༺ Night before the Festival (3) ༻
Save citizens and guide them to safe locations. Even though that was the rule… this was essentially a battle royale.
What? We had to score points by guiding a few of the limited number of citizens against 1,000 competitors?
“Why bother? When it’s a lot easier to disqualify everyone else?”
“As expected of our boss!”
“Your foresight is exceptional!”
First off, we took in a bunch of nearby students at the start to clear the preliminary event by grouping up together. At the same time, since there would be 16 people moving on to the next stage, we could group up and disqualify as many other students as possible.
That was why we didn’t bother looking for safe locations. Instead, we gathered a bunch of citizens and used them as meat shields.
“We need to use magic!”
“Stop you fool! You’re going to destroy the citizens as well!”
“Kuuk…! These cowards! There’s no way for us to attack them!”
The stone citizens served as remarkable shields, because moving them to safe locations was worth 1 point whereas destroying them was -2 points.
“Huhahaha…! Use magic if you dare! Are you scared?”
“Kuuk… you coward! At this rate…!”
“Charge forward! Pull them away from the citizens!”
Giving up on magic, the opponents decided to march forward but that was when Lark, who was drooling next to my stone throne, opened his mouth.
“Huhehe. Boss, I was holding myself back as much as possible. Can I do it now?”
“Ahh. Of course.”
“Ahk…! Y, you…! We have stone citizens as well!”
“Welp, we have a lot. We can just make up for it by gathering more.”
This was the fundamental difference between us and them. Unlike us who increased our numbers and collected as many citizens as possible from the start, the opponents were slow and had been heading to the outskirts to find a safe location as soon as they found several citizens.
Unlike us who were using the citizens as a shield, they were afraid of destroying the stone citizens and had to be more careful.
“Huhahaha…! Kill everyone that’s bigger than a wheel!”
“Get rid of them!”
‘Ah… this was honestly, quite fun.’
We were completely enjoying ourselves at this point. Applying on our faces the dye that was a part of one of the articles forming the formation, we used the stone citizens like slaves and made them into horses to carry us from beneath.
Like hipster villains from movies, we continued our march.
“M, Mr. Korin?”
Right as we disqualified roughly 30 other students and increased our numbers to about 10, we came across Alicia.
“I know not who Korin is.”
“I am the omnipotent ‘Immortan Lork’! You are to call me ‘O~ Mighty Immortan!’ when referring to my name!”
“…What kind of thing are you up to now?”
Alicia barely stopped herself from saying, ‘what kind of crazy thing’.
“O Alicia Arden. I shall give you the chance to join our Mandrake Bandits.”
She tilted her head as if this sounded like nonsense.
“Take off the epaulets of your teammates! Then I shall anoint you as the underboss of our group!”
“…No. I don’t really need…”
“Also! If there is anyone that takes off Alicia’s epaulet, then I will accept you as one of us!”
Alicia was about to point out how ridiculous that was but immediately noticed the shift in atmosphere. Her teammates whom she had been fighting with until now suddenly started pointing their weapons at her from all sides.
“Sorry Alicia. To be honest, rather than going against Korin who’s a Grade 1 Knight…”
“…A semi-Grade 1 like you sounds easier.”
Ahh. How ruthless was human society?
During times of peace, they act like civilized people but immediately turn into squids of a bucket that threaten to eat each other as soon as things turn difficult.
“T, this can’t be…. NOOOOOOOOO…!”
In the midst of the ‘corpses’ of her fallen teammates, the girl whose trust had been betrayed wailed out loud.
Everyone came up with a similar idea and formed groups, and that was the same for the ace of the 2nd year students, Marie Dunareff.
Marie had a lot of friends and many acquaintances so she naturally became the center of her group. Her group harmoniously collected stone citizens and her friends including Isabelle gladly joined her party.
They thought their friendship would last forever. Even though middle-school and high-school friendships tended to be cut off after going to society, they were overly confident in their friendship.
At least that was the case this time around.
The Mandrake Bandits had 14 hand-picked members, who were currently confronting the six students of Marie’s group.
“They have more numbers but it’s doable. We have a higher average Grade.”
Isabelle rationally analyzed the power level of themselves and the enemy. Even though the enemies had Korin Lork and Alicia Arden, they had Marie on their side along with a bunch of Grade 2 students.
This was doable. Through the power of friendship, a numbers-disadvantage of this degree was definitely overcomable!
“Noona… Are you going to hit me?”
What Isabelle did not take into account however, was that their 2 years of friendship…
“A, all hail…!”
