< Episode 4. The World's 1% (4) >
A day passed in〈Twilight's Shadow〉, the light of the next morning finding its way into the workshop. The day that had been given to Jae Hwan had passed, yet neither Meikal nor the other craftsmen had unwilling expressions on their faces. Maybe it was the fact that witnessing a precious material like the garnak's horn being processed was a rare occasion.
Witnessing this was a story that none of the craftsmen present would ever forget.
Mino silently exited〈Twilight's Shadow〉.
A pub with a rowdy atmosphere. The loud voices of various middle-aged men could be heard from every corner of the pub. There was a loud hologram device hoisted up in the center of the pub currently blaring out a broadcast.
The broadcast's host was a pink-haired Nightmare with a small horn on her head.
[This week's highlights Hot Ten with Siluen! Unfortunately, it's time for the program to end now. Before we end, here's a video that all of you would most likely be familiar with by now. There haven't been any videos that was as widespread and well known as this one from《Little Brother》in recent days. Precisely the「99th Floor Solo Clear」Video!]
On the screen was a gigantic Frost Dragon soon followed by the appearance of a man. The figure of a man who only used thrust in order to overcome his obstacles. The man's face was covered with a mosaic in order to blur it. It was a security measure to prevent the leakage of the product's information.
There were some men sitting off to the side that discussed the man on the screen.
"I wonder what happened to him, he probably got scared at a sovereign's lovecall.”
“Hey, don't you know? That Tower's cultivation suddenly came to a stop.”
“Suddenly stopped? Why?"
"Who knows. I bet he got caught while fabricating a video. There are rumors saying that he ran away.”
"What, are you saying that that video is a fake?”
“Of course you idiot. How could a single person complete a 1st Generation tower by himself.”
The men's discussion slowly started to veer away. They spoke of this and that, but now they were talking about a story relevant to a world far from them. This was Chaos. The world of the dead.
"Where do you think a「Fruit」would fall? I want to be alive again."
“Keul keul, do you think a「Fruit」is something that'll just fall on your house?”
"Miss. Another One-Horned Gaksu wine here一"
At that time, a woman walked into the pub with a loud bang. It was Mino. Mino just walked up to the bar, cleared away the men's drinks, and sat down on a stool. The men's eyes focused on Mino. Slim waist and a white skinned, slender face.
"Hey missus, you come here alone?"
The men who were violently rebuffed by Mino quickly got out of their seats and left the pub. Watching those men, Mino laughed.
‘Comparing myself to them, I'd be a strong opponent.’
Jae Hwan's face appeared in her head again.
She became disheartened.
The pub's owner appeared soon after.
“Look at this little chick driving away all of my business."
“……old lady Claire.”
"That's why oldy...... listen to me."
Mino was drunkenly speaking with a twisted tongue.
“I've heard enough, dumb girl."
The middle-aged woman, Claire, frowned. Claire was a colleague from Mino's homeworld of 'Arkal'.
"That's why what you said, it's like this."
“You almost died after trying to take advantage of a guy whose identity you don't know, but then in the end he saved your life."
"But despite that, you failed to recognize his grace and foolishly tried to make things difficult for him."
"...so why are you still mindlessly chasing his back without coming to your senses?"
The wrinkles on Claire's forehead deepened.
She was very familiar with Mino. Mino was like this ever since the Nightmare Tower. The nature of her personality was somewhat foolish, and she was likely to play mischievous pranks and be a nuisance to those around her.
She wasn't a bad child.
But unfortunately, the child's surroundings were always beset by some dizzying events.
"If you think he was going to die because of you, then you're the delusional one, little chick."
Mino didn't say anything and simple drank more alcohol.
"……am I that much of an inconvenience?”
"Listening to you, he sounds like a dangerous guy, it'd be good if you quickly leave him. It's not like he's lacking anything."
"Why are you chasing after him and bothering him?"
Mino's eyes shook as she heard that.
Mino silently thought about something for some time before finally speaking up.
"……it's just, looking at him, you know.”
