Chapter 123 - Mission (3)

‘Search the large desert?’

‘That crazy…!’

‘Like there’s something to see here!’

The mercenaries really wanted to cry. None of them had ever wanted to return to the large desert on the twelfth floor, but now, they even had a task to complete here.

“Find the object by the deadline and head over to the thirteenth floor. In the meantime, I’ll be crossing the large desert.”

The mercenaries had no choice but to follow, and because Yeon-woo had given them a short amount of time, they had to hurry. As he watched them spread out, Yeon-woo secretly called out his Spirit Familiars. ‘They’ll know right away if there’s a spy.’

As Yeon-woo began to cross the large desert, the heat and sand threatened to swamp him.

『 Master! Master!』 Chirpy climbed onto Yeon-woo’s shoulder.

“Yes?”

『Why are they so obedient to you?』

“I’m not sure.” Yeon-woo avoided the question and stroked Chirpy’s head. Although he had grown in size, he was still young, and it wouldn’t be good for him to hear all the dirty details.

『What are they looking for?』

“The Jewel of Fire.”

『Jewel? What’s that?』 Chirpy cocked his head to one side in an adorable manner.

“Something yummy.”

『Wow, really?』

Yeon-woo nodded at Chirpy’s glowing eyes. The Jewel of Fire would be a tasty treat for him, not to mention good for his health. ‘I’ll give half to Chirpy and the other half to the Spirit Familiars.’

The Spirit Familiars had recently hit a wall with their growth because of the Black Bracelet’s limitations, and so Yeon-woo had been thinking of other ways to strengthen them. ‘I need to strengthen their properties.’

He had to give them properties other than the dark and evil ones they already had. The Jewel of Fire was a good stone for strengthening and also made a good material for alchemy. ‘It can’t hurt to have more of it.’ Yeon-woo was beginning to like Red Dragon for giving him enough minions to help him find the jewel.

『You must give me lots of yummy things, OK? Please? Promise?』

“I will, so don’t worry.’

『Hehehe. I hope they’re really tasty.』 Chirpy started drooling, his eyes sparkling like stars. Then he began to yawn and blink his eyes. 『Hm, I’m getting sleepy. I want to sleep.』

“Rest a bit.”

『OK! You have to wake me up when the food is ready, OK?』 Chirpy nodded and scattered into a blue light to enter Yeon-woo. The rules of the twelfth floor were different from those of the eleventh floor, where Legendary Beasts could comfortably exist. Because of that, Legendary Beasts had to borrow players’ bodies and assimilate to them.

Chirpy’s energy was unsteady because of his growth spurt, and so he had to sleep most of the time to maintain his energy. If he swallowed the Jewel of Fire on top of that, he’d need even more time to adjust.

However, Chirpy’s resting place was a little unusual. ‘Stone. It’s here again.’ Yeon-woo licked his lips, sensing the stone next to his heart. He could feel the stone’s tiny movements. It didn’t give him energy or even do anything other than act as a brazier for the fire that the Phoenix had given him. And now, it also doubled as a shelter for Chirpy.

He had once asked Chirpy why he liked to rest in the stone. Chirpy tilted his head as if he didn’t know the answer himself. 『I’m not sure. It’s just nice in there.』

“Nice?”

『Yeah, it’s warm and cozy inside so I fall asleep right away!』

At first, Yeon-woo thought Chirpy felt comfortable because that was also where the Phoenix’s fire was, but after observing him for a while, he realized that Chirpy’s energy settled faster inside the stone. It was better than the Magic Circuit.

‘That might be the reason why the spark from the Phoenix settled there.’ Yeon-woo’s eyes grew thoughtful as he tried to sense the stone. ‘I can feel tiny amounts of the Void in there, too, and the Sabertoothed Tiger’s vestiges are tightly wrapped around it.’

He realized that the stone he’d believed had been a failed experiment was just incomplete. It could be completed with the right materials; perhaps the parts of the Four Legendary Beasts might be materials for it, as well. However, Yeon-woo couldn’t leave such an uncontrollable and creepy thing alone. He didn’t know whether it might even poison him, and he didn't like the fact that it was the result of many sacrificed lives. Also, if he couldn’t control it, it was useless.

But he still couldn’t figure out a way to get rid of it, and in fact, removing it had grown more difficult now that the Legendary Beasts’ vestiges were there and Chirpy thought of it as his shelter. ‘Should I complete it or figure out a way to get rid of it?’ Yeon-woo clucked his tongue at the stone that had become weak again and decided to stop thinking about it for now. Since Chirpy was using it, it probably wouldn’t harm him for the time being. He had to focus on crossing the desert first.

***

[All trials are finished.]

[You have accomplished the miracle of crossing the large desert without a single break. Additional karma will be provided.]

[You have received 5,000 karma.]

[You have received an additional 3,000 karma.]

....

[The additional karma is being added to the total karma.]

[Will you register your name in the Hall of Fame?]

[You have refused to register your name.]

....

[Will you ascend to the 13th floor?]

