“Have a good day, father.”
As I woke up early in the morning, put my school uniform and looked at myself in the mirror, I could hear Ham Seo-ju’s voice from outside.
And then the sound of the front gate opening and closing. I came out of my room, sat down on the edge of the porch, tying my shoelaces, and asked Ham Seo-ju, who was standing in the yard.
“Your father, where is he going?”
“What do you mean where? He is going to work.”
Actually, there was a reason why I thought it was somewhat weird to see Ham Won-sam go out to work. Had I not given Ham Won-sam a decent load of money for the Redstone a few days ago? That would be equal to a few months’ salary for a typical salaryman. I asked again.
“He’s already starting to work? What about the money?”
But Ham Seo-ju answered back as if she had no idea what I was talking about.
“Money? Why are you talking about money so out of the blue? If he does not work would money just fall out of the sky?……”
This guy, Ham Won-sam, did he not tell his daughter I gave him money? Wait, he wasn’t planning on spending it gambling, was he?
I got up off the porch as I said.
“Hmm……. Alright. Well, I’m going to school.”
“……? Have a good day.”
As soon as I came out through the boarding house’s main gate, I could see Ham Won-sam walking further ahead down the road with a towel tied around his head. He seemed to be on his way to work at the rickshaw company.
I caught up to him and asked.
“Are you going to work?”
“Oh, it’s you. Well, I have to work to earn……”
Ham Won-sam stopped and looked back at me as he answered. I continued asking.
“What about the money I gave you? You should take a few days off, maybe buy Seo-ju some clothes as well. Don’t tell me you’ve already spent all that money.”
“Well, no, you see……”
Ham Won-sam opened his mouth as if he was in trouble.
“Well you know yourself, but that’s not money I earned honestly, is it? So I’m kind of afraid of just going out and using that money……”
Well, it was money he earned by selling something he stole, so it made sense. Especially, considering that Ham Won-sam had been imprisoned in the past for doing something similar, it made even more sense.
Ham Won-sam continued.
“So, if I suddenly spent money, don’t you think the detectives would think it’s suspicious? They would wonder how Ham Won-sam could get his hands on this much money……”
On top of that, he was still under surveillance of the detectives due to his thieving history, so he would be afraid of spending money even if he had it.
“If someone asks, just tell them I gave it to you. If you tell the detectives that I’m just a rich guy that loves spending money, they will understand.”
“W-Would that be okay……”
“I’m telling you, it will. Then I’ll go first.”
After saying this, I was about to go first when,
I said as I looked back at Ham Won-sam. Speaking of money, I suddenly had a question to ask.
I looked around for a moment and then took out what I had kept in my uniform pocket. Ham Won-sam was surprised and said.
“I have something to ask.”
What I had in my hand was a Redstone.
An otherworld mineral that can artificially generate Gates, or rather Spirit Gates. It was something that could bring huge benefits to humanity if used correctly, but it could also lead to catastrophe.
In the 21st century the Catastrophe, an enormous disaster, was caused by the reckless opening of Gates by various companies and guilds. The Catastrophe at that time wasn’t overcome until after humanity had already taken a big hit.
But, this technology existing in this era, where mana engineering hasn’t even developed properly? If such a disaster happened in this day and age, it would surely extinguish mankind.
‘Of course, it wouldn’t happen immediately.’
After I woke up in this era, I looked through textbooks and magazines like “Yeopsa Joseon”, but the technology to open Gates with Redstones wasn’t widely known. In other words, this was secret technology that only the “Oriental Development Company” held.
‘It’s good that I don’t have to worry about the Catastrophe right now, but……’
The fact that someone knew how to open up Spirit Gates was still very unsettling. Especially considering it was the Oriental Development Company, a Japanese state-run company.
How did they get the technology, or even what you could call over-technology? I wondered but,
I had thrown Aoki-shosa into a lava pit before coming out, and Kimitsu, the head of the Spirit Gate Development Department had gone off to Japan, so for now I had no way to find out more.
However, if it was Ham Won-sam, the guy that managed to sneak this thing out, he must have seen or heard something. At least how this thing was placed or who was managing it.