…meant nothing in front of love.
– M, Marie!?
– Marie’s on a rampage!
That was when Isabelle realized something.
Friendship and the value of friends crumbled so easily in front of love.
“Ahh~. Feels good to not do anything…”
The one who was born a genius can’t win against the one who tries, and the one who tries can’t win against the one who enjoys.
– Immortan Lork! Immortan Lork!
– Immortan Lork! Immortan Lork!
“……What in the–”
Kang Ryun was appalled while looking at the magic footage that showed what was happening inside the formation.
The formation of Eight Gates which he painstakingly prepared for this test required a lot of articles. But because it was to test young students, he had created a few holes and didn’t apply the principles of Eight Gates and that might have been the cause of this problem.
There was some madman rampaging inside the formation.
“Senior Professor Josephine… Immortan Lork… What in the world is with this student?”
“……It’s just Korin Lork. He… is just like that. We do not teach anything of that sort in our Academy.”
Seemingly embarrassed, Josephine even ambiguously denied the fact that he was one of her students.
“…Even though you are supposed to cooperate and help each other in the formation of Eight Gates…”
‘Shouldn’t that also be considered cooperation in a way?’ Josephine swallowed those words before saying them out loud.
16 people – that freaky group of bandits did not increase their numbers after bringing it up to 16, which was the number of people that would be making their way up to the real stage of the group event.
‘Is he seriously going to make everyone in their group pass?’
It wasn’t impossible. Like bandits, they were attacking every student they saw and were snatching the stone citizens away from them.
Korin Lork, the leader of the group, was already Grade 1, and on top of that, they even had a semi-Grade 1 knight Alicia Arden as well as the strongest student of the 2nd year students, Marie Dunareff, who chose love over friendship.
Although the preliminary group event wasn’t something that could be cleared through sheer force, their group members were very strong.
Besides, even after coming across the safe locations that they were supposed to bring the stone citizens to, the bandit group was ignoring them, and was instead focused on wiping off all the students of the formation.
“Hmm… Looks like we might have to settle the scores sooner than planned.”
“Sorry? What do you…”
“Those heinous bandits are messing around with all the articles inside the formation.”
The key of the Eight Gates Formation was the locations and symbolic meanings of the articles placed on each of the cardinal directions… as well as other articles inside the formation.
A painting of a yellow dragon, the string instrument Sanxian made with snakeskin, a necklace made with a white tiger’s claw… all the articles contained meaning and were working as devices to activate the formation.
Of course, Kang Ryun had placed several spares in case some of them were to be broken during combat but…
“To think they would be so atrocious as to steal every article they see…”
“…Sorry about our students.”
The group of bandits that were immersed in their acting were either destroying or removing all the articles inside the Eight Gates Formation for their immersion.
It was but a matter of time until the formation would be forced to a stop. Therefore, Kang Ryun came to the conclusion that he had to end the preliminary event ahead of time after keeping the formation up for as long as possible.
“No. I have in fact learned that humans do some utterly useless things without any reserve. Next time, I will prepare articles outside the formation rather than inside.”
Even though he would have to find and prepare new articles, it gave him the opportunity to look at the lengths that these students in the prime of their youth would go to. He was enlightened that in life, things didn’t always go rationally and logically.
The beggars of the back streets, Ren and Ron, had been discarded by their parents at birth.
They, who awakened as werewolves from birth, had ears and tails that weren’t that of a human and unfortunately, their parents were those who feared and detested demons.
The only reason they could survive despite being discarded at a young age was because of their physical abilities they were born with as a werewolf.
At the young age of 3, they were already as strong as an adult and their skills at stealing apples surprised even the professional pickpockets.
Wandering through the dark alleyways, the siblings relied on each other and survived.
However, perhaps because of their lack of education and due to staying at a mentally young age, they couldn’t escape from their appearances which made them look like 9-year-olds, despite already being 16.
But it wasn’t all that bad. After getting older, they gained the ability to hide their tails and ears when it wasn’t a full moon, and a young sibling of beggars was easily able to gain the sympathy of other people.
Of course, after several years, people started looking at the siblings, who looked the same, with skeptical gazes so they had to travel to other cities and that was where it caused a problem.
The gangsters of the Black Star Group that did human trafficking for money ended up finding out their identities.
“Ren… Ren. Look at this.”
Ron, her younger twin brother, was hopping up and down with dazzling emerald eyes after wearing ‘new clothes’ for the first time in his life.
“You idiot. That’s for girls.”
