“Hey! It’s been a while.”
“Uwah! You bastard! All of you get out here and throw some salt!”
PR Note: In Korean culture, “throwing some salt” refers to a superstitious practice of throwing salt out the door to ward off demons, bad luck, etc.. Its modern meaning is more lighthearted, referring to situations where one wants to ward off unwanted guests. Salt has a rich historical context because of its relevance in many religions both in modern day and in ancient times. For more cultural tidbits, see spilling salt.
With the introduction of the magical shooting range in Meta District, the influx of construction guilds and magical spires naturally led to the spawn of a dedicated market for their needs. And within the market, Isaac headed to a shop that oozed an aura of deceit and shadiness. The owner of the shop screamed in disgust the moment he saw Isaac. Isaac retaliated with an arched brow and stared at him with his arms crossed. Soon enough, the owner of the shop yielded.
Marcus Widren. He was the forefather of Isaac’s business; he was expelled from Campus for trying to sell merchandise to students in Campus before Isaac had come. His talents in magic allowed him to find employment in magical artefact manufacturing, but he couldn’t fix his bad habit and dabbled in producing illegal magical artefacts. He was caught red-handed and kicked out from his magical spire. Now he was living a meek life by running a small shop in the corner of the market, producing basic household magical artefacts.
Despite having studied magic, Marcus believed in the theory that life was all or nothing, and he even tried to sell illegal magical artefacts into New Port City’s market. Despite being caught, he used his identity as a sunbae from Campus to argue against Isaac. Entertained, Isaac went along with it and ended up becoming friends after a few drinks with him.
“W, what! I’ve washed my hands from the past now!”
“I’d rather believe that an elf is cursed than that so stop bullshitting me. And I have a question…”
“Shit! I don’t know anything! Stop bothering me!”
Marcus shouted out in terror. His body quivered as if he’d suffered enough already.
“Did Reisha and Kunette visit you already?”
“Yeah! And it’s not even once or twice! Why is an elf so gluttonous! And do you have any idea how expensive honey is these days? Those two come here to play whenever they’re bored!”
“You’re right, the cost of feeding them is pretty ridiculous. They spend two-thirds of their pay on food…”
“Right! I’m a victim too! And do you think it’s possible that some weirdo from outside the city suddenly summoned a wyvern?”
“I wouldn’t have a clue.”
“Che! So why are you here? I’ll bet my entire fortune and my mana that you aren’t running around personally to solve the murder incident you’re in charge of.”
Isaac considered if he should really try his best after Marcus threw a jab at him but quickly gave up. It was annoying, and there was something more important at hand.
“I’m not exactly hard at work, but give me some books about magic circles if you have any.”
“Huh? You’re actually investigating?”
Marcus eyes opened wide and looked at Isaac. He began to scan Isaac from head to toe, whispering to himself that ‘this isn’t like him,’ ‘was it true he was cursed,’ ‘was there a curse that changes a man to become serious,’ and so on.
“… So I received news recently that somebody reported their secondhand magical lamp exploding after purchase, causing a fire.”
“Huk! I’m innocent!”
“Did I say something? But you do sell magical lamps here right?”
“Hnng. What do you want?”
“I already told you. Books about magical circles.”
Marcus sighed deeply at Isaac’s answer.
“Sigh, this is why I hate bargaining with novices. Do you think there are just a few types of magic circles? There’s one for enchanting items, summoning, support, offensive! Defensive! Special magic circles developed by each and every magical spire! There’s more than tens of thousands of types when it comes to magic circles!”
“There’s that many?”
“Of course! Every single magical artefact that is used for daily life utilizes a different type of magic for its own function, and when you consider the difference in every wizard’s skill and how much mana they have, the main magic circle and its supporting magic circles change in shape and symbols, so in truth, there are infinite designs when it comes to magic circles!”
Marcus continued to belittle Isaac, shouting words like, “Shit! This is why it’s so tiring to deal with novices!” and “How could these tin cans who only know how to solve a problem with their bodies understand such advanced knowledge!”
Isaac watched Marcus silently and then pulled out a gold card from his pocket.
“You know what this is, right?”
“Huk! A gold card!”
Marcus’s attitude took a quick turn, as the rebellious and angered Marcus was changed to an obedient one.
“I will do my utmost to serve you, customer.”
