginning.
He also hadn’t been aware that his city contribution would rise if he caught a wanted criminal. A Merchant raised city contribution through trade, but it seemed a combat profession raised contribution with a method like this.
There was a surprising amount of depth to the world of a bounty hunter, too.
‘How fun. Shall I try it once in earnest?’
He would receive bounty money and get information as he hunted, and he could even raise city contribution. Once he thought of it in that way, his motivation surged greatly.
‘I’ll be eating the pheasant, eating its eggs, and using its nest to kindle a fire!’
Ark’s life in Giran began.