“Huhh? These are pants though?”
“It has pretty decorations.”
“Isn’t that what makes it better?”
Ren looked at her younger brother who was the same age as her. Unlike Ren who was slightly more mature, Ron was still innocent and simple as always and it was concerning that he might not grow any time soon.
Well, Ren hadn’t been able to grow either though.
“Oh yah, is that big bro our master now?”
“He’s not our master. He’s just an Uncle. Call him Uncle.”
“Not big bro?”
After cleaning up all the stains on his body, tidying his hair and wearing decorative clothes for the first time in his life, Ron no longer felt wary about the boy who saved them. But Ren, on the other hand, still did not drop her guard.
Adults were always the same; they wanted to make use of kids like them all the time.
Even though he was giving them clothes and food right now, he might change at any given moment…!
When that day comes, Ren vowed that she would use her skills to immediately crunch at his neck…!
‘No wait, is that too much? It might be painful. Hang on, I am biting to make it painful! Let’s… bite his leg.’
Even though Ren tried to tell herself that she had to stay vigilant and be on her toes, she couldn’t help but reflect on the conversation from before.
『It’s okay. No one is going to hit you anymore. You guys are now safe.』
Because it was her first time hearing that from an adult, and because it was her first time having someone pat on her back like that, that distracting experience left way too big of a mark on her mind.
“Hah… I don’t know.”
Ren threw herself on the bed of the room that was prepared for them. Her gold hair that no longer had any stains slowly fluttered onto the soft mattress.
Even though the chest of that Uncle was very hard, she had a feeling that the warmth behind his hug felt more comfortable than this soft bed.
– Knock knock!
That was when someone knocked on the door. The siblings thought it was that bar waitress who brought them here, but it was a different person this time.
“Can I come in?”
After a short silence, the boy opened the door. The boy with a wild countenance gave a whistle after seeing the dressed-up siblings.
“You look a lot better clean.”
“Hello, big bro.”
Ron greeted him by bending his back but during that, he couldn’t support the weight of his own head and bumped his head on the floor after which he whined in pain.
“Are you okay?”
Korin carried Ron and sat him down on the bed before going down on one of his knees to match his line of sight with them.
“So, is there anything you’re not comfortable with?”
“I like everything! Bro!”
“…Let’s not say bro.”
“You see… I have a bit of trauma with that ‘bro’ word. So instead, you can call me ‘hyungnim’.”
“Okay, Big Brother Korin.”
“Right. Good boy.”
Patting him on his head, Korin took out a sausage from his pocket which Ron gladly accepted.
“…What are you going to do with us?”
Ren asked and looked at Korin with a sharp light in her green eyes. She was a golden wolf, which was rare even among werewolves. Rather than demonic beasts and animals, they were closer to elementals and spirits, and each of them were born with unique traits.
Her emerald-colored eyes had the power to tell the authenticity of the other person’s words.
To be exact, the ability to see the sincerity of the other person was just a byproduct of her beast-like and sensitive eyes, but that was the ability that allowed the poor siblings to survive through the dark side of the world.
“Actually, I wanted to borrow your help for something.”
“But you guys were a lot younger than I thought. So I didn’t like the idea of having you go through something dangerous.”
“But it’s not like I can leave you guys here so if you want, I can take you to a place with other people that are similar to you.”
“Is it important?”
“Not something for you to worry about. I can do it fine without you.”
Ren quickly assessed the situation.
This boy wanted them to do something – it was an important task that needed their help. However, just because they were young, he was telling lies to give them peace of mind.
He was a needlessly nice person. Even though he did have a calculative mind, he was a good-natured person who was okay with not having any profit as long as he did something good.
“Do you have a lot of money, Uncle?”
“…Can you please call me Oppa? ‘Bro’ is not good, but Oppa is fine. In fact, I would love it.”
Why is everyone calling me Uncle? Do I really look that old? He murmured to himself but Ren nonchalantly glossed over it.
“Please hire us. We will work if you give us money.”
That was already a great amount of growth on her part. Considering how she had been stealing from other people all the time, this was her being as nice as possible.
“Do I have something kids can do? Do you want to clean the hotels or something?”
“No. Not that…!”
“More importantly, aren’t you guys hungry? Do you want some snacks?”
“Stop treating me like a kid!”
“Okay okay. Yes yes yes. Little Ren is not a child; you’re an adult. Of course you are.”
Even though Ren puffed in fury, she knew that she wasn’t strong enough to beat him just yet. At least not right now.
