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– "I was going to call you if you kept playing today."
Bell greeted him with a sigh and rather sulky expression as soon as Haroon came back. She must have been waiting for a long time. Haroon looked outside through the window, coming out from the capsule. It happened to be afternoon.
The sun blurred by the Barrier was quite close to the western horizon.
"Sorry. I know I should have come back earlier, but there were some complications."
– "We are low on the medical herb supplies and most of them have been cut for a long time. You'll have to go to the black market today."
"That's why I came back."
In fact, he only came back to see Bell, but he had to do things he’d been putting off.
After taking a brief shower, he left the house. As soon as he left the building, the sands kept hitting his exposed face between his bandana. It felt like the winds were stronger than ever. The sand and dust in the air had also become denser.
"I really can't get used to reality."
Haroon crazily imagined the real world becoming Beyond and Beyond becoming the real world. He shook his head then cast Messenger Walking. Just as he learned in Beyond, he activated Flying Walking, the third tier skill of Messenger Walking, his body started dashing through the sandy winds.
'The amount of ki being absorbed through my feet is simply incomparable to the game. I think I'm absorbing at least 10 times more energy.'
Haroon could feel the energy, presumably ki, being absorbed through his feet and rising up to his thighs, but after that it disappeared as if it sunk to the bottom of the sea.
He wondered what was happening in his body.
'Well, I guess I'll find out one day.'
What he was sure of was that his physical capability were rapidly rising by absorbing incredibly fresh energy. He didn't feel tired easily, and his senses were always at their sharpest. He’d changed so much that no one would imagine his past form.
He still had his thin figure, but he felt like his well developed muscle had enough strength to break a concrete wall.
It was before the usual quitting time, so the streets occupied by dust and sand were empty. The thick layer of it occasionally rose and rolled like waves. And Haroon, covered with his long coat and his old muffler, dashed through those waves as if he was walking on water. Someone would have screamed if they saw it, but there was no one wandering or watching the empty street covered in dust and sand.
It didn't take five minutes for him to arrive at the black market. It showed how fast his Flying Walking was.
The black market was rather quiet compared to the last time. But he had no intentions of just wander around since he needed to get herbs today no matter what.
As he had been there once before, he could easily find Smash ‘Em, the blacksmith workshop, but he couldn't meet Haeran as he hadn't made an appointment with her. He found himself rather funny, the fact that he came to find her thoughtlessly – completely relying on her with no other backup plan. Now he hesitated on buying herbs as he was sure he would pay through the nose without her help.
"No worries. Let me guide you. I wanted to pay back what I owe anyways."
Haeran's oldest brother volunteered. His name was Varan.
"Thanks. I needed to get them today."
Varan grew up in the Black Market, playing in it as his playground, from a very young age. Almost every merchant knew him well, so they called their lowest price even with almost no haggling.
At first he had no idea about it, but he deduced it out after seeing the other customers haggling.
"Bargaining is good, but what's more important is making trades that make both sides feel good. Also, I think people value things only as high as what they are paid for."
"I think you're right."
Though Haroon didn't fully agree with him, he did have a point.
Even when they're dealing with the same thing, people tend to use it more sparingly when it was more expensive, and rather roughly when it was cheap.
They could purchase everything but ginsengs and some rare herbs. They visited every herb shop but there was no 100-year old ones. The oldest one they could buy was a 50-year old one. And there was only one of them.
They couldn't help but to give up finding those, so they made reservations for them.
Haroon spent $16K in total. He did expect it but it surely wasn't a small amount of money. If he included the 100-years old ginseng he reserved, it was nearly $30K. There were ATMs installed in places, so he used those to withdraw cash.
'And I thought I earned some money. Spending it only took a second. I guess I can't help but to accept Seryu's quest as well.'
He once rejoiced that he earned huge money that he would never be able to, but now his face was taking a set expression.
He made a rough calculation with his head. He's made $7K with illicit trade, and $24K by exchanging Gold he gained by completing quests, $31K in total. Counting that He’d spent $1K on purchasing groceries the last time, he had almost no money left. Concluding that he’ll need much more if he were to play Beyond while synchronizing physical and skill-wise improvements of his character and his real body, the financial need became his motivation yet again.
Carrying three bags filled with hundreds of medicinal supplies, Haroon brought a tea set that was known to be quite rare for Varan. Haroon couldn’t just say goodbye to Varan whom helped him even willingly closing his own shop for a day.
"You know, Union's airs gotten denser," said Varan, after checking there was no people around to hear him."
"There are rumors that the Barrier is weakened."
"People talk about harks and desert wolves making frequent attacks on District F. Many people get hurt as well."
"But how about the defence troops?"
"Well, those bastards are from the race who beat the dead horse."
"If your words are true, I guess something really is going wrong."
"And I think that is why the market is reduced here. We are getting less and less customers every day. Because harks attacked this place two more times, after the last time you visited."
"That's not normal."
"It was the groceries street once, and it was the meat street the other time. Not many lives were lost prolly because there was lots of food, but they scared the heck out of the merchants."
Varan’s face was serious, since he was a blacksmith, a shopkeeper.
"Seeing how the mutant creatures appear in the evenings in particular, there must be an issue with the barrier power plants like the rumors said. Or at the Union Defense System. Anyways, there was no official announcement from Union so don't go outside at night if you can."
"I won't. Thanks for telling me."
It was time for Haroon to go. He thought to treat Varan to a meal sometime since Varan had spent his precious time shopping with him.
