Chapter 25 - Deal (6)

Yeon-woo's expression darkened as he recalled the traces he had found earlier at the entrance. This was the fate of those captured players: caged livestock. Although his expression was obscured by his mask, he was seething with anger. 

The hidden piece Hargan's Lair is the lair of the Lizard King Hargan and Queen Taragan. It’s their home. At this point in time, they were keeping watch to protect their newborns, and they often captured players to feed to their babies. 

The body parts scattered on the ground were pieces left over from feeding their children. The area was like a pantry where they stored and prepared food. ‘Whether it’s on Earth or here, at the end of the day, it’s all the same.' He had seen similar sights while serving in the military. The weak were always exploited—kids brainwashed to kill, old people forced to become suicide bombers, women taken as sex slaves. He had witnessed all of these and more. 

The only difference here was that the victims weren’t enslaved but used as food, and the perpetrators were Lizardmen. But its essence was the same; perhaps this was just a part of the Lizardmen’s customs. 

'Is there any difference between how people treat pigs and cows and the way the Lizardmen treat people?’ The captives were yelling for help, but from a different perspective, they were just like cows weeping as they were dragged into a slaughterhouse. Yeon-woo calmly assessed the situation. 'If we waste time rescuing them, we won’t have enough time to take the crown from the female.’ 

More importantly, the players here had brought trouble onto their own heads. The strong survived and the weak perished. This was common sense in the Tower. These people hadn’t been aware of their limits and participated in the trials, hoping to become gods. They had been full of thoughtless bravado. “The queen might show up at any time. I’ll look for her so you should hide." 

But when Yeon-woo glanced at Doyle, he realized that Doyle was standing rooted to the spot. Yeon-woo turned around, expecting the worst. As far as he was concerned, Doyle had always been reasonable and knew how to restrain himself, except for that one time when he saw the traces of players being attacked. And sure enough, his expression was now stiff, and his clenched fists were quivering with anger. 

"Don't you...get angry?" His tear-filled eyes focused on Yeon-woo. 

"Angry?" 

"Yes, angry. How can you be so calm after seeing this?" 

Yeon-woo was a little disappointed. Doyle was just a kid after all. "I’m also human. You’re not human if you don’t get mad at this.”   

"Then why are you…!” 

"If we save them, Kahn will be in danger." 

Doyle was speechless from shock. 

Yeon-woo turned on his heel. "Don't forget. Kahn is fighting with Hargan at this very moment. He can't deal with Hargan alone. The longer we stay here, the more dangerous it will be for him." 

Doyle didn’t speak. 

"Pull yourself together and think about your priorities. If you want to abandon our plan, I’m out of here. You two can die for all I care."

Doyle bit his lower lip. His eyes trembled from his inner conflict. Yeon-woo squinted at Doyle. Doyle’s agonized expression reminded him of his comrades back in the military. 'Does he have trauma? It must be PTSD.' 

Post-traumatic stress disorder was a mental problem that occurred after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event—something from Doyle’s past was triggering him. Yeon-woo didn’t know what Doyle had been through but he could tell that his reactions were from PTSD. 

After a short silence, Doyle slapped himself on each side of his face. Slap! He left red handprints on his fair skin. His furious eyes were now filled with determination, as if he had made a resolution about something. Doyle soon looked up at Yeon-woo and apologized. "I'm sorry. I was being thoughtless." 

Yeon-woo understood that Doyle had managed to suppress his trauma and prioritize Kahn. Perhaps this would have a good impact on him and broaden his perspective in the future. "Let's get back to work. Kahn is still waiting for us outside." 

Just as Doyle was about to move on, Yeon-woo had a great idea. ‘Wait a second.’ Hargan had put together this human farm to feed his children. They could use that to their advantage. "Hang on." 

"What's wrong?" 

"I've just come up with a good idea. Can I modify our plan a little bit? If it goes well, we can also save the people here." 

Doyle’s eyes widened. Even though Kahn was his top priority, part of him was still holding onto hope. He was surprised to hear Yeon-woo talk about a plan to save everyone. Doyle’s eyes glistened with curiosity. 

"I need you to summon the flamebugs you showed me last night." Under the mask Yeon-woo laughed coldly. 

*    *    * 

Queen Taragan unleashed her boiling anger. "Humans! How dare humans enter my lair?" She swung her club and crushed the head of the Lizardman in front of her, killing the royal guard who had only come to report the news. The other guards didn’t try to stop Taragan. Even Hargan couldn’t do anything when she became hysterical. In times like this, they knew they had to leave her alone to avoid further injury. 