The hotels newly built on the outskirts of the city were a hot topic these days.
These buildings that were said to have been built with the investment of students looked like they were going to be destroyed by the Tornado Bat even before its complete construction, but they were somehow completed. What was more important was the set of rumors about this place.
It was how all the 100 people from Purple Hawk Academy for this festival would be staying at this place.
‘Does that… even make sense?’
Foreign academies usually visited once every 2 years. Since more than 100 students and professors were entering at the same time, everyone in the industry was very much interested in their accommodation.
The sheer amount of accommodation fee of 100 people was already enormous but they would be staying behind throughout the peak season of the festival, and all the side businesses like inviting other merchants and providing food were also things that would result in several white gold coins.
There were a bunch of accommodation owners that were waiting in line to grab this juicy opportunity, and the Merkarva Academy tended to make a contract with a different accommodation facility every time for equity purposes, but to think they would suddenly sign one with a new hotel!
Despite their astonishment, the merchants had to find a way out.
Even though they couldn’t take the long accommodation itself, they had to make money by aiming for street stalls nearby. Mr. Bae, who ran mobile food vendors inside the city, was one of those people.
“I am Brite Bae from the Brite Corporation.”
“Korin Lork from Happiness Hotel. Please take a seat.”
The office of the newly constructed hotel was sparkling and modern as expected of a new building. After giving a deep bow to a student that was much younger than himself, the merchant took a seat.
“I heard you wanted to run a business in our hotel?”
“Ah, yes…! Our corporation has high hygiene scores, and we have always been receiving…”
“By the way, Mr. Spencer has actually come here before you did.”
It was nothing new that Spencers were the long-time rivals of Brite Bae. Even the meal distribution for the new kindergarten inside the city had been taken away from them.
“P, please let us be in charge of this! We have higher hygiene scores and have more experience under our belt!”
“Ah~. I see.”
The young boss cursorily flipped past the business proposal document of the corporation. As if he wasn’t even interested, it took less than 2 seconds for him to flip past each page.
“Umm… Are you, reading them?”
“Ah, of course~. I am a fast reader, you see.”
Was that speed even achievable just by being a fast reader? That was what he was thinking, but the next words from Korin induced some lines of thought in his mind.
“I feel like every~one does a similar job though…”
‘What? What was he trying to say?’ thought Brite Bae, who had been in the industry for a very long time.
A line of thought appeared in his mind, but he wasn’t sure whether he could ask a straightforward question about it. Was that even okay? What if that wasn’t what he meant?
Brite Bae was considering his options when Korin opened his mouth again.
“I believe you are from the east, am I correct?”
“I heard there was a thing called ‘Guanxi1TLN: Guanxi = A term used in China that describes social networks of people that are based around a mutually beneficial relationship.’ in the eastern continent. Helping each other out like one true family… You should know that concept very well, right?”
“I believe I might be able to be like true family members with Mr. Brite Bae, but…”
“I, I think the same too.”
After hearing his reply, Korin closed the document in his hands and placed his hands on Brite’s two shoulders.
“Oh right, Boss. You are also supplying imported goods for this festival right?”
“Yes… from Purple Hawk…”
“Right! You see, Professor Josephine from the Academy is a good friend of mine.”
“I, is that so?”
“What do you think? And while we’re at it, hnn? Can I make a small request of you?”
“W, what is it? Wait, before that, are you really friends with Senior Professor Josephine…?”
Brite Bae’s doubt was cleared after having a glorious 1-on-1 discussion with Professor Josephine.
That was when he realized it. Ah! This student is my path to being rich!!
“So. Can you now listen to a small request of mine?”
“O, of course! T, to think she would actually allow us to sell items inside the Academy…! P, please tell us anything. Boss!”
“Aiya~ Mr. Bae, you’re a nice man to talk to! Let’s stay on good terms like this, Brother Bae!”
Korin reached out for a handshake and Brite quickly held onto that hand.
The next morning, a mysterious apple box was delivered to Happiness Hotel and the Brite Corporation became in charge of the meal distribution of the Purple Hawk students.
Even the people wishing to run carriages for a round trip to the Academy, errand runners, tour guides, and other businessmen gathered at the hotel, which made for a good harvest of ‘apples’ for someone.
“Now this is what I’m talking about.”
The hero who would later save the world had zero ulterior motives.
“I will use all~ of this for good things.”
He seriously didn’t.
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- 1TLN: Guanxi = A term used in China that describes social networks of people that are based around a mutually beneficial relationship.