21st Century Archmage - Chapter 1
Meeting Gandalf the Archmage
Proofreader: Masadeer (Japtem)
“The Golden Lane was originally built as lodgings for the guards and gatekeepers of the Prague Castle. As metalworkers and alchemists came to live there during the 16th century with the development of commerce, it was formally named the ‘Golden Lane,’ just as it is now! Now, let’s have everyone go in and freely look around! You have one hour! Be sure to gather here again within the time limit!” shouted the guide at the distracted kids.
‘Hehehe, where else can I experience such extravagance? A man has to swim with the big fish after all. Uhahahaha!’
Just two months after beating the competition and entering Daehan High School, the school known as Korea’s most prestigious institution, I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life.
Though my father was a well-off fund manager and my mother was a music professor, the two of them were immensely stingy. They never failed to go on trips around the world for a month or two every year, but they were extremely cruel to their precious, precious, one and only son. During my stormy period of adolescence, when I asked them why they treated me like someone they’d picked up off the street, my parents very simply laughed at my resistance and trampled over my rage.
‘Males must be raised with a strong hand in order to survive’ — such was my father’s ridiculous opinion.
My mother backed him up, saying, ‘All the expenses you’re using right now are the blood and sweat of your father and mother. Do you want to become a thankless child who carelessly wastes that blood and sweat?’
It wasn’t a safari wilderness simulation game or anything, yet my parents raised their only child with such severity.
After that, I saw that there was no one in the world who I could trust, and spent every single day studying until my nose would start bleeding.
And then, the school I had chosen, Daehan High School. It was the high school that the president of the Daehan Group, the biggest business in Korea and among the top in the world, was the director. From the moment you entered to your graduation, all the expenses and pocket money you needed for school life were provided by the Daehan Group.
Therefore, it was said to be harder to be accepted into than Seoul University, but I was able to get into such a school. And as a benefit of that, I was currently able to enjoy a paradise-like 10 days 11 nights school excursion in eastern Europe.
“Hyuk, let’s go sightsee. Hehe.”
While I was preoccupied with my thoughts, Joong Hyun, a guy who looked as friendly as your next door neighbor, dragged me along with his plump rump behind him.
No matter how miserly my parents were, this was their one and only son’s school excursion. I was generous enough to at least buy them a souvenir or two.
‘Alchemists? Did they really live here?’
Upon entering the Golden Lane I saw charming buildings and various worthwhile handicrafts, through the windows. Perhaps it was because the ancestors of this place had been gold metalworkers and alchemists, the myriad kinds of ornaments I saw were more than enough to catch my attention.
“Looks like it’s made of gold.”
“Hoho, it would suit me perfectly well if I wore it.”
The clear female voices I heard while sightseeing this and that with Joong Hyun.
The representative of Daehan High School’s first years, she was the embodiment of beauty. With a height of 167 cm (5’5″), long black hair, big eyes, and milky, porcelain skin. She was a goddess with a graceful disposition, a rare item any guy would want to call their own.
Today as well, she was blooming like an exceptionally brilliant, elegant lily among the chattering weeds. Her long black hair was neatly held back with a plain-looking blue headband, her smile was more beautiful than the moonlight in May.
She was looking at a hairpin through a small window with some friends. Her ebony eyes, which matched her distinctively pale white skin, were shining.
“Is there something good? Hehe.”
More friendly with the girls than the male students due to his cheeky nature, Joong Hyun thoughtlessly dragged me straight into the girls.
And then. In that moment, the girls turned their heads and I happened to meet eyes with Ye-rin. Seeing me, a gentle smile came onto Seo Ye-rin lips.
‘Whoa? Is she smiling right now while looking at me?’
I was a person who had graduated from the brutal wilderness hell that baby lions experienced, right at the age when kids graduated from elementary school and began yearning for manhood. Having set aside women in order to get accepted into Daehan High School, this school was truly my dream school.
Contrary to the idea that people who studied well were physically unattractive, the school had some rather charming women.
The saying that accomplished children rose from humble families was entirely a thing of the past. These days, with the waters so dirtied from pollution, you could only raise an accomplished child by maintaining a high quality environment. A world that was truly heartless and specialized. That was how the world where such high caliber children were raised was maintained.
“Wow! So pretty!”
Having squeezed in between the girls, Joong Hyun was looking at the platinum hairpin, which was embedded with many blue jewels.
“It’s well made.”
The hairpin was so exquisite and vintage that my mother’s collection of jewel hairpins couldn’t even compare. Shaped like a long shell, the hairpin was enough to make even a guy like me desire it.
However, I exclaimed at the logical price tag. ‘$10,000… oh my god!’ The hairpin was worth a fortune of ten thousand dollars. I couldn’t close my gaping mouth.
“It’s pretty, right, Hyuk?”