"Haeran seemed to want to meet you sometime. Also Na’in sent a person to us to contact you if you can come and visit her village, so that'd be a good reason to contact Haeran through the game or something."
Haroon received a note with Haeran's e-mail address and her multi-purpose comphone number.
Haroon checked the time as he entered his home. He was away for less than 3 hours. Since it didn't even take 10 minutes to travel there and return, he found his walking skill really convenient.
Bell's face lit up seeing all the medicinal supplies Haroon bought. It seemed that she was really worrying about it. After putting them into the hole of the capsule like he did the last time, he conversed with Bell for the first time in a long time.
For a while, Haroon talked with Bell about the Golden Battle, user's reaction, factions and their predictions. Once it was dinner time, Haroon visited Jinsoo. Jinsoo once mentioned that he was adjusting himself to a regular life for his health. Since Jinsoo was using an entry-class capsules, which didn't have a nutrition-supply system like Haroon's capsule, Jinsoo set his schedule for login and logout times for a healthy life rhythm.
"’Eeey! Come in!"
As expected, Jinsoo was offline for dinner.
"I were about to eat. Wanna join?"
What Jinsoo made for his dinner was mixed-meat korean-style stew. It was his first time seeing rice with Korean stew after he started playing Beyond, so he enjoyed it although it was made with rather low-quality foods.
"Well, What's your level at?"
"How about you?"
"Me? Haha, Don't be alarmed. This man's level is over 50 already. Well, That's not enough to be a ranker though."
"Woah! That's amazing."
Jinsoo's level was at 34 when he met him last time, so he has leveled up by 16, so it was an amazing achievement. It meant he’d been fully focus on gaming.
"I were lucky to find a dungeon. At the beginning my party struggled as it was a dungeon with various ghost-type monsters, but it surely helped us to level-up rapidly. One of my friends is a priest, and that pal sure does a tons of damage to them. We were about to clear the dungeon for the tenth time."
"I envy you. My level just passed 40."
He was embarrassed, but Jinsoo was surprised to hear that.
"What? How did you level up so fast? Have you found a dungeon or somethin’?"
Last time he met Jinsoo, it was right after he'd done his first job advancement. Since he'd leveled up 30 time within a short time, of course it was a surprise to Jinsoo.
"Yes, and no. You know I'm a merc, right? My guildmates are very experienced and skilled, so most of the monsters are nothing to them. I learned a lot from them, and they let me do some dish-washing once in a while."
Dish-washing was the term the gamers used to describe the action of taking half of the experience point by getting the last hit on the monsters.
"They must be good people. Anyhow, it's good to hear that you're levelling up nicely."
Jinsoo envied Haroon, and he felt glad too as if Haroon's fortune was his own.
"So, have you chose which faction to join yet?" Haroon asked.
"No, not yet. I thought it would be better to choose carefully since I'm not in yet, so all I'm doing now is collecting intel."
"Also, it seems the guilds started to form, grouped by the Unions they live in."
"Yeah. They tend to do that. It seems those jackasses are using the guild system to wield power like they do in real world, and I don't like it."
Just like how Jinsoo was reacting to the whole situation, most people not related to nobles hadn't chosen which guild or factions to join yet, only observing the situation from the outside.
"It’d be better to quit the game than slaving away for them, wouldn't it?"
"I’ll join a guild with no relation to nobles or make a small guild myself with my friends. Since it'll be a suicide mission to participate the Golden Battle alone, unless you’re levels are in the 70s, like the top-rankers."
"I suppose you have a point."
After catching up with each other, mainly about what happened in Beyond, Haroon returned to his house.
With his conversation, Haroon understood how most of the users think about the Golden Battle and could predict their future actions.
Haroon was curious how the other users think about Beyond and how they play it, since Haroon had been playing it in an extraordinary ways.
While preparing to login to Beyond, Haroon was asked a favor from Bell that could never be expected.
– "Oppa, would you let me search about DNAs?"
"DNA? Isn't it something you already know about?"
As Haroon asks back, Bell grasped his hands with pleading eyes.
– "I do, but I want to know more about it. The information and technology about inheritance and inheritance itself was developed to its extreme but most of it was lost during the War of Doom and the Dark Days. I was studying the knowledge my mother left me but there are lots of things I don’t understand. I was wondering if you would let me use your DNA to study the information stored in it and its internal and external manifestations in detail."
Haroon was not used to seeing her academic side, but there was no reason to refuse her whom he cares for as if she was his own sister.
"Yeah? Then do so. But what should I do?"
– "You don't have to do anything. Just lie down comfortably. You can take a nap or do something else, and it wouldn't matter."
"Then can’t you do it when I’m connected to Beyond?"
– "That’s a bit different. When you are connected to Beyond, I’m already loaded as I remain connected to your entire nerve system via electromagnetic connection to support the game. Moreover, unpleasant things can happen if I don't check you real-time to establish high sync-rate for you as usual."
In short, she can't do much else while he's playing the game.
"Got it. I guess this would be a good time to have a good sleep. Wake me up when you think it is good to."
– "Okay, Oppa."
With help of the automatic nutrition-supply system that Bell supports, Haroon's body had a much higher metabolism than the average man. Also, he tried his best to be at his sharpest to maintain good concentration. As he was tired mentally and physically, he fell asleep soon after he closed his eyes.
Translated by Channy
Edited by Kmatt and Tom
Channy: The author is too lazy to tell us about the details
Kmatt: Man, I haven’t heard of dish-washing before, Leeching and Power Leveling is what i'd do in games.