“Magic circles. The most basic and rudimentary designs that are so simple that anyone can copy it and practice it themselves.”
“Yes! Right away! Just give me a moment.”
Marcus quickly ran over to the warehouse, and soon enough, he came back out as he scolded his employees. Marcus struggled as he brought out a stack of seven books that were so old and neglected that the colours had paled from their covers, replaced with a thick layer of dust.
“Sorry for the wait. These are magic books teaching basic magic circles to apprentices in magic spires. Not only does it explain basic magic circles, it also includes the designs and thorough explanations on each magical spire’s own magic circles and their specialties. The books that explain the signs and symbols used in the magic circles are sold separately.”
Marcus rubbed his hands together as his eyes were fixed on Isaac’s hand, or more precisely, the gold card in his hand. The good thing about gold cards was that there wasn’t anything stopping vendors from changing the price of the goods they buy. So, Marcus had the ability to sell these books, which Marcus would struggle to sell for even a Giga, for a hundred or even a thousand Giga.
“Hm, I think I could use these as reference. You do deliveries, correct?”
“Yes sir! Our shop aims to reach our customers at all times.”
“Then do it.”
“Hehe, so about the payment…”
“Ah, let it be.”
“Put it on the tab.”
“… Are you joking?”
The squealing Marcus quickly changed attitude and glared at Isaac with his fangs bared.
“You think I’m joking?”
Sparks flickered as the two stared at each other silently. Marcus continued to stare into Isaac’s eyes, but as time went by, cold sweat began to appear on his face. His eyes began to falter, and Marcus lowered his head in defeat.
“T, thank you for your patronage.”
“I’ll visit you again if I need something else.”
Isaac put his gold card back in his pocket and disappeared from the shop. Marcus was too relieved to even swear back at Isaac, and he simply sighed.
“Phew… I knew he was a strange one from the start, but why the hell are his eyes so bloodthirsty? He shouldn’t have ever fought in a war in his life?”
Marcus eased his beating heart by placing his hand on his chest. The fear of war was deeply engraved in his heart when he was roped into a provincial war during his traveling days. He still has nightmares from those days, but Isaac’s eyes were identical to the wandering knight in his memories, who travelled from one battlefield to another for ten years.
Isaac drew a basic magic circle on a scroll. Normally, it took tens of different ingredients imbued with mana to draw a functioning magic circle, but it could all be done by Isaac using a single pen.
“Hm, I think I drew it correctly… let’s see, the activation word is… here.”
Isaac turned the scroll away from him and shouted.
Isaac’s energetic shout was met with disappointing silence, as the scroll didn’t show any signs of activation.
“Huh? Why is this happening? Hm, were you supposed to rip the scroll in order to use it?”
Isaac remembered some of the novels he used to read in the past, and he ripped the scroll that he’d spent 3 hours drawing as he cast it.
“What are you doing, sunbaenim?”
“Uhik! When did you get here?”
Isaac jumped into the air with surprise. Somehow, Reisha managed to get behind him, her head full of curiosity as she watched Isaac.
“I’ve been here the whole time.”
“… Did you see everything?”
“You shouting the activation for the scroll? Ah! Was it your dream to cast magic, sunbaenim? I guess you were really bored. I’m sorry that I couldn’t play with you because I was so… Bwebebek!”
Isaac pinched at Reisha’s cheeks, which stretched out like rubber bands.
“This is a secret between the two of us. I’ll send you back to the College if this ever leaks.”
“Hing, that’s so mean.”
Reisha complained at Isaac’s blackmail as she rubbed at her swollen cheeks. The slight tear in her eyes was evidence that it truly hurt for her. The adorable look of her also provoked Isaac’s guilty conscience, and he quickly coughed dryly to try to change the mood.
“Did I pinch you too hard? I apologize. But why are you here?”
“The case is solved.”
Isaac complained at Reisha with bewilderment. Reisha, however, didn’t seem interested in explaining the reason to Isaac, seemingly mad at the fact that he pinched her cheeks. She turned her head, her cheeks puffed like a croaking frog, and snorted.
“… I’ll get you some bulgogi on rice for dinner.”
The long ears of Reisha wiggled furiously like that of a puppy wagging their tail. Reisha turned back with a smile on her face, her anger seemingly evaporated. She spoke with her eyes shining.
