Chapter 224. Preparation Period (1)


[20F, Station of the End]

“Can we talk alone for a moment?”

I said to Boss, unable to wait any longer. Boss tilted her head with a curious look on her face.

“About what?”

“….”

I didn’t answer, but Boss nodded nonetheless.

“Okay, talk.”

“Not here. Come with me for a second.”

“Hmm? Why…?”

I grabbed her wrist before she could even continue. Boss’ eyes widened for a second. As she blankly stared at her captured wrist, I pulled her towards the ‘cafe’.

“Wait, are you….”

A needless suspicion seemed to have crossed Boss’ mind.

“I’m not the doppelgänger.”

“….”

In any case, I arrived at the nearby cafe with Boss. We paid for the seat and sat down at a table, facing each other.
We were finally alone in the cafe but Boss was silent. I, too, couldn’t bring myself to speak easily. But if I didn’t put my curiosity to rest today, then my suspicion would only multiply like cancer cells. As such, I got right to the point….

“…Boss, would you like some coffee?”

…Or not.
The circumstances weren’t right. The timing was bad, too.
I need to establish some sort of flow to our conversation to convince Boss to answer. Otherwise, who in the world would answer truthfully to a question so abrupt?

“Coffee…?”

“Yes, it’s my treat.”

I forced myself to smile and brushed a lock of hair, which was wet from my sweat, off my forehead.

“I’d like an americano.”

“Okay, I’ll order that.”

I pulled up the automated order window at the table and ordered an americano. Then I continued right away.

“Ah, that’s right. Boss, what reward did you get for defeating your doppelgänger?”

Boss looked at me suspiciously and briefly answered.

“…Orb of Speculation.”

“Oh really? What does it do?”

“I’m not telling.”

“Huh? Why?”

“You’re gonna ask me to give it to you.”

“Aw, when did I ever… Khmm.”

Well, I did take all the first prizes she got from the martial tournament. I even took the ‘emotion potion’, an item that Boss really didn’t want to give away, through a farfetched and flawed reasoning.
…Anyways.
For the next 45 minutes, I continued to talk about unrelated things and never got to the ‘point’, hoping for the next opportunity.
I was such an idiot.


**

[8-3F, Crevon’s eastern wall]

After the door to the 9th floor opened, hordes of monsters poured into Crevon day after day. Players were able to hold them off until now, but as the war prolonged, a number of them had begun to depart Crevon in order to climb the Tower.

As a result, the upper echelon of the Crevon’s royal family was in distress from the weakened state of their forces.
But at today’s defense battle, a rookie was suddenly brought into prominence. She was extremely skilled, to the point that the word ‘rookie’ did not suit her.

“How long can you maintain your summon?”

This question was from Crevon’s restless minister of defense. He pointed at a creature standing firmly beyond the castle walls. The summon, which resembled a turtle, stood like a mountain, and its grayish, sturdy skin was as hard as a rock.

The turtle was languorously yawning now that the battle was over, but during fights, it was in fact more agile than anyone else. Sometimes he would tackle the enemies with his gigantic body and destroy their formation; other times he would open his mouth wide and launch a ‘frostbreath’ that would freeze all the enemies.

“A summon that powerful must be hard to maintain for a long time.”

“…If certain conditions are met, he can stay out permanently.”

Ah Hae-In answered lightly. Through steady efforts—training and meditation—she had recovered half of her abilities and could already summon a high-rank summoned beast.

“Permanently…?”

But the minister of defense dared not believe her words so easily. Crevon had seven ‘Magician Academies’ that functioned similarly to Earth’s Magic Towers— few Players had already been admitted to them— and he knew that ‘summoning’ was a field of magic far behind modern times.

“What I meant was, if you can place a mana stone near the Black Turtle that I can connect to, I can keep him out all day.”

Black Turtle.
Just like the Azure Dragon, It was one of the four Cardinal Guardians from oriental mythology, and a mythical creature ranked in the middle among high-ranked summoned beasts. Although it was the weakest member of the four Cardinal Guardians, it had been a close friend of Ah Hae-In ever since she summoned him for the first time in her early 20s.

“Oh! That is truly amazing!”

“Haha, not at all.”

“In that case—“

“You can talk to me about the details.”

Yoo Yeonha smiled and intervened in Ah Hae-In and the minister’s conversation. She had been listening to them quietly and stepped up when she sensed that the negotiation was about to proceed to the next step.

“We’ll need to discuss the terms in detail from here. We’re not volunteer workers, after all.”

