“You want to rely on me?” Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes at Heidi. Although he wasn’t doing much, Heidi felt a great deal of pressure, and her shoulders quivered as she nodded.
Yeon-woo’s estimation of her rose since there was a big difference if you could look someone in the eyes as you asked them for a favor. ‘The others are hopeless.’
The other players who looked at him with pleading expressions from a distance were pathetic. They’d placed the responsibility of their own survival on Heidi’s shoulders, and even though they’d managed to reach the twenty-seventh floor, they were extremely weak. If they tried to cross the River of Souls, they’d probably be eaten right away or attacked by pirates.
‘Do I look so different from them that I scare them that much?’ Yeon-woo silently looked at Heidi. The Cannibal Monster Humans were busy building his boat, and although they’d asked for four days at first, they would be done in three days at this rate. Anything was possible if you forced someone.
Heidi had appeared with the players to request help while the boat was still under construction. “Yes. Of course, we won’t bullshit you or appeal to your kind nature. We’ll give you half our total karma, and you can order us around on the boat to do whatever you want. Manual labor, anything.”
“Will you take responsibility for your promise?”
Heidi was suddenly speechless as Yeon-woo’s impassive eyes glinted slyly. He looked her up and down, and Heidi couldn’t help shaking like a mouse in front of a snake. She felt like his eyes were cutting her apart, and she couldn’t breathe. Her mind was in a muddle, and she felt scared and humiliated. She regretted saying “anything”. It seemed like he was wondering what she would do if he touched her.
Despite the fear, she bit her lips. She couldn’t step back and let those counting on her down. “I…accept any conditions.” As soon as she spoke, the pressure on her lifted, and Heidi breathed in relief.
“You’ve changed from when you were at the eleventh floor.”
Heidi was surprised at his words. She never imagined he would remember her. The war with the Cheonghwado had been a big event for her, but to the Hoarder, she was probably just a background character in a short interlude.
“It looks like you’ve changed because of others’ expectations of you. It’s best that you don’t get influenced by them. One-sided trust and expectations always turn into disappointment.”
“What are you…” His words sounded bitter and lonely to Heidi, as though he were remembering a past event. She was going to ask him to elaborate, but Yeon-woo cut her off.
“You’ll understand in the future. If you want to board the boat, then fine. I accept your offer.”
Heidi’s expression brightened. She hadn’t expected him to accept so readily.
“However, I have a few conditions.”
Heidi swallowed with a nervous expression on her face again.
“First. The payment is ninety percent of the total karma you all have. No haggling. We’ll do it in front of Charon so you can’t hide anything from me, either.”
It was a huge demand, but Heidi quickly agreed. In their situation, he could ask them for their life savings and they would have to give them up. “Anything else?”
“You have to follow my orders without any question. I’ll throw you into the river right away if you don’t obey.”
“And lastly, don’t pay attention to whatever I do. Don’t even go near the places I head to. I’ll throw anyone who disobeys in the river.”
Heidi’s face brightened again. She had been worried that he would say something unreasonable, but these were all things she could understand. She nodded her head in agreement, and she didn’t forget to thank him.
「I see you’ve managed to find your second bunch of slaves.」 Shanon piped up.
‘The second bunch?’
「The first bunch of slaves is over there, right?」 Shanon pointed to the Cannibal Monster Humans.
Yeon-woo grinned. ‘No, you’ve got them in the wrong spot. That’s the second bunch, and these new guys are the third bunch.’
‘The first bunch is right here.’
「Hey!」 Shanon jumped up and down after Yeon-woo pointed at him and the Guai, but Yeon-woo turned away from him and looked at the people behind Heidi. He wouldn’t have had any qualms rejecting her offer, but he had a couple of reasons for accepting it.
First, the boat was so large that it would need more people on the crew. The second…’They’re weak but they might be useful if I put them to work.’ He’d also finally encountered someone worth considering, someone with a sense of responsibility and leadership ability. He could help her develop the areas where she lacked. The thing that he didn’t like, however, was that she seemed to care too much about living up to others’ expectations of her. He needed to fix that, although she would probably change her mind about it soon. ‘I’ll have to keep an eye on her.’
Yeon-woo looked at the joyful survivors and turned around to watch the Cannibal Monster Humans work busily.
* * *
Meanwhile, at the clan house of the Fantasy Regiment, Cardin rushed around after reading a report from the lower floors. He entered a building that looked like a temple and heard the sound of swords clashing against each other ring against the marble walls. Kashing!
A figure in shiny armor was exchanging moves with other swordsmen. He looked like a legendary hero as he swung his sword elegantly with a beautiful technique. Although he was fighting expert-level players, he penetrated their defenses easily. Clang!
The jaws of everyone watching dropped, including Cardin. Although he was in a rush, he found himself mesmerized by the sight of the sparring. When the last sword flew up into the air, everyone released the breaths they were holding from tension.
“Ah. We can’t defeat you, sir. We thought we would be almost at your level now.”
“Every time you swing your sword, you leave your left shoulder open. As long as you fix that, you should be fine. You’ve improved a lot. I might lose to you next time.”
“Do you know that’s a form of mocking? I know you don’t have any idea of what it’s like to lose.”