“Central sent the order to close the case.”
“… From Central?”
Isaac couldn’t understand their action. It was Central’s obligation to investigate when the wyvern was summoned in the middle of the city. It was inexplicable that they’d let the case go nowhere. Not to mention the items he picked up which Central somehow missed. It was full of mystery. Isaac may have glossed over the issue if it was in the past, but now that he was directly involved in the situation, he had to act carefully.
“So, what’s Kunette doing these days? I don’t see her around at all.”
Kunette, who always hung around with Reisha, suddenly disappeared one day. Isaac thought that she was simply eating honey in some secret hiding spot at first, but he became curious of her actions as time went by.
“I think she’s busy.”
“What could possibly occupy her?”
“I know right? What could there be? She always just goes around without even telling me anything.”
“Hm, is she just visiting the damsel? I guess it should be fine, since Rizzly should be at her side.”
Isaac frowned the moment he reminded himself of Rivelia. Central may have resolved the case, but having not caught or identified the criminal, she was going to nag at him day and night about it.
“Puhahaha! Everyone’s dog and cow would be a wizard if they could use magic by just drawing some magic circles!”
Marcus howled with laughter when Isaac visited him to ask why the magic didn’t activate. Isaac’s expression began to stiffen and a blood vessel began to surface on his forehead, but Marcus seemed oblivious to the changes Isaac was having. He began to talk, still laughing wholeheartedly as if it was well deserved.
“Kukuk, it’s been long past since the study of magic circles split off from the school of magic, and there are wizards who dedicate their entire lives to producing these magic circles. It’s an incredibly complicated subject, where one must consider the personality of the magic circle, the consumed mana, and the interaction between the superimposed circuits with their outlines.”
“… But the average person can use magical artefacts without a problem.”
“That’s because the artefact goes through all of those considerations during the production process. The wizards superimpose another magic circuit which activates these circuits, and then they put in a magic crystal which acts as a power supply and a switch. That’s how magical artefacts that even children can use are produced..”
“Those books you gave me didn’t say anything like that!”
“No shit. Because those books were intended to teach apprentices of magical spires. Why would they waste their time creating these complicated activation magic circuits when they can just use their own mana to activate it? That’s just a waste of time and resources.”
“You bastard, you did that on purpose just to get at me, didn’t you?”
“Puahahaha! What would someone like you, who can’t even use mana, do with those magic circles? Weren’t they just for reference?”
Isaac briefly sighed after glaring at Marcus, whose face glimmered like his face was slick with oil. He was obviously entertained by what had happened.
PR Note: The original would be closer to the following: “Isaac briefly sighed after glaring at Marcus, whose face glimmered brightly as if covered in oil.” It is a Korean way of saying he looked very cheesy (e.g. a cheesy wide grin).
“Bring me any pure mana crystals you have left over, because I need them for something.”
Isaac contemplated after listening to Marcus’s thorough explanation about magic circles for artefacts. Mana crystals were mandatory for a man without mana like him. But pure mana crystals were as expensive as they were rare.
Although the market for mana crystals stabilised with the invention of manufactured mana crystals, the difference in their abilities were in magnitudes when it came to how much mana they contained and its purity. That was why factory-made magical artefacts used manufactured mana crystals, while handcrafted artefacts used pure mana crystals.
“What, are you mad? Are you saying that knowing how expensive a single pure mana crystal is? I’m not letting you have it for free again!”
“That’s why I’m telling you to give me any you have left. I’ll buy it from you.”
“Are you seriously doing this? It’s not funny anymore.”
“Ha! I’m sooo scared!”
“Sigh… I won’t stop you from marking up your price a bit.”
“You mean it?”
Marcus persistently tried to get a confirmation that Isaac was going to keep his word, but Isaac only returned it with an annoyed look. Marcus seemed to doubt Isaac, but he still reluctantly brought a fancy-looking box from the corner of the shop.
In the box were many rocks that emitted their own colours, the rock in the centre being the largest at about the size of a fist. Isaac could see with his lens that the rocks contained pure blue mana, unlike the manufactured mana crystals that were dark or a dim blue.
“The largest one has a purity of 3.9. The rest are also pure too. I doubt you’ll find any other crystals that have a higher level of purity than this.”
“What do you mean by purity?”
