The Girl Who Lost Words
“Damn… it’s day again.”
Early in the morning, Lee Hyun was already deflated.
The South Korean Parliament, more prudent than His Prudence, had passed an unwanted bill nicknamed Leave No One Behind, which was devised to weed out social outcasts and misfits.
The whole stupidity was founded on a theory that asserted that those who were born and brought up in defective backgrounds created a higher rate of violent crimes and divorces.
According to the law, all Korean citizens who were twenty years old or above with noticeable defects in their background were required to visit a psychiatrist occasionally for a mental exam.
In short, Lee Hyun was eligible for it as he had lost his parents in his childhood, and his adolescence had been haunted by the loan sharks.
Lee Hyun went to the Great Society Rehabilitation Center.
“I feel like I’ve time traveled back to the sixties. Great Society, how lame.” Murmuring complaints, Lee Hyun walked into the rehab. The name suggested romantically decorated interiors. The reception room was filled with the twenty year-olds who came take medical tests under the Socially Inept Law, so he had to waste another hour waiting for his turn to register.
“Hi, I’m Lee Hyun. I’m here to take a mental test under Leave No One Behind.”
“I see. Please fill out this form.” A nurse in a white gown handed a piece of paper to Lee Hyun.
“What is this?”
“We will create a complete analysis of your mental state based on your answers to this questionnaire. If you fall into the category of the socially inept, you will be ordered to enter the rehab center and receive periodic treatment. In that case, the government will send a monthly check to your family in compensation.”
What an inhumane law. The government had done virtually nothing to support the disadvantaged when they were suffering horrifying childhoods, abused by their parents or cast out from school.
Now they had to accept a handicap if they wanted to apply to an undergraduate school when they were out of high school. Worse still, they were not even eligible for government jobs. The War on Terror presented a viable excuse to segregate the have-nots from the haves.
Lee Hyun took the form and filled it out quickly. The pen didn’t leave the surface of the paper. Lee Hyun had thought of those questions for many years, so the answers were flowing from his heart.
“I’m done. Can I leave now?”
“Sure. Take this to cover your bus fare.”
At least, the government showed a small token of pity. Lee Hyun took the coins and left the asylum. Meanwhile, the questionnaire submitted by him started a row among the psychiatrists in the center.
* * *
Cha Eunhee, Ph.D. in psychiatry was laughing her head off as if her neck was broken. The doctor whose attitude earned her the nickname of Ice Queen, was laughing mindlessly in public was a rare sight to nurses.
“Did she finally succeed in communicating with her pet dog?”
“Guess so. Nothing is impossible for the Dr.”
Dr. Cha had immigrated to the United States with her parents, both diplomats, when she was young. She had graduated cum laude from Harvard University at the age of twenty, and earned her doctorate before she turned twenty-three.
Combining beauty and culture, yet puffed up with pride, she had never shown this level of humanity before, which became a topic on everyone’s lips. In the end, the chief nurse decided to put her head above the parapet.
“Dr. Cha, what’s so funny?”
“Check this out.”
Laughing so hard she was crying, Dr. Cha gave the chief nurse what she was holding in her hand. It was a single page of a form that someone had filed out under Leave No One Behind. The Seven short questions and equally short answers.
Name: Lee Hyun
1. What is your name?
2. What is your profession?
3. What are you doing?
4. What are the three most memorable, or valuable, things that you have done in your life?
5. What do you think of politicians In power?
6. When did you recognize your social position?
7. How would you describe your Identity In a single sentence?
The nurse looked taken aback when she finished reading the document.
“Don’t tell me—is this an excerpt from some graphic novel?”
“No. It looks like one of the subjects filled this out this morning. Can’t you see the stamp of confirmation right at the bottom?”
“A typical nutcase”
“You’re wrong again. If he were a nutcase, he wouldn’t be observing society as sarcastically and precisely as he did in this questionnaire.”
Against common sense, Dr. Cha concluded he was mentally normal. From a psychiatrist’s perspective, she could almost hear a scream of desperation rising from those answers.
