I am currently in a village in Okinawa Prefecture, which was famous as the longevity village. More than 700 bodies have been found here overnight, causing a massive stir…
The Apocalypse Headquarters announced that the situation in Korea is quite unusual. Korea has only suffered one-tenth compared to the global average. This is a significant piece of information for national security, as having enough players in the future will…
Measures concerning applying the extra clears have become widely known and are attracting attention. It is said that there are relatively few victims in Korea, thanks to the system. Many talented people, including Iron Mask, and other skilled players…
Apocalypse Headquarters is doing its very best to tally the exact number of victims in Korea…
130 million people had died.
The damage was so severe that it was almost unprecedented in the history of humanity. Looking at Earth as a whole, more than one in 60 people had perished, and some countries had basically evaporated overnight.
The only peculiarity was the victims’ average age. Rather than the children, who had little chance of clearing the stage on their own, more middle-aged and elderly people without any physical problems had died.
“Did you see? There weren’t any homeless people in the station.”
A man expressed his curiosity after getting off the subway, and another man with a steel rod on his back drew closer and whispered.
“Be quiet, you idiot. Why do you think there would be no people in this situation? Obviously, it’s because they’re dead.”
“…They are all dead because of the test? A homeless man is an adult male in good shape. They would have had the advantage in the initial level-up phase.”
“That might have been the case initially, I suppose.”
The two men’s eyes were drawn to the owner of the calm voice. A girl wearing a school uniform stood in front of them. She wasn’t an outstanding beauty, but she gave off a cute impression. But rather than her appearance, the two men’s eyes were drawn to the number above her head.
As the stages progressed and experience potions became available, those who cleared the same stage more than once, the so-called players, could check each other’s levels. It wasn’t like Dae-ha’s ability which displayed a person’s actual competencies, but rather a display of level that was bestowed by the system. As such, its measurement system of power wasn’t absolute. However, considering that experience potions were untradeable items unlike other equipment, a high level corresponded to the fact that a person had cleared a stage many times. It was a sufficient standard to roughly measure one’s capabilities.
‘Wow. If she’s level 8, she could go toe-to-toe with an ogre, right?’
‘The first super high-level ranker I run into is a girl like her…’
They whispered after seeing the girl’s level, but Seon-ae did not care. Level 8 might be a rare find in the surface world, but even level 9s were commonplace in the parallel world. Just as she was doing, the two people in front of her, and the entire human race was experiencing a tremendous level up.
“It’s not a matter of the starting advantages now that we have reached level nine.”
“…That’s right. The question is whether you are willing to clear the stage or not.”
‘And the group with the least motivation would have been the homeless.’
After escaping from Romance, the black wizard group, Seon-ae spent two years on the road before she was kidnapped by the Lee Family and became ae court lady. She had seen countless homeless people – people who lived only because they couldn’t just die. Even if someone found them a job, they would quickly quit and come back to the streets to beg and act up. There was no chance in hell they could endure the stage where one needed to be fiercer than anyone else to survive. Of course, they would have been able to pass level 1 or level 2. Rather, they would have possessed an advantage compared to children and women.
From level 3, however, one could not break through by just being a healthy adult male, because the stage was not something to be overcome by having a healthy body. You had to think, learn, study the guides and be desperate to clear. It was a basic requirement to endure injuries such as cut flesh and broken bones.
Other men nodded their heads after overhearing the conversation.
“That is true. To be homeless means… that they are living a crazy life disconnected from society.”
“Right. Someone who can’t save their own lives should have an acquaintance capable of getting an extra clear.”
If a person succeeded in clearing the stage more than once, they were given the chance to choose another person to save beside themselves.
It was quite obvious, but generally, the first targets were their own children and the other family members, and relatives came afterwards.
“That is why there aren’t many children among the 130 million victims. The parents are willing to do anything to bring them back.”
“The ones who are dead are the marginalized.”
Old folks who live alone, the disabled, orphans, and others.
“Not necessarily. Even if you have family and relatives, if none of them can clear the stage, then you can’t be saved.”
“There are even… people who have strong acquaintances but end up dead.”
