Until now, Lee had been happy and inquisitive, a behavior that belied his age. However, it all disappeared in an instant, and a fright took over his face.
He let out a sigh before speaking.
“I know it's an honor to meet the Knight, but I really thought hard on whether I should meet you or not. Since I would have to talk about the heartbeat, I had an urge to decline the meeting.”
“You're feeling fear right now.”
“Yes. I feel it. I feel a great amount of it.”
Lee didn’t hesitate to agree with Sungyoon’s statement. He hugged himself and spoke.
“May I ask why you're curious about that, Knight?”
“I hear the heartbeat too.”
“Lord, have mercy!”
Lee covered his face with his hands.
“I remember it now. They said you're a 1st Gen Connector like us. When I think about what you do for a living, I had a hard time believing it to be true.”
“Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m a 1st Gen.”
“I’m not saying you're lying. I believe you.”
Lee took a deep sigh. He kept opening and closing his mouth and moving his eyes while trying to organize his tangled emotions.
“As you probably know, when we hear the heartbeat, we feel an incredible amount of fear wash over us. That's why it's hard to talk about it.”
“Regarding that, it seems I'm a special case. Although I hear the heartbeat, I don't feel the fear.”
Lee’s eyes turned round in surprise.
“Is that so? That's surprising. As expected of the Knight! So what are you curious about then?”
“Do you know what causes this phenomenon?”
“I have no idea.”
Even though it was a disappointing answer, it was well within Sungyoon's expectations.
“I see. Then let me ask you these questions. Where and when did you feel the heartbeat? Can you describe what it feels like? I want to compare it to my experiences.”
“Understood. I also want to know why Mr. Woo is different from the other 1st Gens. I know a couple of 1st Gens who suffered similar symptoms as me, and our experiences were more or less the same.”
Lee gathered his thoughts for a brief moment before speaking again.
“When I felt the heartbeat for the first time, I had just acquired my third Jewel rank Gem and earned the right to enter the Great Labyrinth.”
Lee's voice sounded far away as he thought about the past.
“As a 1st Gen, I had reached the pinnacle. While I was inspired by it, it also troubled me. The thought of whether I should enter the Great Labyrinth or not sent my mind into conflict. Everyone around me said that I would be foolish to attempt raiding the Great Labyrinth, and the government of my country tried to stop me too by offering all kinds of benefits. They wanted me to relax and live my life. In a roundabout way, they were telling me to live my life on Earth as a stud.”
It was an unpleasant memory, but Lee's tone of voice remained the same.
“Still, we're talking about Connectors, monsters, moonstones, and labyrinths. The consensus is that the Great Labyrinth might hold the truths behind these topics, and so, I couldn’t let go of my interest. As someone young, I had ambitions and wanted to be famous. When I had started my career, due to my power of the 1st Gen, the thought of being able to enter the Great Labyrinth never crossed my mind. However, although it had taken me thirty years, I had done it.”
Emily and Grace discreetly glanced at Sungyoon.
Lee, a Connector considered to be one of the top 1st Gens in this world, took almost thirty years to fulfill the requirements needed to attempt the Great Labyrinth. But, Sungyoon had finished clearing the initial stages of the Great Labyrinth in only two years. It really put everything into perspective for the two women, and they once again realized how amazing Sungyoon was.
“Once. Just once. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted to see it for myself. I didn’t plan on making a career out of it. Even if I had Jewel rank Gems, all three of them were Silver rank. When even the 2nd & 3rd Gen Connectors more powerful than me couldn’t clear the Great Labyrinth, I knew I had no chance. I just wanted to make a memory I could tell my grandkids in front of the fire. ‘Grandfather went into the Great Labyrinth!’”
Lee licked his lips and continued his story.
“After I decided to attempt the Great Labyrinth, I had to find another party. My original party was dead against raiding the Great Labyrinth. Also, I was a 1st Gen with no experience in the Great Labyrinth, so I had a hard time finding one. Somehow, I joined a party that regularly raided the Great Labyrinth. Thus, I finally entered that place. At first, I was amazed. As you already know, the Great Labyrinth is unlike any other labyrinths out there.”
Lee had seen the green plains and the blue skies of the Great Labyrinth for the first time, and he was dumbfounded. However, it had lasted only for a brief moment. Then, intense emotions had filled his heart, and he became tense.
“At first, it was ok. It was tough but I killed a couple of monsters, so I started thinking I could go down a couple more floors. Then several days passed, and our party had roamed around the green plain without a destination in mind. But when we were fighting a group of monsters, something happened.
“I heard the heartbeat and fainted.”
Lee unconsciously moved his hand toward his heart.
“When I regained consciousness, I found myself yelling and crying and my comrades shaking me. Snot came out of my nose, and I drooled. It had looked as if I were having a seizure. I still feel grateful to my ex-teammates. I had lost my mind, but they hadn't given up on me. They protected me until I calmed down.”
“You had good party members.”