Marcus’ expression changed, as if he was asking why he was talking with someone so lacking in common sense.
“Purity refers to the total amount of mana the crystal contains. Mana crystals have a special characteristic that absorbs mana from the surrounding, and when it surpasses a certain point, the rock begins to glow blue. The blue light it emits is the mana being expelled from the crystal, since it has surpassed its own capacity. But until the crystal reaches that point, it looks like a typical rock from the outside. That is why it’s so hard to find them and why they are traded at such high prices.”
“What about manufactured crystals?”
“The manufactured crystals are just a byproduct of research aimed at finding even purer mana crystals. They’re produced by grinding down pure mana crystals that have used up all of their mana and then mixed with other materials that absorb mana relatively well.”
“So you’re saying the greater the purity, the better?”
Marcus sighed with disdain as Isaac made his question.
“Something like that. The purity also refers to the stability of the mana crystal. The lower the purity, the more mana it emits into the atmosphere.”
“Then 3.9 isn’t even that good.”
Marcus seemed agitated by Isaac’s complaint.
“How could you say that? Most pure mana crystals are traded with purity levels of 3 to 5! The highest purity that exists is 8.5 and that’s the only one in existence!”
“Oh! So it’s pretty good?”
Isaac’s face beamed with admiration, which boosted Marcus’s confidence as his face looked high into the skies.
“So how did you even get something like this with your talent?”
“Huhuhu. Some country bumpkin came to me a year ago to sell the mana crystal, and I switched it with a manu… Huk!”
Marcus, who was in the middle of explaining his grand criminal adventure, quickly shut his mouth with a pale face, but Isaac already had a victorious smile on his face, having heard everything he needed.
“So you’re saying… it’s stolen.”
“Hm… I see. Mana crystals are like batteries .”
After failing to learn magic miserably, Isaac had built a psychological wall between him and the concept of magic. He didn’t bother to learn how the magical artefacts worked. It was a world where every problem dictated by the laws of physics was fixed with the word ‘magic,’ so the more he tried to learn, the more it was going to get tiring.
But now that he found a remnant of the old world, he couldn’t just stay idle. With the mana crystal he bought at half price through black mail and by reading through the book ‘Theories on basic magic circles,’ Isaac learned that drawing a magic circle on a scroll had been a complete waste of time. Indeed, it is always proper to read the instructions first before trying anything.
The history of magic circles started with the question of ‘how do I cast magic faster, stronger and more safely?’ Many of the top wizards studied this field, and the result was the manufacturing of magic circles and their use in magical artefacts.
The development of magical artefacts was the technology that brought the civilization of this world to a near-modern level in the place of science. This was started by a single knight of common birth who wanted to create magical artefacts that his aging mother would be able to use. Back then, magic could only be used by those who knew it. By inventing a magic circuit that activated the magic circle itself, it allowed everyone, not just the elite, to indulge in the use of magical artefacts. Its infinite possibilities were quickly noticed by merchants and magical spires, who furthered the development of this technology. The knight who created this technology held the patent for it, but out of good will, he donated all rights over the technology to the Empire so that others who couldn’t use mana could also benefit from this technology.
So with the absence of needing to pay a royalty, the development of the magic circles accelerated. Research in the fields of magic circles and magical artefacts thrived, and as a result, even the way it was drawn changed quickly. Instead of the pentagon or complicated symbols and letters, the magic circles evolved to use simple, concise, and organised equations for its circuits.
The activation magic circuit was simple. Place the mana crystal that would be used in place of the caster’s mana down and draw the magic circle. Like creating an electronic circuit in high school, one creates a path for the mana to travel from the mana crystal. Then, one would place a switch and connect it to a magic circuit inscribed with the desired effect.
After completely reading the book ‘Theories on Basic Magic Circles’, Isaac found out that the field of magic circles split into scrolls where magic is casted by ripping the scroll into two and enchantment where one carves the magic circle into an object.
“It’s a success.”
Isaac muttered as he looked at the small arrow shaped sliver of light which floated in the air after he ripped the paper into two. It was much easier than he had thought, but Isaac’s face grew cold and looked at the pen in his hand.
“Isn’t this way more valuable than I first thought?”