The failure to achieve a complete clear revealed the life that people lived. Even if they possessed considerable wealth or power, those who weren’t popular with others died in vain.
“Many elderly folks living alone have died. The disabled and the sick as well.”
“That’s scary. We’re living in a world where you can’t survive without having connections.”
“You can clear it yourself though.”
“That’s true as well, but it’s getting harder and harder… Besides, before, you could choose to die after getting hurt to recover completely, but now that we can’t achieve a complete clear, we have to treat our injuries in real life, even if we have our arms or legs amputated.”
“You could bring back your limb and get it treated somehow. Or you could buy a body recovering potion from the vending machine.”
“That’s way too expensive…”
- The next station is Shingil. Shingil station.
Seon-ae stood up at the sight of the subway door opening. She was wearing a school uniform, and from her appearance, she looked like an ordinary high school girl. But the men who followed after her did not look ordinary. The first man had a battle hammer hanging from his waist, something you would see in a movie. Moreover, it did not look like an ordinary weapon with a subtle glow radiating from the hammer head.
Was that all?
That man next to him was carrying a short spear, but the spearhead was made up of almost transparent ice, not metal. The one standing next to him was adorning a sword, but a gentle fire was rising from the sheath.
Their armors weren’t ordinary either.
The armors covering their bodies had black matte coating that could absorb all light. Even though the armor was made of metal, it did not make any noise when they moved. If they had been dressed in such a fashion a month ago, they would surely be reported to the police, but the gazes of the people around them contained awe and envy.
“Wow, what the heck? Are those all magic weapons? Their armor seems unusual as well.”
“How cool. They can afford to carry around such proper equipment.”
“They must have amazing strength to be able to swing something heavy like that.”
“Should I go try and talk to them?”
The men blushed at the sight of the whispering people and hurried their steps as they followed behind Seon-ae.
“This atmosphere is so unfamiliar.”
“It can’t be helped. All the shows are focused solely on the stage. The situations turned even worse with people actually starting to die.”
“No one could say for certain that we would completely clear the stages for eternity, but now that the day actually arrived, it must be devastating.”
Rattle! Rattle, Rattle!
They transferred to another subway while receiving countless gazes. As they neared their destination, the number of people dressed similarly to them increased. Although all of them possessed a sharp gaze, no other similarities could be found. Most of them were men in their 20s through 40s, but the number of teenagers and senior citizens in their 60s and 70s was significant. There were men and women alike.
“Ah! I’m sorry.”
“Not at all. I was at fault.”
Two men bowed their heads with gentle smiles after running into each other. It was a subway full of people armed to the teeth with sharp weapons, but the people in it were very polite and considerate of each other.
There existed a notion known as noble savage.
It referred to the fact that civilized people tended to be ruder than barbarians because their heads would not be split open if they uttered insulting words. Civilized people regarded barbarians as rude, but those who lived in a world filled with blood and death did not overstep their boundaries.
The same applied to these people.
They were aware of how difficult the stages were. The players were clearing the stages everyday while following intense, complicated guides. Only those who were prepared to die and overcame pain and fear were capable of clearing the stage.
Everyone knew that they could hurt and kill each other any time, so they exercised even more caution. But we were still in a civilized society, so there were bound to be civilized people.
“W, wait! Hold on!”
Seon-ae's expression stiffened as she looked back to see an old man holding her arm. He was a stranger.
“You, you can get extra clears, right? I know when I see.”
One wouldn’t normally expect such things from a regular high school girl, and Seon-ae looked completely ordinary on the surface. But Seon-ae quickly learned how the old man recognized her.
The text above the old man’s head meant that he had cleared at least one stage on his own. Since he leveled up using the vending machine, he could also see Seon-ae’s level.
“Yes. That is right. Why?”
“S, save me. The test is coming soon.”
Seon-ae asked back at the unexpected words.
“Do you know me?”
The old man started to scream at her calm question.
“I’m asking because I don’t! My name is Kim Kyung-won. Please save me.”
Seven percent of humankind had already fallen behind and could no longer keep up with the stage. 25 percent of humanity were barely able to save their lives with a single clear or save the lives of their immediate family members with two or three clears. This meant that the remaining five percent were responsible for the lives of humankind as a whole.
