Chapter 1 - An Invitation from a Pocket Watch (1)

March 21st, 2018 

Yeon-woo adjusted his clothes as he walked across the Incheon airport terminal. His head was shaved, and a Korean flag shone brightly on the arm of his neat military uniform, clearly indicating his status. After he took a moment to organize his backpack, he made a phone call.

Click.

“Sergeant Cha reporting in from Korea.”

“Understood. Take it easy, and try to comfort your parents while you are there.”

“Thank you.” After expressing his gratitude, Yeon-woo ended the call and put his phone down. He was feeling a lot warmer and more peaceful in Korea after a three-year stay in Africa even though his mind was full of distress. With a cigarette in his mouth, he took something out from his pocket. It was a letter he had received during his mission, and it was marked with the word “obituary”. His younger brother had disappeared five years ago, and the letter had notified him of his brother’s death.

*  *  *

The funeral was finished, and his brother’s ashes had been scattered in the sea in front of Taejongdae, his brother’s favorite place. Yeon-woo hadn’t heard any news about him in the last five years, and now, his brother had shown up inside a cold urn.

“He was holding this when I found him.” The person who had discovered his brother’s body took out a small box. Yeon-woo opened it with care. It contained two items: a faded photograph and…‘A pocket watch?’

In the photograph, his brother stood in front of a shabby house wearing some kind of medieval armor. Next to him were people with unusual appearances. ‘Had he been filming a movie somewhere?’ he wondered. Yeon-woo had roamed around all sorts of places, but he had never seen anything like this.

“Uhm…”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Yeon-woo had been unconsciously touching his brother’s image in the photograph, and the man’s voice brought him back to his senses. A question popped into his mind, but it didn’t seem like an appropriate place to ask, so Yeon-woo could only thank the man and return home.

*  *  *

In his room, he quietly looked at his brother’s smiling face in the photograph. They were twins with identical features and yet they were so different from each other. 

His brother had been a model student, but he had been weak and introverted. He enjoyed reading books and watching movies. Yeon-woo, on the other hand, was very extroverted. He was also very fit, majoring in athletics before entering the military academy.

People were often surprised by how different they were, but the brothers had always stuck together. The little brother would hold onto his scatterbrained brother and teach him how to study. As his little brother lay in bed, the older brother would tell him several times a day about the fun and exciting things outside. They were both devoted to each other.

But then, with only one day before the CSAT, his younger brother had disappeared. So many things changed from that day onwards. His mother, who was already suffering from a chronic illness, passed away. After unsuccessfully searching for his brother for over two years, Yeon-woo gave up and enlisted in the military as a non-commissioned officer, volunteering to be dispatched to Africa.

From that moment on, he became less of an extrovert and grew more cynical. His connection to Korea was cut off, and he’d believed that he would never return. But five years later, the notification of his brother’s death reached him. At first, he had been mad at his brother for disappearing without a word only to end up dead. The first thing that had come to his mind was how self-centered his brother had been. But as the funeral began, he started to feel empty, as if his soul were being torn apart. By the time he was scattering his brother’s ashes in Taejongdae, his heart was bursting at the seams.

He wanted to ask what happened to his brother, what he had been doing, and why he had to return in this manner. But his brother in the photograph did not say a word, just as he hadn’t said anything in the last five years.

“Ah…” Yeon-woo put the photograph down and examined the pocket watch. It was worn out and threadbare, as if it were more than a hundred years old. It no longer ran, and only the Roman numeral for twelve, XII, and the hour hand remained. He took it to a jeweler to have it repaired, but the only answer he got was that it was too rusty to fix.

“I gave this to my brother as a present.” When they turned nineteen, the year they entered junior year in high school, the brothers had given each other a present on their birthday. The younger brother gave him a book to study, and Yeon-woo gave his brother a pocket watch to wish him luck on his CSAT. This was the pocket watch.

Yeon-woo grabbed the pocket watch, it slipped and fit perfectly in his palm. It was just the right size. “I knew it.” He remembered how he wandered around all the shops, looking for a pocket watch that would perfectly fit in one hand. Yeon-woo turned the watch over. There was a name engraved in cursive in one corner on the back: J. W. Cah.

“Whoa! I really needed a watch. Thanks, bro. This is way cooler than a digital watch.”

“Hahaha! What do you think? Your big brother’s got good taste.”

“But what’s engraved here? J. W. are the initials of my first name, but what is ‘Cah’?”

“Hmm? That’s Cha, our family name.”

“How is this ‘Cha’? Look, it’s spelled C-A-H!”

“What? Dammit! Give it to me.”

“Why?”

“I’m gonna bring it back to the shop to have it fixed.”

“It’s OK, don’t bother. I’ll take it. From now on, I’ll just write C-A-H whenever I write my name.” The younger brother confidently put the watch into his pocket. Later, he proudly wrote “Cah” as his surname on his passport application. At that time, Yeon-woo had felt both sorry and grateful at the same time, but now, he chuckled as he remembered it. As he ran his hand over the pocket watch, he pressed on a knob by accident.

Click. “Huh?” 

‘Isn’t it already broken?’ he thought. The knob slid into the watch, and suddenly: tik tok. The stopped hour hand began to move.

“To my older brother, who will listen to this sometime in the future.” He heard a familiar voice inside his head. Yeon-woo instinctively sprang to his feet. It was a voice he hadn’t heard in five years, a voice he thought he would never hear again—his brother’s voice. 

Thump, thump! His heart started to pound crazily.

“By the time you hear this, I guess I will already be dead.” He was not hallucinating. Yeon-woo checked to see if there was a speaker inside the pocket watch but found nothing. The voice was really inside his head. ‘How is this possible?’ he thought.