When I was gaping like that and being surprised, I heard what must surely be an auditory hallucination at my ear. A woman’s voice that was like the tinkling of a mystical silver bell was affectionately speaking my name.
It was the voice of an elegant lily that had just started to bloom, Seo Ye-rin. The being who possessed looks and intellectual beauty far more delightful than any of the members from the popular Maiden’s Generation or Girl’s Night had called my name.
[T/N: Spoof of Girl’s Generation and Girl’s Day, popular Kpop girl groups.]
“It’s worth looking at, I guess.”
But I replied with a voice so apathetic that it surprised even me.
“Really? I think it’s really pretty…” As if hurt by my words, the lily looked worried.
‘Kya, if you were to wear it, you’d be the ultimate goddess of beauty.’
Those who had looks and smarts like Ye-rin’s should be nationally protected.
‘For it to be ten thousand dollars… tch.’ If I could, I wanted to give one to her as a present. But being the still young lion that I was, I hadn’t yet been raised to the level of making money.
“Seo Ye-rin, should I buy you one as a souvenir?”
‘What’s with this rude voice?’
Near the sacred contact place where I was talking to Ye-rin for the first time, I heard an arrogant, cocky voice. A mean little lion had sauntered over here with two baby wolves by his side.
Called the Crown Prince among the first years, he was the brat trying to dominate with his rank as the eldest son of the Ohsung group. He was still young in his years, yet the punk’s face was full of boredom. The hyena brat was raking my lily’s body with a lustful gaze.
At Hwang Sung-taek’s words, Seo Ye-rin transformed into a rose adorned with scary thorns. Leaving behind those cold words, she walked away.
“Haha! Just let me know, anytime. I always have space for you in my generous heart.” Hwang Sung-taek spat out a boorish line to the back of the leaving Seo Ye-rin.
‘What a waste.’
It had been a golden opportunity to get closer to Ye-rin, a strangely feeling encounter with Seo Ye-rin on this foreign land. A nuisance had flown in before our meeting could even get started properly.
“Let’s go, Joong Hyun.”
There was no reason to stick around Hwang Sung-taek and his cronies.
“Kang Hyuk, lemme give you some advice.”
The moment I was about to leave with Joong Hyun, I heard Hwang Sung-taek’s cold voice.
There was no need for me, a 185 cm (6′) tall Taekwondo fourth-degree black belt and Kumdo 3rd dan, to cower. I turned my head and looked down on the 170 cm (5’7″) loser Hwang Sung-taek.
[T/N: Kumdo is the Korean version of Kendo.]
“Seo Ye-rin is mine. If you want to go through school life peacefully, keep your head down.”
Emboldened by the two wolf pups by his side, Hwang Sung-taek was getting ahead of himself. He didn’t know a single thing about me. The only things I feared in this world were my parents and our family motto of ‘truth.’”
With a smirk, I lightly tapped Hwang Sung-taek’s shoulder.
“Hwang Sung-taek. You, do you know who you owe for living so well?”
At my sudden words, Hwang Sung-taek was briefly stunned.
“If I were to say, I’d say that it’d be the major shareholder who has a whole 10% of Ohsung’s shares. You owe your livelihood to them, so you shouldn’t live so recklessly.”
Hwang Sung-taek made a dumbfounded expression at my words.
“If you keep throwing your money around like this, your grandpappy who nicely cultivated the stockholders will…”
Swish. Instead of using words, I drew a line over my neck.
“Do your best, kiddo.”
I tapped Hwang Sung-taek’s skimpy shoulder once again before turning around.
“St-stop right there, you crappy piece of dog shit!”
But I didn’t stop, since I wasn’t a dog shit.
Just then, I felt the energy of a fist flying towards my back.
I instinctively whirled around and kicked out.
And, seeing the foot that had stopped right in front of his chin, the little wolf pup froze without even breathing. In front of the dominating lion, the fools were trembling like dogs.
“I’ll only warn you once. Next time… you’ll pay.”
There was no need to say much. For these guys who couldn’t even be called bullies, it was a waste to use my fist.
Hundreds of kids had been let loose into the Golden Lane. From all over, kids were shouting and having a good time. Joong Hyun had also somehow disappeared in the press of people. Always the devoted son, he had gone to pick out a present for his mom.
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‘Why is this alley so quiet?’
I had split away from the kids who were having fun with the ample pocket money they had gotten from their parents, and was looking around when I noticed a small alley. It wasn’t very different from other alleys, but there were no people to be seen inside. Actually, the others were busy passing by, as if they couldn’t even see the alley.
‘Huhu, the good stuff is in places like this. Those idiots.’
Regardless of how heartlessly my parents treated me, they were my irreplaceable father and mother. It was now time to purchase a present for them. We had to return to Korea tomorrow, so today was the last chance for shopping.