“Yes. They were one of the greatest blessings of my life. At that time, I had no idea why I acted that way since I had lost consciousness. But I soon found out that fear was the reason. My body was shaking, and I was covered cold sweat. It was the type of fright that makes you want to void your bowels.”
After a long sigh, Lee continued.
“That was the end to my Great Labyrinth adventure. Later, many doctors tested me for all kinds of things, but they were unable to come up with a diagnosis. I tried entering the Great Labyrinth once again, but I suffered similar results. I had to raid only the Personal labyrinths like all the other 1st Gens. Moreover, I started only going to the Moon when it was necessary, and it greatly reduced the chance of me feeling that sensation.
"I never want to feel that fear ever again.”
As he finished his story, Lee looked desperate. It made one wonder if he was feeling a small piece of that fear once again.
“So you felt that sensation when you fought the monsters of the Great Labyrinth?”
“Yes. From what I know, every 1st Gen that went into the Great Labyrinth suffered a similar fate.”
“Were there any changes to your abilities? Did your senses sharpen? Did the abilities of your Gems get boosted?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t remember anything. I basically fainted and had a seizure, so I didn’t have the opportunity to check that kind of stuff.”
‘I gained nothing from this.’
Sungyoon had merely heard a description of a phenomenon completely different from his own and found nothing that could help him get to the source of his problem. However, since he didn't have high hopes about Lee's information in the first place, it didn't disappoint him too much.
“What happened to you when you heard the heartbeat, Mr. Woo?”
Sungyoon explained the changes that he went through, and Lee was amazed.
“As expected of the Knight, you're completely different from us.”
Sungyoon shook his head from side to side. Since his business here was done, he had no reason to stay there. So, he stood up.
“Thank you for talking to me.”
“It was nothing. It's an honor to be of help to the Knight.”
The two men shook hands.
“I hope I’m not being rude, but may I invite you to dinner? I would like to call my grandkids over to meet the Knight. They live nearby, and they're big fans of you, Mr. Woo.”
“I don't want to cause you too much trouble.”
“Trouble! No way! It's a chance to have dinner with the Knight! How is that trouble!”
Unlike his age, Lee’s eyes twinkled, which showed he was being honest.
Sungyoon looked at Emily and Grace, and it seemed they weren’t opposed to the idea.
“I would welcome it. However, I have more people in my party, so I’ll have to discuss it with them first. Do you mind if I contact you afterward?”
“Of course. The opinions of your party are important. Still, I need time to prepare for dinner. Can you contact me within the hour at the latest?”
Lee happily gave Sungyoon his phone number and walked them out. Sungyoon, Emily, and Grace returned to the beach.
The boiling soup emanated a fragrant smell. Large slabs of steak were placed next to the grill, and chunks of vegetables were cut for decoration. It was a western dish commonly served to guests.
“I’ll do it. Please go rest, Father.”
A woman approached Lee, who was stirring the soup within the pot. She was his daughter-in-law. Since she lived nearby, she came to help when Lee contacted her. Moreover, she also wanted her children to meet Sungyoon.
“Yes. We’ll do the cooking.”
Another one of his daughters-in-law walked up behind him. Lee had many sons, and these two daughters-in-law were married to one of his sons.
However, Lee had made up his mind to do everything by himself today.
“It’s fine. I was the one who invited the guests, and I hate the idea of letting others do the work.”
Lee liked to cook, and he frequently cooked for others. His two daughters-in-law looked at each other and shook their heads. They knew Lee could be stubborn.
“We’ll prepare the table.”
“Please do that.”
Lee used a spoon to taste the soup, and it tasted perfect. His daughters-in-law placed forks, knives, spoons, and plates on the table. They even brought out a new bottle of wine.
Their children ran down from the second floor.
“Hey! I told you not to bother us. Go play on the second floor.”
Their mother was deliberately glaring at them, but the children’s eyes were filled with anticipation, and the threats didn’t work on them.
“Mom! Mom! When is the Knight coming?”
“He’ll be here soon. And I'll report anyone who doesn’t listen to their mother to the Knight. Go upstairs and play.”
The children pouted, but the threat worked, and they went back to the second floor.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Lee's daughter-in-law heard a pounding on the front door.
‘Are they already here?’
The promised time for the dinner was still fifteen minutes away. However, she preferred them to arrive early than being late.
“Yes! I’m coming!”
She went to the front door.
She put on a pretty smile on her face to greet the awaited guests. However, her smile froze when she opened the door.
A demon-like being with striking red eyes stood outside the door.
She screamed as she ran into the house. Unlike her, the demon took his time.
The door was made for humans, so it was too small for Kevil. Kevil forced his body past the doorway and ripped apart the nearby walls.
“What’s going on?”
Lee's other daughter-in-law and the children came down from the 2nd floor. When their gazes fell down on Kevil, they became paralyzed as if they had seen the Medusa from Greek mythology. Confusion, shock, and fear filled their eyes.
Lee came running in and saw Kevil.
- I found you.
Kevil’s demonic mouth widened.
Lee heard the heartbeat, and fear overtook his entire body.Previous Chapter Next Chapter