Various non-human species (elves, orcs, trolls, anthromorphs, etc.) lived in the western grasslands. There was a long, complicated history of these races waging war against each other.
Several tribes were on such bad terms that they'd draw their swords first and ask questions later. And many of their relations were complicatedly intertwined. For this reason, the west was said to be a place of constant strife and battle.
However, there was a tacit understanding amongst the tribes that in the neutral zone, Kasten, fists couldn't be used to solve one's issues. They couldn't shun or threaten a human within Kasten either. Within Kasten, there were very few instances of humans being attacked.
Of course, that didn't mean that the non-human species welcomed humans either.
But Kang Oh's arrival in Kasten, wearing his classic, refined tiger-striped armor and jet-black greatsword on his back, was different.
"It's the Hero of Kasten!"
"The Hero of Kasten!"
Upon entry, he received quite a warm welcome.
"Heh." Kang Oh grinned, and waved his hand like a campaigning politician.
'Yeah, it's me!'
Kang Oh was still as popular as ever.
"It's been a while, Hero of Kasten!"
"How have you been? You want a drink?"
"We're fighting those black puppies again. Would you like to fight alongside us White Cats?"
Various non-humans began swarming him.
"Aah, please get out of my way. I have some business with the Mercenary Association."
Kang Oh made his way through the crowd, and headed straight for Kasten Mercenary Association.
As the saying goes, where there's conflict, there's mercenaries. The Mercenary Association was essentially a giant marketplace for mercenaries. Since the west was in a constant state of strife, mercenaries would often be sent off to those battles.
He opened the door and entered the Kasten Mercenary Association.
"Who do we have here!? It's the Hero of Kasten!" the Chewbacca look-alike said.
"I came to see the president," Kang Oh said firmly.
"Understood. I'll let him know." The anthromorph went upstairs.
A short while later...
Kang Oh got what he wanted. He was allowed to have a private meeting in the president's room.
"It's been a long time," the Mercenary Association President, Balduk, said. He was half bull, half man, with two large beautiful golden horns on his head.
"Yes. The last time I saw you was at the end of the war, so it truly has been a while." Kang Oh brought up the 'war' on purpose. He was making sure he remembered that he was the hero of that war.
"I see. I haven't seen you ever since," Balduk said.
"I was somewhere else."
'I was in Despia. It's a really scary place.'
"Is that so? In any case, I'm glad to see you again." Balduk smiled.
"Me too." Kang Oh followed suit. Since he wanted something from him, he had to humor him.
"Since you've come back, you must be looking for work. I welcome it! After all, you're one of our precious gold rank mercenaries." Balduk opened his arms wide and welcomed him.
"Unfortunately, I didn't come here for work." Kang Oh shook his head.
"Mm, is that so? That's truly unfortunate."
"To be honest, I came here to ask you a favor," Kang Oh said carefully.
"I have something to ask you first. Is the qualification test still the same? Go to the mountain, kill a Blade Beast, and bring back its fang?"
If you brought back a Blade Beast's Fang, then the Mercenary Association would write your name and rank on it, and you'd become a full-fledged mercenary. In other words, the fang was equivalent to a mercenary's license.
"It is." Balduk nodded his head.
"I came to ask you to change the location of the test."
"Mm." Balduk furrowed his brow. He hadn't expected him to ask him that.
"Change the location? To where?" he asked.
"The Beast's Tower," Kang Oh immediately replied.
"The Beast's Tower... Ah, a dungeon!"
Dungeons were dangerous locations; they contained more monsters than other areas, and whoever entered ran the risk of getting swarmed. Thus, NPCs avoided entering dungeons. Unlike players, who'd revive upon death, NPCs didn't have a 'second' life.
"Indeed. Blade Beasts also appear in the Beast's Tower."
Using the Dungeon Management window, Kang Oh had confirmed that Blade Beasts did indeed spawn in the dungeon. Once he saw that, it felt like a light bulb had gone off in his head.
Perhaps he'd be able to change the location of the qualification exam to the Beast's Tower! If he managed that, then plenty of non-human species would seek the Beast's Tower, and he'd be able to make some repel points too!
"It's too dangerous to use a dungeon for the qualifying exam." Balduk disapproved.
