Michelle was a little doubtful.
‘Weirdly enough, it didn’t make the headlines.’
Everyone who had Warred with her had gotten pretty famous. That was the case for Chicago’s Renton, as well as California’s Haze. They couldn’t quite jump to stardom in an instant, but they were still put on the public radar, at least in the US.
“You aren’t that famous in Korea, but… I never thought you would have such skill. I was truly surprised. I learned a great deal as well. To be honest, I was amazed.”
She had praised him that highly, but he hadn’t made the front page. The reporters were there and heard her every word, yet the incident ended all too quietly. Something was off.
‘What was it?’
There were articles on the topic, yes, but they were strangely unnoticeable. She combed through them again, and then, she realized.
‘If you look at the articles, you can’t see his face clearly.’
‘It feels completely normal.’
This was truly strange. How was this happening? Michelle called her deputy, Thomas. He was an old friend—they had been friends since childhood, and now, he was Michelle’s most trusted teammate.
Thomas came into her hotel room.
“Why’d you call me so late at night? Does being the guildmaster give you the right to call me in whenever you please?”
“Do you remember the man I had a War with yesterday?”
“I do, yeah. Why? How come you’re thinking about a man, for once?”
“Look at the articles.”
The two of them peered at the small screen of Michelle’s phone.
“Don’t you think something’s weird?”
“How come you don’t feel like he’s amazing at all?”
Only then did it dawn on Thomas.
“Hold up, you’re right.” He also thought it was strange. “How come there’s no interest in him when our Guildmaster acknowledged him as amazing?”
“It’s weird, right?”
“Super weird. I didn’t notice anything at all until you pointed it out.”
“I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, huh.” Michelle plopped onto the sofa. “Could this have something to do with why he’s not a famous Player in Korea?”
“You think this is that man’s special ability?”
“That’s the only explanation.”
The Kim Hyukjin Michelle had seen with her own eyes and the Kim Hyukjin she saw through the media were all too different.
“Guildmaster Song Kiyeol was lowering himself to seek permission for Kim Hyukjin’s participation.”
“Don’t you think we can suss something out if we ask Guildmaster Song? I think he knows something.”
“Good idea.” Thomas nodded. It felt like something fun had cropped up. “I’ll go to Guildmaster Song at the break of dawn and ask him then.”
“Will you do that?”
“I’m your deputy, after all.”
“Good, thank you.”
Michelle felt a little better. Thomas would handle it. She didn’t bother saying, ‘Don’t be too pushy. Nothing good will come of becoming enemies with Taeguk Shield. Just ask respectfully.’
Michelle watched as Thomas left the room. The back of her good friend and fantastic deputy looked as reliable as ever.
* * *
Translator – Lei
Proofreader – Ash
* * *
At the same time, Kim Hyukjin walked down the hallway.
‘The city’s pretty at night.’
LA’s nightscape was no less beautiful than Seoul’s. The city he saw from 60 stories high was like a starry world made of electricity.
‘Room number 6001, was it?’
Floors 30 to 60 of the LA Auction House were all hotel rooms, and Kim Hyukjin and Song Kiyeol’s rooms were both on the 60th floor. Hyukjin stopped in front of room 6001.
He entered Song Kiyeol’s room. Inside was also Song Jincheol.
“Elder Brother is taking a shower.”
Song Jincheol’s expression was dripping with objection. It was clear the youngest grandchild of Sungshin did not acknowledge Kim Hyukjin in the least.
‘The teenager energy is strong.’
Hyukjin didn’t even cast Jincheol a glance. He wasn’t angered by the kid’s disrespectful attitude, but that didn’t mean he was going to entertain it.
“Like I said, he’s taking a shower.”
Hyukjin didn’t respond. He simply sat on the sofa and waited with his arms crossed.
“Hey. Are you deaf? Can’t hear what I’m saying?”
“Don’t cross the line.” Hyukjin wasn’t mad, but he was annoyed. “I’m not tolerating you because I’m doting on you, but because I can’t be bothered to deal with you.”