To be able to ridicule society in such a way, this young man named Lee Hyun must have lived a colorless life in a world of cruelty.
“Whew.” The chief nurse could not help but sigh.
She had no reason to contradict the doctor’s conclusion. Nevertheless, she thought that either Dr. Cha, who had earned a Ph.D. in psychiatry in the United States and been idolized in globally recognized medical periodicals, was above normal, or this Lee Hyun guy was below normal.
‘Both of them are simply abnormal. Or they are normal, and I’m the only crazy one in the room. Maybe the hard truth is, the whole world has gone insane’, she thought as her head spun.
Dr. Cha picked up the form and got up.
“Society needs different kinds of people. Let it be. You don’t need to look deep into it. By the way, I’m going to show this to Seoyoon.”
“Patient Jeong Seoyoon?”
“Do you think she will read it?”
“She will. Those who shut their mind are more likely to yearn for attention from outside. I just hope she will laugh this time.” Dr. Cha took the questionnaire that Lee Hyun had filled in and headed to the ward. Her destination was a special ward located on the 12th floor.
With the brand-new medical instruments and best doctors, furnished with a private swimming pool and an indoor gym, the room cost nearly twenty million won a day.
“Hi, Seoyoon, I’m here to see you,”
Beaming at her patient, Cha Eunhee entered the ward. A pale-faced girl lifted her head from a book that she was reading. Who, even among supermodels whose looks are their only highlights, would be overshadowed by her beauty—but her face was empty of emotion. Like a French doll, she seemed lifeless.
‘God gave her beauty, more than she could live with’Dr. Cha thought.
For the girl was so beautiful, she was overly-loved by her protective father. The taboo blurring the line between father and daughter had never been broken, but her mother was paranoid, suspicious of her husband.
Her mother had been jealous of her own daughter, resulting in relentless abuse in the early years, and then came the tragedy on the fateful day. Since then, the girl had lost the power of words.
Back when she was young, Seoyoon had been an angel trapped in an earthly body. Dr. Cha, who used to be a close friend of hers, always felt sorry that she was deprived of her fair share of love and innocence.
“Take a look at this. I’m not allowed to remove any document from my office, but I wanted to show it to you.” Dr. Cha gave the girl the form submitted by Lee Hyun.
Seoyoon’s lightless eyes glided over the paper. Dr. Cha hoped she would burst into laughter.
Do you know that, if you laugh this lime, against all odds, it will be your first time in five years? Dr. Cha thought.
But the still face shattered the doctor’s hopes. The girl looked over the questionnaire and just returned it to her. The doctor felt heartbroken as she remembered how bright Seoyoon had once been.
“Alright… Do you need anything else?” Dr. Cha asked.
Seoyoon gently shook her head.
“Then, feel free to call me anytime you need something.”
Dr. Cha slipped out of the room in silence.
“Did she laugh?” the nurse asked; she wasn’t permitted to enter the room.
Dr. Cha smiled bitterly. “It didn’t work again,” the nurse said.
“No. I can’t find a way to open her mind,” Dr. Cha said. “I must rehabilitate her to maintain the president’s faith in me—no, on behalf of Seoyoon…”
Countless of psychologists, psychiatrists and shamans had been hired to tackle Seoyoon’s condition, to no avail. None of them could melt her frozen heart. Now, nearly everyone gave up any hope for the girl.
The nurse was also tearful. She was sad that such a cute girl neither talked nor laughed, stuck alone in her own closed shell.
“Isn’t there any therapy or medicine to help her?” the nurse asked.
“A psychiatric remedy won’t work as long as the patient refuses to open her mind and accept reality,” Dr. Cha said.
“Then, she’s going to live like that for the rest of her life… ”
“We must do something to get her back. She just needs a cue, something that will lead her to face reality.”
“But it’s already been five years. Her consciousness might have gotten stuck by now—long gone.”
