A soft-spoken man in a suit, flicking through his mobile phone, Jung-bin, a civil servant, sat cross-legged on the floor of the great hall, watching a dirt-floor demonstration by the world’s only S-rank producer.
“I want that mana stone!”
“Mm- Hong Ye-sung hasn’t seen anything.”
“Aaaaah, I want that one.”
Flailing his limbs on the floor, he looked like a child in the toy section of a supermarket. Jung-bin raised his hand, and an Awakening Management Bureau employee standing at the entrance to the hanok walked over and bowed. Jung-bin whispered quietly.
“Since when has Jiangyin Village had such good Wi-Fi, Yesung-ssi, didn’t you disconnect it when you moved in this time?”
“Of course I did, but… Le Sayoung-ssi said that he had the communication lines and wifi wired up for me, and in return, he entrusted me to make gloves.”
”Oh, he’s really not helpful. I’ll just hang up as soon as I’m done here.”
“Yeah, I get it, and I’m guessing you probably got this information from ranked chat. The gem was all over the channels.”
“I’m asking you all to co-operate, it’s unethical anyway.”
Even as Jung-bin clicked his tongue and gave a short sigh, Hong Ye-sung repeated the same words like a broken recorder.
“I want to go to Seoul. Give me the mana stone.”
“You’re the one who asked to be locked up in Jirisan. Sir, you can’t leave here until you finish your weapons.”
This man, dressed in white, rolls around in the dirt. It was Hong Ye-sung, the seventh-ranked and only S-rank producer in South Korea.
Six years ago, a gate opened in the middle of the Korean National University of Arts campus. It was evening, so there weren’t many students on campus, but the problem was a group of fourth-year art students who had been stuck in the studio preparing for their graduation project. They were at a crossroads.
Failure or life?
Most chose life, of course. They were too young and too wronged to die this way. The gate was a natural disaster, and the professor would have to give them extenuating circumstances! The students scrambled for hammers and saws and hid in the corners as best they could.
But there was only one. Hong Ye-sung, a fourth-year ceramics student.
He was sitting in his workshop whether the gate was open or not. Even as the monsters crawled out of the gate, climbed up the building’s exterior walls, smashed through the windows, and entered the workshop, Ye-sung was still making pottery.
And then he awoke. To an S-rank producer.
The government first kept his awakening episode classified. The moment it was announced that this humble college student had awakened as an S-rank producer after opening gates and monsters and making pottery, there would be a lot of Hongye Castle wannabes who would stretch out and not evacuate when the gates burst. It was a story that had to be sealed for the safety of the people.
After all, Hong Ye-sung, the biggest output of the Ceramics Department and the one responsible for raising the enrolment of ceramics students across the country, was the first S-rank producer to appear in the world after the Rift Day. Not only that, but he also had an extraordinary attribute.
[Talent: Deadline Finisher (L)
Your work becomes more efficient and faster as the deadline approaches.
(If you finish crafting while the skill is active, you gain an additional 50% quality boost)]
The government and its officials burst into applause as soon as they saw Hong Ye-sung’s awakener data. You’re a rare S-rank producer with L-class traits, and he’s the kind of talent that will make Korea’s hunters far more competitive in the future.
However, the moment his existence and attributes became known to the world, overseas headhunters rushed to Korea to recruit him. The more countries and organisations that wanted him, the more anxious the South Korean government became. They were anxious to have Hong Ye-sung sit down in Korea somehow.
The people prayed with all their hearts. The radical opinions on the internet were nothing out of the ordinary – take away his passport, tear up his passport, ban him from leaving the country – and the media was constantly talking about the value he could create. It was a normal day.
With headhunters knocking on his hotel door at night, Hong Ye-sung shouted “F**k you, I’m Korean!” and asked the South Korean government for protection. And he had one more request in addition to state protection.
“When my work deadline comes, no matter what I say, lock me up in the mountains somewhere with good water, good air, good regularity, and no contact with the outside world.”
It was ‘confinement’.
