Chapter 27
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Kelderian was asked to wait in one of the smaller conference rooms, because his appointment had a last-minute matter to attend to, and would meet him in several minutes.

Five minutes in, a man wearing a suit, scratching the back of his head and offering apologies for the teleconference taking a bit longer than usual, something to do with a stock market issue.

He looked like one of the awakeners in Nohas, except for the long ears that pointed out to the side.

“Hi there, I’m Veilon,” the man said, offering his hand, which Kelderian shook. “Never seen you around here before… are you that guy from the branch we just soft opened?”

As befits the head of the Awakening Plaza’s Planning Team, Kelderian was a bit intimidated by the man, and thus his reply was a little strained.

“Yes, that’s me – it’s the first time I get to meet someone as high up the ladder as you; it’s an honor, sir.”

Since Kelderian had spent most of his time trying to plug up the rapidly eroding dam that was Jake Smithson’s shopping addiction, he had no time to play office politics or listen to the grapevine about certain personalities.

This is why he never got the informal memo that Veilon was, shall we say, an acquired taste.

Some say he is a madman who should have never been placed in the Planning Team, while others think he is a revolutionary genius who is the driving force behind the success of the Planning Team.

The reason why his co-workers have such a polarized opinion of him is because of his chaotic and unpredictable way of operating.

Because Kelderian’s activities had locked him out of the loop, so to speak, he just considered Veilon a competent, though unorthodox, marketing analyst and team lead.

A lot of his market analyses often come out of left field, but most of the time, his plans worked well enough to impress both co-workers and higher-ups.

“Have a seat!” Veilon said, motioning Kelderian over to the chair, which he occupied. “And try to relax, it’s not like I can actually get you in trouble… at least, more trouble than I’m in on a regular business cycle!”

He laughed, and Kelderian nervously followed suit.

“But seriously, we’re just two smart guys talking shop here,” the man sent to the Nohas branch of the Awakening Store to help against Jake Smithson said, once he was done laughing. “You’ve been having a hard time as of late with one awakener. You didn’t pass it up the chain – why?”

“I thought I could handle him myself…” Kelderian said after letting out a sigh. “Didn’t expect it to turn out like this.”

If he had known that he could ask for help from corporate like this from the beginning, he should have asked – if he had, it probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point.

“Who’s he?” Veilon asked casually, causing Kelderian to stop short – he didn’t know where to start, the question was a bit difficult for him to follow.

“I mean, have you done your homework on him? Personality profile, buying tendencies, the works?”

“That’s the thing, sir,” Kelderian replied, “we’re still working on it. In the meantime, just let me tell you what happened in the 11th Tutorial Area when he appeared.”

He took a deep breath, and Kelderian then began to talk about Jake Smithson and his exploits.

Ten minutes later, Kelderian collapsed into the comfortable chair, and Veilon only required three words to make his evaluation about Jake Smithson.

“What a weird-o.”

“Yes, sir,” Kelderian concurred. “I don’t know how he connected to the Awakening Store in the first place, and from that point, my analysts and I can’t figure out who this guy is, and what he’ll do next.”

While the Nohas manager saw this series of events with exhaustion, the Planning Team lead reacted in a completely opposite manner.

“Ah, a challenge!” Veilon exclaimed. “Been some time since I ran into something like that. Hearing your story is getting me hyped up to help you, you know.”

This was when Kelderian realized that there is a very, very thin line between genius and madness… and Veilon was skipping over from one side to the other like a child playing.

Is this guy serious? How did he – I just told him everything about what this Jake Smithson had been putting me through! This situation is way too troublesome and way beyond my pay grade to handle.

And my story looks like it gave him an espresso shot – he’s just as weird as Smithson! You’re hyped up? Well, I’m running on fumes right now! Do you even know how much sleep I’ve been having over the past few weeks?

“There we go,” Veilon declared, because all throughout Kelderian’s thoughts, he took out some office stationery and began scribbling on it.

