They hadn’t even shown a single hair on their heads as the god and the demon battled. Instead, they only appeared once things looked like they were ending. They weren’t just low-ranked Guardians, either. Yvlke and Lupi were there, and Yeon-woo also recognized the other four from the diary. They were part of the Twelve Zodiacs who were the elite among the Guardians. Yvlke shook his head at the wasteland of light and darkness before him. “Really. It can’t get worse than this. We’ll only be scolded by our bosses.”
The Guardians all sighed. A few of them crossed their arms and cursed. Since it was their job to maintain the stages, events like this broke their backs. They couldn’t even begin to estimate how many players had died.
However, Yvlke smiled widely, his teeth bared. Even though he said that it was a nuisance, he seemed amused. “Restore.” He adjusted his monocle and shouted the command. It was a system call for only the most elite Guardians.
Like a tape being rewound, the forest quickly restored itself. The dust and ash that had spread all over the stage returned to their proper locations. The colors of the stage returned to their usual reds and browns, and the trees stood upright once more. Even their fruits were regrowing.
The restoration of the stage with back-up data fascinated Yeon-woo. It was like the power of a god. However, there was a limit to this—a stage could be restored, but not the lives or health of the players involved. How many had died? How many clans had been damaged? The Guardians all rubbed their temples and began to restore the location where Agares’ manifestation had been.
Yvlke slowly approached Yeon-woo and put his cute hand on his head. Yeon-woo was on the brink of death after forcing the Demonic Factors to their limits. They spread in his body like poison.
The Demonic Dragon drew its power from the balance between the two Factors, but if the balance had even the slightest change, it spelled serious danger. As Yeon-woo’s Demonic Factors declined, his body was damaged, and his power quickly disappeared. His body reverted to that of an ordinary human. The only positive thing was that Yeon-woo’s consciousness and physical body had been separated as much as possible with Time Difference.
If he hadn’t managed that, his body would have already been melted by the Devil Poison. However, as his consciousness became messed up, his condition was becoming critical. He struggled to control the Demonic Factors eating him up. He’d taken a tiny amount from Agares, but it was still equivalent to the power of a low-level demon.
It was enough to complete the Philosopher’s Stone, but Yeon-woo didn’t even care. He only wanted to gather it all in one place to treat Sesha. However, he could only manage that if his condition was normal. With his stamina drained at the moment, it was impossible.
Yvlke understood Yeon-woo’s condition right away and shook his head, thinking thatYeon-woo really was something. “Ohyohyohyohyo. You’re the second person to trouble me like this ever since the Tower was created. Shall we calculate the rewards first?”
[All trials have ended.]
[Beginning calculation of karma.]
[Karma is being added.]
[You have made an achievement that is not easily accomplished. Will you register your name in the Hall of Fame?]
[You have refused to register your name.]
[Your record has been deeply engraved in the Tower. You can register your name whenever you wish.]
The messages that appeared every time Yeon-woo cleared a stage quickly flew up, and his total karma, along with the amount he had earned on the twenty-third floor popped up. Yvlke’s eyes widened in astonishment. He knew that Yeon-woo hadn’t used his karma since the eleventh floor, but it was still an astronomical number that a player on the lower floor should not be able to achieve.
A corner of Yvlke’s lips rose. At least it was enough for Yeon-woo’s reward. “It’s a bit of a shame it’s being used like this, but it won’t be bad for you either.” Depending on the situation, the Guardians had the ability to force a reward on a player. It didn’t happen often since it could be considered overstepping their boundaries, but Yvlke didn’t care.
Chrrk! The total number of karma began to decrease at a quick pace, and Yvlke’s hand, which was still on Yeon-woo’s head, began to glow as it sent a light into him. The Demonic Factors that were about to swallow Yeon-woo any moment suddenly settled down. The Draconic Factors came back to life again and the balance was repaired.
As the black dragon scales regained their original color, they sparkled like blue sapphires. Yeon-woo’s injuries were healed, and his skin even grew clean. Only the bloodstains around his mouth were evidence that he’d been hurt by Devil Poison.
“Haa!” Yeon-woo gasped as he came to his senses. Something dark left his mouth and scattered into the air. He’d regained his powers and strength, but his mind hadn’t yet completely healed, and he was tired.
“Drink this too.” Yvlke tossed the object that used up Yeon-woo’s karma to him. It was a palm-sized crystal bottle. A clear blue liquid sloshed inside it.
Yeon-woo gulped it down without any hesitation. A refreshing feeling spread through his entire body, removing his fatigue.
“That’s an elixir called Nectar. It’s something that the most elite Guardians can’t get easily, and you actually didn’t even have enough karma to get it. Well, we can just say we covered the rest of the karma for you as a freebie. Ohyohyohyo.”
It was only then that Yeon-woo could catch his breath. He checked the bump on his solar plexus.
[Agares’ Devil Core]
[Rank: S~??? (Unable to be determined)]
[Description: The form of the Grand Demon Duke Agares’ vestige (Demonic Factors). It hasn’t been made sturdily so it can grow loose at any time.]
