Chapter 21 - Deal (2)

Shuck! Shuck!

“What are you gonna do with all of that?” Kahn asked Yeon-woo with a disgusted expression. Yeon-woo stopped skinning the Troll and looked up at Kahn. "Didn't I tell you? The blood is an ingredient for potions…”

"No, I wasn’t asking about that."

"Then what?"

"Well, what’s the point of keeping the materials? You must have gathered a lot of karma by now. And you’re not stopping, right? Why can’t you just buy items with your karma?"

Once players entered the Tower, karma points could be used as currency. If they wanted an item or an artifact, they could use karma to purchase whatever they needed. Therefore, players didn’t bother to take scrap materials from the monster carcasses. Even if they really needed materials, they preferred to hire other players or buy them with points. 

Of course, rare materials from monsters like an Elder Dragon were a different story. Even so, those items were for giant clans or special raiding teams to deal with. However, Kahn noticed that even though they were speedrunning through the sections, Yeon-woo never hesitated to gather materials from corpses. Whenever he found intact carcasses he would pause to harvest them. 

His harvesting process was also very meticulous. Whenever he filled a bottle with blood, he did his best not to mix the blood with foreign substances. He also wrapped important materials in leather and stored them separately. As a result, Yeon-woo's backpack was so full that it looked like a balloon that was about to burst. 

"I have plans for these materials."

“If you say so." Kahn no longer tried to understand Yeon-woo. Although his actions seemed meaningless, Kahn realized that Yeon-woo had planned everything. Besides, knowing that individualism was a major element of the Tower, he couldn’t meddle in Yeon-woo’s business. However, he was too nosy to endure his growing curiosity, so he asked one last question. "By the way, is there anyone who can handle so many ingredients all at once? Don't get caught up in a scam and end up crying like a baby."

After packing up the ingredients, Yeon-woo hoisted the backpack on his shoulders. He had patched all the holes he’d collected from the previous section with bits of leather, and the backpack now had a very peculiar appearance. "I do know a blacksmith." 

"Oh. He must be good then?" 

"We’ll see." Yeon-woo shrugged and walked past Kahn. He didn’t want to talk anymore. 

Kahn only smacked his lips together. 'Gosh, what a jerk.' Ever since he teamed up with Yeon-woo, Kahn’s strongest impression of him was that he played his cards close to his chest. As far as Kahn knew, most people tended to share their stories after spending time together. However, Yeon-woo never brought up anything about his past. He only said what was necessary. 

Sometimes, his impassive expression underneath the white mask gave Kahn chills along his spine. Of course, in the dog-eat-dog world of the Tutorial and the Tower, this kind of personality wasn't necessarily a bad thing. He knew Yeon-woo was trying not to reveal his weaknesses. Also, his friendliness might have looked suspicious to Yeon-woo, since they were barely acquainted with each other. But still, he had a feeling that Yeon-woo was deliberately building a wall around himself.

Kahn prided himself on being highly sociable and profoundly empathetic, and so he had a strong sense of Yeon-woo’s distance. ‘But there are not many players with that much skill. As much as possible, I'd like to keep him close.’ Kahn stroked his chin. If he had to describe Yeon-woo with one word, he would pick “reliable”. Although he never talked about himself, he also never interfered with other people's affairs. And at the same time, he performed his tasks without any complaint. He even showed excellent ability by clearing two sections nonstop. 

Kahn wanted Yeon-woo badly because he had big plans. He didn’t want him just for the raid but for the entire journey through the Tower. But he felt like Yeon-woo wasn’t allowing him to get closer. 'Maybe it’s his mask.' 

By the time Kahn finished thinking, Yeon-woo had already opened the iron gate leading outside Section D. Rumble! The gate was thicker and heavier than all the previous gates, and he felt the whole cave quaking. A stream of warm, bright sunshine suddenly poured inside the dim cave, and he saw the blue sky. 

[You have successfully cleared Section D as a solo player.] 

[You have made an achievement that is not easily accomplished. Additional karma will be provided.]

[You have acquired 3,000 karma.] 

[You have acquired 2,000 additional karma.] 

[Your health and mana will be restored.]

[All statuses will be removed.]

[You have entered Section E.] 

[You have successfully reached the Outer Area. Additional karma will be provided.] 

[You have acquired 1,000 additional karma.] 

Yeon-woo swept his hair back with his hands. A crisp breeze blew towards him, and he felt extremely refreshed. "Ugh! It was getting stuffy in there!" 