“I am sorry. You all had a hard time because of me, didn’t you? I just wanted to find a medicine for Mom. I thought I could return home soon, but time went by too quickly.”

“What?” It was at this moment that his eyes grew strained. Whoosh! Suddenly, a flood of his brother’s memories passed in front of his eyes like a panorama.

It was a diary.

*  *  *

Oct 9th, 2013

A strange text message appeared on my phone. It said it would grant anything I wish. No other words, just buttons so I could choose whether to join or not. Normally, I would have ignored the message, but I couldn’t help thinking about Mom in the hospital looking more and more haggard every day. So I pressed the “yes” button, just in case my mom could be cured.

Nothing changed. I felt very hollow. It turned out to only be a prank. But from that day on, I began to have strange dreams of climbing what seemed to be an infinitely tall tower with ninety-nine floors.

Oct 12th, 2013

It was definitely not a dream! Everything was clear. It was real.

A world with creatures like elves and dwarves, but also monsters like orcs, trolls, and dragons. A world where several universes and dimensions intersect in one place. The tower sits in the center, waiting for people from all over the world to climb it. As soon as a person breaks through the ninety-ninth floor, he or she will become a god—at least, that’s what I heard someone say.

People pointed at the tower and called it the Tower of the Sun God. Obelisk. But that doesn’t mean a thing to me. The only thing that matters is that somewhere in this tower is an elixir that can cure all diseases, the Panacea. With that in my hand, I can save Mom from her illness.

Oct 28th, 2013

I was able to team up with some like-minded friends to start climbing the Tower. Still, it wasn’t easy at all. We had to kill all sorts of monsters, and we faced mortal dangers. This place may look like a game, but it’s not. It’s real. If you die, everything is over. But my teammates and I are talented. Back in the real world, my feeble body always caused worries for my family, but in this world, I was able to see the light through runes.

We were told that we were the first team to break through the first ten floors in four days. Since then, I began to seriously consider: I won’t be able to live in the real world and in the Tower at the same time.

Nov 9th, 2013

I’ve made up my mind. I tried explaining this place to my brother, but whenever I face him, the words won’t come out of my mouth. Do I say: “There’s a world called the Tower, and I’m trying to find some medicine there?"

Even though he looks gruff, my brother has a warm heart. What would he say? I bet he would volunteer to take my place instead. That cannot happen. In the end, I decided to leave home. They will be looking for me, but I’ll be gone for half a year. I’m sure I can retrieve the elixir by that time. 

And just like that, I disconnected myself from the real world.

Dec 1st, 2013

My teammates and I named our team “Arthia”. Arthia is the best in every single way—in teamwork and in individual skills. We are at the top of our game.

We rapidly broke through several floors, and there is no one in the Tower who doesn’t know our name. I might be able to get a hold of the Panacea much faster than I thought.

······

Sep 7th, 2014

Our climbing speed has slowed. I thought I would need only half a year, but now I might be here for one more year.

Nov 11th, 2014

We had a fight with some high-ranking clans who see us as an eyesore. We now have more obstacles to overcome.

······

Feb 31st, 2015 

Negotiations have broken down.

War has begun.

······

Jul 2nd, 2015

The alliance of clans we’re fighting has just collapsed. Arthia, which started with only twelve people, is now one of the ten largest clans. All of our teammates are high rankers. And I, Arthia’s leader, have risen to ninth place. It is said that I’m the person who’s entered the top ten in the shortest amount of time. However, I can’t just stand here and celebrate. Because of the war, we haven’t had time to find the elixir. We need to pick up our speed and climb the Tower.

······

Mar 4th, 2016

I’ve fallen in love.

······

Sep 19th, 2016

Another war has begun. There’s a fresh enmity between Arthia, which wants to climb higher, and other high-ranking clans, who want to maintain the status quo. I’ve been trying my best to persuade them, but it isn’t easy.

To make matters worse, some of our teammates agree with them, but they can’t voice out their opinions because they are worried. Even though I know this, I pushed our clan to continue climbing up the Tower so we couldn’t avoid conflicts.

But even now, time keeps flowing. I feel like I’m going crazy.

······

Jan 2nd, 2017

Arthia is now in fifth place. However, the war hasn’t ended, and everyone is too tired.

······

Jun 6th, 2017

We found a traitor in our clan. We managed to kill him before he could rise up against us, but it was enough to cause a rift within the team. Everyone has started to distrust each other. Members are leaving the clan one by one.

Jul 1st, 2017

My body feels heavier.

I have been poisoned.

Oct 30th, 2017

Half of the clan is gone. We keep on losing battles, and now we don’t dare climb to higher floors. I tried asking around about the elixir, but I couldn’t find any information about it.

And my body is slowly breaking down.

Nov 1st, 2017

The person I loved left me with a dagger to the heart.

I barely blocked it with my skill, but I could not continue suppressing the poison. My body is starting to rot.

Dec 30th, 2017

I miss my brother.

······

Feb 1st, 2018

I am the only one left in Arthia. How did things go so wrong? Is it because I trusted people too much? Or is it because I was too absorbed in my own needs and neglected to look after my teammates?

Or…is it because I left my family?

Feb 28th, 2018

On the last day of February, I finally got my hands on the elixir. Now, I need to find a way to send it home, but there’s no way. I can’t leave the Tower even if I wanted to, I’m surrounded by other people.

Maybe they think I will treat my poison with it if I leave. Everyone is coming to kill me. There is no one left by my side. Now I know. There is only one person I can trust.

But I cannot show them my weakness.

*  *  *

This is the end of my diary. I believe that if I leave this behind, my brother will find a way to come to this place. If it's you, hyung, you can retrieve the elixir and bring it safely to our mom.

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