The government, who wanted to lock him up in a secret place to prevent him from leaving the country, almost died of laughter at his request.
“What? Ugh, that’s too good, no, hmmmm. Why?”
“Well, because I actually have one more trait?”
Did he say that there is no perfect human being in the world. Hong Ye-sung also had a fatal ability control tool.
[Trait: Slug (L)
Makes you want to procrastinate. (A lot.)]
Instead of nerfing S-rank creators, the system did its own balance patch with talents. The talent that procrastinates and barely manages to make one before the deadline. A madman who controls his talent with a trait. A manifestation of cramming that only flares up when the deadline hits.
The South Korean government has designated a few regular good mountains around the country for lazy people, so that when the time comes, Hong Ye-sung can go there. Last time it was Seoraksan, last time it was Gyeryongsan, and this time it was Jirisan Jangin Village.
Jung-bin clenched his jaw and took a deep breath. He glanced at the huddled mass on the floor and said.
“I cancelled my pact with Lee Sa-young today and came to get Hong Ye-sung, you know?”
“Excuse me, official.”
Instead of answering, Hong Ye-sung called out to Jung-bin, His voice was a little calmer than the whiny one from earlier.
“If you make a weapon out of that mana stone, you’ll get at least an S+, I can tell just by looking at the picture.”
Jung-bin raised an eyebrow, slightly surprised. Up until now, the highest grade of equipment Hong Ye-sung had made was S-grade. He had said that he could only craft higher-grade items if he had both the materials and the skill, so the prospect of an S+ grade weapon made Jung-bin’s heart skip a beat.
Jung-bin had also been briefed on the unidentified mana stone seller when he flew to Jirisan Mountain by helicopter. To be precise, there was a madman who had posted a brilliant mana stone on the Tomato Market.
It had to be a shoddy sale somewhere, but with Hong Ye-sung, a man of exceptional appraisal, doing it, it had to be of high quality. And even though all they had was a picture, the stone looked pretty good to Jung-bin’s eyes. It was also a type that had never been circulated in the country before.
But where did it come from?
Extortion from someone? Smuggling from abroad? As Jung-bin ran through his theories, something flashed through his mind. Why, not so long ago, Lee Sa-Young had stormed into the Awakening Management Bureau and turned the awakened database upside down. He had said that there were skilled unregistered players on the loose.
Jung-bin scrambled out of his seat and squatted down next to Hong Ye-sung, who was flopping around like a freshly caught fish on the floor.
“Aaah, give me the mana stone. Bring the mana stone and talk to me.”
Where were the slightly clearer eyes from earlier? Jung-bin gently nudged Hong Ye-sung, who had reverted back to a five-year-old mental age.
“Listen to me first, that mana stone, it’s very good, right?”
“Yes, it’s superlative, with no impurities or monster aura mixed in, ah, give me the mana stone!”
“There must be a limited number of people who can obtain such a mana stone, right?”
“Even if I can’t, I’m at least in the top 100 ranker.”
“Higher ranked hunters don’t usually trade like this, covering their tracks like a newbie, right?”
“Of course. There’s the black market, there’s the hunter market, and then there’s the tomato market, what’s the point of posting on the tomato market, you idiot.”
After saying that bluntly, Hong Ye-sung started to rant again.
“Ah, on second thought, it’s ridiculous…. I’m in Jirisan Mountain, so I can’t see the Seoul Tomato Market! Yuck! Next time, lock me up in Bukhansan Mountain!”
“Yes, yes, I’ll tell the director that the next exile will be in Mount Bukhansan, and-“
Jung-bin stood up and patted his knees.
“That mana stone, I’ll see if I can find it.”
Hong Ye-sung’s head snapped up at Jung-bin’s crisp words. He looked like a Pomeranian that had been out for a walk and had done thirty drifts in the dirt, his white fleece caked in dirt and his eyes shining with clear madness.
Jung-bin smiled that 100 per cent trustworthy smile he was used to in public service announcements, and there was an odd confidence in his voice.
“It’s like digging for gems and finding a gold mine.”