“Goodness, these days you can see Korean letters even in a place like this.”
Before entering the alley, I had seen the familiar creations of the King Sejong the Great written in large letters in front of the shops. Perhaps as a testament to how many Koreans had come here, after English and Japanese, there was a sentence written in Korean in front of the shop doors.
[T/N: A bit of Korean history — King Sejong invented the modern written Korean language. Before, Chinese-derived characters were used.]
The sentence was this: ‘It’s cheap. Come take a look. However, no bargaining.’
My face flushed. I couldn’t explain my feeling of embarrassment.
“Great Wizard? Archmage?”
Raising my flushed face, I checked out the deserted alley and saw a small store. It had blue-tinted windows, so I couldn’t look inside. But an English word, Archmage, had been written on the door.
‘What’s this? Are they the descendant of an alchemist?’
For some reason, my curiosity was piqued.
‘Should I go in?’
Even if this place wasn’t well known, there was sure to be something nice in a small store like this where people didn’t frequent. That definitely had to be the case. Currently, my wallet was so light that there was more dust in there than money.
Ti-ring. A clear bell sounded as I opened the heavy wooden door.
An exclamation burst out of me on its own.
It looked like a small shop you couldn’t expect anything from on the outside, but it was full of handicrafts that you could tell were amazing masterpieces in one glance. From jeweled cases to earrings, necklaces, hairpins, and all sorts of accessories, there were even ceramics that clearly looked antique and baubles that looked as if nobles from the Middle Ages would have used them.
Gulp. I swallowed my saliva.
Moreover, I saw a generous-looking old man dozing. With a white beard that reached down to his belly and stylishly wearing an ivory-colored robe, he really was like the Gandalf who appeared in the movies.
‘If this goes well, it could be frickin’ awesome.’
I had heard through internet news stories that treasures capable of turning your life around were found in antique stores like this. A tingly feeling of expectation filled me with excitement.
‘Kuku, this is gonna be cake.’
The Czech grandpa looked friendly for sure. He was napping with a large crystal ball in front of him.
First off, I woke the grandpa up by clearing my throat. Maybe because I had grown up in the eastern land of courtesy, I first wanted to let him know that a customer had come.
But even at my throat clearing, Gandalf didn’t open his eyes at all. He made a look of annoyance as if hearing a dog bark and continued to sleep while rubbing his ear.
‘Is, is he a master?’
There was a saying that when a storekeeper reached the highest level, he could tell if a customer was rich or not simply from their smell. The fact that he didn’t get up even though I had come in was definitely because he had accurately determined that I was poor.
But I wasn’t one to retreat like this.
It was a certain fact that if I were to get even one of the items in this store, my parents wouldn’t call me a rude brat anymore.
I raised my hand and flashed off a friendly, Western style smile. I predicted that if I didn’t have money, I might be able to get something if I was friendly.
In that instant, the drowsing Gandalf’s eyes opened wide. And then, he delivered a shocking message.
“What’s with the rude ‘hi’? If you’re in front of an adult, you should immediately lower your head. Tsk tsk, kids these days are…”
Coming into my ears was the all too familiar, perfectly spoken Korean. If not for his looks, Gandalf had such an outstanding command of an elder’s Korean speech that one might believe he was a village old timer.
“You, you don’t have money, right?”
Following that, Gandalf unleashed a critical hit.
My body stiffened in a state of shock. Under the unfamiliar skies of eastern Europe, I had met a grandpa who was Czech in appearance only. Even I, who had nothing to fear, went under mental overload at this sudden situation.
‘H-how did he know that I was Korean? And what’s with that natural native accent!’ For the first time in my life, I experienced the feeling of being thunderstruck. No, after the remark about my parent’s wilderness simulation, this was the second time. I stared at Gandalf’s golden eyes with a blank look.
“Kuku. You’re wondering how I knew you were Korean, right? And how I can speak Korean this well, right?”
‘Maybe he’s a Western shaman?’
If he hadn’t possessed me, then how else could he know my inner thoughts so well? I realized I was unknowingly nodding and returned to my senses.
‘Is, is he seriously a mage? Heh, no way…’
The shop name that had been written on the sign, “Archmage,” flashed through my head. But no matter how I thought about it, there was no way a mage could exist in a world where tombs were made on the moon.
“That’s right, I’m a mage.”
Was he saying that there were people who could read minds? This foreign shaman was boldly calling himself a magician, one that didn’t just use trickery. He was definitely wrong in the head.
“Who are you?”
I gulped anxiously as I asked his identity. Though it wasn’t as if I had received my formal education on fantasy, there was no sane person in this world who would seriously call themselves a mage. Especially if that person looked as if they were long past their prime.
