༺ King of Iron Mountain (1) ༻
Fermack’s office was on the 7th floor of the Liberty Hall where we just had our lesson.
In this world without any elevators, any office that was higher up the building was known as a bad one but as a knight, Fermack seemed fond of it because of how much of an exercise it was.
Despite being a very half-assed institution that had the traits of both a university and a high school, they seemed to have taken all the bad things from both sides.
“Student Korin Lork?”
Fermack directly stared at me for a while. Was he going to ask a straight-forward question about it?
“Are you really a Grade 5 Knight?”
Hoh, is he not going to ask? He must be feeling very curious though.
“I’m sure you know it yourself, that it’s not correct for us to call you a Grade 5 Knight judging from your abilities.”
“Well yes. I am a bit strong.”
The only reason I became Grade 5 was solely because I couldn’t defeat a demonic spirit during the grading test. Since I couldn’t perceive astral bodies, it was impossible for me to defeat any demonic spirit without meeting certain conditions, and that was why I couldn’t even beat a ghost.
“Recently, the professors of the Knight Department gathered and had a discussion about you.”
Hmm? Ah, I guess that was coming. It was probably because of the fight against Lunia Arden during the interim exam.
Because of her splendid set-up just to see how strong I was, my plan to hide myself like an eminence in the shadows ended up failing big time.
“The conclusion we came to was that we needed to reassess your ability, Student Korin.”
“I would assume so.”
Despite lasting only a few minutes, I was able to fight on equal grounds with a semi-Unique Grade Knight like Lunia Arden. Just from that alone, it was exceptionally obvious that I wasn’t supposed to be in Grade 5.
It would be at least Grade 2, but my guess was that I wouldn’t be placed into Grade 1.
Grade 1 required achievements and a referee.
Starting from Grade 1, guardians would have the right to participate in the secret agendas of the worldwide Guardian Alliance and receive official support from them.
The representative Grade 1 named characters among the 1st and 2nd year students were Marie and Hua Ran.
Marie was an official guardian who made her way up the ladder by accumulating achievements upon achievements, whereas Hua Ran had a ‘temporary student grade’ which had no actual rights.
For someone like me who hadn’t achieved anything, I would probably be semi-Grade 1 at the very best.
“You’ll be given several missions, Student Korin. And we’ll be reassessing your grade through those missions.”
“Ohh. What’s the highest grade I can get?”
“That sounds great to me.”
“It’s only possible because of all the things you’ve shown us.”
There was nothing bad about getting a higher grade. First off I would be getting more money and there would be a wider selection of missions, allowing me to choose more difficult missions at will.
It was the privilege that was given to the player one year into the plot, which meant I was quite ahead of time.
“Okay. I will take the reassessment. What do I have to do?”
“There will be 2 missions. One for a semi-Grade 1 demonic beast and the other for a demonic spirit. Of course, it’ll have to be by yourself.”
That was tough. The variable here was that I had to defeat a demonic spirit as well.
“What kind of monsters do I have to defeat?”
The assessment standards became more strict the higher the grade.
Normally, a semi-Grade 1 knight was supposed to be able to hunt a Grade 1 monster after forming a party. Grade 1 monsters were usually bosses of a field event or a dungeon.
Therefore, the fact that the mission was about hunting 2 semi-Grade 1 monsters meant that I had to do it all by myself without receiving any help.
“Currently, there are four semi-Grade 1 level subjugation missions that you can get from the Guardian Alliance. Luckily we have both beasts and spirits.”
In other words, it meant I had to clear one each.
“Can I have a look?”
“Here you go.”
Fermack handed me several papers in response.
Hmm, they were all monsters I was familiar with.
As for the semi-Grade 1 demonic beast missions, there was the horseman with no head – dullahan – and a twin-headed ogre which was known for having two heads… A twin-headed ogre was supposed to be at least Grade 1, so judging from how it was a semi-Grade 1 mission, it might not even be a full grown-up.
The biggest problem is the demonic spirit missions though… Hoh? Was this one out already?
“I chose my missions.”
“…That was quick. I believe you should be a bit more careful.”
“Well, they’re all dangerous anyway. Who’ll be my supervisor?”
“You’ll be accompanied by Old Man Haman and members from the Alliance. They won’t help you unless you are in an extremely dire situation so be ready for that.”
That old man was definitely trustworthy. Actually, it was probably him that strongly persuaded others about my reassessment because he was a very impartial person.
“Do I have to do this immediately?”
“Of course. Because semi-Grade 1 subjugation missions have to be promptly dealt with.”
In other words, he was saying I might not even have another chance to receive a reassessment if I missed this opportunity.
‘…This is a bit risky.’
I realized his intention as well as the reason why he picked this specific moment. That was a very clever move from him.
“Alright. Then please do so. When should I leave?”
“You’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. Of course, you don’t have to worry about your other lessons and assessments.”
“If it’s Old Man Haman, I guess we might even have to leave first thing in the morning. I’ll get myself prepared then.”
Turning my back to Fermack, I walked out of the office. Until the very end, he did not ask me about my identity.
By showing neither goodwill nor hostility, he pretended to be uninterested.
“S, semi Grade-1 test?”
“T, this is big! You are taking a semi-Grade 1 test!!”
Marie made a fuss after hearing about how I had to take another grading test as soon as possible.
‘Maybe I should go with you as a judge!’ she said while forging a plan so I calmed her down and dissuaded her.
“Senior. You can’t come with me anyway. You’re still in your surveillance period.”
Ever since she awakened into a vampire, Marie still hadn’t received the permission to leave this city. Just like Hua Ran, she was only allowed to go downtown and was not allowed to leave the city by any means.
Of course, this restriction would soon be lifted. Chairman Eriu Casarr was going around the Tower of Mages, New Faith and the kingdom for a negotiation so we should be hearing some good news very soon.
The Old Faith might be a bit fussy but their forceful demands of outdated principles were causing them to fall in popularity slowly but surely. At the very least, they did not have the power to suppress Merkarva Academy, which was receiving the support from the New Faith as well as the kingdom.
The problem was the Tower of Mages. They would be in full throttle after the end of the 4th Arc but now that we had a variable called Marie Dunareff, we had to be on guard against them.
“Nnn… I see. Sorry… It’s an important test but I don’t think I can help you.”
Marie apologized with a sullen look on her face. Holding onto her shoulders, I raised a sincere request.
“Senior. There is something I want you to do for me while I’m away.”
The key elements were already in place. The only question now was whether I could make good use of them or not.
This would be the first turning point that decides the state of the main scenario henceforth.
“How much do you trust me, Senior?”
Evident from the slight flush in her cheeks, Marie was also quite tense. After sensing the seriousness in my gaze, she must have noticed the importance of this conversation.
“W, what do you mean?”
“Senior Marie. How much do you trust me… Korin Lork?”
“I trust you!”
Marie held onto my shoulders with a fairly serious look on her face. We were now holding onto each other’s shoulders in a very peculiar posture but that wasn’t the important part.
“I can trust you! Even if you tell me you can make kimchi with potatoes!”
“…You can make kimchi with potatoes though.”
“I trust you!”
“Like, I’m serious. There are some types of kimchi where you can add potatoes.”
“Nn! If you say so!”
I was super serious though. I guess she never had one before.
“Anyway… If you trust me, how far can you go with me?”
“H, how far!!?”
It was a question that had to be asked, because Marie Dunareff might be caught in another vortex and walk a different path in the future than what she had planned because of my choice. Could she come with me for the sake of a peaceful future?
“Until the end! Yes! Until the very end! Hukk! Am I taking that too far?!”
As if she understood my intention, Marie replied without any hesitation that she would walk the same path as mine.
This uncle here… I mean, this oppa wasn’t the type to be moved this easily, but that was quite a touching sentence.
“To think you trust me so much… I knew it. You’re the best, Senior Marie.”
“R, right? I’m the best, right?”
As expected of a kind girl, it appeared that she was very loyal to her friends. Now that I successfully persuaded Marie, there were about two more important members left including Alicia.
“I have a plan. But your help is a definite must for that plan, Senior Marie.”
“I, I see!! I’m a must for your plan, huh!”
That was natural, because Marie was the only acquaintance I had that could openly enter the laboratory.
“Let me explain the plan now. Starting from tomorrow Senior, you and Alicia…”
Her voice suddenly turned cold in an instant. With a chilly look on her face, Marie asked with an interrogating voice.
“It’s our plan. Why are you talking about another girl?”
That morning, there was a rare layer of mist. Carrying my bag, I arrived at the eastern gate of the Academy.
“You are right on time, Korin Lork.”
Waiting for me at the eastern gate wearing a stiff business shirt that revealed his muscular build was Old Man Haman. His clothes were very similar to my own.
“Instructor Haman. Good morning… It’s a bit foggy though.”
“This is nothing. Back in my days, we used to march to the nest of a bunch of demonic beasts through a thick fog.”
“It’ll be a fun journey if I get to hear your heroic tales on the way.”
“Hmph! I guess I could start off with what happened back when I was in the west.”
Old Man Haman was just like every other old man in his age, and he loved talking about his own heroic exploits. He was actually quite an interesting speaker to listen to, so it wasn’t that bad either. Both in this iteration and the last iteration, I’ve always been a fairly good listener.
“So… Where’s our first prey?”
“I like your eyes, young man. Those are the eyes of a hunter.”
It seemed that I was the type of person that Old Man Haman liked because he did say something similar in the last iteration as well. Looking back, he didn’t really like Park Sihu for some reason.
This veteran knight might have some instincts that couldn’t be explained through logic or something.
“Your first prey is the semi-Grade 1 demonic beast found on the mountain range in the west, twin-headed ogre. It’s slow but very menacing.”
“I did pick it, but aren’t twin-headed ogres usually Grade 1? Why is this one a semi-Grade 1?”
“This one’s not an adult. So it’s natural for the grade to be lower.”
It sounded plausible because both demonic beasts and spirits also tended to grow in power over time.
“Considering your skills, this shouldn’t be too difficult. From what I heard, the monster also seems to be raising several long hounds.”
“I believe you’re telling me to avoid going straight in?”
“Of course! Strength isn’t the only important aspect of a guardian. I shall evaluate everything I see from you.”
He appeared to be over-evaluating me due to the fight against Lunia.
“As expected of the knight I recommended!”
Old Man Haman hurried me forward as if there was no reason to waste any more time. I was quickly leaving the Academy when he suddenly turned his eyes to my neck.
“Looks like there’s a wound on your neck. And you look quite exhausted as well.”
“Ah~. It’s nothing much. It should be fully healed by the time we get there.”
It was the bite created by Marie when I let her suck as much blood as she wanted yesterday. I had a feeling that yesterday was a bit more painful but… I was probably just overthinking it.
“Huhu. Being too ethical is also a problem, but try not to be too immoral.”
He appeared to be misunderstanding something, but Old Man Haman glossed over it while grumbling ‘That is youth’. Seriously…
“Would you like some beetroot juice? It’s good for your blood circulation.”
Marie had trouble falling asleep that night but still woke up on time. Leaving behind the crumpled blanket which was caused by her kicking it several times, Marie started her morning shower.
Korin should have departed by now, right?
“Ugh… Making me misunderstand all the time…”
Even though she was leading an extremely eventful life as a veteran guardian who suddenly turned into a Unique Grade vampire, she was still a girl in her teens.
Korin’s word choice that made it very easy to misunderstand was more than enough to shake the heart of a young girl.
‘But… That was more serious than I thought.’
It was always the same for that boy. He was always at the scene before things even occurred and by creating a plan, he would respond to everything in time.
Even when he was saving herself and helping Alicia Arden… It’s not like she didn’t feel grateful for his dedication, but there were still some questions appearing in her mind.
What exactly did this boy know, and how much was he aware of?
He knew way too many things for a newbie knight that entered the Academy as a Grade 5 Knight and was way too strong.
‘It would be tactless of me to ask about it, right?’
If Korin didn’t talk about it himself, Marie had no plans of delving deeper into it. If need be, he would probably tell her one day. However, she still couldn’t help but wish to become his ‘special person’ whom he would entrust everything with.
‘Mhmm! But the reason Korin left this task with me is because he trusts me! Let’s be positive!’
That was a good sign. It probably meant that she was the only one he could make such requests with that wouldn’t ask for things in return. Marie decided to put the focus on that.
As a girl that just recently became aware of what love was, she had the very mindset of an easy pushover, but she couldn’t help it.
Her mind would melt like butter on a stove every time she was in front of Korin, so what could she even do?
It was inevitable for the one who first developed the crush to be the one on the losing end.
– Knock knock!
– Come in.
Marie knocked on the door of Room 606 of the Magic Department’s laboratory as the owner of the room invited her in.
“Hello, Professor Deina.”
“Oh my, isn’t this Marie? What brought you here?”
“I wanted to volunteer for your research, Professor!”
As a girl who recently fell in love, Marie was heavily blinded by it. It was to the point that she readily accepted the request, even when her crush pretty much wanted her to jump into a pit of flames while carrying hay on her back.
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