“It is our job to let that happen. No matter what, I will bring her back.” Dr. Cha’s resolution was fierce.
She had majored in psychiatry and voluntarily come to this hospital in order to save Seoyoon.
“I already started a new treatment a year ago.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Of course not. It’s because I had to keep it secret. It’s Royal Road. She’s spending her days and nights in the game, except for medication and counseling,”
“Exactly. Let her start over in the fictional world. Take her out of the shell, and she will move on step by step where she can interact with others. I hope she will regain her lost faith in people, and feel emotions that she had never felt before, at least in virtual reality.”
Back home, Lee Hyun visited the item transaction site before he logged into Royal Road.
Though Lee Hyun had dealt only one item there so far his status was triple diamond. The account in the Continent of Magick was valued at over three billion won.
It alone elevated him to VIP prestige.
|[Buy] Iron Sword +20 STR for 400,000 won|
|[Buy] Rings 4 warriors. Offer.|
|[Buy] Blue Boots for Ranger Class. 300,000 won – negotiable.|
|[Buy] Earrings for Mages. Royal Road Kelly book value plus extra|
A list or items in demand was thousands or pages long. A keyword yielded millions of search results, but few of them actually reached a deal.
As plenty of users were eager to get hold of cool items, demand was high. The supply could not keep up with it.
The system favored sellers, and when one of them posted his item, the auction was wrapped up in minutes.
|[Sell] Mace of Red Spirit 105/105 Durability w/ 96-105dmg +15 STR [100,000 [email protected]]|
|[Sell] Shine’s Blessing Ring: Rare / Heals 3 MP per sec for 5 min [From 3,000,000 won]|
|[Sell] Messiah Earring: Mag def. up. Fire magic +8% exp. [4,000,000 won]|
|[Sell] Blacksmith’s Hammer of Thomas: 15% ? for success rate in forging weaponry. Enables you to produce upgraded weapons at 5,000,000 won|
Items in the top 10% of the auction boasted outrageous prices.
They were followed by lesser items beneath, which still amounted to at least a hundred thousand won.
This bull market signaled that items were in short supply.
If Weed had not been fortunate enough to obtain the iron sword in the beginning, he would have repeated commonplace quests here and there to collect a few coppers each time, and rushed to a blacksmith’s workshop to buy a crude sword before he headed to the field.
Otherwise, he would have to punch monsters, relying on the stats that he had accumulated by striking the scarecrow.
In that case, his attack power would have been halved without the effects of sword mastery. Compared to weapons and gear that were highly configured, craft items for blacksmith and tailoring were inexpensive. Items relevant to the sculptor class were not even available.
Royal Road had opened only fifteen months before. The users were still immersed in leveling up and adventure. Lee Hyun had not seen any other craftsmen.
Seventy percent of the continent was still uncharted, that is why many dungeons are still unexplored, and many quests unsolved. With an infinite opportunity presented before their eyes, only a few users dreamed of becoming craftsmen.
Rosenheim Kingdom was a relatively new world that had been discovered only six months before (according to real world time). The expedition party who first spotted the kingdom had earned tremendous monetary gains.
Rosenheim was far away from the center of the continent, but uncharted territories and unearthed dungeons were scattered everywhere, and strong monsters abounded. This was the primary reason why Lee Hyun chose Rosenheim to start his adventure.
“Did I start too late? No, I still have a chance to catch up,” he told himself.
Lee Hyun shook his head. While the competitors were leveling up and having adventure, Lee Hyun had worked out and collected information instead for one whole year to prepare. He didn’t want to sell his account anymore.
The procedure of an online game’s account transaction was trickier in a virtual reality game where an iris scan was taken to verify the player’s identity. Plus, Lee Hyun had to stay in the business rather than making a quick buck.
Royal Road had to support his family financially at least in the next five years.
“At this rate, Royal Road will give my family something to live off of for the next five, no, ten years. Then, I can afford to send Hye Yeon to college. Stability comes first. I’m a high school dropout, but Hye Yeon deserves a better life—” he said to himself.