“Tsk, tsk. Kids these days don’t believe in what adults say. D’you think I would lie at an age like this?”
His folksy command of the language just kept flowing from his mouth. It felt as if this wasn’t a shop in the Czech Republic, but in Korea.
‘I’ve been possessed by a ghost. It’s probably because I haven’t eaten any kimchi in the past few days.’ No matter how many times I heard it, I just couldn’t get used to Gandalf’s native fluency. ‘This is dangerous.’
A warning sizzled up my spine and sparked through my body. I could feel a bizarre feeling emanating from the crazy Czech man who called himself a so-called mage. And now I also noticed letters and figures of an unknown language in the shop. It occurred to me that it might be the rune language that appeared in fantasy novels.
I hesitantly made my way over to the door.
“What, you’re just gonna leave? If you don’t have money, I could just give it to you…”
At those words, my legs ignored their owner’s will and stopped right there.
A reward quest that was worth the danger!‘That’s right, in a global world like today, he might be able to speak a foreign language. And he might be able to read a person’s intent a bit. Since he’s that old, he must’ve learned mind reading or something.’
My mind suddenly scrambled to comfort itself.
I flashed my signature detached smile to Gandalf, who was scanning me with his unknowable, peculiar eyes.
“Ha, haha! You are truly fluent in Korean.”
Even as I spoke, my eyes were working hard to scan every part of my surroundings. At that age, he probably wouldn’t lie. My eyes locked onto the item that would cost the most.
‘My luck today is good.’
Starting with a conversation with Ye-rin, I had happened to stumble into a store called “Archmage.” The only problem was that the owner had otaku fantasy mania, but other than that, there was no problem.
“I’m not lying. Out of the items here, pick out the one you want the most. I’ll give it to you as a present.”
This mage grandpa, who looked as good-natured as the Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings! At his incredible offer, my lips went from ear to ear.
I had no idea that something like this would happen in this tough world.
“You do not have to go so far, but since an adult said so, I will swallow my sense of honor and pick one.”
Before he went back on his words, I picked up a silver bracelet that had drawn me to it the moment I had laid eyes on it.
‘Even if this big thing is a fake, I think it’ll make some money. Huhu, this is frickin’ awesome!’
The silver bracelet was engraved with unknown patterns and letters. Glowing with a silver-platinum color, it was clearly a high class rare item. Furthermore, there were shining stones that looked like diamonds embedded inside the silver bracelet. Even if it was a fake, it looked like it would fetch quite a price.
‘I’m strangely drawn to it.’
There were a number of other ornaments and items made out of gold, but I was peculiarly attracted to this silver bracelet. I could feel a shimmering energy so faint I might be imagining it from the bracelet.
“Kukuku. Right, I see. Of course.”
As soon as I raised the bracelet, Gandalf gramps nodded as he said something insensible.
Now that he had picked one out, Gandalf gramps could change his mind. With my thoughts of running away, my head went down to a 90 degree angle.
“Thank you for the meal.” Because I had been raised under polite home discipline, I sincerely relayed my thanks. Then, I turned around.
‘Puhaha! This is so awesome!’
I really liked this bracelet. Just holding it gave me the feeling that I had become rich.
But that was as far as I went. The shop door wouldn’t open no matter how hard I tried. Despite my physical strength, the door wouldn’t budge, as if it were stuck shut with the strongest super glue.
And then, a sinister laugh.
All my hairs stood on end.
‘St-stingy. He won’t tell me to give it back, right?’
If it became a contest of strength, Gandalf gramps had nothing on me. But since I couldn’t do something like that, I’d have to give it back. No matter how much I wanted it, I wanted to avoid getting imprisoned as a thief in a Czech jail.
“Since you’ve gotten a present, let’s go.”
Surprised by Gandalf gramps’ sudden words of going, I turned my head.
Right there and then, I felt myself freeze again.
Psssssss. At some point, Gandalf gramps had raised a strange stick. An intense, blue light was pouring into the room.
“Why, why are you doing this? Isn’t this free?”
My lips disregarded my will and trembled.
“Free? Of course it’s free. That is, if you can survive. Kuhahahahahaha!”
This time, my hands started shaking. Gandalf gramps had suddenly changed. He emanated a brilliance that was truly like that of an archmage.
‘Shit! What’s with this ridiculous situation?’
At the powerful force Gandalf was exuding, I couldn’t speak. I could only hear a single, friendly word by my ear.
A magic incantation that only appeared in fantasy novels! I felt my entire body getting enveloped in a wave of enormous energy.
Then I tightly closed my eyes. Unable to toss aside the delusion of “free,” I was still gripping the silver bracelet.
Utterly horrified, I coughed out a short breath and was plunged into a deep sleep.
I couldn’t have even imagined my very first thrilling taste of magic or the future ahead of me.