Chapter 17 - Black Route (6)

Yeon-woo looked down at his left palm. Clank! Clank! The serrated teeth clattered as though they were clamoring for food. Although the sword didn’t talk to him or communicate in any way, Yeon-woo could still feel its desire. 'So, this is the Vampiric Sword.’

Yeon-woo smiled coldly as he gazed into the dark abyss that lay below its teeth. 'Now that I have this…' Although he had gained an excellent skill, Yeon-woo didn’t feel any particular change in himself. He felt like he’d just added another skill to his list. However, he was feeling quite confident, and he gripped the Vampiric Sword even more tightly. The jaws closed and returned to its sword form, but Yeon-woo could still feel its thirst. 'Then, shall we fill you up?'

*   *   *

Bang! Bang! Bang! The ants were still banging at the gate, and Yeon-woo grabbed the handle and threw the doors open. Krik! An ant shrieked and put one foot inside. Yeon-woo jumped forward, activating Sense Strengthening and Combat Will at the same time. He had five minutes once more.

Krak!
 He swung his dagger, and the ant's legs snapped as though they were made of styrofoam. Yeon-woo jumped up, stepped on the ant, and leaped into the air. Below him, a swarm of ants screeched in rage, hoping to slaughter the criminal who had destroyed their den. Yeon-woo easily spotted the Ant Queen in their midst.

The Ant Queen also noticed Yeon-woo, and she spread her torn wings and expanded her body as much as possible. Although she had been blinded, it seemed she could track his movements through other senses. She charged at Yeon-woo fiercely on her remaining legs. Yeon-woo didn't try to avoid her, and instead, he landed directly on top of her head. His movements had gotten much quicker.

The Ant Queen clattered her mandibles as if ordering him to come down and swung her head around. Yeon-woo spread his left palm wide and placed it over the queen's head as he chanted a command: “Devour.”

The dark energy solidified under his left hand and revealed its fangs. Crunch! He sank the sword's teeth deep into the Ant Queen's head. The sword sucked up her bodily fluids at a frightening speed.

[You have absorbed vitality and energy.]

[‘Bathory’s Vampiric Sword’ skill proficiency has increased. 1.1%]

Krik! The Ant Queen cried out at the searing pain. Even when she had been engulfed in flames, blinded, or amputated, she’d never cried out so loudly. Yeon-woo clung to her head like a bull rider on a maddened bull, sinking his left hand further into her head to suck everything out of the Ant Queen. As the saw-toothed jaws clattered, huge amounts of blood and bodily fluids were sucked into his left arm. He also felt a different substance being sucked into his arm—the source of all magic power, mana. ‘The message said I would extract vitality and energy. Was it talking about this?' Yeon-woo felt something accumulating somewhere in his body.

[You have absorbed vitality and energy.]

[Your strength has increased by 1 point.]

[Your health has increased by 2 points.]
···

As the messages piled up at a rapid pace, the Ant Queen began to wither away. Her body dried up, and her exoskeleton crumbled like a sandcastle, turning pale from blood loss. Her struggles also grew weaker and soon ended. Once the skill stopped, her body, which looked as dry and dusty as a mummy’s, dropped to the floor. Thud!

The Ant Queen was dead.

Ding!

[You have slain the boss monster, the Blue Army Ant Queen. Additional karma will be provided.]

[You have acquired 300 karma.]

[The Blue Army Ants have been demoralized. The ant tunnel will soon collapse.]

Krik! After seeing their queen’s death, the ants screamed in disbelief and began to back away from Yeon-woo. They had lost the leader who had protected them and whom they had protected in turn, and now, they had to face her killer, who could clearly feed on them. Yeon-woo slowly stood and turned towards the army ants. His eyes glowed red.

[You have obtained a piece of Flame Heart and Frost Crest.]

[Current progress: 35.9%]

The progress percentage had abruptly doubled. Bathory’s Vampiric Sword had extracted everything from the Ant Queen, and he didn’t even have to eat white moss. It was a much more efficient method since he didn’t have to bother consuming the heart now that he could drain energy directly from monsters. Yeon-woo smiled. There were still a lot of monsters around with the pieces he needed. Each one of them was now an appetizing prey.

Holding his dagger in a reverse grip, he flung himself at the rest of the monsters.

[You have obtained a piece.]

[You have obtained a piece.]
···
[You have slain 311 additional Blue Army Ants.]

[You have destroyed the ant tunnel.]

[Additional karma will be provided.]

* * *

The Tutorial was a channel that funneled new challengers to the Tower. Naturally, various clans, rankers, and Guardians paid a lot of attention to the events inside, and there were a lot of machinations behind the scenes to snatch outstanding individuals for themselves.

Moreover, this particular round was particularly interesting because of a number of notable rookie participants. Two children of the Martial King of the One-horned tribe, a martial tribe known as the strongest combat species had joined, and there was also a swordsman of Marcusian descent. He came from a land surrounded by a barren desert and famous for exceptional mercenaries.