"My babies! They must have come after my babies!" Taragan had laid fourteen eggs. Three hadn’t hatched, another three were eaten by other monsters, and three more suffered an unknown illness and eventually met their deaths. For this reason, the five surviving hatchlings were precious to their parents. The lair had to be kept safe from any threat no matter the cost, but now guards were telling her that humans had entered the lair not as food but as armed intruders. Taragan stood with the bloody club still in her hand. "You! You! You! Protect my babies! Even if you die, protect my babies!" 

Her obsession with her hatchlings made her believe that the humans would go after them. If so, as a creature stronger than her husband, she had to fend off the intruders. The guards also knew about her obsession, and they yielded to her demands. They knew that if her babies suffered the smallest injury, she would crush their heads next. 

Boom! Boom! The floor shook violently each time her three-meter-tall body moved. Just then, a masked figure with blazing eyes suddenly appeared in front of Taragan—it was Yeon-woo, holding a leather pouch in his right hand. 

"Human! I will kill you!" Taragan roared at the human who dared to show himself. Her ferocious roar rang throughout the entire lair. 

However, Yeon-woo only replied to her with a smile. "Hey, Lizard Queen." 

"What!" 

"Do you like fireworks?" 

"What are you…!" Just as she was about to stomp out Yeon-woo and his nonsense, Yeon-woo threw the leather pouch into the room where the hatchlings were. Taragan sensed danger and quickly swung her club at the pouch, making it burst in midair. With a pop, red powder scattered out and spread like fog, obscuring Taragan’s vision. It was the powder he’d made from the monsters he had hunted in the Room of Frost and Flames. 

"Doyle!" At Yeon-woo’s signal, Doyle, who was hiding in a corner, quickly sent the flamebugs towards the powder. A huge explosion engulfed Taragan. Boom! Yeon-woo and Doyle quickly ran into the room. 

"Arrgh! You vermin!" Taragan turned towards the room as she forced her way through the fire. 

One of her eyes had been destroyed and her burned skin was festering. She had serious injuries on the upper half of her body, but she couldn’t just stand there crying in pain. Humans were after her babies and she had to protect them. But as soon as she rushed into the room, Yeon-woo and Doyle had already eliminated the guards, and they were each holding a hatchling. 

Yeon-woo raised the one he was holding to give her a better view of what was going to happen. With a cold smile, he sliced its throat with his dagger. Spurt! 

"Graah! Human! How dare you!” Madness consumed Taragan’s mind, and she charged towards Yeon-woo like a bull. The only thought she had was to tear Yeon-woo into pieces. Rumble!

"If you treat humans as livestock…” Yeon-woo grabbed the rest of the hatchlings and started to back off, shoving his dagger into the neck of one of the struggling babies. A terrible scream echoed throughout the lair. "You should have been aware that the same thing could happen to you too, right?" 

"Let go! Human!" Yeon-woo’s words never reached Taragan’s ear. Her eyes were only fixed on her dying babies as she chased after Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo threw the dead baby casually to the ground. When Taragan jumped forward to catch her baby, she triggered one of the booby traps they had installed after entering the room. Boom! There was a massive explosion that was even more powerful than the previous one. 

Then the explosion triggered another trap, then another one, producing a chain of explosions. The ground quaked and trees burned as the whole room was engulfed by fire. Taragan suffered terrible pain inside the inferno. "Aargh! Human! Human!" 

If Taragan hadn’t lost her mind, she would have noticed the booby traps since parts of them hadn’t been camouflaged properly. Yeon-woo and Doyle had been in too much of a rush. However, Yeon-woo used Taragan’s obsession with her babies to his advantage, knowing that no mother would stay sane after witnessing her children’s deaths. Taragan could only helplessly fall into his traps. 

"No! My babies! My little babies!" Taragan somehow survived the explosions. Even though she had burns all over her body, she was still anxiously looking for her hatchlings, who were still in Yeon-woo’s and Doyle’s hands. 

As they retreated, they killed her babies one after the other, luring her into every single trap they had installed. By the time the last one died, Taragan was caught in the last remaining booby trap and she collapsed to the floor. Boom! Yeon-woo pushed his dagger deep into Taragan’s throat and put an end to her life. "Between humans and monsters, it’s only kill or be killed." 

[You have slain the boss monster, Taragan, the Lizardman Queen. Additional karma will be provided.] 

[You have acquired 500 karma.] 

[The Lizardmen have been demoralized. Monsters in Hargan’s Lair enter a panicked state.] 

A flood of messages popped up, and Yeon-woo was suddenly overcome with fatigue. ‘That was the last bit of powder I had left from the Room of Frost and Flame.’ 

Although the booby traps did all the work, it hadn't been easy to lure her while keeping a proper distance. A single mistake or Taragan coming to her senses would have spoiled their plan completely. 'It would have been impossible if Doyle hadn’t ignited the flamebugs at the exact right time.’ Considering he had come up with the plan at the spur of the moment, everything had worked out perfectly. 

"Hyung!" Doyle came running towards Yeon-woo. He looked like he couldn’t believe they had just killed Taragan. Compared to when he had tried to raid the dungeon with Kahn, this time was an unbelievable success. He never would have thought that using a simple material from a dungeon that he had found by luck could bring such an amazing result.

Doyle looked at Yeon-woo with respect, admiring his ability to make decisions during combat and to come up with an impromptu plan and execute it. Yeon-woo didn’t care about Doyle’s expression and pointed at the dead body with his chin. "Go take the crown first. We have to hurry and join Kahn outside." 

Doyle answered with a nod and approached Taragan’s corpse. Although she had been burned to death, she was still holding her babies’ corpses to her bosom. It was a tear-jerking display of maternal love, but Doyle's expression was icy. Just as Yeon-woo said, humans and monsters had to kill each other. He had been painfully reminded that the Tower was a place where the weak were eaten by the strong. 

Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes as he watched Doyle take the crown from Taragan’s head. 'I'll have to come back after we’re done with this mission.' Taragan’s body had strong vitality even after her death. Although it couldn’t be compared to extracting life energy from the living, Bathory’s Vampiric Sword could still drain a corpse which had some energy left in their body. If Yeon-woo could absorb her energy, it would greatly improve his attribute points. 'I might be able to take her skill too.' 

As Yeon-woo looked at Taragan’s body with a serious expression, Doyle took the crown and held it tight in his hands. His fists trembled with excitement. 

Yeon-woo turned to the direction where Kahn was likely to be. If the three of them worked together, they might even be able to take down Hargan. Yeon-woo was thinking of looting Hargan’s body and also earning more karma points. 

*    *    * 

Suddenly, Hargan popped around the corner of the passage with loud, thudding footsteps. "Graah! Taragan! Taragan!" His face was twisted, as if he were expecting the worst from the sound of the explosions. Kahn ran into the room right after him. 

Yeon-woo could tell that Kahn had just had a fierce battle just from his exhausted appearance. But Kahn quickly understood what had happened when he saw the traces of explosions. He smiled to acknowledge a successful job and held tightly onto his sword once again, reinvigorated. He plucked up his courage and dashed towards Hargan. As if they had planned it from the beginning, Yeon-woo and Doyle also moved at the same time. There were three of them, and even though they were a bit tired and didn’t have any booby traps left, they could still fight Hargan. 

However, just as the three were about to reach Hargan, who was preoccupied with Taragan’s death, Yeon-woo noticed something strange. His senses suddenly began to warn him that the monster in front of him was dangerous. He suddenly remembered something from the diary. 

Hargan was much smaller and weaker than Taragan. But he became the leader of the Lizardman due to his unique skill. It was called Heat Wave. 

His brother and his team, Arthia, had suffered a lot of hardship during their raid due to Heat Wave. Streams of hot air emanated from Hargan’s scimitar and hovered around his body. He was about to cast Heat Wave. 

"Get away from him!" Yeon-woo quickly made a turn as he ran. Kahn and Doyle, also sensing danger, turned at right angles and ran as far as they could. Hargan struck the ground hard with his scimitar. 

Clang! The ground around Hargan collapsed with an explosion, flames shooting up from the ground at random times. The sea of flame quickly engulfed the entire lair, destroying everything that had been left behind by the initial blast.

“Shit!” Yeon-woo quickly covered his face with his arms, but he was still pushed back by a gust of wind. The place was filled with so much heat, even his strengthened senses couldn’t find anything. He didn’t even know where Kahn and Doyle were. Even after the heat had diminished, Yeon-woo could still barely see anything through the gap between his arms. “What's going on?” 

The lair had completely collapsed. The world was full of red flames and black smoke. The sheer force of destruction was testament to the power that had given the Lizard King his title. If he’d been one step too slow, he would’ve been caught up in the explosion and turned to ashes by now. All of a sudden, Yeon-woo witnessed a shocking scene. 

"Taragan! I will get revenge! For you and our children!” Hargan held Taragan and his babies in his arms, crying out to the sky. Chomp! He bit into Taragan’s neck without hesitation. He was cannibalizing her in order to take on her powers. Yeon-woo hadn’t seen this in the diary. 

[Boss Monster Hargan (Lizardman King) has used ‘Consume’. Hargan has successfully stolen powers from Taragan (Lizardman Queen)] 

[Mutation is in progress.] 

[Second phase will begin.] 

Rumble! Heat Wave ravaged through the lair once more, producing a massive earthquake.

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