I asked Ham Won-sam.
“When you grabbed this, was there anything suspicious?”
“What do you mean suspicious?”
“Perhaps an engineer, or a technician, manipulating this thing. Did you see any of that?”
“Yes yes. Of course I did.”
Ham Won-sam frowned and looked in the distance as he continued.
“That is…… I don’t know if it was a Yeopsa or what, but, yes, this man with glasses was wearing a suit, like a modern boy, and he was carrying this huge piece of luggage. And I followed him as a nagashi (Porter), so I saw everything.”
“A guy wearing a suit.”
“Yes, and he talked to the high-ranking guy in there…”
According to Ham Won-Sam, the suited guy opened a safe, handled this Redstone and put a machine to it. So there was a technician. I continued asking.
“Did you hear anything he said?”
“Do I look like I know Japanese? I just thought they were talking about something difficult.”
At the end of the day, I didn’t get much. If I went by the description of the technician that Ham Won-sam gave me, there were too many suited guys wearing glasses in Gyeongseong, and he didn’t even understand the important bit, their conversation.
And anyway, even if he had heard their conversation, the technician would have left to Japan with Manager Kimitsu anyway.
‘Not much we can do.’
Well, there was nothing more I could do anyway, and at least the Catastrophe wouldn’t be happening any time soon. So instead of worrying about this right now,
‘I should concentrate on my studies right now.’
I bid Ham Won-sam farewell and headed to school.
『Next…… 6th Squad! To the front!』
Squad tactics practice period, in the training ground shaped like an amphitheater.
I looked around at my squad members and said.
『Everyone, ready? You know your positions, right?』
Well, it even didn’t matter what I said. Even though this was a tough class my squad members were all doing well in their own positions. And, in fact, our squad’s performance was the best so far.
When Professor Kitamura stood on the command post in the circular training ground, blew the whistle and pressed the button, monsters were released into the grounds just as they had been the day before yesterday.
However, when I saw the monsters released this time, I was surprised.
‘This isn’t at the level of students?’
In the 21st century this monster would be called a Claw Wolf, and they were very hostile canine-like monsters with sharp fangs and Wolverine-like claws.
If we went by this era’s standards, this monster would be at last and upper-middle class beast.
And to make things worse, two of them?
The two monsters blinked their eyes for a moment to try and understand the situation, and then one of them started running straight at me, at the forefront of the squad. It was quite daunting.
But, of course, since I wasn’t just a student, I dodged its claws lightly and cut off its head right away. However,
Murasaki, who was at the forefront with me, was hit by the other one’s torso and flew some meters, getting completely neutralized, and right after I could hear someone screaming.
It was Aikawa. The remaining Claw Wolf rushed furiously toward her. Had it judged that Aikawa wasn’t a combatant and just a healer, and so would be the easiest prey?
Lee Yu-ha released her frost and Song Byung-oh fired mana bullets, but they didn’t have enough power to stop the heavy Claw Wolf what was running towards them.
I brought my blade to my thumb and slashed it a bit to feed it blood. I felt bad for some reason every time I used this, so I tried to avoid it as much as possible, but the situation was urgent.
I ran out right away without giving myself a chance to notice the effect. Before the monster’s claws reached Aikawa, I narrowly cut its paw and throat.
As soon as the monster fell to the floor, Professor Kitamura, who was in charge of the squad tactics class, blew his whistle and shouted.
Aiwaka, who had been covered by the spewing liquid from the severed cross section, was on the floor crying. Yang Bok-ja approached Aikawa, helped her up, and said.
『You should be careful!』
『T-Thank you, Tomiko…….』
『Seriously, you were about to be number 216.』
As Aikawa asked back, shaking, Yang Bok-ja lowered her voice and said.
『Hmph, so you don’t know! …… You know, I heard from our senpais but, it’s been 215 so far.』
『The number of students that have died at this school since the 11th year of Taisho (1922).』
I told Yang Bok-ja off.
『Hey, stop scaring her. She’s already scared enough.』
『But it’s the truth!』
I shook my head.