Kang Oh wasn't deterred and continued, "I have another favor to ask you. If you change the location to the Beast's Tower, then I'd like you to change the exam itself too. I want you to make it so that you can only become a mercenary by acquiring the Blade Beast's Fang, the Horned Beast's Horn, and the Crow Beast's Feather."
The Horned Beast and Crow Beast also resided within the Beast's Tower. The Blade Beast showed up on the 1st floor, but the Horned Beast and the Crow Beast began showing up on the 5th floor.
If the exam went unchanged, then prospective mercenaries would only enter the 1st floor. That's why he wanted to adjust the exam so that they had to go up to at least the 5th floor.
By doing so, his future guardians would have a higher chance of making him repel points!
"Hoo, I'm sorry. I can't fulfill your request," Balduk said.
Changing the exam's location to a dungeon was already a problem, but forcing prospective mercenaries to kill two more monsters that were stronger than the Blade Beast was too much. If he did as Kang Oh asked, then the test would become too dangerous.
Though he refused, Kang Oh wasn't disappointed at all. Although he was a war hero and was incredibly famous, there was no guarantee that Balduk would fulfill his request.
'This is where it all starts!' Kang Oh's eyes gleamed.
"If you do as I ask, then the exam will certainly become much more difficult. However, isn't that precisely the point?" Kang Oh said.
"That's precisely the point?"
"To be honest, the current exam is pretty much pointless. The test itself is too easy, and you can even 'cheat' by buying a Blade Beast's Fang." In other words, anyone and their mother could become a mercenary.
"What if these unskilled individuals became mercenaries and were forced onto the battlefield? They'd die on their first mission," Kang Oh said somewhat harshly. If he weren't the Hero of Kasten, then Balduk would be angrily scolding him right now.
Kang Oh quickly continued, "To be a mercenary is to face danger. So why is making the exam dangerous a problem?"
"Moreover, the Beast's Tower can teach prospective mercenaries an important lesson: how to survive. Plus, it'll allow them to use their heads; the smart ones will form parties," Kang Oh said persuasively.
Balduk's hands were on top of his knees, and he kept tapping his index fingers together. It seemed like he was thinking things over.
"You basically want us to train mercenaries in the Beast's Tower."
"Exactly. And if I were to suggest one more thing... There's a Two-Headed Ogre at the top of the tower. Whoever brings back the head of this ogre automatically rises to silver rank."
A mercenary's rank was divided into bronze, silver, and gold.
If a mercenary showed off their skills and gathered enough fame and reputation, then the Mercenary Association would automatically increase their rank. However, this method had a huge problem: it took way too long to increase one's rank.
"If the testers pass the test, then they become bronze rank mercenaries. There'll be some of them that want to become silver rank mercenaries as quickly as possible. If they manage to defeat the Two-Headed Ogre at the top of the tower, then what do you think will happen?" Kang Oh asked.
Balduk had been the President of the Mercenary Association for a long time. He quickly realized what he was saying.
"They'll keep entering the tower in order to defeat the ogre."
"It'll naturally increase the skill of the bronze mercenaries. The bronze mercenaries will probably help the testers pass too. And I'm sure you know better than I, but the association's influence relies on the skill of its mercenaries."
Kang Oh was finally finished.
Balduk remained quiet. Kang Oh didn't say anything either. The room remained silent for quite some time.
Balduk broke the silence first, hitting his knees. "Hoo, you have quite the silver tongue. I admit, you convinced me."
"I'll bring this up with our executives."
"Thank you!" Kang Oh beamed.
"However..." Balduk's eyes narrowed sharply. "What exactly do you gain from all this? Ah, just so you know, I won't accept an answer like 'It's for the association' or any rubbish like that. You and I are mercenaries. Mercenaries only do things for their own benefit."
"Of course. I asked for this because it's beneficial to me."
"It's a secret," Kang Oh said.
No good would come out of him explaining that the Beast's Tower was a soul dungeon and that he was the owner of said dungeon.
"What?" Balduk furrowed his brow. "Should I forget we had this conversation?" he said bitingly.
It wasn't a ruse. Changing the mercenary qualification exam was an important matter. Thus, he, as the president of the association, needed to know everything before he went through with it.
If there was anything he didn't know about, or he felt uncomfortable about something, then he wouldn't change it!