Her words were gentle yet precise in their intention. The minister first glanced at Yoo Yeonha, and then studied Ah Hae-In’s expression. Ah Hae-In also nodded.

“Mn, I understand. Then let’s head inside the royal palace for further talks.”

“The Atalos Royal Palace…. It’ll be a great honor.”

Hearing Yoo Yeonha’s remark, a laugh escaped from the minister’s mouth, and he called for his carriage. Soon, a carriage from one of Crevon’s three largest carriage brands, ‘Benlek’, and three excellent steeds as strong as 300 ordinary horses combined appeared like the wind.

“Please, get in.”

“We’re leaving right now?”

“Why, of course.”

Just like that, Yoo Yeonha and Ah Hae-In got into the carriage.
Thanks to the spatial expansion magic, the inside of the carriage was at least 3 times more spacious than how it appeared on the outside. Naturally, the ride was very comfortable. The two women, Ah Hae-In and Yoo Yeonha, sat side by side and stared outside the window.
The carriage started smoothly.
Yoo Yeonha began contemplating about exactly what and what not to give up during their bargaining with the royal family, while Ah Hae-In turned on the Community.
‘A thief who learned to steal late is the scariest.’ That proverb fit Ah Hae-In perfectly. The Community was a whole new world to Ah Hae-In, who had never used social media before on Earth.

AhHaeInHaeIn: 「Player Plabo-nim is… so hilarious… ㅎㅎ… I thought my… belly button… was going to… burst… like plop!… ㅋㅋ」

As Yoo Yeonha watched Ah Hae-In write the above comment, a sudden thought crossed her mind, ‘She looks like a teenager on the outside but she is really in her thirties.’

“Um, Duchess Ah Hae-In.”

A while ago, Kim Hajin had asked her a question in passing.

“Hmm? What’s the matter?”

That if she knew a teacher who excelled in summoning magic but could also keep a secret and was honest and faithful.
Back then, she had replied ‘no’. After all, someone who was strong couldn’t possibly be honest and faithful at the same time.
However…

“Do you have any plans to take in a disciple?”

“…Disciple?”

Ah Hae-In frowned at the sudden question.

“Yes. I know it’s sudden, but the thought just popped up in my mind. Oh, it’s not a big deal or anything. It’s just that a friend of mine told me that he found a very promising magician.”

“…”

Ah Hae-In didn’t answer and simply stared outside the window.
The small woman with a small head leaned against the car window wistfully. From a complete bystander’s point of view, she looked just like a cute little girl.
‘Okay, she doesn’t want to.’ Yoo Yeonha decided to give up without much thought.
Suddenly, Ah Hae-In muttered.

“…I don’t accept disciples.”

“Mm. Yes, I understand.”

Yoo Yeonha backed down without hesitation. But Ah Hae-In kept glancing at Yoo Yeonha. She appeared somewhat dissatisfied, and Yoo Yeonha realized that it was because she hadn’t ask ‘why’.

“If you don’t mind, can I ask you why?”

“Haa….”

She let out a faked sigh and put a distant look on her face.

“I used to have a disciple.”

Her big eyes recalled the past from 10 years ago, when she looked even younger than she did now. Back then, she had a disciple.

“That disciple is a Djinn now.”

“….”

Yoo Yeonha nodded solemnly.
It happened frequently. Magicians, who were so engrossed in study and research, were easily exposed to the temptation of devils. For this reason, the law required ‘demonic energy sensing devices’ to be placed in every Magic Tower and also in the homes of every 5-star or higher magician. Of course, it was nothing but a formality.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know about that.”

“…No problem. But just how talented is this magician for you to ask me to teach him?”

“Well. According to my acquaintance… this magician could rival you in 5 years.”

Of course, Kim Hajin had said no such thing. Yoo Yeonha just thought that the time was ripe for a proper provocation, and she simply came up with it on the spot.

“How impudent.”

But Ah Hae-In only made a adult-like smile.

“Yes, well, it is quite nonsensical.”

‘I guess it didn’t work on Ah Hae-In after all. Most magicians above 7-star would have taken the bait out of pride…’
…Just like that, the carriage continued to move in silence for the next 5 minutes.

“What is the name of your friend?”

Suddenly, Ah Hae-In spoke up, faking nonchalance.
Yoo Yeonha suppressed her budding smile and answered.

“Pardon? Oh, that’s a secret. He’s entitled to his own privacy.”

“…”

Ah Hae-In nodded without words. The 8-star magician who was on the verge of becoming 9-star rested her chin on her hand as if reflecting on Yoo Yeonha’s words.