Claire had heard lines like that a countless amount of times since she had started operating this pub. Needless to say, she held herself back from exclaiming that it's happening again. But,
An unexpected line came out of Mino's mouth.
“He's so cocky. He has no manners, his speech is crude…… but for some reason, nobody is able to block his path. He just does whatever he wants, but nobody can be his opponent. Red Fox, Obstinate Carlton, and even the Twilight's Shadow's old man…… Claire, do you know what I thought while seeing all of that?"
She spoke while surveying the interior of the pub.
“It felt like the life I've been living until now was for nothing.”
"It's not like I died because I wanted to die. Even you Claire, you lived so diligently until now."
Something unexpected flashed through Mino's eyes.
“But he suddenly appeared out of nowhere, then as if everything we had kept until now was wrong, he broke all of it, he killed people, he ignored……"
Her cup was empty.
Mino poured herself another glass of gaksu wine.
The bitter fragrance of the horns mixed with the scent of the alcohol.
“Regardless, I want to see it. I can't do it, but I want to see someone punish him. That's why……"
Hearing Mino's story, Claire faintly felt something somewhere in the corner of her mind. It was at that moment that Claire realized something.
This child met someone she should have never met, and she had felt something that she should have never felt.
Claire knew what Mino was feeling. It was something Claire had also felt in the past. At the time, Claire turned away from it and ran away. Then she aged.
Claire opened her mouth and spoke in a stubborn tone.
“Mino, let me give you some advice."
"Don't involve yourself with him any longer, don't even meet him."
"If you stay with him any longer, then you'll 'really' die."
Mino was taken aback.
This was the first time she had seen Claire make such a serious face since she had accidentally caused the two of them to die.
As Mino was about to open her mouth to say something, something made from spirit power flew in through the window. Mino confirmed the identity of the sender.
「Northern Checkpoint Chief Inspector Carlton Zevier」
'……what is this stubborn ass sending me?'
As soon as she tried to open the message, Mino felt a pressuring power.
It didn't feel like there was malicious intents, but the energy felt strange.
Moreover, there wasn't just one.
From the energies in the message, she could tell that there was more than one individual that Mino wasn't confident in being able to defeat in a face to face confrontation.
The door to the pub opened in the next moment and a number of unidentified people entered. Even though she was intoxicated, Mino had enough control over her faculties to realize the tension in the air, prompting her to pull out the dagger in her bosom.
One of the people stepped forward and asked her a question.
"Are you the Witch of Slaughter?"
“……if I am?”
The door to the pub closed as she answered.
An unknown man spoke up with a wide grin on his face.
“There's something you must do."
The smelting process began first by supplying power to the central furnace. Since the material this time was the garnak's horn, it was necessary to supply a much larger amount of spirit power than usual in order to produce a flame hot enough to process it.
While flames grew stronger, Jae Hwan just looked at the cleaned garnak's horn.
"First, show me the method you use to process it."
The very first step when processing a horn in〈Twilight's Shadow〉was to grasp the basic framework.
In fact, Meikal was already in the process of drafting up a design on the surface of the garnak's horn with a quill pen dipped in white ink.
The more specific and detailed the sketch was, the better. Once the shape of the horn was machined, it couldn't be turned back. Once the draft was completed, the craftsmen called out to Meikal.
Inside the central furnace was a fire burning bright white.
Meikal put the horn in a premade mold and placed it in the furnace in order to make it more malleable. After some time had passed, a strange bubble-like thing formed on the surface of the horn.
Meikal and the other craftsmen quickly removed the mold and swiftly brought the horn to a cutter in order to shape the horn.
The cutter moved along the lines of the white ink.
Even though it had become more malleable, the horn was so strong that it became necessary to go through a dozen cutters. As soon as they had just barely succeeded in the cutting, Meikal let out a sigh and spoke.
“It'll be a battle of skill from here.”
「Apprentice」class inherent skill,「Process」.
A skill that every skilled craftsman knew.