"Hoo, I understand. But please don't tell anyone else about this."
"My lips are sealed."
"I know that. But you always have to make sure. Let's sign a contract." Kang Oh pulled out a Sabra's Contract from his inventory.
"Do we really have to?"
"If you'd like to hear the secret, then yes."
Ultimately, Kang Oh wrote the contract, stating that Balduk couldn't share this information with anyone else. The two then signed it.
"Alright, now tell me what this big secret of yours is. Why is changing the location of the exam beneficial to you?"
"The Beast's Tower belongs to me."
"The dungeon belongs to you?" Balduk tilted his head. He couldn't understand.
"So what I'm saying is..."
Then, Kang Oh briefly explained how soul dungeons worked. He could add guardians, and if those guardians either killed the intruders or forced them to retreat, then something good would happen.
"Hmm, a soul dungeon, huh... You can add monsters and change the dungeon as you please! How mysterious!" Balduk stroked his chin out of habit. "Don't make the Beast's Tower too dangerous."
"No, thank you. And I told you, there's no point if it's not dangerous."
"Ahem. You have to make it dangerous so that it benefits you."
"You're not the Hero of Kasten, but the Villain of Kasten instead."
"Thank you for the compliment." Kang Oh grinned.
"Alright, then let's do this." Balduk clapped his hands.
"What do you mean?"
"Changing the exam is highly beneficial to you, so you owe me one."
"What? Isn't this beneficial to the association too?"
The Mercenary Association's power directly lies in the skill of its mercenaries! If they go through with Kang Oh's plan, then the association will be able to increase the skill of its beginner mercenaries. At the same time, Kang Oh's dungeon rewards would increase. This was a win-win for either side, so why did he owe him one?
"You owe me one! If not, then you can forget any of this happened." Balduk crossed his arms. It wasn't an offer; this was going to happen either way.
Kang Oh had no choice but to accept. "Understood. I'm willing to help you out just once. Of course, it has to be something I can actually do."
"I want you to take mercenary work at least once every 2 weeks. A gold rank mercenary can't just rest on his laurels. That'll allow me to periodically talk to you too."
"That's..." Kang Oh wanted to say 'That's a pain in the ass, so no thank you!'.
"Do it!" Balduk firmly said, interrupting him.
"Tch, understood." Kang Oh nodded his head.
"I can always change the exam back to what it was. I can just say that it's too dangerous and that there are too many casualties. You understand what I'm saying?" Balduk warned.
If he forgot about his debt and he didn't take his mercenary work seriously, then the exam would go back to normal!
"Good." Balduk smiled satisfyingly. 'What a good use of my time.'
Everything went as Kang Oh had hoped.
The Mercenary Association had switched the location of the exam to the Beast's Tower. Plus, the testers would need to kill a Horned Beast and a Crow Beast too. If they managed to take down the Two-Headed Ogre, then they'd automatically be promoted to silver rank.
"Good!" Kang Oh clenched his fist and headed for the Beast's Tower. He needed to get ready to welcome some guests!
* * *
[Adding a Blade Beast as a guardian requires 800 gold or 80 repel points. Would you like to proceed?]
"I'll pay using gold." He only had 3 repel points at the moment, so he needed to use gold!
A Blade Beast was a monster with blades as hands.
[You have spent 800 gold.]
[You have added a Blade Beast guardian.]
[The Blade Beast has evolved into the Scarlet Bladed Blooder.]
"Next!" Kang Oh picked the Horned Beast, which had horns as large and flashy as a reindeer's.
[You have spent 1,000 gold.]
[You have added a Horned Beast guardian.]
[The Horned Beast has evolved into Golden Horned Goros.]
[You have spent 1,500 gold.]
[You have added a Crow Beast guardian.]
[The Crow Beast has evolved into the Mana Obsessed Crowzard.]
A Crow Beast looked half man, half crow, and cast various spells. By transforming into a guardian, it became capable of using even greater spells.
'Three guardians should be enough for now. I might add more when I have some more repel points.'
Buying a guardian cost a lot of money, so he couldn't bear to spend anymore!
Kang Oh made the interior more complex, added a few more traps, and then closed the Dungeon Management window.
He'd have to wait and see how much larger the tower would get, and how much better the rewards would become in the future.Previous Chapter Next Chapter