Yeon-woo stepped inside the blue portal. Just as he’d expected, it hadn’t been too difficult to cross the large desert. It was almost fun, like hiking, and he even managed to do some training.

Although his feet sank into the sand with every step, and it was hot enough to scorch him, he’d managed to increase his physical resistance to external forces and even found a way to increase his element of Holy Fire. He also installed additional Cores, which mean that he now had a total of 108. Phante and Edora would’ve shaken their heads if they saw what he was doing.

Yeon-woo looked back at the large desert he had crossed. He was ready to move on to the thirteenth floor without any regrets when a portal opened in the air and a rabbit fell out with a plop. “Please wait just a moment.” It was Laplace, the Guardian he’d met on the eleventh floor. Yeon-woo looked at him with a surprised expression, wondering what he was doing here. At first, he wondered if he’d been caught, but he shook his head.

The Guardians of the Tower were restricted by the Tower’s system and couldn’t interfere in players’ businesses. So why was he here? Yeon-woo stopped walking and stared at Laplace.

“You’re as quiet as ever, I see. You look busy so I’ll be quick.”

Yeon-woo didn’t reply. Laplace smoothed his face with his hands, checking to see if he was smiling. He didn’t want to be misinterpreted. Then, satisfied, he said, “Player ###, you are heading to the Platform Three Goddesses temple, am I correct?”

Yeon-woo’s eyes narrowed behind the mask. No one liked being tracked, even if it was by a Guardian. Laplace just waved his arm as if telling him not to worry. “Don’t let it bother you so much. Our task as Guardians is to ensure a smooth environment for the players. We won’t ever get in Player ###’s way or spread rumors, so you don’t need to worry about such things.”

Yeon-woo looked at Laplace’s red eyes, unsure of the rabbit’s thoughts. When he thought about it, even his brother had a hard time dealing with the Guardians, especially the twelve elite ones. As far as Yeon-woo knew, Laplace was one of them ‘The Zodiac’s rabbit. Rabbits have lots of curiosity and like to stick their nose and interfere in others’ businesses.’ Laplace simply couldn’t be trusted. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here to deliver a message from the higher-ups.”

“Higher-ups?”

“You might not be aware of it, but we Zodiac Guardians have another role as messengers of the gods and demons.”

‘Messenger?’ Yeon-woo’s eyes widened at the unexpected response.

“I’m here to deliver the words of a demon.” The smile on Laplace’s face suddenly fell, and the air seemed to turn cold as a dark aura began to spread. Laplace’s eyes turned into a black-red color.

‘Magi.’ Yeon-woo read the energy exuded by Laplace and frowned.

Laplace spoke in the demon’s voice. “Of the…Platform Three…Goddesses…Beware…of the eldest.”

After he finished speaking, the magi in the air faded away, and the heat of the large desert returned as though nothing had happened. Laplace’s eyes became red again.

“Beware of the eldest of the Platform Three Goddesses? What does that mean? And who’s the demon that sent the message?”

Laplace shrugged. “I am only a messenger. I don’t know any details, but even if I did, I can’t say because of the system’s rules. It’s up to Player ### to figure them out.” Laplace laughed as he responded.

Yeon-woo was lost in thought. ‘The oldest of the goddesses is Urd. But why be wary of her?’ Yeon-woo became annoyed. He had been about to put his plans in action, but this message had made him pause. “Why did he ask you to deliver this to me?”

“I’m only a mere runner. I wouldn’t know what gods and demons think. Do you think they’d let me know?”

Yeon-woo thought Laplace was avoiding the question, but even with this warning, it was impossible for him to avoid going to the sixteenth floor. He couldn’t blindly trust some unknown demon. Demons were known for their slyness, and he didn’t like that they were trying to move him around like a pawn. He decided to ignore the warning. ‘I was expecting to make the Platform Three Goddesses mad anyway.’ It was clear to him that they would be leaving the temple in ruins trying to take the Saber God’s son, anyway.

“As I expected, you’re not going to listen. I hope you go your way. I’ve taken extra care of you, so nobody will bother you on the way to the sixteenth floor.” Laplace laughed and bowed as though he’d read Yeon-woo’s thoughts.

Yeon-woo moved past Laplace and was transported to the thirteenth floor, where a blinding light shone in his eyes.

***

[The 13th floor...]

[The trial has...]

....

After passing a few floors rapidly.

[This is the 16th floor, the gate of Life’s Spinning Wheel.]

Yeon-woo finally arrived at his destination. The starting zone was a clearing surrounded by an expansive forest. There were three paths out of the forest, and the mercenaries were taking a break. After so many searches for hidden pieces like the Jewel of Fire, they looked different from when they’d first started out. Yeon-woo flicked his Holy Fire at them and said, “Take out everything you’ve gathered.” His indifferent attitude didn’t even seem to acknowledge how hard they’d worked.

The mercenaries looked upset.

‘This is like...’

‘Extortion.’

‘He didn’t bring us along so he could turn us into panhandlers, did he? No way.’

The mercenaries didn’t realize that they were close to the truth, but in the end, they were in too much denial.

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