“I’m not as weak as your brother. If you don’t wanna get your ass kicked, shut up and watch TV.”
Song Jincheol quivered from head to toe. He wanted to fight back, but he couldn’t. If he said anything, he would surely be beaten up.
He was furious.
‘This piece of shit…’
He was hopping mad. He, a 3rd generation chaebol, had never suffered such treatment. At home, he was the most doted on youngest child. He had never even imagined being treated this way.
Song Kiyeol finished showering and heard the conversation as he came out.
“I’m not as weak as your brother. If you don’t wanna get your ass kicked, shut up and just watch TV.”
Song Kiyeol pretended he hadn’t heard. He was well aware that Kim Hyukjin was being very tolerant. It might look like Kim Hyukjin was verbally abusing his little brother, but Kiyeol was actually grateful to him.
He glanced at the cowed Jinchul.
‘I need to punish him for real.’
Even their grandfather was courteous when talking to Kim Hyukjin. Of course Jinchul had to do the same.
“I apologize. I did try to hurry, but I still kept you waiting.”
“No, it’s my fault for springing a visit on you without advance notice.”
That’s right. It’s your fault! Jinchul wanted to say, but he kept his mouth shut. Reason #1 was that he was scared of Kim Hyukjin, and reason #2 was that he didn’t think his own brother would take his side. Biting his lip, Jinchul took his phone and flopped onto the bed with a huff.
Song Kiyeol said quietly, “I apologize. I will… be sure to educate my little brother.”
“It’s fine, just let him be.”
Hyukjin hadn’t forgotten.
–A factor in a major variable.
That was what he had felt when he looked at the spoiled brat. He didn’t know what exactly it was, but it was probably best to let Song Jinchul stay as he was now rather than to try and change him.
“That’s just how kids are at that age, I guess.”
“…Thank you for your understanding.”
Hyukjin went to the real matter at hand. “Michelle will send someone to you.”
“Michelle will? Who…?”
“Most likely an aide of hers. Like Thomas, for example.”
Song Kiyeol thought, ‘Does he know this because he’s closely linked to Italy’s information merchant, Pietro?’
Kim Hyukjin always knew the intel before he did. He was a master of using his advance knowledge to engage in 4D chess. That was how Kiyeol saw him.
“They’ll probably ask about me.”
“I see. How should I respond?”
“Just tell them I’m an ordinary sovereign in Korea. And that I’m part of your retinue.”
“…What? Are you telling me to lie?”
Though technically, it wasn’t a lie. Realizing that made Song Kiyeol himself feel confused. It was certainly true that Kim Hyukjin wasn’t a Ranker.
“Whether that’s true or not is an issue for Michelle to decide. Though she probably won’t believe you. In any case, that’s all the public needs to know.”
“I take it that you don’t want to give her any information. At least not for free.”
Kiyeol picked up on Hyukjin’s intent. “If she wants information, it’s likely she’ll come with a carrot, right?”
As expected of Kim Hyukjin. He wouldn’t give the info for free. The man could sell sand like hotcakes in the desert.
“Yes. And if she offers a sweet enough carrot, you can give her slightly more detailed information about me.”
“By more detailed information, what do you mean…?”
“Like the fact I have an ability called Cognitive Dissonance, and that I’m the guildmaster of a guild allied with Taeguk Shield.”
Song Kiyeol asked cautiously, “What is… Cognitive Dissonance?”
Hyukjin gave a concise explanation of the skill. Song Kiyeol nodded. To think Kim Hyukjin had such a skill… He really was full of surprises.
“Claiming Giantgod is an allied guild of ours is one thing, but do you really intend on revealing that you have the Cognitive Dissonance ability?”
Even he, the guildmaster of Taeguk Shield, had never heard of it until today. That wasn’t a strange thing. Rankers didn’t go around exposing their weapons. Players concealed their skills. That was an established fact.
“She’ll know even if I don’t tell her. Don’t tell her the name, just explain the ability a little. I will tell her the name myself when the time is right.”
“In exchange for telling her about Cognitive Dissonance, ask for a list of the auction items.”