Yvlke had turned the Demonic Factors into a jewel with the karma that Yeon-woo had. This was ordinarily impossible, but since Yeon-woo’s karma was astronomically high, Yvlke had exercised his authority as one of the top Guardians.
It was more than what Yeon-woo would have gotten from a demon, and it would be easy treating Sesha with it.
Yeon-woo was happy, but he frowned at how sloppily the Devil Core had been created. He wouldn’t be able to remove it from his body like that. He looked at Yvlke, but Yvlke just firmly shook his head.
“I can’t do more than this. Even this counts as meddling too much, since you didn’t have enough karma. And don’t you remember that a reward can’t be shared with other people?”
Yeon-woo’s head spun as he began to consider different options. Someone quietly landed from the red sky. It was Hermes. Yvlke bowed politely, although he looked more annoyed than respectful.
Hermes smirked like he was used to it. As he approached, Yeon-woo realized that he’d dampened his presence once more. “I know what you’re thinking. But don’t rush into things. You might end up losing what’s important. You’re not that kind of person, right?”
Hermes stroked Yeon-woo’s face gently. Yeon-woo wanted to ask what he was doing, but as his eyes suddenly closed and he fell forward. His mind hadn’t been able to bear anything because of his fatigue. A white light formed around Yeon-woo and its warm energy faded into him.
Hermes’ eyes widened to see someone beating him to doing the same thing. He smiled and looked up at the sky. Athena had always looked at Yeon-woo with warm eyes. He didn’t have to wonder what kind of expression was on her face.
“Ohyohyohyo. Are you leaving?” Yvlke asked Hermes a question. His smile looked creepy, but he was in a good mood. Hermes turned to look at Yvlke and nodded. He said a few words before returning to his boa constrictors. “Since I don’t have time, I’ll leave the rest to you.”
“Ohyohyohyo. There are so many eyes watching. Of course I’ll do a good job.”
Hermes returned to the sky with his boa constrictors, and the iron door shut behind him with a loud boom. And just like that, the last great being on the twenty-third floor disappeared.
Yvlke watched silently before turning to Yeon-woo. “All right. Shall we finish up?”
How much time had passed? Yeon-woo slowly opened his heavy eyelids. His blurred vision grew clear, and he saw Edora wiping his forehead with a wet towel. Their eyes met, and her eyes widened briefly before she smiled. “Are you up?”
For a moment, Yeon-woo didn’t understand what was going on. The Guardians had appeared, and Yvlke had helped him settle the Demonic Factors. Hermes had approached him and then he fell asleep.
But as he thought it over, he could guess what had happened. Phante and Edora had found shelter somewhere and returned to rescue him. Then what happened to everyone else? Sesha? Brahm? Galliard? Even the other Guardians?
He couldn’t ask everything at once, so he asked the simplest question first. “Where are we?”
“The twenty-fourth floor.”
It was completely unexpected to him. Edora nodded. “Yes. The air in the forest was too heavy, so we brought you here right away. This is a lodge in the start zone.” The twenty-fourth floor was nothing like the one before, and it was famous for its landscape. It was the perfect place to recover.
“What happened to everyone else?”
“That’s…” Edora hesitated.
Yeon-woo felt anxiety flash through him. He tried to sit up, but dizziness pushed him back.
“Oraboni!” Edora quickly supported Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo was about to raise his hand to stop her, but he touched his face instead. His mask wasn’t on. Yeon-woo looked at Edora with a stiff expression, but she just carefully gave him the mask as though it were no big deal. However, Yeon-woo couldn’t accept the mask easily. Thoughts filled his head.
“You…” He’d shown Sesha his face was because they were family. However, Phante and Edora were different. He treated them like his siblings, but showing his face was a different matter. His brother had thought of the Arthia members as his family as well. He had loved them too, and in the end, they had fallen from their own greed and selfishness.
There was no guarantee that these two wouldn’t betray him as well. He trusted them, but that was the reason why he had to keep his guard up all the time. The moment he took off his mask, he would be giving everything to them. He didn’t want to risk it. It could be a weakness that would hurt him in the future.
Yeon-woo thought coldly to himself for a moment. How many people had seen? Two? Or had everyone seen his face when he was brought to the twenty-fourth floor? No, Edora wouldn’t have been so careless. It was probably just the two siblings.
If that were the case, what should he do about them? Did he have to shut them up? Perhaps they didn’t know the significance of his face, but his brother had been so famous that it wasn’t too likely. No. Even if they didn’t know anything about him, he didn’t want to leave any loose ends. His thoughts grew complicated, and it was impossible to hide them from Edora’s Insight.
However, she only approached him slowly and then pulled him into her arms. Although he had the strength to resist, for some reason, he didn’t. He lay in her embrace, the warm scent of her skin wafting to his nose.
Edora stroked Yeon-woo’s head gently as though she understood everything. It seemed as though she were comforting and reassuring him. Yeon-woo closed his eyes. The thoughts in his head disappeared, and he didn’t want to think. He stayed like that for a long time. It was so very warm inside Edora’s arms.Previous Chapter Next Chapter