Chapter 34. From Today, I'm an Official Explorer (4)
College was boring. It wasn't that different from high school. I had no expectations in the first place. I was a dungeon explorer. My stage was the dungeon, not the school.
However, as member of society and citizen of Korea, I had to be in a social position appropriate for my age. Even with my above 20 intelligence, I couldn't quite understand these things.
Mother knew that I was a dungeon explorer just like father, and thus could make just as much money as him. Even so, she insisted on me attending college because 'I was at that age.'
This way of thinking seemed... fake. It was doing something for appearances' sake. Perhaps, this was what was keeping society afloat, especially now when the world flipped upside down with the appearance of monsters and the Awakened.
As I was having a rare moment of serious contemplation, Su Ye-Eun gobbled down fries.
"I can really eat it all? Really?"
"Yeah, you can."
"A-Angel... I love you!"
"Yeah, I don't."
Her large-size love was only worth 6,500 won. I rejected her hot and cheap love and blankly stared at her eating fries. Today was Thursday. Classes ended at 5:30. It was also the day when my class overlapped with Su Ye-Eun's.
Midterms were coming up, but Su Ye-Eun persuaded me to go out for fries and beer. Her aim was clearly fries rather than beer, but I didn't particularly reject her offer.
"What are you thinking about, Shin?"
Su Ye-Eun had a monsterphobia. It was why she shook so uncontrollably and froze when we met that pigeon.
Monsters. Surprisingly, people living in the 21st century found it hard to understand these strange creatures who possessed unusual sizes, appearances, and abilities. Not only did people feel natural aversion towards them, but they also froze in front of these creatures who possessed incomprehensible strength. Monsterphobia emerged as a new word to describe people like them. In truth, most people who did not awaken to an ability possessed some degree of monsterphobia.
However, Su Ye-Eun was an ability user. Although she was found out by me immediately, her stealth ability was one of the best abilities to survive a monster encounter. I suspected that there was a good reason why she was so afraid of monsters.
Although I was curious, I didn't really try to find out. I didn't want to be involved, though if she asked for help, I would oblige to a certain degree.
... I wondered if the fact that I was thinking all this meant I considered her to be a good friend, but I soon threw that thought in the trashcan. Damn, I really should have found someone else to be friends with. All those times I spent in the dungeon and not attending to my social life was coming back to bite me.
As I was thinking these rather useless things, it happened completely out of the blue.
[A dungeon explorer from Earth conquered the 50th floor and became a Gold rank dungeon explorer! A dungeon explorer communication channel will now open on Earth! Those who wish to talk may do so by putting their left hand on their mouth. When you don't want to hear from the communication channel, you can just say 'channel off.']
[Earth's dungeon explorers, you heard that right? I cleared the dungeon's 50th floor. Can you all hear me?]
I shot up from my seat. Although Su Ye-Eun stared at me with strange eyes, I wasn't in a state of mind to pay attention to her. I first took out my cellphone and texted my father, 'don't say anything.' I then sat back down, trying to act calm. Meanwhile, I could hear voices whispering in my ear.
[My name is Hwaya Eleni Mastiford, an SS-rank ability user and a dungeon explorer of the Second Dungeon. My Korean name is Ye Hwaya. I have British citizenship so keep that in mind.]
I clicked my tongue. An SS-rank ability user was a dungeon explorer! Both father and I knew other dungeon explorers could have awakened too, but we didn't expect the ability to be an SS-rank ability! She said her name was Ye Hwaya. She was that fire girl from TV.
A wall I felt I could jump over someday suddenly felt a few hundred times, a few thousand kilometers higher. Biting down on my lips, I paid attention to her words.
[You all should know that there are only five dungeon explorers on Earth. I want to keep it like that for a while. That is, I don't want any new dungeon explorers to emerge. After all, we can't just let anyone become a dungeon explorer.]
Her silvery voice continued to ring out like a bell.
[We have to come together. Aren't we a bit special to be considered the same as other ability users? When we gather, we'll have synergistic effects. Of course, since I have an SS-rank ability and became the first on Earth to conquer the 50th floor, I would be the leader. I want to create an organization of dungeon explorers, and I want you all to be in it.]