The phone suddenly started ringing.
Lee Hyun looked around and realized that Grandma and Hye Yeon were out of the house, so he picked up the phone reluctantly.
“Hello. Who’s speaking?”
“Lee Hyun, is that you? You still sound rough on the phone, man. It’s me, Sanghoon.”
“Oh, it’s you. Sanghoon”
Lee Hyun had not heard this voice for a long time. Since I dropped out of high school, he thought bitterly.
“Hey, what’s up?” Lee Hyun asked.
“We have an alumni reunion tonight—”
“I don’t give a shit about it. Isn’t it supposed be attended by the graduates only? It’s not even funny if a dropout like me shows up in the reunion.”
“No buts. You know why I quit school. I don’t want anything to do with the school now. That’s it.”
“Do me a favor, Sanghoon. Don’t ever call me again.”
Lee Hyun dropped the phone and sighed deeply. It was a phone call that he didn’t want in the least.
If only he had been given an MIB-type memory eraser, then, without question, he would have erased the whole three years of high school—the worst memory and time in his life.
Back then, Lee Hyun had been beaten and threatened by the loan sharks. He had to sneak in to school. He had gone to school at dawn and left at midnight as if he were playing hide and seek.
For a couple of days, Lee Hyun had dodged the loan sharks, but they were smarter than he thought. They had hired street racketeers to pressurize the teachers.
Lee Hyun had been even told by his homeroom teacher to pay back his debt, right in front of his classmates.
The teacher had knelt before the lost student, pleading amid tears that he didn’t want to get involved in that madness.
“It was the last straw. I quit school the next day,” he said to himself.
Lee Hyun was a little curious what his friends were like in college. But showing his face in the reunion would only revive shameful moments.
‘The inescapable truth is, the only thing left for me to do is to play the virtual reality game.’ Lee Hyun finished lunch and slipped into the game again.
* * *
Weed never skipped his daily routine of settling down in front of Rodriquez’s manor from dawn to sunset. Who else would be able to cope with boring days such as this?
“What do you think about going hunting in the West Valley? Hippies have a high level, but if we team up together, they’re piece of cake.”
“I heard you joined an escort quest for the caravans bound for Eline Village?”
“The price of troll blood has soared lately by almost triple the usual amount. I’m afraid a big war’s coming.”
Plenty of conversations snuck into Weed’s ears.
Horses whinnied, carriages wheeled by.
Sitting by the main avenue, Weed could catch lots of information. He learned what was going on in the world. Without this type of fun, he would have given up already.
When Weed struck the scarecrow, he was at least enjoying a sense of becoming more powerful. It was self-torturing that he had to sit still under the harsh sunlight.
‘Didn’t Buddha face a wall for several days, meditating?’ he asked himself.
He was going through a similar experience, resolved to see Rodriguez.
For the last two days, Weed had met Pale and Irene to go hunting together. They were not as strong as he, so they earned EXPs more slowly.
Still, they could hunt monsters as they pleased, day and night. Thanks to their flexible schedule, they caught up with Weed’s level.
Thirty percent bonus on EXPs at night is technically canceled out by the fact that monsters are stronger by half than during daytime. More often than not, daytime hunting is more efficient for low-level users.
Plus, Weed was penalized by being undecided class-wise, so that he could not learn any skills. He would lag behind in skill levels if he converted to a class at a higher level than an average user. Last but not least, it tested his patience that he was wasting valuable time waiting in the middle of a street.
‘What can I do now? Sculpture mastery… sculptures…’ Weed looked around. He found a piece of wood that seemed to have been thrown off from a carriage’s wheel.
Picking up the piece of wood, Weed activated the sculpture skill “Carve this.”
As Weed’s hand was moving, the wood was cut here and there.
“What the! — ”
When the skill finished carving, Weed sighed. The once square piece of wood was whittled to a small circular piece.
“I’d better do it myself.”
