“I’m going to remind you now that you only asked for my help to set up a meeting. Everything else is up to you, so don’t complain if it doesn’t go well.” Atran drew a line first. The meeting with By the Table had been difficult to arrange, and it had been a long time before they responded.
At first, he thought that he’d failed, but then he suddenly received a positive reply, which surprised him. By the Table was a group shrouded in mystery, and they normally would have rejected the request of a player who wasn’t even a ranker.
Atran knew that this was also an opportunity for him. Since he was an ordinary merchant, it was already a great honor to contact By the Table. Soon, rumors would spread and the name of the merchant who had set up this meeting would find its way to more people.
However, he was worried about what Yeon-woo might do if things didn’t go well. Atran felt scared of Yeon-woo ever since he saw how Red Dragon was crushed. Yeon-woo just waved his hand as if telling Atran to get on with it.
Atran held in the sigh trying to escape his lips and pulled out a crystal from a subspace. After he took a few steps back, the crystal shattered and a blue light appeared. It was a single-use artifact that made it clear that Yeon-woo had only one opportunity to meet them. The light whirled and scattered as the scenery around them changed.
They were now in a forest, and it felt as though a fresh breeze were blowing around them. Atran looked around incredulously but Yeon-woo was calm. He was used to this by now. ‘It’s an illusory world.’
It was just like the one that Brahm had created in the Demons’ Forest, and the skill involved in creating an illusion like this with a single crystal was incredible. Different animals gathered around the rock Yeon-woo sat on. Different species of birds flew overhead, and foxes and deer ran around.
None of them were ordinary animals. They were either unusually large or emanated a magical aura. These were creatures that one would be hard-pressed to find even on the eleventh floor.
The trees bent as the ground shook, and a gigantic shadow appeared. A huge, white wolf that was even taller than five meters looked at Yeon-woo from the forest. It was a Legendary Beast called a White Wolf. A girl sat cross-legged on its head.
『Wow, it’s so pretty.』
『I haven’t seen a White Wolf in a while.』
Nike and Nemesis, who had been sleeping inside the Philosopher’s Stone, woke up and muttered to each other. The White Wolf was as formidable as the Four Legendary Beasts. It was similar to Anatasia’s Gumiho, which Yeon-woo had seen in the entertainment district.
The White Wolf laughed quietly as though it had read Nike and Nemesis’s thoughts. The girl stroked the White Wolf’s head. She had reddish-brown, shoulder-length hair. She wore a wooden mask on her face, but her eyes behind it were striking.
Atran gasped involuntarily when he saw her. He thought a Weed or a Wildflower would come, but he was facing someone who was leagues beyond them. ‘F-Freesia!’
The master of By the Table herself had arrived. Freesia turned to them, her eyes looking Atran over. She didn’t say anything, but Atran understood the expression in her intense eyes. Don’t say anything.
Atran nodded with his mouth shut. He calmed his pounding heart. It seemed like Freesia didn’t want Yeon-woo to know her identity. Atran was curious why the master had come herself. She didn’t like going outside and she was shrouded in even more mystery than the rest of By the Table.
Just when he thought he was fine, Yeon-woo made his heart skip a beat again. “I didn’t know the master of By the Table herself would come.”
Atran’s body stiffened. He didn’t think that Yeon-woo would recognize Freesia. Freesia was silent for a moment. She narrowed her eyes at Yeon-woo. Even though she was definitely a hologram, Yeon-woo felt like she was looking into his mind. It was a gaze that was similar to those of the Martial King and the Psychic Medium, one that quickly decided on enemies and allies.
Freesia jumped down from the White Wolf’s head and landed on the ground, the soft grass muffling all sound.
『Step back for a while.』
The White Wolf rubbed his head in Freesia’s arms and slowly stepped back. However, he continued looking at them, wary that Yeon-woo would try to injure his master.
『Nice to meet you. You wanted to talk to us?』 Freesia made a polite bow. She was curious why Yeon-woo knew about her, but she didn’t say anything. She seemed all business.
‘She’s implying that she can figure out how I know about her whenever she wants. That’s the master, I see. It’s hard to read her mind.’ Yeon-woo had a mask on like Freesia, so it was hard to read his expression as well.
Most exchanges with By the Table are done anonymously. When they have to meet, the members of By the Table keep their faces hidden with masks. Only their leader, Freesia, knows their identities. Obviously, Freesia’s identity is a secret as well. All that is known about her is that she almost never leaves the illusory world and that she cherishes magical animals.
Even her name might not be real. She knows that everyone is curious about her but she has never revealed herself. I discovered her true identity later, but I always found it hard to talk to her. She always replied coldly to all of my jokes. What can I do to melt this ice princess ahjumma?
