Chapter 62: Five Notes
Something strange started happening to Senia.
‘Huh? No way, that’s—!’
I knew what was happening.
There was a buzzing noise as Senia’s body began to twist and distort. Parts of her body faded and reappeared repeatedly.
‘It’s server overload.’
Senia’s body became more and more faint.
“Player Kim Hyukjin…!”
Senia was urgently trying to say something to me, but then her body completely disappeared from sight. The Intermediate Administrator who had been exclusively streaming me, Senia, disappeared.
‘She was kicked out by server overload…’
There was one thing I could be sure about. This moment, the moment I turned level 30, was being watched by countless Guardians.
‘It’s not common for five Guardians to compete to send messages to begin with.’
Whether it be six or ten Guardians that were interested, the number that could directly send messages to me was limited to five. The fact that all five slots were filled meant that at least five Guardians might be sending messages to me very soon.
‘Senia must not have an advanced enough System to handle an excessive number of Guardians yet.’
It was a little tricky to explain, but if I put it in human terms, it was like not having enough server capacity. I heard that professional human streamers used extremely high spec computers for smoother broadcasting. Intermediate Administrators were the same.
‘She wasn’t able to handle the deluge of Guardians and was kicked out.’
Streamers getting kicked out like this happened in several very famous incidents.
‘It also happened in the Battle of the Maldives that Yeonseo played a big role in.’
It wasn’t a super common occurrence, but also not super rare.
‘I need some time.’
It went without being said that I wouldn’t choose my Guardian right now. That was extremely good content for me, as well. I decided to put it off for the time being, since it would take a little time for Senia to recover her System and get back online. I could also guess what she was trying to shout at me earlier before she blinked out.
‘She was probably panicking out of worry that I might choose my Guardian without her there.’
‘Was she so worried that she might lose her quality content?’
Senia and I had a you-use-me, I-use-you relationship. Such a relationship where the Player and Intermediate Administrator sought to profit off of each other wasn’t all that unusual. I didn’t believe the horseshit rumor that there were Streamers out there who were devoted to their Players. Nothing changed the fact that they were streaming Plays with our lives as collateral and fulfilling their greed. In the Tutorial, some of them also killed multiple people who hadn’t been able to adapt to the Tutorial.
‘A you-use-me, I-use-you relationship is perfect.’
It wasn’t bad—after all, I could use Senia more than she could use me.
I emerged from my thoughts and looked around.
‘The Pause has been canceled.’
Notices came in at the same time.
[‘Amplification Mana Crystal’ acquired.]
[The Special Hidden Field ‘Forest of Unknowns’ has been completely cleared.]
[The exit for the Special Hidden Field ‘Forest of Unknowns’ is being created.]
I saw the squirrel in front of me. In no time at all, it had apparently filled its cheeks into big, round balls. A [!] mark appeared over the squirrel’s head.
The squirrel pompously puffed out its chest, like it was saying, ‘That’s right, listen to me and follow me!’ Its walking speed wasn’t that fast.
Seeing it saunter towards the exit, I unconsciously mumbled, “How amusing.”
The squirrel stopped in place. The way a [?] appeared above its head was a little cute.
“Just what are you, really?”
It wasn’t a monster, nor was it an NPC. It was a squirrel that understood human speech and could even use what I assumed was magic.
“How can your cheeks be so full?”
Another few question marks appeared. This time, there were three of them.
The squirrel tilted its neck, scratching its cheek like it didn’t understand what I was talking about.
I didn’t think I could get more out of it with further questioning. I decided to stop with this.
‘Everything was paused until just now.’
During a Pause, other than Senia and me, everything turned to black and white and the world was temporarily put on hold. That was the kind of authority that had been used.
‘Up until the Pause, the squirrel’s cheeks were flat.’
But after the Pause ended, its cheeks were round and full.
‘Which means, it wasn’t affected by the Pause.’
It wasn’t affected by the Pause and filled its cheeks with the fruits I had given it. I had no idea what this little rascal was.
Exclamation marks appeared over the squirrel’s head.
It had discovered the ‘Warp Crystal’ that would take us to the exit.
The Warp Crystal that links the ‘Forest of Unknowns’ to Seoul Station Exit 2. When destroyed, you will leave the ‘Forest of Unknowns’.
It wasn’t all that hard to destroy the Warp Crystal.
[Leaving the ‘Forest of Unknowns’.]
[Porting to Seoul Station Exit 2.]
I was ready to use an item as soon as I was warped to Seoul Station Exit 2 to avoid any possible nuisances, like reporters mobbing me, or someone trying to inquire about my identity.
But there was no need to warp.
‘It feels… kinda like things have come under control.’
I didn’t get that feeling of confusion and messiness from before. The person managing the Players in the ‘Seoul Station Exit 2’ was no longer a policeman.
There’d been a big change.
I could only be shocked.
‘It’s been… three months?’
When I checked my phone, which was starting to get reception again, I saw that it was already September. It was far hotter than the time when the Tutorial Field first appeared.
‘It’s become insanely hot.’
I took a look at the news through my phone and found out that a record-breaking heat wave had begun. It was the worst heat wave ever measured.
That in itself was shocking, but my headache was just beginning. There was a mountain of missed calls logged in my phone.
A feeling more terrifying than what I felt when I killed the Lycanthrope or went through the insane Magic Troll hunt during the Tutorial traveled down my spine. Cold sweat beaded on my forehead.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
I started walking home.
“I should probably… call, right?”
I might give my mom a heart attack if I called right now, so I decided to call my sister first.
I couldn’t hear her voice. The call simply ended with a beep. I scratched my head sheepishly.
My sister didn’t end the call just now out of anger. I could say that with 120% certainty.
‘Guess she burst out into tears.’
There was no doubt about it; she started sobbing and didn’t want me to hear, so she quickly ended the call.
I also got a call from Yeonseo just then, right on cue. She hit me with a flood of words.
–Huh? What the? You actually picked up? What happened? You’re alive, right?
–Holy, shit. It took you three months to clear that place? Holy shit. That’s nuts. But anyway, anyway! What a relief that you’re alive! I was a little worried, you know! A-Anyway! I have something super important to tell you, so let’s meet up asap when you’ve got the time!
Apparently, Yoohyun was with Yeonseo. I didn’t see it happen, but it seemed he had ripped the phone out of Yeonseo’s hands. In the background, I heard shrieks of “Hey! That’s my phone! Give it back! If a muscleman like you is so rough with it, it’ll break!”
–H-Hyungnim! May I inquire if your body is in good health?
Just where did he learn that weird way of speech from?
“I’m fine, yeah.”
I also heard Yeonseo’s voice.
–Hey! Muscle pig! Tears are enough! Why’re you putting your snot all over my phone! So fucking dirty!
For the people of this changed world, three months was apparently a very long time. In any case, I ended up returning to the world after three months.
I went home by taxi to the DMC Riverview Xi, our new home where Mom, my sister, and Sunhwa were at.
My family was in better condition than I thought. Of course, everyone’s eyes were red and swollen from crying, but they were relatively fine, to the point that I wondered if their attention had been diverted to something else.
Why was that here?
Sunhwa came running. The way she dashed over and jumped into my arms was kind of like a puppy greeting their owner. My sister was pointedly avoiding my gaze. Mom came to the front door and greeted me.
“What a relief that you’re alright, Hyukjin.”
“Of course I am.”
Her eyes reddened a little, but it wasn’t the soap opera I was dreading.
“Why is this guy here?”
A yellow exclamation point appeared above its head.
This brat, this unidentifiable squirrel, showed up along with my family. Sunhwa picked it up and put it on her palm.
“Oppa. This little guy is super cute.”
When I looked closer, I saw that things like sunflower seeds were scattered across the table. They had been purchased to feed this squirrel.
“We named him Darongi!”
For whatever reason, the squirrel on Sunhwa’s palm once again put on pompous airs and puffed out its chest. Unlike when I was in the ‘Forest of Unknowns’, I could see its information a little with Eye of Perception.
[Phantom Thief Squirrel]
Name: – (must be named)
Innate ability: [Pickup] [Pathfinding] [Gnawing] [Theft] [Subspace] [Big Belly] [Hole Digging] [Stealth] [Master Selection]
State: Joyful / Full / Lazy
Disposition: Confident / Insatiable / Intimate
Summary: Gluttonous Theft Genius
‘Why does a fricking squirrel have so many innate abilities?’
Even the genius Yeonseo and Yoohyun had one or two innate abilities, at most. But this little guy already had nine. You had to wonder what kind of squirrel it was.
Notices came in.
[‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’ wishes to select a master.]
[As a basic condition, the ‘Conqueror of the Seoul Station Dungeon’ title is required.]
[Become the master of the ‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’?]
[If you accept, the ‘Conqueror of the Seoul Station Dungeon’ title will be changed to ‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’s Master’.]
It looked like the innate ability ‘Master Selection’ was triggering here.
‘The reason I’m able to see this guy’s state right now with Eye of Perception might even be…’
It might be because the squirrel had permitted it. It seemed the squirrel felt a great deal of closeness with me.
‘For now, I’ll accept it.’
[You have become the master of the ‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’.]
[The title ‘Conqueror of the Seoul Station Dungeon’ has been erased.]
[The title ‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’s Master’ has been generated.]
Just by becoming its master, I got a new title.
[Phantom Thief Squirrel’s Master]
The title granted to the master of the Phantom Thief Squirrel. The title bearer can give a name to the Phantom Thief Squirrel, and the named Phantom Thief Squirrel will be loyal to its master for a lifetime.
[Grant the ‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’ a name.]
The name was already decided, wasn’t it? From the way the little guy’s head whipped around every time Sunhwa called out “Darongi”, it apparently liked the name.
[The name of the ‘Phantom Thief Squirrel’ has been changed to ‘Darongi’.]
As strange as this turn of events was, I became Darongi’s master. It was thanks to Darongi that my mom, sister, and Sunhwa’s attention was diverted, and I was safely(?) able to reunite with my family after three months of absence.
‘Let’s see what happened… during those months.’
It was three months during a time of upheaval, plenty of time for a lot to happen.
However, the world began to change to black and white, as if a ‘Pause authority’ had been triggered.