They were okay since I had helped them this time, but if they were seriously injured, they could have even been at risk of losing their lives. They say practice is supposed to be realistic, but this was still too dangerous.
‘Of course, in the Hunter Academy of the 21st century, it was common for students to get hurt or die, but……’
It was the same in the 21st century, that the Hunter Academy was a dangerous place. However, even considering that, wasn’t the current mortality rate too high? Around 20 people died every year.
I looked back at Professor Kitamura, who was standing at the command post in the training ground. The squad tactics professor who was missing a leg.
‘Maybe that man.’
Had he deliberately released dangerous monsters, holding dark emotions?
But I just shook my head. Judging by the boastful stories he shared during class, he was originally a Yeopsa officer, but he had to retire after he lost his leg during the Manchurian Incident.
And it had only been two years since he came to this school as a professor. So he had little to do with the high mortality and risk of injury in this school, since that had gone on for decades,
Neither I, nor any of my squad members had any particular problems with this professor. In fact, it wasn’t just our squad that got difficult to deal with monsters, but other squads got them during their turn as well.
‘Well, I guess it’s just because of the era we’re in.’
After all, this was an age where the Japanese Empire is at power. Even the fact that we use real swords during out swordsmanship major class, this was all probably due to society being completely engrossed in a disrespect for life and lack of security.
‘This isn’t a Hunter Academy I chose, but I have to hold out as well as I can……’
After finishing morning classes, on the way. But on the path,
I bumped into Renka. I was going to just pass by after lightly greeting her, but her quivering lips made it seem like she had something she wanted to say.
The way she avoided my gaze and hesitated, very unlike her usual self, was curious, even more so considering she had seemed to avoid me these past few days.
『Is there something you wanted to say?』
『……Actually, there was something I wanted to ask you……』
And she slurred her words. But at that moment,
Right over Renka’s shoulder, there was a person that caught my eye. A man in a suit, walking out of the main building on campus. He wasn’t a student and didn’t feel like a professor, he was definitely and outsider.
As I kept my gaze on him, it was suspicious to see him walking with his hat pressed deeply onto his head and glancing around. And the direction that this suited man was headed to was none other than the campus shrine.
‘To the shrine?’
The shrine on campus was nothing but just a small shrine with only one worship hall, and most of all, there were many shrines across Gyeongseong, including the Joseon Shrine in Namsan, so there would be no need for an outsider to come all the way here to worship.
A man with glasses, wearing a white Panama hat and a striped sky blue suit. In his hand, he had a bag that looked heavy just from looking at it.
‘The technician that Ham Won-sam mentioned, could it be?’
I suddenly remembered what Ham Won-sam had mentioned in the morning. It was because the appearance of that man was very similar to the description Ham Won-sam had given me about the ODC technician.
Of course, just because this was a “suited guy with glasses”, I couldn’t just come up with conclusions. There were so many people in this era that had the same appearance.
However, it was true that this man’s actions at the moment were suspicious, so my heart was telling me that he might be the ODC technician.
‘What if that man is the ‘technician’?’
I grasped the Redstone in my uniform pocket. If this man was the technician, he would know the technology behind this Redstone. And what’s involved with it.
I hinted at Renka.
『Can you come with me for a bit?』
We climbed the stairs heading to the shrine. However, when we got to the shrine, the man was nowhere to be seen.
‘Where did he go?’
There wasn’t even a main shrine but only a worship hall in this shrine, so he wouldn’t have anywhere to hide.
There was one place. A few steps to the side of the worship hall, a small temporary building made of wooden planks with a sign reading “Jegigo” (祭器庫, note: Literally, place where ceremonial plates are stored). The warehouse where I persuaded (?) Hong Ok-rye a couple days ago.
I carefully approached the entrance of the warehouse. Renka, who was following me, embarrassedly said.
『Shirabayashi-san……? T-This place?』
After telling Renka to be quiet, I put my ear to the warehouse door. I couldn’t feel or hear anything.
‘……Is he an expert?’
This was a small warehouse, only about 6 square meters big. If there was someone inside, I would have been able to notice signs. But the fact that I couldn’t sense could only mean one of two things.