Jeong-woo first learned about By the Table when he was preparing to challenge the fiftieth floor. By the Table had shown interest in sponsoring Arthia, and Jeong-woo had accepted their offer readily. It was fairly common for unions to sponsor famous clans to spread their name, and the unions also took a share of the rewards.
Arthia had already been sponsored by several unions by that point, and he’d believed that By the Table was just an ordinary union like the others. However, their sponsorship amount was a size that most unions wouldn’t even dream of, and Jeong-woo realized that By the Table wasn’t an ordinary union at all.
That was the point when Arthia really began to spread its wings. With the funds from By the Table, they were able to buy artifacts they couldn’t afford before and restructure their finances.
Later, he learned that the person who had decided to offer their sponsorship was the union’s leader herself. Arthia’s members had been curious then. Why would By the Table support them? Some unions asked to be given as much as they sponsored, so there were occasional conflicts between them and the teams, but By the Table didn’t even ask for anything. It was as though all they cared about was that Arthia focused on climbing the floors.
‘Even after Arthia collapsed.’ By the Table was still there even when only a shadow of Arthia remained, and they only ended their sponsorship when Jeong-woo prepared to fight this last battle. In a way, they had left when he needed them the most, but his brother was still grateful. They had stayed even after his lover and comrades were gone.
Until the end, I never found out what By the Table’s goal was. However, I was sure that Freesia only appeared when she was sure that a rule of the Tower or someone who had the potential to occupy that position appeared.
Only those who were at the level of the Nine Kings knew Freesia, and it was the reason she’d shown up now. ‘She thinks of me as highly as she did Jeong-woo.’ Yeon-woo guessed that even if he hadn’t approached them first, By the Table would have eventually contacted him anyway. However, they would probably wait until he was close to the fiftieth floor, like Arthia had been.
That wouldn’t be a problem if he were still intent on being a solo player, but since he’d decided to create a clan, he needed their sponsorship desperately. Also, he was grateful to see the person who had helped his brother so much.
『May I ask why?』
“I’m planning on establishing a clan. I heard a rumor that By the Table sponsors a few clans.”
『Are you saying you want us to sponsor your new clan?』
『Do you know how we decide on whom to sponsor?』
“I heard you look for them yourselves.”
『That’s correct. It’s true some people contact us like this. But most of them…』
“You reject them.”
Freesia nodded. 『You must know our answer, then.』
“Is that so? I suppose nothing can be done. Thank you for meeting me.” Yeon-woo nonchalantly nodded as though he were expecting this answer.
The skin around Freesia’s eyes wrinkled at his reply. 『What are you doing?』
This time, Yeon-woo cocked his head like he didn’t understand. “I asked, and you rejected me, right? I think we’re done now.”
Freesia gazed at Yeon-woo with still eyes. She couldn’t tell what Yeon-woo was thinking. Most people would try to persuade her or ask her to think it over, at least. Was he thinking that she might suddenly become interested if he acted like this? However, Freesia had investigated Yeon-woo before, and she knew he wasn’t that simple.
Although his reputation as the Hoarder was so terrible that players described him as a dhole starving for blood, Freesia disagreed. Yes, he was violent, but he was also strategic and patient. He was determined to snatch up his prey only at the right time, and he knew when to come in and leave. His judgement was good. He was also growing quickly and had the One-horned tribe behind him.
She believed that he wasn’t the type to try childish games like this, and since she’d come to see what he was like for herself, she decided to take a step back. 『We can still talk for a little longer. Right?』 Freesia asked casually, and Yeon-woo quietly sat back down.
His eyes were as hard to read as her poker face, but Yeon-woo didn’t really want anything too complicated. If things went well, that would be great, but if they didn’t, he would move on. He only wanted a fair contract with By the Table, and he had no intention of being controlled by a sponsor. He planned on eventually paying them back, anyway.
He figured that the leader of By the Table would understand the path he was taking. If she was looking for a future king of the Tower, she wouldn’t let him go. ‘Jeong-woo said she was searching for something specific among those who would be kings. He was right.’ Yeon-woo gazed at Freesia’s eyes.
『I want to ask a few questions』
“Please go ahead.”
『I heard you received a few of the Summer Queen’s storage spaces. Why are you asking us to sponsor you when you have all that money?』
Yeon-woo clucked his tongue. He hadn’t told even the Cheongram siblings that he’d received a few Intrenian as a reward because he didn’t think anything good would come out of revealing the information. It was obvious that there would be an astronomical amount of money in the Summer Queen’s storage spaces, and too many people would be interested.
However, the way Freesia asked made it seem as though it was common knowledge. it was how well-connected By the Table was. Yeon-woo nodded, not planning on hiding it. “I don’t have the money.”
His unexpected answer made Freesia’s eyes widen. 『What...』
“I’ve already spent it all.”
Her eyes grew even bigger. It was the first time Freesia had shown any emotion. He had used up the Summer Queen’s legacy in less than a year?