“Is that so? Haha.” The armored man chuckled and stretched his hand out to the man on the floor before taking off his helm, revealing sweat-drenched golden hair. His face was so sculpted that it seemed that no one could compare to his outstanding beauty. His face was also complemented by his deep voice and charisma.
The servants around him quickly dried his hair with a towel while he gulped water. He felt parched. Everyone around him had a serious attitude, and they wore white armor with a Jerusalem cross in the center that emitted holiness. They were the Second Squad of the Fantasy Regiment, the Illusion Knightage.
The First Squad was composed of leaders of different clans, which meant that the Second Squad was the actual one that led the Fantasy Regiment. Their commander, Creutz, was known for his outstanding sword techniques, and he was called the “Illusion Knight”. He was also known as the face of the Fantasy Regiment, and he represented them to the public. With his good looks, honorable character, and kindness, he was the epitome of a knight, and so many people followed him.
“Oh, Cardin? What are you here for? I haven’t heard from you ever since you entered the smithy.”
“I have something urgent to tell you.”
Creutz wondered what the captain who had gone into secluded training would have to tell him, so he took the report. His face became grim as soon as he read it. The servants realized something was wrong and stepped back quietly. The other knights also grew wary.
“The Hoarder arrived at Island 2,311 and as a result, the Ninety-Second Squad was destroyed.”
“Tree Image was the Ninety-Second Squad, right? The one with Hector?”
“I always worried about that guy because he was so arrogant without the skills to back him up. He’s gone and done it this time. I thought he would be fine since Two Face was at his side.”
“The Hoarder doesn’t let anyone go if they bare their teeth at him.”
Creutz rubbed his forehead in frustration. “The Regiment Leader will be furious when he hears about this.”
“Haa. The Hoarder will probably reject us if we contact him now.”
“He’s very suspicious of others.”
“This is why we said over and over not to confront him.” Creutz sighed. If he had known that this would happen, he would have sent the Illusion Knightage to either the twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh floor instead.
But no one could tell when the Hoarder would appear on the twenty-sixth floor, and then there were so many islands on the twenty-seventh floor that no one could predict which one the Hoarder would pick. And so, Creutz had been hoping to rely on the help of the other squads on the stage, but some arrogant fool had messed it all up.
Creutz felt extremely frustrated, but what could he do? Water had already been spilled and those responsible were already dead. ‘Is it time to restructure? I thought it would be too soon, but it seems like we’ve hit a limit with our current methods.’ Creutz had always believed that the structure of the Fantasy Regiment had to be improved.
The Fantasy Regiment was a private group created by the commander and twelve of his blood brothers. However, when the Cheonghwado toppled and Red Dragon split apart, the Fantasy Regiment began recruiting in earnest. They’d reaped huge gains and managed to control many of the lower floors in a year. However, their growth netted them some trouble, as well.
Squads who lacked discipline sometimes caused a ruckus, and some delinquents joined and asked for unreasonable things like equal partnership. Creutz, who believed that the Fantasy Regiment ought to be based on trust and loyalty, was frustrated by all of this. These members didn’t listen no matter how much they were disciplined and they complained if they were subjected to force.
There was also trouble with the Eight Large Clans. Those who didn’t know any better thought that the Fantasy Regiment was equal to the Eight Large Clans because of their size, but Creutz knew better.
They might have similar numbers, but there was a big difference in quality. The Fantasy Regiment had no discipline, poor administration, and only a few rankers among their members. Everything was lacking even though the Eight Large Clans had begun to view them as a threat. The only reason the Eight Large Clans hadn’t moved on them yet was their own conflicts with each other.
Also, the Fantasy Regiment wasn’t the only clan that had grown during this chaotic period. A few new clans who were just as large or skilled had also popped up, and the Fantasy Regiment had to keep an eye on them, too.
In the end, there was no choice but to restructure the Fantasy Regiment in order to ensure that they kept up their growth. ‘We need the leader for that, but he hasn’t even made an appearance…’ Creutz sighed, thinking of the Regiment Leader still in secluded training.
He knew how much the Regiment Leader admired Yeon-woo and what kind of relationship they had, so he didn’t know what to do now. Yeon-woo was someone they had to treat as an ally, never as an enemy. “What about the Hoarder? Where is he?”
“I heard he’s already sailing his boat in the River of Souls.”
“I suppose it’ll be easier to find him now. Deliver this to the squad that’s closest to the river. Fix the misunderstanding and…actually, never mind. I’ll go myself.”
“You?” Cardin was surprised, but Creutz nodded heavily.
“Of course. We have to fix the misunderstanding properly.”
Cardin’s expression hardened. Creutz realized that there were some things that Cardin hadn’t reported.
“Is something the matter?”
“That’s…I don’t recommend you go.”
“There are reports that Triton has just appeared on the twenty-eighth floor.”
Along with the Fantasy Regiment, Triton was one of the Four Emerging Clans, and they were famous for being supported by Poseidon, the god of the sea. Despite that, they were a violent and barbaric clan, and Creutz despised them. And that wasn’t all.
“Also…” Cardin squeezed his eyes shut as he added, “There are reports that the Blood Land and White Dragon have sent people to spy on the Hoarder, as well.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter