[You have chosen the path to the temple of the past, Urd.]
Yeon-woo followed Hepburn along the path. Unlike Skuld’s temple, the way to Urd’s temple was uphill, and he couldn’t see any believers on their way there. However, since Urd’s temple managed the past, it didn’t get a lot of visitors anyway. Most rankers would rather alleviate their concerns about the present or the future at the other temples. Also, because of the incident with Skuld’s temple, the number of players visiting the sixteenth floor had drastically fallen.
Thanks to this, Yeon-woo’s journey to the temple was easy and unobstructed. When he arrived, he noticed that the temple was relatively humble in appearance, which seemed at odds with the fact that the Urd was the eldest of the three goddesses. It had a simple domed ceiling in contrast to Skuld’s lavish marble one.
“He is a guest that the goddess has invited. Open the doors.”
When the disciples in front of the temple saw Hepburn, they rushed to open the doors. As she passed, they saw the shadow scythe under her chin, but no one said a word. They didn’t even dare meet her eyes, as though it would be disrespectful of them. From the way they treated her, it was clear that an Apostle was a god’s avatar.
Yeon-woo followed Hepburn down a hallway and until they reached a four-meter-tall door. Just like the rest of the temple, it was undecorated except for a large golden wheel. However, Yeon-woo knew as soon as he laid eyes on the door that it was impossibly heavy and deep, and it gave off a sense of vastness and warmth. There was something mysterious and immensely strong hiding behind the door, and as if in agreement, the Black Bracelet and Vigrid rang slightly. He could also feel Aegis crying in the subspace. However, the power he sensed was not like the Martial King’s or the Summer Queen’s.
“You can feel it.” Hepburn looked at Yeon-woo with a mysterious expression.
Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes. “What are you saying?”
“Occasionally, we have visitors who can sense what’s behind the door. Most of you are either sensitive or have a sense of the holy. Or,” Hepburn’s golden eyes glowed calmly, “you have experience with godly energy.”
Yeon-woo didn’t understand Hepburn’s meaning. “What’s behind this?”
There was a god here? Gods couldn’t leave the ninety-eighth floor. The best the Three Norns could do was leave their consciousness on the sixteenth floor so that they wouldn’t be trapped on the ninety-eighth floor, but it was impossible for them to descend completely. And yet, Hepburn was saying that a god was waiting behind the door.
Yeon-woo’s were full of questions, but Hepburn only bowed politely and took a step back, as though indicating that Yeon-woo would find out more if he stepped inside. “From this point on, this is the god’s holy territory. I don’t have permission to enter, so I cannot accompany you.”
Holy territory was a limited area where a god could use their power, just as Yeon-woo had absolute power within his territory. At first, Yeon-woo hesitated, not liking the situation, but he stepped in front of the door. Even if he entered, the link he had with the Guai in Hepburn’s shadow wouldn’t be severed anyway. In fact, he was starting to think that this was a good idea. He was curious about the gods, and he figured he’d get a few answers if he met Urd. He opened the door. Creak!
Darkness surrounded him, and he couldn’t get his bearings at all, but he still continued to walk forward without any hesitation. Bang! The door shut, leaving him lost in the darkness. As he continued walking, he could feel the territory dissipating until something else took over. He saw a vast presence that seemed like it had no end. It had the strength that he’d sensed outside the door: deep and profound. He couldn’t tell what its limits were, and he suddenly felt as though he were just a small and helpless creature, like a firefly.
Outside, he’d already expected to encounter a strength that would be too immense to grasp, but faced with it now, his mind couldn’t even dream of recognizing its outline. ‘So, this is…a god.’ Yeon-woo mused, realizing how distant the god in front of him was.
He thought of Hermes, whom he had met at Olympus’s Treasury. He hadn’t been able to feel the god’s presence at all, and now he realized that Hermes had been considerate of Yeon-woo’s weakness. However, Urd didn’t feel the need to accommodate him. To a god, a human was a mere microbe. His existence was so insignificant that he was little more than a lost grain of sand from a sand castle that had been wiped out by waves or a firefly’s light against the sun. He felt that he could be blown completely away by a single breath. In fact, before that happened, his entire existence would be consumed. He felt as though he were in danger, like a candle flame about to be snuffed out.
Yeon-woo immediately activated his Magic Circuit to its maximum. He spun his 360 Cores and sent magic power to each of them, spreading his Fire Wings to wrap around his body for protection. He forced himself to focus so that he could continue feeling and not allow himself to just disappear. After blocking the external pressure with his magic power, he lifted his head.
Yeon-woo raised his mind power as much as he could and focused on one thing. He didn’t know exactly where the god was but it didn’t matter. This was holy territory, which meant that it contained the god’s consciousness. Wherever he looked or went, he would feel the god’s gaze. Suddenly, a firm voice pierced through Yeon-woo’s head. 『You’re quite a tenacious child. Well, I suppose you had to be to make such a mess of the youngest’s temple.』
At first, Yeon-woo thought she was laughing at him, but there was a cold tone to her voice. He grew more nervous, and added fire to his defense, his left hand drifting to the Black Bracelet to move the shadow scythe on Hepburn if something went wrong.
However, Urd saw through his actions. 『I don’t know why you’re so wary of me. I promised I wouldn’t hurt you, and I have no intention of doing so. Still, you don’t try to hide your sword from me.』
“I don’t know what you’re thinking.”