[... Interesting plan, Mastiford.]
It was the deep voice of a man. It was not father's voice, so it had to be a dungeon explorer I didn't know. I closely listened to his voice.
[I admit you're the strongest among us. But that doesn't mean we should be under your command.]
[I'm not saying I'll command you however I wish. It's just that if we come together, the leader position should belong to the strongest one.]
[Ha. Your offer isn't very tempting nor convincing. Even without coming together, dungeon explorers have the potential to command over other ability users.]
[We can be stronger if we're together! We'll have a stronger voice as well! Plus, I'm not saying we should come together for a monetary reason. What about the others? You should know about it, right? What happened to other worlds with access to the dungeon.]
I did. A demon lord was rampaging in the Luka continent, and invaders appeared on the Edias continent. The residents of their continents were truly fighting to determine their fates. Our world too... monsters began to appear.
Su Ye-Eun who was worrying about me blanking out completely. I waved my hand to shush her, and focused on the communication channel. This time, I heard another voice chime in. It sounded like a young girl's.
[I-I'm Su... Sumire Violet Minami. So is Mastiford-ssi1 saying... that if we gather, we can defeat all the monsters in the world?]
[Oh, you're a half too? But yes. We can grow until we reach the end. When we come together, no country or institution can ignore or take advantage of us. Plus, as long as we have the power to appoint dungeon explorers, we can use that power to expand our organization.]
[A-Appoint? We can appoint other dungeon explorers?]
[... It seems little miss here is still an apprentice.]
The man spoke with a disappointed voice. Tsk, that girl. I knew it from when she revealed her name, but she wasn't so bright. She should have pretended to know.
[You'll become Silver rank when you break through floor 20, Sumire. Then you're given the right to appoint one dungeon explorer. When you become Gold rank, you can appoint another.]
[Ah, I see. I'm still on the 18th floor. It's only been 2 years since I came to the dungeon.]
18 floors in 2 years!? Well, I didn't know which dungeon she was in. If I had mana, I could have done it too... No, don't mind it. Calm down, calm down.
[Huhu, Sumire. You shouldn't give out your information so freely. Unni's worried.]
It seems Mastiford favored how pure and innocent the girl was. But hey, you revealed that you were from the Second Dungeon too! Why don't you worry about yourself?
Minami laughed at her and answered.
[Aren't we all comrades? I don't think we need to hide ourselves.]
This girl. She's telling me and father to come out, right? You level 18! Father's weak to these things!
[You're right, young lady. Sorry for staying silent. I just wanted to listen in on the beautiful voices for a bit.]
As expected, father appeared with some nonsense drivel. Beautiful voice my ass. Classic music makes you fall asleep in less than 5 seconds!
[Then there's only one left. Don't tell me you're going to stay silent?]
It was the deep voiced man. I thought for a while, then came to a decision. Putting my left hand on my mouth, I talked.
[I didn't really want to cut in on your conversation. An organization of dungeon explorers. It sounds interesting and will probably be effective. I just don't see how it would be different from Guardian or Freedom Wing.]
[It will be different! Dungeon explorers will have their say. The organization's goal will be to find the underlying reason why the monsters appeared and solve it.]
[Mastiford-ssi, all organizations start out with righteous causes. Guardian is an example, and the result is as you see.]
It seemed Mastiford wasn't happy with being told off by me, as a hint of anger flashed in her voice. I could almost feel the heat in my ears.
[To be honest, I'm quite interested in the organization you're planning to make and its goal. I agree that if we don't take care of this monster crisis, our world might be in danger like the other worlds.]
[Then why did you say what you just said?]
[I'll be honest. I'm weaker than you, but I'm not the type of person to crawl between someone's legs. So we can talk again when I become stronger than you. I'll happily join your organization, though I'll be the boss then. I won't need to worry about the organization losing its focus either.]
[Now that's a man! But I'll be the one to be the boss, so... kuhum, boy!]
The deep voiced man snorted while father made a childish comment. Not to mention, he almost revealed that we were father and son. Mastiford replied.
[Pft, you? You want to surpass me? A Second Dungeon's Gold rank explorer? An SS-rank ability user?]