There was nobody inside, or they were so skilled they could completely conceal themselves.
There was no harm in being careful. I quietly told Renka.
『Here. Let’s go in together.』
I burst the warehouse door open and went in. But inside the warehouse,
There was nobody inside this small warehouse. It was just the ceremonial plates piled up on the floor and shelves. I was puzzled. If he’s not here, there was nobody he could be.
‘Anyway, he couldn’t have gone too far.’
Even if he wasn’t here, there was no way for a person to so suddenly disappear. He would surely be around here.
‘If I catch him, I’ll tie him up and speak to him.’
I picked up a rope hanging on a wall of the warehouse. But,
Renka was surprised all of a sudden.
『This kind of things…… A-Are immoral!』
I couldn’t understand what was up with her, but Renka stepped back toward the wall, ears glowing red, saying that she couldn’t help me with my hobbies, or asking me what I thought of her,
The wooden wall that made contact with her back started spinning like a revolving door and made her fall back. And as she was about to fall into the darkness beyond,
I quickly reached out and grabbed her.
『Hold on tight!』
I pulled Renka up. Renka, who almost fell into the darkness but had managed to grab my hand, finally sat down on the warehouse floor, smoothing down her chest, and said.
『W-What is this……?』
I was equally as confused. There was a spiral staircase leading far down in the hidden space exposed as the wall spun. I asked Renka.
『I’m a Joseon person, so I don’t know much, but are there usually underground spaces like this in Japanese Shinto shrines?』
Of course. No matter how I thought about it, it wouldn’t be normal for religious facility, let alone a small Shinto shrine in a school, to have this kind of secret passafe.
It was suspicious, however you looked at it, and it was clear that the man that disappeared had gone down here.
‘Should I follow?’
My suspicion that the man was the technician became almost certain. If I didn’t follow him and questioned him, I didn’t know when I would get another chance.
However, it was dangerous. If it was just one man, it could be fine, but I didn’t know what was down there. What if there was a trap? Or some kind of armed force?
As I was thinking to myself, Renka called to me and asked.
『You are chasing after someone. Right?』
It seemed she finally had noticed. Of course, after all, I hadn’t told her anything. After all, it was inevitable since I couldn’t tell her anything, whether it was about the Redstone or future technology.
As I nodded silently, Renka put on a more serious look and said.
『Then, I shall go with you.』
What could she be planning? However, it was true that I would be much less burdened if Renka came with me. Whether it was skill or social status, there weren’t that many people that could touch Renka.
『I will take the front.』
Unsheathing her sword, Renka covered her blade in flames. Using the light from the fire as a guide, we went down the spiral staircase leading underground.
She suddenly opened her mouth.
『Shirabayashi-san, is it not…… somehow hot?』
In fact, as we went further down the stairs it was getting hotter. It wasn’t only because of Renka’s fire ability. Was it just geothermal heat? Or was there something down there?
After going down for a while, the spiral staircase ended and met with the ground. And there was a big iron door there.
『It looks like an air-raid shelter.』
It did seem so. The huge rugged circular iron door was resembled that of an air-raid shelter. Looking at the iron door, I noticed that it had chains and huge locks, but they were now open.
『I’ll open it.』
Renka stepped aside, and I carefully pushed the iron door open. When I opened the iron door a little, Renka flinched.
Of course she would, after all, an intense heat came through the opening in the door. I couldn’t stop my growing suspicion. Was there a power plant inside, or something?
I looked inside through the slight opening in the iron door.
There was a large underground space, as wide as an air-raid shelter inside there. As Renka had said, was this really an air-raid shelter? However, looking inside, I discovered something that looked out of place in this space.
No, it didn’t just look out of place for this space, but for this era in general.
What filled up this large space were light bulbs — no, rather, vacuum tubes.
Hundreds and thousands of vacuum tubes. And wires connected these vacuum tubes together in a disorderly fashion. All of these things combined, a large machine buzzing and radiating heat filled this underground space.
As soon as I saw it, without even realizing it, I spit out.
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