Weed picked up another piece of wood and began cutting it with the engraving knife. With his past experience of toiling in a textile factory focused his hands, and craft was like a second nature to him.
The engraving knife was so sharp that with just a touch, it carved through the wood. After a few attempts at trial and error, he finally carved the wooden piece into a short sword.
You gained expertise rating in Sculpture Mastery.
You gained expertise rating in Handicraft skill.
Two pop-up message windows appeared in cascade.
Weed learned something—that he didn’t need to rely on the sculpture skill to carve an object, and that when he used the skill, he had to recognize exactly what shape he was working on.
I’d better practice sculpture more often.
Bored, Weed gathered several pieces of wood and started carving them.
‘It’s fun in its own way.’
It suddenly struck Weed that when he was in grade school, his art teachers had praised him for being good at making things. What Weed carved usually turned out useless, but a few of them looked acceptable even to his eyes.
He spent five hours carving wooden pieces. It seemed odd that a man should sit down cutting wood with an engraving knife, but he felt it was better than killing time in vain.
Level up: Sculpture Mastery 
Enables to produce more complicated works.
Weed’s handicraft skill and sculpture mastery leveled up quickly because their comparatively low level needed a small amount of EXPs to reach the higher level.
“Wow.” Weed was awed.
As his level in sculpture mastery rose, various windows appeared while he was carving a piece of wood.
Visual tips were given, such as where to cut in a circle or what patterns were available. Weed could choose one of the tips, which was automatically processed. Even if he made an error, the sculpture mastery supplemented it to refine the final product.
Now he was making quality statues. Weed carved a fox that he had hunted the other night, and a wolf statue was easier than he had thought. He placed completed animated statues beside him.
Weed’s skill level was currently two, but Zahab’s Engraving Knife doubled it to four.
The knife was unique item that any sculptor would die for willingly. The problem is no one cares.
The sculptor class is near extinction. Even if there are some sculptor-wannabes left, their levels are mediocre, so it is hopeless to expect a good price for Zahab’s Engraving Knife.
When Weed finished the pieces of artwork—
New Start: Art
A gift in comprehending and practicing beauty, art renders meals and products elegant in an aesthetic and practical sense.
Improves when you see, hear, smell, taste or touch beautiful things, or create artworks.
Weed fell silent. Calculating the infinite potential promised by the art stat. Then, he made a quick decision.
“Delete the art stat!”
Stat cannot be deleted.
A user cannot create stats infinitely. The maximum number of stat slots is fifteen.
Weed found it intolerable that one of the slots was wasted on the art. Still, though he planned to fill them only with absolutely necessary ones.
‘Can’t help it!’
For Weed could not care less about the art stat. He swore that he would never distribute any stat bonus points to it.
He was relieved to know that the stat would increase automatically, but he was skeptical about how it would work.
Weed kept on carving wooden pieces. He was more interested in side effects than sculpture mastery itself, though.
“Sculpture mastery is good for nothing. But handicraft skill is worth effort in many areas. It will increase the attack power of swords, and archery relies on the hands. I can work on sensitive crafts, too.”
Handicraft skill is a necessity to influence everything everywhere.
You gained expertise rating in Handicraft skill.
Enables you to learn cooking and tailoring skills.
Weed’s handicraft skill level hit three as sculptural art helped him obtain EXPs faster.
It really pays off.
Weed was satisfied with a swift increase in his handicraft skill level. It was partly because the artworks that he had produced were, in fact, at level four thanks to Zahab’s Engraving Knife, but sculpture mastery was the main factor.
Cooking and tailoring skills, for example, affect the handicraft skill greatly, yet they cannot rival sculpture mastery in delicacy and adeptness.
Simply put, sculpture mastery is essential to improve handicraft skill. Needless to say, nobody would bother learning sculpture mastery in order to improve the handicraft skill.
“Shit, I will never learn tailoring. I hate it!”
Weed considered it positive to master the basic cooking skills so that he could enjoy delicious food with online recipes.
Not to mention that buying ingredients directly from a grocery store and cooking them with his hands was cheaper than ordering a meat in a fine restaurant.