“I sold everything inside Intrenian except for what I needed, and I spent all that money already as well.” Someone gasped behind him. Freesia turned to look. Atran was shaking while muttering “Crazy bastard!” to himself. He’d helped Yeon-woo secretly sell everything on the black market, so he knew how much money Yeon-woo had earned. It was enough for a large clan to spend for several years, and he couldn’t imagine what Yeon-woo had spent it on.
Not to mention, it still wasn’t enough for Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo didn’t have enough to build a dungeon, restore the Outer Space, restructure a large laboratory, and set up his own smithy.
『Hohoho!』 Freesia burst out in laughter, surprising Atran once more. He had never heard of the leader laughing. The laughter suddenly stopped, and Freesia’s eyes grew as cunning as a snake’s. She said, 『It seems like your spending matches your ambition.』 She couldn’t help being amazed at the speed with which Yeon-woo had spent all that money. The amount was large even by By the Table’s standards.
She could see what Yeon-woo was after. He was trying to swallow up the Tower. He was avaricious, but avarice without consumption was just greed. With consumption, it turned into ambition. Freesia liked that.
She didn’t know if he would just be another moth flying into a flame, but whatever happened, he was definitely going to do something big. 『And how much do you need?』
“The more the better. I’ll probably use it up quickly.”
『You sound like you’re using up tap water.』 Freesia’s laugh was filled with both humor and mockery. 『I see what you’re trying to do. And the clan members? Have you chosen them?』
“I have a few people in mind.”
『They’re not shallow, hm?』
“If I was going to pick people like that, I wouldn’t have used up all of the Summer Queen’s legacy in the first place.”
『Fine. We’ll sponsor you.』 Freesia nodded her head firmly. 『You can talk about the details with Atran.』
Atran was surprised at being mentioned. Freesia narrowed her eyes at him. 『What’s the matter? Is it too much trouble? If so, I won’t force you.』
Atran quickly dropped to his knees and bowed. “N-No! Thank you for giving me this chance!”
Freesia nodded. No one could refuse her. She made the impossible possible. Yeon-woo tsked to himself as he watched her. She had such an unruffled appearance, but she was an investor who took great risks. She hadn’t even asked him about the things he needed, about the sponsorship, or anything else. She just handed everything over to Atran. It meant that she was confident she could handle any amount he required.
Was everyone at her level like that? He didn’t know what her limits were, and whenever he came across people like her, he only thought of one thing: ruler.
Freesia was someone who had the qualities of a sovereign. She expected those who wanted to work with her to have the same qualities, and Yeon-woo was amused that she’d acknowledged him. At least, he hadn’t lost out to his little brother.
Just then, the light around Freesia’s body began to scatter. 『It’s already time. Oh, before I go, let me say this.』 Freesia spoke calmly with wise eyes. 『I’m a typical investor. I don’t ever do things that will harm my interests, and that’s the responsibility that comes with my money. If you think that you can’t pay me back, or even the interest…』 Freesia didn’t continue. She was telling him to figure things out on his own.
Yeon-woo nodded. He knew about her wealth and connections.
The White Wolf stood, and Freesia stroked its head before she jumped up on top. She was about to turn around to leave when Yeon-woo asked a final question, “Is Yul doing well?”
『Yul?』 The White Wolf stopped. Right before Freesia disappeared, she cocked her head to the side as her eyes glittered. 『Ah. That furry. He’s doing well. Was it you who sent him to the garden?』 Freesia looked at Yeon-woo strangely. Then, she grinned, shaking her head. 『It’s the first time that anyone has ever tried to test my qualification to be a sponsor. However, I hope you don’t do things like this from now on so there aren’t any misunderstandings.』
At that, the deal was done. Atran looked at Yeon-woo in panic. He had become a Weed of By the Table, a great honor for a mysterious merchant, but he had plenty of questions. “Yul? Who’s that?”
Yeon-woo could tell that he wanted to ask a lot of things, but he just shook his head and didn’t answer, grinning under his mask. The useless kid in the Tutorial who was so scared that all his hackles were raised—Yeon-woo still remembered how the kid had thanked him and even called him “hyung”.
He had been curious how the kid was doing and Freesia’s words made him feel relieved that the kid was doing better than he’d expected.
* * *
The ninety-eighth floor was a land of mystery where gods and demons lived that no player had ever approached. It was divided into two large regions that were further split into countless societies that made it appear as though it would fall apart at any moment.
Hermes was meeting his beautiful sister, Athena, at Olympus, one of the larger societies. Athena’s grim demeanor contrasted with Hermes’ easygoing one. “It seems like our foolish uncle has made a decision to kill that child.” Her voice was filled with annoyance and disappointment over what their uncle, Poseidon, was trying to do.Previous Chapter Next Chapter