There was also a pair of rookies, Kahn and Doyle, who were more popularly known as the “dumbass duo”. They had barely taken part in the Tutorial but kept saying that they aimed to become the top rankers. Although it seemed like false bravado, they were children of top rankers and had also proven their excellence in the Tutorial, demonstrating that they didn’t need to rely on their parents’ fame. Other players had already given them nicknames: Blood Sword and Foxy Tail.

* * *

"Hmm? Was this place here before? I never noticed it. At the very least, he’s good enough to find a place like this. You sure he’s in here?"

"Ugh, that’s what I’ve been saying. If you don't believe me, why don’t you just head back?"

"Aw, who said I don’t? Why are you so salty?" Doyle answered Kahn, the young man with disheveled hair, with a yawn and looked to the side. Kahn grinned and put his arm around Doyle's shoulder. Doyle looked annoyed, but he still followed Kahn through the passage down the dungeon.

They had been chasing after Yeon-woo after they decided in the waiting room of Section B to follow him. Kahn lightly clucked his tongue as he moved around the dungeon. "Seems like someone has been hunting a heck of a lot of monsters."

From the entrance up to this point, Kahn and Doyle had only encountered carcasses that released a putrid stench in the dungeon. The monsters would have been formidable opponents even to confident players like them and did justice to the Black Route’s reputation. The two noticed that the player they were chasing had struggled at first. There were traces of a fierce battle scattered around.

They wondered how he could move with what should have been a terribly injured body, but as they walked deeper into the dungeon, they found that the results of the fierce battles were growing more lopsided. "This is amazing. How did he grow so strong so quickly?" The player had definitely gotten the upper hand. At this point, he had been hunting the monsters down instead of vice versa.

"The monsters here weren’t weaker than the ones before.”

"Yeah. It's funny to say this, but the traces here show that the monsters this deep inside the dungeon might have even been stronger.”

Kahn and Doyle had originally been following Yeon-woo for fun, but they were now growing serious. Kahn's playful attitude had turned somber. 

Doyle felt strange when he noticed the change in his brother’s attitude. He rarely saw his brother so serious, and he had an expression on his face that only appeared whenever he met a person he acknowledged was a true rival.  This meant that Yeon-woo was growing so rapidly that they could not dismiss him.

At some point, they found signs of monsters fleeing. As they ran away from the player, the monsters had left their territories and invaded other monsters’ territories, leading to skirmishes between them. A player who even terrorized monsters. Kahn and Doyle realized they could no longer treat the situation like a joke, especially after they came across a dead body that seemed to have been sucked dry.

Doyle turned around and looked at Kahn. "Hyung."

"Yeah, I know. This isn’t funny anymore." Kahn pressed his lips tightly and nodded gravely. "How on earth did he find this? When we made our search, we didn’t notice anything like this at all,” he muttered.

"Energy Drain." That was the generic term for a skill that stole an opponent’s health or mana. It was extremely rare to find an artifact or skill in the Tower with Energy Drain. They never expected that someone who was still in Section B of the Tutorial would possess such a unique ability.

"Could there have been a hidden piece here?" Kahn's eyes sparkled as he stroked his chin in contemplation. This was a player who had not only cleared Section A on his own, but he also found a rare artifact or skill from a hidden piece. Kahn was itching to team up with the player. It was rare to find someone with this much skill, and sooner or later, the word would get around in the Tutorial, and all the other clans would seek him out hungrily. He had to take measures before that happened.

Doyle looked into Kahn’s eye and nodded as if he had read his mind. As they prepared to continue searching for clues, they heard monsters scurrying away further down the passage. Krik! 

Kahn and Doyle moved quickly towards the origin of the noise.

* * *

Yeon-woo pierced the forehead of a brown salamander with his dagger and placed his left hand on its head. "Devour."

Crunch! His left hand was spread out as he thrust the serrated teeth onto the monster’s head. The sword began to suck up bodily fluids and vitality at a rapid pace. He had done this so many times that he had grown used to the feeling. Thanks to his increased proficiency, his extraction speed had boosted from when he’d killed the Ant Queen. At last, the moment Yeon-woo had been eagerly waiting for had come.

[You have slain the Brown-Scaled Salamander.]

[Number of monsters hunted: 1000]

[The maximum requirements for your quest have been fulfilled.]

[You have obtained a piece of Flame Heart and Frost Crest.]

[Current progress: 102.1%]

[All of the pieces have been collected.]

It didn’t take long for him to sweep through the ant tunnel and wipe out all of the remaining monsters. He had built up his attributes while killing the army ants, and he had become more efficient at gathering the pieces thanks to the Vampiric Sword. In the end, Yeon-woo managed to collect everything he needed in this dungeon. Crunch! Crackle!

[The completed Flame Heart and Frost Crest has begun to take place in your body. Your body is experiencing changes.]

Yeon-woo could sense a huge shift inside that was beyond anything he’d experienced from gathering small pieces. As his muscles tore apart, his body began to eliminate waste through his pores. His injured skin crumbled and peeled off. His joints softened up as something squeezed in between his bones. 

He was in a lot of pain, but adrenaline spread across his body like wildfire and an indescribable pleasure shot through him. Something began to swirl quickly and fiercely through his body.

It was mana.

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