Also, Weed could preserve stamina better by use of hand-made meals when he went out on a hunting mission for one or more weeks without returning to civilization. Instant food could not restore the stamina stat to full.
Besides, Weed was so haunted by the memory of toiling strenuously in a textile factory that he was resolved to refrain from learning the tailoring skill.
“I hate tailoring more than anything else. I’ll never, ever touch the damned thing,” he told himself.
Absorbed in working on statues, Weed didn’t realize that he was shadowed by black figures until his ears caught strange conversations.
“Wow, it’s lovely.”
“It looks like they’re real.”
“I’ve never seen such lively artwork before.”
Weed looked up in the direction of the shadows. There was a group of people viewing his statues with admiration.
A tiny, cute girl pointed her finger at the rabbit-like statue.
“Hi, ajussi, is it on sale?”
Weed would have gently corrected her that he was only a teenager, but the way a single woman in her thirties would react to an ‘old lady’ label.
“Yes. What can I do for you, young lady?” Weed said, smiling politely, for he smelt money.
“I want that one. How much is it?”
Handing over the rabbit statue, Weed gave it a passing thought.
“It’s…” Weed was pressured to call for a fair price.
Dump those statues at a profit now, or they would sit there forever, ending up in a trash bin. He showed two fingers.
“I’ll take so much,” Weed said.
“Two silvers? It’s cheaper than I thought.” The girl paid two silver coins and picked up the statue.
“This rabbit’s really cute. I’ll keep it as souvenir.”
Stupefied, Weed stared at her back as she left pleasantly. Two fingers meant two copper coins. Only two coppers. But the girl paid one hundred times his call.
“Hey, I want to buy one.”
“Same here. I’ll take the two foxes over there.”
Weed’s statues sold well.
Small ones were priced at two silvers, large ones three. Fox and rabbit statues that he had hunted in the field around the Citadel were more popular than sword- or shield-shaped ones.
The animals looked cute, and customers preferred them in memory of their newbie-hood.
A Lv. 100 user could easily make a couple of gold a day. To them, two silvers were a bargain.
The stock of statues quickly sold out.
“Can you please make us a fox-shaped statue? A fox with nine tails. Can you do that?”
Weed contemplated it and nodded.
The request wasn’t as hard as it sounded. The standard form of a fox plus nine tails. Why not?
“Yes, sir. But you have to pay extra for a customized version.”
“How much is it?”
“Five silvers would do it.”
When the word ‘five’ came out of his mouth, Weed regretted that he might have gone overboard, but the buyers were quick to respond.
“Great. I want it. Then, you should make it look very beautiful. Please?”
In the Citadel, there is a sculpture shop, but it specializes in life-size statues, sometimes adorned with gold and gems, that are not affordable for most users. Since no one else was interested in sculpture mastery, those statues that Weed carved had a collectible value.
“Wow, it’s cool.”
Those who bought statues were excited, adoring their recent purchases.
“Can I get your name? So when I want to buy another one, I’ll look for you.”
“Weed – Sculptor Weed. If you ever want to have a statue to your liking, please feel free to contact me.”
“Thank you. See you later.”
Before sunset, rumors of the sculptor spread to the other ends of the Citadel and people came over to visit Weed.
“There he is.”
“I want you to make some statues for us.”
Weed had earned four silvers from overnight hunting the other night, but one or two statues made more money now. It took only ten minutes to carve a statue. As materials cost almost nothing, it was a very lucrative trade.
The next day, Weed stopped by a carpenter’s shop and bought wood in bulk. He began to mass produce statues.
As the handicraft skill and sculpture mastery upgraded, more beautiful and delicate pieces were churned out.
Needless to say, blessed by his high skill, they sold at a higher price and a quicker pace.
Successful masterpieces, one or two in every thousand, were even put up for auction.
His opinion of sculpture mastery changed slightly in the process – a part time job to secure a satisfactory amount of pocket money.