Going to a Korean restaurant, I sated my hunger eating kimbab, ramen and spicy rice cakes. I drank a cup of coffee after that, and then went to get my hair shaved.
“The shape of your head is impressive indeed.”
I finally did something about the hair which got burned during the search for the Ancient One’s altar. Syria was nervously fidgeting on the side. She and Jörmungandr were the center of attention, causing all the bystanders to be regardless of gender, and I was in the midst of it appearing dignified.
‘This isn’t bad.’
Hair would grow quickly anyway. I was physically growing fast. I seemed to have grown about 3cm during the one or two short months that had passed. The sensation of a shaved head wasn’t bad either.
“How is it?”
Syria uttered those words with difficulty. She looked like she had never even imagined I would shave my head all of a sudden.
I remained seated as I gazed at the mirror and nodded, praying to my hair,
‘May you grow up normally and not into a curly perm.’
“Mr customer. That person is a model right? She seems to be Russian from what I hear, but you sure can talk with her.”
The hairdresser was making a fuss in the meantime.
Syria and I could speak to each other because we had both awakened, however, to ordinary people Syria’s speech would sound as no more than Russian. The scene of us conversing must have have appeared curious.
“She is an exchange student.”
“No wonder! And that taciturn lady over there, she’s so pretty I could fall for her even as a woman myself.”
“Please trim my brows.”
“Ah yes. A moment please.”
Half the morning had passed since my regression. I was now free from the effects of the assimilation. The mannerism I adopted as Uriel Diablo had gone back to normal again.
“Wow, such thick brows.”
“Where are you looking as you’re saying that?”
The hairdresser had brought the eyebrow trimmer close and was tidying up my brows. Even as she did so, she had continued to stare at Syria and Jörmungandr as if she were a maiden in love. Due to that, my brows were close to being erased by mistake.
“Why don’t you focus on my brows.”
“I, I apologize.”
The hairdresser was dripping sweat as she focused.
It was the hairdresser’s fault. The other bystanders were the same. Everyone was frantically busy stealing glances at the two women. Jörmungandr, in particular, excelled at drawing attention. I guessed that Jörmungandr was spreading something like a ‘pheromone’ which worked on humans dangerously well. No one dared to approach her, but whoever saw Jörmungandr were bound to lose themselves in her regardless of gender, so this wasn’t exactly a normal situation.
「News flash. In no more than several days recently, reports of missing people occured at a frequency 20 times more compared to last year in Seoul city. All witnesses testified that they had seen a corpse of a peculiar animal and a strange hole and…」
It was a hot topic at the Korean restaurant, the coffee shop, and even in this hair salon. It was the same news continuing to spread everywhere.
“The world is so chaotic.”
“Did you know there’s even talk of the missing people who had returned having obtained super powers?”
“We’re not kids anymore. You believe in such rumours?”
“Come to think of it, hadn’t there been talk of people with super powers since several years ago? I think I’ve seen it in videos too. Although they were deleted within a few hours.”
The people were buzzing with conversation.
The existence of the ‘Gate’ weren’t yet known to the world. The ones who did know were extremely few in number. Most of them were under the government’s control and were concealed. They couldn’t just plainly turn the fact that it was possible to connect to other worlds into a public issue, after all. Anyhow…
‘That Minshik is starting to make his move for real now.’
The reports of disappearances suddenly increased. Events played out differently to how I remembered it. Minshik was the only variable to have caused this. I had predicted it to a certain extent, of course.
Minshik desired ‘fast progress’. As in, he wanted to grow strong quickly, awaken humanity quickly, and become the true ‘hero’ that leads them all. That’s why he was opening up the Gates zealously. Most of them should be ‘white gates’ containing nothing but low-grade monsters, but the type of gate didn’t matter in order to awaken.
‘I would have done it if he hadn’t, but even so, isn’t it too early right now?’
I approved of his actions for the most part; to usher in the era of awakening. At least 2 years would have to pass for the existences of the ‘gates’ to rise to the surface. Simply put, humanity in the past had wasted 2 years of time.
The new era would be preponed. But in my case I had planned to lay some groundwork first, because only then would I be able to directly control most variables. It seemed that Minshik didn’t consider that as well. Or perhaps he was acting out of confidence that he would be able to control everything.
“I heard that over Gyeongbokgung Palace the police are keeping things under control. Something must have happened there.”
“I know about that. It’s about that, isn’t it? The rumour of a purple black hole appearing!”
Purple black hole?