But unfortunately, even that balance was broken on level 8, hard.
Seon-ae brushed it off with an indifferent answer, but the old man was persistent.
“You! You! Are you listening to me right now!? You bitch! Don’t you have a mother or a father? This old man is asking you to save me! Are you really finding my pleas troublesome!?”
The old man held on to Seon-ae’s arm. He was so flustered that his contorted face had turned red. She could smell alcohol on him as well. He had been drinking when there was less than 30 minutes until the stage began.
“I won’t let go! I won’t!”
Seon-ae’s expression sank coldly. Even the burly players around her became nervous at her frosty spirit, but the old man continued.
“Look at you frowning, huh? What are you going to do, hit me? Fine, do it then! Since you’re level eight, I guess I’ll die with a single slap! Since I’m going to die anyways, just… Keugh!?”
The old man wasn’t able to scream any longer. Seon-ae was holding onto his neck. Although he was an old man with a sturdy build, he was helpless in Seon-ae’s grasp.
Seon-ae’s expression had been filled with irritation, but it turned cold in an instant. He insisted on annoying her on a subway full of people. Why? Because she had the highest level on the subway?
He had chosen an opponent who appeared the least formidable of them all. Even though she had a higher level, he found her to be an easier target compared to the burly men with vicious appearances. His approach had been a testament to this fact, since he had tried to intimidate and coerce her while yelling, instead of requesting of her.
“You, you… What are you…”
He could not resist at all. Even though she had done nothing but grasp him, he felt his strength draining away. Kyung-won looked around in a hurry and pleaded with his eyes, but no one came forward to aid him. Countless people on the subway were gazing at him with cold eyes.
“Is this all you could have done? Really?”
Kyung-won desperately tried to escape from the hand wrapped around his neck, but Seon-ae’s hand remained immobile like a vise. She hadn’t even used much strength, but it was a matter of course. Her strength was already far beyond humanly measures and if she so desired, she could break the old man’s neck without much effort.
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what kind of life you’ve lived, or how you’ve aged. But.”
Kyung-won’s eyes started to flip. He felt weighed down by Seon-ae’s strong spirit.
“We aren’t living in a time where you can save your life by making a ruckus and bothering others.”
- The next station is Gwanghwamun Station. Gwanghwamun Station.
After finally arriving at her destination, Seon-ae threw Kyung-won to the elderly seat. He slumped down on the seat after losing consciousness.
“We don’t live in such a carefree world anymore.”
Most of the people exited the subway at Gwanhwamun station. As they left the station and climbed up the stairs to Gwanghwamun Square, they came faced with an enormous crowd as always.
The time was 6:40 P.M.
The sky was slowly darkening with the day becoming shorter. A group of people approached the newly arrived group from one side of Gwanghwamun.
“Oh! Hello! Would you like to go for a blind date?”
“Huh? A blind date out of the blue…?”
Men in suits distributed pamphlets to the flustered players.
“We have talented students from the Department of Dance and Theatre and Film of S University! After this stage, feel free to stop by and have some food with them! It’s casual, really. We will take care of the food bill!” 
“Oh my! Oppas, your bodies are amazing! Do you work out a lot?”
People rushed in to converse with the players. They acted kind and familiar to form a relationship. Seon-ae knew that they were essentially the same as the old man who jumped at her a while ago. The only difference was that they were being careful as to avoid being offensive and being aware of the others’ feelings.
“E, excuse me.”
Someone spoke to Seon-ae. When she looked back, a pretty girl who looked to be an elementary or a middle school student was standing there.
“What is it?”
“My, my name is So-hyang. Kim So-hyang.”
Seon-ae observed the girl rush away before she headed across Gwanghwamun Square through the crowd.
- Stage will be opened!
- Level 9. Difficulty is set at easy.
She entered the stage.
- All Death Processions have been cancelled!
- Congratulations! The stage has been completely cleared! Compensation will be given based on contribution.
- Your ranking is 459,147.
“Great work everybody!”