It was hard to believe that the brilliant white light coming off of Meikal's hammer and chisel was the result of a mere craftsman. But Jae Hwan's expression remained unchanged. It was because he had seen a similar sight in the past before.
—Jae Hwan-gun, what I'm doing is not smelting. It's a game of chance.
Jay had said something like that one day.
Atopos' prime blacksmith, Jay.
—I've been working very hard while watching you Jae Hwan-gun. I've already mastered all of the skills relevant to a blacksmith. I can be confident in myself. I have a 99% chance of repairing any weapon coming from the《Nightmare Tower》.
The weapons from the《Nightmare Tower》were just common weapons in the《Great Lands》. All of the weapons in the tower were just replicas of the original.
Nevertheless, a 99% chance was still incredibly high. Only Jay had such a tremendous chance of repairing a weapon in all of the《Nightmare Tower》. He had almost never seen Jay ever fail to repair something.
— But ever since I've reached this level, I've had some strange thoughts in recent days. I want to think that I'm missing something crucial. That's the sort of thing I've been thinking.
Jae Hwan had asked him what he meant at the time.
Jay responded as such.
— I have devoted all of my time to raise my skill proficiency so that I could reach a probability of 99%. But despite that, I can't help but think sometimes. Was I striving towards the 99%, or was I desperately running away from the prospect of the 1%, or something like that……
Jae Hwan first experienced the powers of「Doubt」not long after he heard Jay say that.
A strength different from a skill.
It was incomplete and difficult to work with, but it was a free power.
“I get the gist of it now, why don't you stop for a moment."
Having sweat so much that his back was soaked, Meikal stopped.
Although it took an absurd amount of time, the garnak's horn did not have a single blemish.
Only the chisel and hammer were broken.
"……Smelting is a time consuming process. On top of that, the garnak's horn is something that must have at least a month's worth of time invested into it."
"I am aware.”
"……You already know? Huhuh.”
Regardless, Meikal had a difficult expression on his face.
"Don't tease an old man like this."
"Can't you tell if I'm lying or not?"
Jae Hwan did not answer. He simply touched the surface of the horn without speaking. Even if it were hammered a countless number of times, it wouldn't leave a single blemish behind. Although it had been awhile since Jae Hwan had become unable to use the《Interface System》, he was still able to figure out what was going on by reading into the messages that Meikal was getting.
[Skill has failed.]
[Skill has failed.]
[Skill has failed.]
[Skill has failed.]
"I'm too old to process a garnak's horn. If only you had come to me earlier."
Sitting on a chair by the furnace, Meikal lit a cigarette.
“Well, now that the promised day has passed, can I speak more freely? Afterall, you're not the vice head anymore."
Jae Hwan silently nodded his head.
With the authority of the vice head back in his hands, Meikal's expression had loosened up.
"Do you smoke?”
Jae Hwan shook his head.
Meikal let out a stream of smoke and watched as it lingered in the air.
The faces of the nearby craftsmen became dark.
By nature, Meikal wasn't someone who did any unnecessary actions when working on a commission. But Meikal had put down his hammer and was instead smoking a cigarette.
“If it doesn't work a hundred times, and then doesn't work a thousand times, then, well, there are some things in this world that are just impossible. Of course, youngsters like Neiven over there would think otherwise."
Hearing that, Neiven's face grew bright red. It was the craftsman that had led Mino and Jae Hwan when they first arrived.
"Th-that's not true vice head-nim!”
"What do you mean not true? Did you already forget what you said to me last time?"
Meikal turned towards Jae Hwan again and spoke.
“That youngster over there is a very hard working guy. When I recruited him he was talking to me at the entrance of the workshop, but he does have a promising future. Maybe the next 'Artisan of Dawn' will be him. If he's lucky, he might receive the「Apprentice」 designation. But……"
Meikal took the cigarette out of his mouth and smothered it on the anvil's surface.
"Even he will never be able to surpass the limitations of his birth. Humans can never reach the level of top craftsman. Just like how I can't process this garnak's horn."