『You’re quite cautious for a successor of the ancient dragon’s power. Lizards are usually nothing without their pride. I don’t know how you managed to get such power.』
Yeon-woo couldn’t reply. She was talking about Kalatus’s power which he’d inherited from his brother. Urd lived up to her name as the goddess who observed the past. She’d seen all the paths he’d taken so far. He ignored her gaze and decided to be direct. “Why did you ask me to come?”
The trial of the sixteenth floor was very simple: to ask one of the goddesses a question through a priest. Once you received the goddess’s answer, it was done. However, these responses were crucial to a player’s future, so everyone was very careful how they went about the trial. Still, no one had ever met a goddess in person. Even his brother had immediately passed after hearing a few words from Verdandi’s priest. Yeon-woo naturally couldn’t help being suspicious that Urd had arrived herself.
『I suppose you want to leave as soon as possible.』 Yeon-woo didn’t reply, and Urd continued in a cynical voice, like it didn’t matter.『The answer is: just because.』
“Just because?” It was an unexpected answer, and Yeon-woo frowned. Urd’s laughter grew louder.
『Yes, just because. As you can see, there’s hardly any visitors here. Most people consider me worthless, after all. I was feeling bored, and I happened to hear that someone had made a huge commotion in the youngest’s temple. That piqued my interest.』
Yeon-woo didn’t speak.
『Even if we can’t move, a god is still a god. It’s not usual to come across a player who dares destroy a temple. Even those who hate us don’t try to make enemies of us. But you just kicked everything over. 』
Yeon-woo continued to stay silent.
『And so, I wanted to see you for myself, just once. I heard you hadn’t finished the trial of the sixteenth floor, so I thought you’d come back. And I made sure that I’d meet you. That’s all.』
[The trial has been finished.]
[You have succeeded in meeting the goddess Urd. You have made an achievement that is not easily accomplished. Additional karma will be provided.]
[You have acquired 5,000 karma.]
[You have acquired 3,000 karma.]
[The acquired karma is being added to your total karma.]
[Will you register your name in the Hall of Fame?]
Yeon-woo’s eyes widened at the unexpected messages. He still didn’t know what Urd was thinking.
『I’ve seen many humans come here because they regretted something about their past. They were all the same.』 The people who visited Urd were those who couldn’t escape the past, and therefore, they couldn’t live in the present and continue into the future. 『They only wanted one thing: to escape the past. They asked me how they could find the future and find their lives.』
The present was created from layers of the past, and each path of the present combined to make the future. The present and the future justified life, and life was hope.
『But you’re very different. So very different.』
Yeon-woo had a feeling that Urd was smiling, and he began to have an idea why Urd had summoned him.
『You have no regrets. And yet, at the same time, you are swimming towards the deep past, blaming yourself endlessly. In the end, there is no “you”, just your dead brother.』
Yeon-woo was speechless.
『So, that makes me wonder. Can you do this to yourself? Your brother’s eyes closed forever in sorrow, and so you won’t lead a happy life because of your guilt. You only push yourself forward into despair and make yourself suffer.』
Veins popped out on his clenched fist.
『You suspect your brother was betrayed by his most trusted friends, and you wonder if you can trust anyone around you.』
Yeon-woo couldn’t refute anything.
『These people seem different from the ones that surrounded your brother, but then, your brother thought he could trust them forever. Betrayal can come at any moment. And so, you stay wary. Isn’t that so?』
Yeon-woo gritted his teeth.
『Suspicions build on top of suspicions.』
Urd’s voice grew louder until Yeon-woo’s head was ringing.
『Doubt builds on top of doubt.』
The darkness around Yeon-woo began to shift and batter at his emotions like waves. It felt like the insanity of being trapped by the past.
『Those around you might turn their backs on you at any time. If it suits them or if you no longer suit their goals, they can cut your throat. So you hurt them before you get hurt. Move before they move. Chew them up and rip them apart. You won’t be hurt. You won’t be in pain.』
Yeon-woo brought his fire up as much as he could so that he wouldn’t be swept away by the waves. Just by sensing them, he felt like he would disappear.
『You might be wondering why you have to do that. Isn’t it obvious?』
However, there was something about Urd’s seeming craziness that was familiar.
『Don’t say you don’t know. Don’t avoid this.』
Urd knew Yeon-woo’s mind inside out, and she picked a place from his memory: Africa.
『Isn’t that how you’ve always lived? It’s always been like that for you even when blood and fire spread, even in a hellish battlefield. This place isn’t too different for you. However, you’re only forcing it down.』
An event from the past flashed before his eyes as Urd brought up a memory that he had hidden away. He wanted to push it away, but the images wouldn’t stop. He was moving through a mountainside, hungry and thirsty. He was exhausted from a long battle. Bullets had pierced his sides, and his comrades had disappeared when he’d lost consciousness. But he had to survive, and he kept trudging forward, full of anger at the comrades who’d left him behind.
He’d trusted them, and the hate that now filled his heart kept him moving. He found them as he made his way back. He killed and killed again. That was probably when it had been born, that creature always moving in Yeon-woo’s mind—a monster that whispered to him like a demon.
『Just pull it out.』
Yeon-woo snapped awake from his memories, feeling as though he’d just had a nightmare. Urd was trying to tie him to his past, but he suddenly saw her past the darkness, her teeth gleaming as she smiled.
『The monster inside you.』
She had the same appearance as the damned bastard inside his heart.Previous Chapter Next Chapter