“Thank you for your hard work!”
Fortunately, the easy difficulty ended without a hitch. The easy level tended to be less difficult than the hard difficulty of the previous level, and the play time was shorter, which allowed the real strong players to clear the stage multiple times.
But the problem was not with the easy difficulty.
- Stage will be opened!
- Level 9. Difficulty is set at intermediate.
After the first test the previous evening, the second test began at 7 A.M. Seon-ae gritted her teeth and hunted ogres after appearing in the dark forest once again. Ogres were monsters beyond the understanding of human beings living in modern society. They were difficult opponents even for players who strengthened themselves with stat points and obtained abilities.
They possessed skin that was tough enough to endure the bullets of a machine gun, as well as agility and extreme sensitivity that was unbefitting their large size.
One ogre was scary enough, but the intermediate stage of level 9 brought with it multiple ogres. It possessed a murderous difficulty, and without Iron Mask’s guide, even Seon-ae would have found it difficult to clear the stage, even though she was considered one of the strongest players.
The results came out as expected.
- The Death Processions will be applied without any changes.
- The number of Death Processions remaining.
“Hey! Get it together! Over here! This person needs help!”
“Dammit! Will it get worse and worse…?”
With each passing day, the atmosphere of Gwanhwamun Square became heavier. Dead bodies began to emerge among the people gathered in the square.
‘The death toll went down. It means that people are gritting their teeth as they proceed with the stage.’
Even so, the number of deaths was still high. More than 200 million out of 6 billion humans had already died. There was widespread fear of death, and society as a whole would soon begin to collapse.
Seon-ae nodded nonchalantly to the girl bowing her head. It was the same girl who had given Seon-ae her name before the test.
“It’s fine, so go.”
“Yes, yes! Thank you!”
The girl quickly ran away when Seon-ae waved her hands.
Seon-ae knew why the girl had thanked her. During the intermediate stage of level 9, Seon-ae had chosen her with one of her extra clears. She had no particular reason.
She didn’t have a family that she wanted to protect with her life. She didn’t feel obliged to any of her acquaintances either. She had chosen to save the little girl because the girl had given Seon-ae her name.
But was there really any purpose?
“It’s not like I can protect you forever.”
It was level 9.
It would be great if the stage ended at level 10, but… would things really flow that way?
“The End Project.”
Seon-ae felt cluttered. Maybe all of this desperate fight was useless. Maybe the end was really coming.
- Stage will be opened!
- Level 9. Difficulty is set at hard.
She was once again thrust into an abominable, dark forest. A quick ogre, a durable ogre, an ogre with the ability to jump high and a sensitive ogre showed up as enemies. The most terrible of them all was the boss, an ogre who learned martial arts.
Seon-ae had become incomparably stronger than in the past, but the boss was so dangerous that she had no choice but to go berserk at the end.
“More people will die compared to the previous difficulty.”
Seon-ae murmured while pouring a potion onto a wound big enough to reveal her organs.
It was as she guessed.
- The Death Processions will be applied without any changes.
- The number of Death Processions remaining.
“Sang-chun, wake up! Sang-chun! Get up, you idiot!”
“Mi-yeon, no! No! Get up!”
Screams resounded from the entire square. Those who weren’t able to clear the stage on their own and didn’t have their Death Procession canceled by others could no longer open their eyes after the stage finished.
That was not all.
“I, it hurts… It hurts…”
“Somebody please help me!”
Gwanghwamun Square was filled with the stench of blood. This meant that there were far more injured compared to the dead.
“Is it going to be level 10 tomorrow? Haha! Hahahaha! This is driving me crazy!”
“Shit! Fuck!! I can’t do this! I can’t do it! What am I supposed to do when I can’t keep up? It doesn’t even matter that the vending machine sells skills and stats, does it? What kind of a monster could increase their levels by two in a week? Even if that was possible, until when?”
“We’re all going to die…”
Everyone grieved loudly in desperation.
At that very moment.
Everyone on Earth heard voices resounding in their heads.
- I am Justice.
- I am Truth.
- I am Honor.
On Earth, where there was religion but no god, Divinity started to descend.