At first, Isaac gave up on the idea of drawing magic circles on paper or scrolls. Isaac did have the special ability to generate mana whenever he smoked, but that was all. It was nothing compared to how much mana was required to activate the magic engraved in the scroll. Knowing how much mana one possessed was a must-know for wizards, as it directly correlated to whether they would survive casting a spell or not, so they needed to know with extreme precision. There was an equation where one could calculate it, and after extreme effort, Isaac found out that the mana he gained after smoking was equal to having just enough to trigger the activation circuit of the magic circle.
So even if Isaac created the magic circle on the scroll, the magic wouldn’t activate without mana. That was why he was initially going to give up on scrolls and look at enchantment instead when he realized something.
The pen he held could solve all the problems one would normally face when creating the complicated scroll magic circles. So as a test, Isaac activated a basic spell, Magic Arrow, which should have been impossible for him considering his capacity for mana.
The result was a success. This was why it was even more serious. Magic circles on scrolls weren’t as popular as enchantments, because the greatest flaw was that they were consumables and difficult to produce.
Basic spells weren’t a problem, but as the rank of the spell increased, the cost to create it grew exponentially. In order to replicate a high-ranking spell, one would need to use difficult-to-acquire and expensive ingredients for the scroll. And even after creating one, it would need to be safeguarded with extreme caution. And that was before considering it gone after just one use.
This was why only the most experienced wizards held one on person as insurance or a trump card, but with this pen, all of the complicated production was glossed over with a single flick. Not to mention that one only needed the mana to activate the activation circuit.
The one flaw was that it only lasted a day, but this was beyond just causing a ruckus in the markets of magic. Isaac couldn’t test it because he was on the rooftop, but if one could replicate a strategic-level magic with this and also happened to hold animosity against the Empire…
It would be only a moment until the Empire fell. How could one possibly fight a war against an enemy that could infinitely produce strategic-level weapons?
“Not even the Arc Royale can stop this.”
Scrolls were easy to carry. If one were to activate it in an area where all of the leaders of the Empire were present, it would plunge the Empire into chaos. If a rebellion were to take place during the chaos, it was bound to succeed.
“Why the hell is a ballpoint pen so OP!”
There were records of strategic-level magic which could wipe out an entire division, which was already hard to believe on paper. But the fact that it was possible meant that both the creator and any who were aware of the pen’s existence would be searching for this pen with their lives.
A faction powerful enough to create such a thing in the first place would be difficult to find, no matter how hard the syndicate bosses tried… unless they were already a part of the faction to begin with.
Isaac’s frustration grew as he discovered the existence of another unknown faction when he was struggling as it was with Rivelia alone. He started spinning the pen in his hand as he took out another cigarette.
“Do I just act oblivious? Or sell it off to Central?”
Even if Isaac acted oblivious, those searching for the pen would still consider him to be a suspect. Isaac hadn’t noticed any watchers, but it’d be hard to expect Isaac to be able to detect them in the first place. All he could do was to maintain caution as his first and second priority.
The problem with handing it over to Central was that he had nothing to say if they asked why Isaac didn’t hand it to them straight away. And if they discover the existence of the lens too, Isaac was bound to be put on the dissection table or have his eye ripped out. It was an item much more valuable than Isaac as a person.
When Isaac’s thoughts reached that point, he realised that borrowing the books regarding magic circles from Marcus was a grave mistake. He muttered to himself that he should visit him a few more times just to bother him for no reason.
“The lens isn’t a problem, but the pen is. How do I hide… uhek!”
Isaac muttered those words as he smoked, and suddenly, the spinning pen melted like ice cream into his hand. Isaac got off his chair in surprise.
“W, what the!”
The cigarette fell from his mouth, but Isaac was too preoccupied to care; he touched his right hand with his left. The pen had disappeared completely, but now there was a golden line that extended from his wrist to his index figure in his left eye’s vision.
“Is it absorbed into me?”
Baffled, Isaac grabbed a piece of paper and rubbed his index finger onto it, but it didn’t draw any mana.
“What the? Why isn’t it coming out? Ah!”
Out of suspicion, Isaac grabbed the cigarette from the ground, took a deep breath, and tried again. Now he saw the mana drawing onto the paper.
“What is this, the magic finger?”
Isaac looked at his finger while still grabbing his wrist in confusion.
“… I guess I should be glad it isn’t my middle finger.”