“Pft, 5 years?”

She then sneered and continued to murmur.

“5 years…. Interesting.”

“…Huhmm.”

Next to her, Yoo Yeonha smiled in silence.
It looked like she had succeeded in granting his request once again.

**


[Player Extra7’s waiting room]

Another four hours had passed since the incident on the 20th floor.
I was lying on my bed in the waiting room, thinking about Kim Chundong’s existence and his life I was living.
In the beginning, I thought nothing really mattered since this wasn’t my life.
And perhaps that was the correct stance to take.
After all, Kim Chundong and I really were separate individuals.

“…Is it because of synchronization?”

But my encounter today with Kim Chundong changed a part of my views. Of course, I had no plans to blame everything on ‘synchronization’. After all, as someone borrowing Kim Chundong’s entire life, shouldn’t I be held responsible at least ethically?

But at the same time, my heart sank heavily.
Kim Chundong told me that we would meet again. My intuition told me that that would be my end. On that day, Kim Chundong who was Kim Hajin would once again become Kim Chundong, and Kim Hajin would return to the original Earth.

“….”

I stared at the ceiling.
The Earth where I lived for 26 years.
It had my friends, my tiny one-room apartment, my novel on ‘hiatus’, my pen name, and, most of all, my beloved parents. There, I was nothing but an ordinary person. An extra.

But here, in this world that I had been staying in for almost 6 years, I had a lot more.
Money, strength, authority, honor, and….

Boss: 「Hajin」

Boss’ message arrived at a good time as I was about to be swallowed up by depression.

「Yes?」

For the record, there were other guests inside my waiting room: Jain, Jin Yohan, Cheok Jungyeong, Boss, and even Kaita. I assumed all of them would be throwing a party in the living room right now.

「Did you not drink? I heard Kaita brought good wine.」

Boss: 「I don’t really like alcohol.」

I smiled.
This message was a lie; Boss loved drinking. Although she would never get drunk, she was a real connoisseur who enjoyed the taste of ripened alcohol.

Boss: 「What are you doing.」

「I’m about to sleep.」

Boss: 「…Mmm. I see ㅋ-ㅋ」

Perhaps because Boss was using the messenger more frequently, it seemed she picked up how to use emoticons. Of course she couldn’t be compared to the real expert - the blonde British princess.
I suddenly got curious as to where Boss was and looked around.

“Hmm?”

She was lying on the bed in the guest room next door, tapping on her messenger.
Contrary to her claim that she didn’t like alcohol, a bottle of wine that Kaita had brought was placed on top of the drawer next to her bed. There was also a slightly faded ‘orb’ on her lap.

“That must be the [Orb of Speculation]….”

‘Did she use it already?’
I took out the smart watch and examined the item.

===
[Lv.??? Orb of Speculation]
—Devise a condition and restore a past you experienced for up to 60 minutes.
—Through speculation, you can induce even the most unimaginable truth.
—Can be used 2 times.
===

“Boss, did you already use the Orb of Speculation?”

Boss 「? No, not yet. I’m going to use it later when I need it.」

I smiled at the lively tone of the message and knocked on the wall. Boss, who was tapping on the messenger using two fingers, flinched and looked up at where the sound had come from.

“Are you not going to sleep?”

—…Phew. You scared me. I will soon. How about you, Kim Hajin?

Her voice was kind.

“I’m going to bed now.”

—Mmm…. I see. I’ll stop messaging you then.

“Okay.”

—Good night.

Thanks to her voice, I could close my eyes comfortably.

‘Let’s forget about all the complications and just sleep peacefully….’

**


The next day.
I decided to head down to the 15th floor. It was clear that we couldn’t challenge the 20th floor right away, so I decided to develop [Genkelope’s Vessel], which could be used to help challenge the 20th floor, as much as I could.
However, when I finally arrived at Area 3…

“…What’s this?”

…something strange was taking place.
I was in Area 3 without a doubt, yet there were five administrators here who had come to see me. From the looks of it, they all seemed to be after Wolf’s Fragrance…

“You can’t measure the value of Wolf’s Fragrance with TP, so—”

“Like I said, he already agreed to give it to me.”

The first was ‘Simad’, the administrator of the 7th floor. He had brought some kind of a robot with him to negotiate with me.
The second and also the one interrupting Simad was, of course, ‘Medea’.

“You haven’t reached the 21st floor yet, right? That’s my floor. I’ll help you out.”

The one who said this was ‘Seriko’. But she was unimportant. Starting from the 20th floor, 3~4 administrators were assigned to each floor. Seriko, one of the administrators of the 21st floor, was at the bottom of the pecking order.