“Will she really give us the list? She has been keeping it under lock and key.”
That was the kind of woman Michelle was. She could gather the world’s top Rankers without even disclosing what kind of items would be auctioned. Only a few objects had been revealed. No one knew exactly what would be offered, yet Players were still flocking over to participate, a reflection of Michelle’s influence. This was an auction hosted by one of the 20 wealthiest people in America, the sovereign Michelle.
“If she wants information about me, then it’s only right for her to give information of her own. She’ll give you the list if she really wants the info. If not, then it can’t be helped.”
The next day, Song Kiyeol felt cold sweat run down his back. Like Hyukjin said, Michelle’s deputy, a man named Thomas, came looking for him the very next day. The result of his negotiation with the deputy was:
“…The list must be kept confidential at all costs. This list has not been leaked even once.”
“But are you alright, Mr. Song? You look pale. Is something bothering you?”
“No, it’s just that my stomach hurts a little.”
His conversation with Thomas went exactly as Kim Hyukjin said. Thomas left the room, leaving Kiyeol with the auction list in his hands.
‘Once again… it turned out like Guildmaster Kim Hyukjin intended.’
Suddenly remembering something, Kiyeol took out two yellow slips of paper from his Inventory. They were precognitive notes given to him by the Precognitive Dreamer, Ham Sohyun.
–In the world of stars, the true prophet shall find you.
–Water with water, fire with fire, gold with gold.
He stared piercingly at the two notes.
‘The true prophet.’
‘I have a feeling it’s Guildmaster Kim Hyukjin.’
Water with water, fire with fire, gold with gold.
‘Information with information.’
It did seem to be referring to Kim Hyukjin. Just then, the letters on the notes began to fade, disappearing on their own. New letters appeared to replace them, and the notes suddenly multiplied. Dozens of yellow notes floated into the air.
–The true prophet shall be bound.
–In his bindings, shall he lose all strength.
–The ignorant masses shall be tricked by the devil’s voice.
One of the notes landed in Kiyeol’s palm.
–The Sovereign of Incantations will head skyward.
The notes burned up and disappeared.
* * *
Three hours before the start of the auction.
“Well done, Kim Darong.”
The squirrel’s name was originally ‘Darongi’, but as of late, ‘Kim Darong’ sprang more naturally to Hyukjin’s mouth. It looked like Darongi also liked the new name, too.
Darongi seemed pleased by the praise.
He took out the auction list from his Inventory and gave it to Hyukjin. This little squirrel was the safest and stealthiest means of transport around. Even Hyukjin couldn’t see through Darongi’s Stealth if the squirrel was being serious. Thanks to that, Hyukjin was able to get his hands on the auction list secretly and safely.
There were many items on the list.
“This… has a [?] for the description, but it’s actually trash.”
The items with [?] would most likely go for huge prices. In addition to the Players, there were also tycoons literally rotting in money participating in this auction.
[?] was meaningful on its own, at least to those wealthy people. Such items had value as collectibles.
“Same with this one.”
The Black Puma Helm. Later, it too would be reduced to a trash item. It wasn’t worth buying for big bucks here.
“This one shows up in the intermediate period Item Shop.”
He thumbed through the list.
‘Is it because this is the beginner period?’
There weren’t as many good items as he had hoped. There would probably be a lot of Rankers and wealthy people who would gamble on the [?] items, but they would come to regret that decision.
“This one’s a good buy.”
It would reach a price of $3 million later and would probably go for $1 million or so here.
“I’ll also buy this.”
He picked out a few items. He wouldn’t be paying anyway. He had a loaded business partner by his side. His business partner would handle the trading, and he would get a commission in return.
Although, that commission would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As Hyukjin cheerfully went through the list, he discovered something.
A [?] mark appeared over Darongi’s head. He was perched on Hyukjin’s shoulder, looking at the list together. It was an item with a note under it, and it came in the form of a fountain pen.
The note was very meaningful.
–Only the destroyer of the Gray Ring can activate the item description.
Three hours later, the auction began.