While listening to Meikal's self scorn and lamentations, Jae Hwan realized that Meikal had failed to start a work on the horn. The horn was a gauge. It showed that from the depths of Meikal's being, he had already failed.
Jae Hwan opened his mouth to speak.
"You won't know for sure unless you continue.”
"I've already done the best that I can. A hundred time, a thousand times."
"Then you have to do it ten thousand times.”
"And what do I do if it fails even after ten thousand times?”
"Then you do it ten billion times.”
"Ten billion? Euhuhut! You, you're young.”
Meikal let out an uproarious laugh while bending his back.
“So you think that I haven't put in enough hard work and dedication, is that it?”
“I have. I don't know if you'll believe me. You're right, I probably haven't reached ten billion like you've said, but I know that I've got to be pretty damn close. Train, train, and train some more. That's why I've been able to come this far.”
The years brushed by in Meikal's eyes. Many, many years had passed since he had come to this workshop by means of the《Illusion Tree》.
"How many years have you lived?"
Jae Hwan counted to himself. He had lived for twenty years before entering the tower but had lived thirty years in the tower.
Then taking that into consideration, it wouldn't be wrong to say that he had lived fifty years.
"Is that right? Looks like you died much earlier than expected."
Afterall, Jae Hwan's outward appearance was that of a twenty year old man.
It would be impossible unless he had died when he was younger.
“I've lived a hundred and fifty years."
He spoke in a strangely arrogant tone. After learning about how old Jae Hwan was, Meikal became more relaxed. He fell into deep thought. No matter how amazing this man was, he was still too young and too immature to understand vicissitudes of time.
“No matter how I say it, you won't understand. Afterall, you have yet to live as many years as I have.”
It was impossible to understand the 'time' of others. It was a truth. Jae Hwan opened his mouth to speak.
“No, I know."
Hearing something stupid, Meikal raised an eyebrow.
Then a smile sprouted on his face.
It was precisely that sort of mindset that a youngster would have.
He was exactly the same when he was young as well. He had wanted to say that he 'knew' of the difficulties that age brought. But now he knew that there were some things that one could never know unless they were old.
Meikal opened his mouth to Jae Hwan for a word of advice, but was a step too slow and was cut off by Jae Hwan.
“You are someone who has invested far more effort than anyone else.”
“Surely you've worked hard and trained hard in order to get to where you are now.”
Listening to Jae Hwan's calm voice, Meikal became speechless. They were simple words that stated simple facts. They were words that lacked finesse, and words that could not be praised.
But in the presence of those words, Meikal shook.
Perhaps it was because nobody had ever talked to him so plainly and so straightforwardly. He was praised and put on a pedestal when he was young, and honored and framed as a great man when he was old. Yet, he had never felt as though he were truly being recognized.
'Looks like I'm starting to go senile as well.’
Meikal thought to himself with a bitter expression on his face.
"Thank you. I've finally reached the day after living my life where a young man would comfort me.”
Jae Hwan didn't give an answer.
His interaction with the blunt man in front of him sparked some curiosity in Meikal's self. How would the younger and arrogant Meikal evaluate the life of the old Meikal?
As the saying goes, if you could ask your past self something, what would you ask?
Meikal took out another cigarette and asked Jae Hwan a question.
“What would you say that I'm lacking?"
"Talent? Birth? Or would you say luck?"
Looking at Meikal, Jae Hwan's pupils deepened.
No, to say his gaze deepened was false. It wasn't like his gaze had become an bottomless hole or a window into an abyss. Inside his eyes was something discomforting that Meikal couldn't quite describe with words.
In the midst of his discomfort, Jae Hwan spoke.
"You are not lacking in anything.”
"……I lack nothing?”
"Instead of saying you lack something, it's more like……"
"You could say that you have too much."
"I have too much? What do you mean?"
He had asked if he was lacking anything but was given the answer that he had too much. Meikal looked at Jae Hwan with a questioning expression on his face. Jae Hwan reworded his answer,
“You've lived too long."