“Listen, man,” Veilon continued without missing a beat, “this is how you get him: dangle the item above a buyer’s head like a piece of meat, then BOOM! You add something at the last minute, he’s going to move heaven and earth to get that item. Your buyer will be pissed, right? That’s when we dangle the next item up for sale in his face, he’ll forget everything and look at the next item.”

“I’ve gotten only ten hours of sleep this past week,” Kelderian explained wearily. “Apologies, sir – but I don’t get where you’re going.”

“It’s like a gamble! High-risk, high-reward behavior! Thrill seeking!” Veilon declared loudly while spreading his arms in a grand gesture, causing several employees walking by to give the conference room an odd look. “Risk is the spice of life, and we’re going to make the Awakening Store extra spicy, three-fifty-seven thousand Scoville spicy! We’ll make this guy gamble on everything, and at the last moment, I’ll pull the rug out from under him! That ought to get him in line.”

“What if he wins and you lose?” Kelderian asked skeptically.

“I don’t think you know who I really am, Kelderian. They call me the god of gambling. Let’s get this party started.”

This was the moment when Jake Smithson unknowingly took part in an epic battle against Veilon, the god of gambling.

***

Mana is the basis of all skills for the awakeners’ ease of use.

There are times when mana isn’t required. For example, there are skills that use purely physical force, but such abilities have clear limitations, and some of the stronger ones require a minimum of mana to use, too.

Nearly every useful and vital skill for awakeners use mana, which is why awakeners invest quite a lot of points they acquire when gaining a level into it.

For awakeners who do not receive mana from the start of their awakener, there are many means to acquire the use of mana: acquiring certain skills, completing certain quests, or simply leveling up.

Of course, Jake is the exception to the rule, as he reads Tomes of Magic to gain knowledge about mana, and use that knowledge to increase his mana.

“This is getting to be quite the cost. I’ll need to start going back on quests to be able to afford this.”

He can invest further in mana than others… provided he has enough points, of course.

“Status window,” he declared.

 

[Name: Jake Smithson.

Level: 1.

Class: Shopping Addict

Basic Stats

Strength: 45

Agility: 35

Intelligence: 14

Mana: 15

Physical Defense: 4

Magic Defense: 6

Luck: 2

Skills: Shopping (Awakening Store currently in beta)

Great Sword Mastery Lv. 2

Cherry Blossom Sword Art Lv. 1

Even Flow Lv. 1

Haste Lv. 1]

 

Twenty thousand points to get my mana from 5 to 15 – this shop doesn’t have bundles for it. Are they being stingy to me now?

No event, and no bulk discount… I’ve spent quite a lot on necessities that aren’t even on sale.

Thanks to his circumstances, Jake had to bite the bullet and go for it, but it did not mean he had to feel good about it.

This is something he cannot abide.

I don’t have a choice right now, but I’m not going to suffer this indignity the next time, he thought, frustrated due to buying items at their normal price, without a discount.

Buying without a discount actually means the product is on its normal price, but Jake felt as if he had been swindled.

He felt the Awakening Store was ripping him off.

Am I being swindled or ripped off right now?

The frustration building within him needed to find an outlet, and he found it in the form of a rather petty message.

“No cashbacks, no gifts, no discounts, what’s going on here? I’ve purchased many things from this Store, acquired membership upgrades, and the condition of the items I purchased fit someone who just came into the service, not someone who’s invested a lot of his points into your shop. Your items look refunded or refurbished – you might want to take a look at what you send and how you send them in the future.”

Thanks to his experience dealing with substandard products, Jake had mastered the art of writing purchase reviews and making them look as ridiculous as possible.

He read many more reviews from other buyers in other shops, after all.

Leaving a review like this makes people look into this matter seriously. This isn’t the first time I bought anything online; you need to do better.

He knows this kind of review will help him in the long run, because if he makes a later purchase, the shop is somewhat obliged to put something like a pair of socks as part of the package – it’s a free gift.

In fact, Jake already had experiences similar to that, before ending up here.