I stood up in the middle of having my brows trimmed. As the hairdresser retreated out of surprise, I approached two young girls. They were students wearing the uniform of a nearby high school. I was very familiar with it because the daughter of that ahjussi surnamed Yang, Eunha Yang, attended to that high school.
“Students. Do you mind letting me in on the details of that?”
One of the young girls (the stout-looking one) in front of me had replied.
I spoke unconcernedly.
“The purple black hole.”
“It’s nothing much. Apparently some weird hole appeared over at Gyeongbokgung Palace so the police are cordoning it off. By the way ahjussi, can’t I take just one photo with that unni over there?”
“From which angle do I look like an ahjussi?”
“Because although your appearance is like an oppa’s, it’s my first time seeing a bald oppa. And for your information, an oppa wouldn’t say ‘students’ the way you did?
I felt dumbstruck. No matter how carefully I minded the way I spoke, it still seemed to be off.
I was remaining speechless for a moment, when the schoolgirl continued to speak.
“I’m asking because it’s my first time seeing such a pretty and cool unni like that. Can’t I take just one photo together? Please ahjussi, I mean oppa, ask her for me. I think I’ll get a heart attack if I personally asked and got rejected. Do it so I can show off to my friends. Yes?”
“Hm…Alright. Then if you’ll tell me more about that black hole in detail, I’ll let you take a photo.”
The way the young girl looked changed then. She wore the eyes of a starved hyena as she began to shoot off words like a gatling gun.
“I only heard about it myself. It’s also rumoured to be a homicide incident, but they say it’s really a black hole. Hundreds of policemen were mobilized and yet there’s no news about it. Something is obviously up, right? Apparently a purple black hole with something like numbers written on it had appeared in Gyeongbokgung Palace. They say dozens of people were sucked inside of it already.”
Purple gate. A place inhabited by named ‘unique monsters of ancient times’. Beings with the name of a ‘false god’ would also appear from time to time. But a purple gate wouldn’t open unless the decided time passed. People being sucked inside meant that the gate was half opened.
‘It was opened by force?’
It’s not as if there was no way to do so. There was a method to shorten that set time. All one had to do was to continuously kill the animal ‘possessed’ by the gate. After repeating that four or five times, it would take fixed form in a specific location, and that was the black hole which was being talked about. The more people that entered that black hole, the more the set time would shorten.
That’s why a purple gate had to be treated with prudence. Because only the elite of the elites, selected with utmost care, would be sent in for the sake of eliminating the monster on the verge of release. Until that time, the contents of the gate would be put under strict control, so that none may enter.
I rubbed my chin. A name soon came to mind.
‘Gyeongbokgung Palace and the purple gate…The Zombie King Akshiz’s dugout!’
Zombie King Akshiz!
It was a monster that was assessed to be Lv5, but he was supposed to emerge from within chaos 2 years from now on. A thousand zombies were at his beck and call, and he had personally created every single one of them. He had enough intelligence to create zombies himself. In the past, many people were captured by him and turned into zombies.
Was he perhaps trying to open that gate?
“That strange fellow left a message with your maidservant. It is concerning.”
Before I realized Jörmungandr had come close. She had spoken as she rubbed her chin, as if copying my actions, and then Syria explained it in detail.
“I received contact yesterday, that there was a ‘gate’ that needed to be entered in the near future. He said that the Chinese siblings had already gone in.”
“The Sword of Darhan…”
I replied ambiguously.
I probably knew what Minshik was up to.
‘He’s doing this to obtain the Sword of Darhan.’
It was stuck in the heart of the Zombie King Akshiz. There could be no other reason to it than the Sword of Darhan. It had no bonuses stat-wise apart from increasing magic power by 1. But imbued in the sword was ‘Moonlight’, an A-rank offensive skill. That skill was of no particular use to me, seeing as I had obtained Stygian Touch, but going by the standards of humanity, an A-rank skill was something rare which only the top 1% could possess.
Akshiz was a monster that was relatively easy to defeat and gave good rewards. Along with the rewards…at the same time he must mean to save, and raise, the people who had gone inside together.
I grasped his intention.
‘He’s become impatient.’
Ending up captured live after running into the gnoll shaman must have been a blow to his pride. That’s why he was going all-out in stirring up this incident. To grow stronger even faster than before. Nevertheless, the fact that monsters at the level of Akshiz wasn’t a difficult enemy, as long as one knew the right method, was something to be relieved about. It would be much easier than facing a gnoll shaman.
“Go together with that guy, Minshik.”
“Me, you mean?”