"I'm a little sad to leave. It was the perfect place for a nap." Kahn stretched, and Doyle rubbed his sleepy eyes. 

The Tutorial was separated into two areas: the Inner Area and the Outer Area. The Inner Area referred to the region of Section A to Section D, which were designed to help new players understand their skill level and train for what they lacked. The Outer Area referred to Sections E to G, which tested the skills that players had picked up in the Inner Area. It was the area that assessed their qualifications. It was common for players to get stressed in the Inner Area because the challenges were always in narrow caves and passageways with bad lighting and poor ventilation. However, there was nothing like that in the Outer Area. 

Seeing the outside world after such a long time made Yeon-woo feel the stuffiness fading away, but he couldn't relax because he knew that the Outer Area was even more dangerous than the Inner Area. "Until Section D, all the spaces were walled in, I only had to be cautious within a certain range. There's nothing like that from Section E onwards.” 

Being in an open area also meant exposing himself to the enemy. Different messages started popping up while Yeon-woo was focused on his thoughts. 

[The challenge of Section E will begin.] 

A light flashed on his palm, and a small bead about the size of half a finger appeared where the light had just flashed. 

[You have been given one Token. Multiple Tokens are hidden throughout Section E, they can also be transferred or traded between players. Collect 99 Tokens to ascertain your qualifications.]

Yeon-woo fidgeted with the bead-shaped Token. Next to him, Kahn watched with a nauseated expression. "It pisses me off whenever I see that." 

Yeon-woo looked at the Token quietly.

Section E was more of a death match. There were Tokens hidden all over the section, but it was much easier to rob someone than to collect it for yourself, so players in Section E often got paranoid. They didn’t know when they would get hit by something unexpected, and they also didn’t know if the teammates they had just been laughing with would suddenly stab them in the back.

What’s more disgusting is that...

Yeon-woo focused on the fact that the Token could be transferred or traded between players. That meant it was possible to threaten or even kill others to take their Tokens. It was a difficult task to find Tokens in Section E, and it was as plain as day that players would rather ambush other players to rob them of their Tokens. His brother had a hard time dealing with this situation, but what distinguished Arthia from the other teams was that they managed to pass Section E by collecting hidden Tokens without resorting to betrayal. 'Those Hyenas will surely come for me.'

Section E was infested with scavengers called Hyenas who used the forest as camouflage. He had to watch out for them. Yeon-woo suddenly recalled the nefarious team he had seen in the diary who captured players and used them to farm Tokens. 

His brother and Arthia had stepped up and wreaked havoc on their team, but it was possible that the survivors or perhaps copycats were still around. Yeon-woo shook his head at the idea. Unlike his righteous and altruistic brother, he was a completely self-centered person. Even if he witnessed such crimes, he would most likely ignore it. His hands were already full, and he had to stay out of trouble. Yeon-woo glanced towards the two players standing next to him.

To his relief, Kahn and Doyle stared at Yeon-woo's Token without any interest. It seemed that they had already collected quite a lot of Tokens before going back to Section B. ‘Or they might have already collected all ninety-nine Tokens.’ Yeon-woo put his Token in his mouth and swallowed it. 

Kahn and Doyle looked at him with a newfound interest. Swallowing the Token meant Yeon-woo would not yield to other players until death, and they realized Yeon-woo's determination. 

"I’m done reading messages, so let's get moving. You said you’re looking for a hidden piece in Section E, correct? Let’s get it done now. I have to find Tokens afterward." 

Kahn nodded. "Yeah, but it’s quite a distance from here. It’s gonna take us a while to get there." 

"Then we’ll gather Tokens along the way." 

"Fine by me." Kahn took the lead and set off, followed by Yeon-woo and Doyle. 

*   *   *

Section E was much larger and wider than all of the preceding sections combined. Each area in the section had its own unique geographic features and ecosystem. Small hills spread out to the south, a vast forest covered the northern region, and a muddy swamp lay at its tip. Black, rocky mountains lined up behind a barren desert in the east, and a river flowing through a prairie stretched westward. 

Each area was inhabited by a wide variety of monsters. Small monsters like Goblins and Kobolds formed villages around the forest, and larger monsters such as Trolls and Ogres lived deep in the forest. Lizardmen, Sandworms, and settlements of Orcs appeared in the northern swamp, eastern desert, and western prairie. 

The challenge was to collect Tokens while dealing with the monsters. Players also had to guard their Tokens from other players, who might be even more dangerous than the monsters.  

Yeon-woo’s team headed towards the swamp in the north.


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