The mana I have now is money well spent, however… Jake mused, still annoyed by the lack of promotions, discounts and giveaways, but appreciating how helpful fifteen mana ended up being.

Yanking six objects with the Griefen tends to do that.

Of course, this ability has a time limit: around twenty minutes per target, and if he focuses on one target, that duration increases to around two hours.

Not that long a time, and when you take into account other factors like degree of concentration and skill use, such as the Cherry Blossom Sword Art, the duration is less than what it appears to be.

This isn’t going to work; I don’t know how long the fight will go. If the Griefen won’t hold him for long, I’ll have to wrap up the minions then duel the Skeleritter myself, Jake thought, thinking about the 48-hour long slugfest he was in with the Cherry-Shell Snapper.

This guy is strong, too… and the fight won’t last as long as the Snapper, but it will be just as dangerous.

Jake’s musings continued as he formulated the details of his plan to make the Skeleritter an unlimited source of points, and a key factor here was the combat strength of the boss monster.

He relied on his experience fighting a large monster like the Snapper.

The Skeleritter was smaller, but no less dangerous; in fact, it was the most dangerous foe Jake had encountered so far.

Okay, either I tie the big guy up and farm the skeletons for an hour, then I’d run out of mana and lose. Or I could tie up the skeletons and duel the Skeleritter, but I wouldn’t have enough time. Besides, if I do that, I’d miss out on a lot of points and end up unable to pay my debts… what to do, what to do…

Jake was currently at a loss – he wasn’t confident with his abilities and the duration of the Griefen armor now, and was starting to consider other solutions.

Do I need to call in reinforcements?

Other solutions, such as calling in other awakeners for help, were now worth trying out.

I’ve given a few awakeners a good impression, but where will I find them?

Anyone who was unlucky enough to have been on the business end of Jake’s bat would most likely go with him when asked – but finding them turned out to be the bigger problem.

Jake hauling ass with his Haste skill out of Brino without letting other awakeners catch up to him or even figuring out how to get in touch with other awakeners turned out to bite him in the ass quite hard.

Where should I start to look for them? Jake asked himself, his troubles continuing to pile up, but it was then that the Awakening Store sent him a reply to his review.

 

[Dear Customer!

Do you have mana trouble?

Getting into situations where you end up spending your mana faster than you can get it back?

Reading Tomes of Magic not enough to help your recovery problems?

We have just the thing that will make all those troubles go away!

Introducing: The Magic Infusion Drink!

The be-all and end-all solution to all your magic point recovery problems!

You can use your skills more often, and longer!

We’re providing free samples of this brand-new item for all awakeners to try! Give it a shot and watch your combat prowess skyrocket!]

 

The answer literally dropped from heaven to Jake’s lap: something he desperately needs as of the moment.

Without missing a beat, Jake immediately checked out the event and its contents.

This event is a little weird, Jake thought, because something was up as soon as he saw the details: the content of the event was different from what Jake was used to: a kind of event Jake never saw before.

 

[This item will be given to you for free!

Having to give your town up to a bunch of skeletons is getting you down?

Well, with the help of this drink, you can start taking it back!

Honestly, we are so confident in the quality of our products, that if you cannot take your town back with this gift, we’ll donate your sword to other awakeners!

Don’t you think your weapon can do better with someone who can actually use it?

Do you have what it takes?]

 

This announcement was Veilon’s brainchild.

However, Jake’s response to the confirmation of the event defied his expectations.

What kind of dumb bet is this? Why would I put my sword on the line for something like this? I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.

Veilon didn’t know Jake’s attachment to his purchases; it wasn’t something that could be squashed by rousing one’s desire to win.

Something else came into play, though.

 

[The Magic Infusion Drinks are in limited quantity due to its limited-sale status.]

 

The final sentence of the event had something that even Jake could not ignore: a limited-sale product.

Is this saying what I think it’s saying?

A product that had to be obtained, at any and all costs: awakening the compulsive need to shop  that was more terrifying than a desire to win.

Jake could only answer thus:

“FINE! You’re on!”

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