Syria tilted her head confusion.
Apparently she was thinking that following me would have been the natural course of action. But Rakshasa Mountain was a much more dangerous place compared to a mere Zombie King Akshiz’s dugout. There was no known strategy for that place. It was dangerous to go together.
“Let me give you a few words of warning. As long as you keep them in mind, you’ll be able to minimize casualties.”
“Hansung-nim…won’t be going together?”
“I have something else to do.”
To obtain Etaqua and climb Rakshasa Mountain! It was of incomparable importance as opposed to obtaining the Sword of Darhan. But in exchange, it was that much more difficult. I needed to remain firm of resolve.
“Excuse me. I get that you look to be having a really serious conversation and all. But you should keep your promise, no?”
The young high school girl, who was listening quietly at the side, jabbed at my back.
The young girl had spunk. If Eunha Yang was said to be number two when it came to boldness, no one could take number one, but it looked like she had a contender.
I turned my gaze to Jörmungandr, who licked her lips.
“Small, young human girls are rather tasty.”
“Don’t eat her.”
After settling the bill, I stepped outside as I organized the thoughts in my mind.
I was heading home, wearing sunglasses, and I called Minshik only for him to say,
ㅡSorry, I’m sorry, Hansung. I have nothing to say except that I am so sorry.
He endlessly continued to apologize, saying that he hadn’t been good enough. That nothing like this would ever happen again. That he was sorry.
There wasn’t even a need for me to come up with excuses implying that ‘I don’t want to be with you’.
ㅡI was mistaken. I should have been more careful about roping you in. That’s why, we’ll meet later…I come for you when I gain more confidence. Things have become more complicated than I expected as well.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
ㅡMuch will change from now on. I have to see to it that the change will go toward a positive direction.
The change had already begun. By my estimates, hundreds of people should have awakened at least. The Korean government was covering it up in haste, but they had no way of suppressing the rumours from spreading as well. When the people started to exhibit their powers, the existence of the ‘awakened’ and ‘gates’ would instantly come to light. It was a good thing that Minshik did what I should have done, but as a result, it looked like I needed to speed up my plans some more.
ㅡAnd Hansung. Regarding that woman called ‘Jör’, be careful. She appears to be an awakened acquainted with Syria, but it’s highly possible that she has a skill that drains vitality. It looked like she’s targeting you.
“She’ll drain my vitality?”
ㅡYou just need to keep her at arms distance. Fortunately, she didn’t appear to be too strong. Well then, I’m hanging up. Stay well.
“Hey, wait, hey!”
With a ‘beep!’ sound, the call ended. Judging from how the sound of wind blowing was ever-present throughout the call, he seemed to be moving without rest. I sensed guilt from him as well. His voice was full of tension. He must have accepted the unlikely story (regarding the gnoll shaman) cooked up by Syria and Jörmungandr because his mind was in such a state. I didn’t know if he didn’t suspect me, or if he was trying not to, but it seemed that his ‘failure’ was like a dagger bleeding at his conscience.
‘I’m in no position to take it easy either.’
I knew what it was that Minshik was trying to do. For the most part I approved of his intentions. Humanity’s fast growth, the rise of heroes, the creation of a well disciplined group. I also knew the important role which monsters played in that process. It was because our country’s government would act only by truly feeling in danger. If Minshik hadn’t done it, I would have done so after climbing Rakshasa Mountain. The problem was…
‘Would it turn out to be the right decision to randomly awaken people from the start?’
Too many people had awakened right from the beginning. There seemed to be hundreds in Seoul alone. While the possibility of speedy development was an advantage, but could only come after reigning in the overall situation. It will definitely result in undesirable byproducts.
It was in that moment that a man stood in my way.
“Ha, what an enviable baldy bastard! Nothing but flowers on either side.”
For example…this kind of guy.
Men and women, young and old, would stare at Syria and Jörmungandr, but couldn’t approach. This was because of the temperament unique to Jörmungandr. While the weak couldn’t come close, those passing a certain ‘standard’ would be able to approach like this.
A man wearing a black cap pulled down low. Severely bloodshot eyes. Just a look was enough to tell that this person, baring yellow teeth and laughing toward me, wasn’t quite normal.
Although there were signs of someone tailing us from a few hours back, I never expected him to appear right in the middle of a crowded park.
‘He must be an awakened.’
If any random person was allowed to awaken, it was possible that he or her might fail restrain their own power and fall out onto the ‘wrong path’, and indeed it looked like the man before me was one of them.