[Mm, so that's the first thing you say. If you were really worried about the world, that wouldn't be the first thing on your mind. It wouldn't matter who the boss is, right?]
Of course, I knew I was just picking apart her words. I was digging into her hubris and making her lose her train of thought. Mastiford was baited in perfectly.
[But it's obvious that I would become the leader as the strongest! Aren't you the one overestimating yourself? How are you going to surpass me!? Plus, I'm really thinking about the future of us dungeon explorers!]
[No, I agree with the boy, Mastiford. I can see clearly just how this organization of yours is going to run. Good luck, but I'm out.]
[Mm, I'm still weaker than the young lady too. I also don't want to work under someone. Best of luck!]
Did my words lead to this result? No, father probably wouldn't have joined anyways, but him leaving with the deep voiced man leaving made Mastiford look like a fool. Nice assist, father!
[W-What's with everyone!? I think unni has a point. She's the strongest one right now, and she's also the one who brought up the idea of making an organization!]
[It's not about that, little miss. It's just that Mastiford isn't trustworthy.]
[N-Not trustworthy? You haven't even met me...]
The young girl was just as innocent as her name suggested2. She didn't know how to doubt someone. Of course, I wasn't so innocent to trust someone asking me to join her organization.
[I don't know about Miss Minami, but I have a strong pride, so I can't work under someone like her.]
In truth, I didn't think Mastiford had any ill intentions. She was quick to show that she favored Minami and revealed information about her that she did not need to. She was probably as hot-blooded and honest as her ability, flames.
However, she had strong self-esteem and wanted to be above others. I had no plans to work under someone like that. Even if I had something to gain, it would only bring more pain than comfort.
I was no pushover. Until I at least held the same position as her, I had no intention to talk to her.
[Are you saying you'll ignore a global crisis just because of your pride!?]
[Global crisis, you say. Then I'll ask you a question, Miss Minami. What can we do together? Can we not do anything when we're apart?]
[T-That's... But being together will be more...!]
[I think I'm done here. Mastiford-ssi, I assume you're done as well?]
[Hmph! I wouldn't accept a narrow-minded person like you anyways! Sumire, let's just talk between the two of us.]
Girls were truly mysterious. They could talk so friendly within minutes of meeting each other. As I was about to shout 'channel off' with such prejudiced thoughts, the deep voiced man cut in.
[I'm Edward Walker, also British and 26 years old. Boy, may I know your name?]
[British!? You said you're British! Then how can you say that to me?]
Two of the five explorers were British. Of the 7 known SS-rank ability users, there was another British ability user besides Mastiford.
It wasn't like Britain had a huge population, so how did this happen? Well, it was most likely just a coincidence. That said, it seemed Britain would have stronger authority than other countries. It was mildly infuriating. Although I wasn't exactly a patriotic person, I knew it wasn't a good thing for one country to possess so many powerful ability users.
No, with me and father around, Korea was the strongest country in the world!
After hearing Edward Walker introduce himself, I contemplated whether to reveal my name or not. Then, I came to a decision.
[I'm Yeon Hwawoo. I'm Korean and 23 years old.]
[Y-You! You're Korean!? I should've known from the irritating way you talked! You do something about your government and media! They keep insisting that I'm a Korean ability user! I'm British! A proud British noble!]
[Ehh, a noble in this day and age... Sorry Mastiford-ssi, but I didn't even know you were a half until today. Plus, I couldn't give a crap whether you're from Korea, Britain, or Atlantis.]
[Atlantis is fictional!]
[Good bye, fictional lady. I won't remember you.]
[Mm, Yeon Hwawoo. I'll remember that name. It seems you're worth watching over.]
With that, I turned off the communication channel. I received a text from father immediately afterwards.
[When did you plaster your tongue with oil3, son?]
It's none of your business! Well, maybe it was.
"You must be stressed from all those tests coming up. Want me to take you to a doctor?"
"You mind your business, you potato demon!"
Why was no one around me normal!?
1. Korean equivalent of the Japansese "-san"
2. Both violet and sumire refer to violet flowers which means innocence
3. Equivalent to sugarcoated tongues