Chapter 264 - The Hoarder (4)

Boom! An explosion soared up in the sky, creating a thick column of black smoke. The mountains quaked, and an avalanche began to rumble down. The impact was so great that even the walls of the castle trembled.

The players on the walls looked frozen in fear. Even though they wanted to rest, their nerves wouldn’t allow them.

“Shit, what just happened?”

The unrelenting attacks of the snow monsters always exhausted players. No matter how many died, more monsters seemed to pour out. They didn’t even seem to feel pain and only knew to charge, and no matter how many advantages players had, they were exhausted by the endless tide.

The monsters didn’t even care about crushing their own comrades in the stampede or using them. They used the piles of monster corpses below the castle walls as ladders for climbing. Sometimes, they even shot the corpses of other monsters out of a cannon. Since the corpses would shatter like ice upon impact, it was a good way of killing a large number of players.

The players had to deal with them until the sun rose, and no matter how much fire magic the magicians used, no matter how fiercely the warriors pushed the monsters back from the walls, and no matter how fervently the priests prayed for blessings, the attacks never ceased throughout the night.

Thankfully, since it was almost daybreak, most of the monsters were gone. However, the players still found it difficult to sleep since they were still full of adrenaline from the battle. The explosions only added to their tension. Each time there was a blast in the snowy mountains, they were reminded of the snow monsters’ charge. They were terrified that the sleeping monsters might even wake up.

They knew who was responsible for the ruckus: the Hoarder. After he’d jumped down from the castle walls like a psycho, the explosions had begun. He didn’t seem to have any plans of returning since the smoke he caused seemed to move farther away. However, the strength of the aftershocks didn’t change, which meant that the explosions were getting more powerful.

Although there was an unbelievable number of snow monsters, not a single one appeared in the places the Hoarder passed through. The players all watched his progress, their Adam’s apples bobbing up and down. What was the Hoarder doing? How long would the guy—who seemed more monstrous than the snow monsters themselves—keep this up?

A few players exchanged looks and moved quietly to a shaded area. 

* * *

“Die, human!”

Yeon-woo stretched his head to the right to avoid the blade and swung Vigrid. Black Aura split the air and spewed fire, cutting off the monster’s hand and burning five other monsters into a crisp. The monster whose arm had been cut spun and brought its mace down as though it didn’t feel anything. It was three meters tall and exuded a cold air with every step.

Yeon-woo spread his Fire Wings and twisted around, barely avoiding the mace. He raised Vigrid, creating another black arc of flames and blew off half of the snow monster’s head. Boom!

“Urgghh!” However, the monster was still breathing. Boom. Boom. Boom. After it was pushed back three steps, it caught its balance and prepared to step on Yeon-woo. It didn’t seem to care that it was crushing other monsters along the way.

However, before it could fully stand straight, Yeon-woo used Blink and released the Eight Extreme Swords in its face. Each time he swung Vigrid, black wounds appeared all over the snow monster, glowing with a red light that burned its body. The mace that had managed to block the black Aura was now slowing down and soon, its defenses crumbled. Boom!

Virgrid cut through the snow monster’s neck. “Urk!” It glared at Yeon-woo, its face full of pain, and then vanished as the fire swept through it.

[You have successfully defeated the 3rd Commander, Cordune.]

[The 3rd Squadron is shocked at the loss of their leader. They are in a state of fear and panic.]

Yeon-woo was breathless, but he didn’t forget to complete the task. 

[The 3rd Spirit]

As soon as he used his power, the souls in his collection all appeared like a whirlwind. The monsters that had grown weak were perfect prey for the souls, and it was as though Yeon-woo had offered them a buffet.

The souls possessed the monsters to increase their panic and make them hallucinate. Soon, the monsters began to fight among themselves. Shanon and Hanryeong moved around them, killing them one by one, and the Guai ran around to their hearts’ content, growing more violent each time they absorbed a soul. Smoke billowed everywhere along with the smell of burning, and the monsters screamed.

[A god of <Malak>, Azrael, is extremely satisfied with the pandemonium you have caused!]

[Azrael laughs. He is complimenting you for leading death.]

[Agares shouts something at Azrael. Azrael ignores him with a snort.]

[Azrael has blessed the power he has given you, the 3rd Spirit. From now on, you will have more accomplishments.]

[Many gods related to death have begun to observe you.]

[Many demons related to death have revealed a desire for you.]

How many monsters had he caught that day? Yeon-woo hadn’t bothered counting, but he was sure he’d crushed six squadrons. He went deeper into the snowy mountains without any rest, encountering stronger monsters. He cut them again and again with his Aura and used explosions to cut down their number. However, there were so many of them, it seemed to barely make a dent.

The occasional monster commanders he fought were strong and were at least at the level of a ranker, and most players on the twenty-sixth floor would have to band together to fight them. Of course, Yeon-woo wouldn’t easily lose to them with the third step of his awakening, but he was tired from using magic power continuously.

The third commander that he’d just killed was on a totally different level from the others. It hadn’t only lasted through several rounds of battle but even managed to get a few strikes in. If Yeon-woo didn’t have his Extrasensory Perception raised, he would have lost an arm. 

“Haa, haa.” Yeon-woo paused and caught his breath, which misted in the cold air. The Philosopher’s Stone spun rapidly to replenish his magic power, and his health returned as he activated his Regeneration skill. If he didn’t stop to recover, he would faint. It wasn’t an easy task to massacre thousands of monsters.

At that moment, he heard the muffled sound of the last monster collapsing.

[The 3rd Squadron has been defeated.]

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

[You have acquired 10,000 karma.]

[You have acquired 15,000 additional karma.]

[Azrael smiles proudly and nods. He invites you to become his Apostle once more.]

[Agares grinds his teeth at Azrael.]

Yeon-woo confirmed the messages and began to move again. There weren’t many snow mountains left anymore and he could see a white plain in the distance. It was the tundra where Apophis’ exuviae resided and where the snow monsters originated from.

Crunch. Crunch. As he began moving, Shanon and Hanryeong appeared next to him, finished with their task. The Guai faded into his shadow again, and the souls created an ashy fog that followed him like a tail. 

You look like you’re so happy running around like this that you could die. Meanwhile, we’re just suffering here.

Yeon-woo paused to look at Shanon, whose Inferno Sight was flaming inside his helmet. 

What?

“No. It’s nothing.” Yeon-woo shook his head and moved again. Shanon looked at Yeon-woo’s back and slowly followed him. However, Yeon-woo was rubbing his chin under his mask. ‘I was…smiling?’

* * *

“Are you human?” The lair was easier to find than Yeon-woo had expected. He thought the snow would pose a problem, but he just followed the energy markers and found the lair right away. It was teeming with about a thousand monsters, and the exuviae itself was so huge that it seemed like it would touch the sky.

Apophis was a true magical creature, and as such, he wasn’t allowed to remain on the stage. This exuviae was made just for the trial, and even though it wasn’t the real thing, its aura was so imposing that it made Yeon-woo himself pause.

“You seem to be scared, human. Yes, it’s an impressive achievement for a human to even make it here. However, your presumptuousness will only result in your death.” Apophis’ exuviae snickered at the sight of Yeon-woo. Few players managed to endure the gauntlet of monsters to reach him, but even though they fought confidently then, as soon as they saw him, they all reacted the same way. They were scared, and they faced him with hunched shoulders.

It was partly because of his intimidating aura, but also because of their different levels. The exuviae of a god was like the ruler of a stage, and no matter how strong players were, they would be pressed down.

Apophis' exuviae thought that the same thing had happened to Yeon-woo. Although he had killed six commanders and entered the tundra, it seemed that this was as far as he could go. In fact, to the exuviae, Yeon-woo’s energy was terribly weak. He even wondered how such a weakling had made it all the way here. He was so small and pathetic that the exuviae snorted and ordered his children to eat the intruder up.

He had birthed these children to protect him. They were all as powerful as the commanders and could rip up a human like Yeon-woo easily. Yeon-woo’s mind was full of thoughts as he watched the snow monsters running towards him. Ever since Shanon said that he seemed to be having a good time, he’d been lost in thought. ‘Am I scared? No, that’s not it.’

However, seeing Apophis' exuviae made him realize what he was feeling: disappointment. ‘I see.’ Yeon-woo laughed in disbelief. It seemed like he’d been looking forward to this too much. Although he’d set up his Consciousness, created Aura, and completed the Wave of Fire, he had never used his powers to their maximum.  

Although his health and magic power had run out on the way here, it was only so he could make things more challenging. If he caught his breath just for a little while, his health would come back, and he was always overflowing with magic power. Besides, pushing himself to the limits was his specialty.

He was planning on doing that this time as well, but things had grown too fun ever since he learned to turn Wave of Fire into Aura. Still, he had thought that Apophis' exuviae would be different, and he was disappointed when he finally encountered it. Of course, the exuviae was strong and intimidating. It fulfilled the criteria there, but, to be honest, it was the weakest of the exuviae that Yeon-woo had seen so far.

The Monkey King’s exuviae and Vieira Dune, who was Mother Earth’s exuviae, had been so strong, and Apophis’ exuviae simply couldn’t compare. It was hilarious to hear Apophis act like Yeon-woo was beneath him. Yeon-woo’s level had already risen after absorbing the Summer Queen’s soul. He couldn’t help snorting.

He opened up all of the powers that he hadn’t used yet in order to complete the trail quickly, ignoring his disappointment. “Domain Declaration.”

[The 3rd step of the awakening has been activated.]

[Goddess’ Stigmata]

[Wicked Devil]

Crack! Scales grew on his skin as Fire Wings and his dragon wings combined as Athena’s blessing descended. The Wicked Devil merged with Demonic Magic to sweep away Apophis' exuviae. 

“N—!” Apophis’ exuviae tried to scream as it realized that something was wrong, but it was too late. Bang! Bang! Bang! Vigrid swept everything away, even the ice in the tundra. 

* * *

[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.]

……

At the sound of the stage being cleared, Shanon suddenly shouted. Hey! Master! What about the hidden piece you were talking about?

“Oh.”

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