“I would like to know your name….”

The fourth administrator was ‘Andromache’. She was throwing seductive gazes at me but I flatly ignored her. The fifth and the last administrator, ‘Athena’, who was in charge of the 23rd floor, was simply staring at me in silence.

Blah blah—
Blah blah—

I sighed as I stared at the administrators talking to me all at once. Magic power was naturally embedded in the voices of the administrators, and I started to get nauseous just by listening to them.

When I couldn’t bare the suffering any longer, I took out [Wolf’s Fragrance] from my inventory.
Once the beautiful, gracious robe appeared, everyone stopped talking.
Gulp.
Only the sound of swallowing rang out.

“That’s right, Tra, you tell them. You wanted to give that to me, right?”

Medea asked with an expression full of anticipation.
But I ignored her.
I started calculating in my head.
Based on their offers, the administrator fit to become the owner of this [Wolf’s Fragrance] was… Simad, the owner of the 7th floor.
I handed the robe to Simad.

“…Huh?”

Medea spat out a single syllable, and Simad smiled softly.

“Good choice.”

“However, there is an item that I want.”

“An item?”

“Yes.”

I spoke of the idea that had crossed my mind just now.

“Isn’t there a high-performance AI on the 7th floor?”

“There is.”

“Help me transfer the AI to this ship. This ship needs it.”

“…Hmm?”

Simad started to think, while Medea reeled as though she was about to collapse. Simad glanced at Medea and quickly made his decision. He wanted to claim the robe before she did anything unexpected.

“Fine, but you can’t receive the Upgrade Center’s purchasable service for free. That’s something even I can’t do for you since that’s a privilege unique to the 7th floor, not something that belongs to a robot.”

“No problem. I just want the AI installed on this ship.”

“In that case, the pact is sealed.”

Simad took out a tiny machine that looked like a phone. He used it to make a call, and suddenly a large portal appeared in front of him. Another robot came out of the portal. It was holding an AI chip in its hand.

“This is the AI chip.”

“Thank you.”

I received the chip from AlphaGo and handed Wolf’s Fragrance to Simad.
Thud—
The moment our trade ended, Medea collapsed on the floor, not being able to withstand the dejection and her own wrath.

“I, I… for a month… here… wasted my state of existence…”

With Medea talking nonsense in shock, Simad looked satisfactorily at Wolf’s Fragrance.

“Good deal.”

With that, he entered the portal and left.

“You’ll regret this. Prepare to die on the 21st floor.”
“You made the wrong choice.”

Seriko and Andromache also returned to their floors. Only Medea and Athena remained.
I first handed the AI chip to Horner.

“…Horner?”

“Yes, Ship Commander.”

“Plug this into the vessel.”

With this AI chip, [Genkelope’s Vessel] will completely recognize ‘me’ as its owner.

“Yes, I will see it done.”

“Aaaaaaaaaaakkkk—!”

Suddenly, a scream so loud that it could shatter glass windows broke out. Horner and I covered our ears and turned around.

“W-What was that?”

“You, what were you thinking—!”

Medea jumped up and charged at me.

“Pardon?”

“You said you’d give it to me as a present. You, you bastard—!”

“You said you didn’t want it.”

“T-That’s… b-because of you, I wasted a month’s worth of my state of existence—!”

Medea viciously expressed her anger.
…You might be thinking, ‘It’s just one item,’ but Medea was a greedy woman to begin with and she probably considered Wolf’s Fragrance to be hers from the start. I wasn’t exactly sure what this ‘one month’ thing was about, but if an administrator left their floor for too long, something called the ‘administrator’s state of existence’ gradually diminished. So she was probably talking about that.

“You, don’t you dream of setting foot in Prestige ever again—”

“I was going to make you something new. A better one.”

“You goddamn bastard! Better one? What bet…ter…?”

The red-faced Medea stopped for a moment.
Blink blink
Her eyes blinked a few times.
Then she tilted her head in a daze.

“A better one?”

“Yes. I got this for winning the craftsmanship tournament.”

I showed her Hephaestus’ Chisel.
Flinch
Medea’s whole body shook at that moment.

“I could make even prettier clothes with this…. Oh, what was it that you said to me just now? Goddamn bastard?”

I faked being offended and folded my arms.

“Hm, but I don’t consider myself a bastard at all, much less one to be damned by God.”

I said so as I stared at Medea.
Medea looked at me blankly… then put on a strangely humiliating yet submissive smile.

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