Chapter 288 - Island (5)

Yeon-woo left the spire after he spent a day getting used to the Divine Factors and reviewing his fight with Benteke with Time Difference. He spent the entire night examining each detail, looking for a way to defeat Benteke.  ‘Everyone watching would say that I lost the fight.’

It was really more like a draw, which was how Nemesis and Nike saw it as well, but since he had been the one fighting, Yeon-woo considered it a loss. It had only become a draw because of his improvisation and the fact that he’d taken advantage of an unexpected event. But when it came to skills, Yeon-woo fell short of Benteke.

He didn’t like that. ‘At least as much as Benteke…’  Yeon-woo had promised Nemesis that he wouldn’t get drunk on excitement and do something stupid. He was thinking the same thing now. He wasn’t going to waste the weapons he had. However, he had an unresolved regret about his fight with Benteke, and he wanted to finish it with his own hands.

He still remembered the glee of a beast clashing with another beast, the sensation of two monsters facing each other. The memory made his fingers tingle, and he wanted to see the whole thing through. Of course, this time, he was planning on using all his cards if he were losing.

Benteke’s Divine Factors were too tempting, and he also wanted to see how far he could go without anyone’s help. ‘Nemesis will shout at me again if he finds out.’ Yeon-woo adjusted the connection so that Nemesis wouldn’t be able to read his thoughts and began to review the fight again. He could see Benteke’s strengths and weaknesses. 

‘Strong and uncompromising.’ It was easy to sum up Benteke’s advantages. Nothing could hide or change the power he emitted. He destroyed everything through brute force, and Yeon-woo understood why he was called the Ruler. He didn’t budge or surrender. 

However, things that were too firm also risked breaking apart. There was no way a master like Benteke didn’t know that, so he was probably trying to become strong enough that he couldn’t be broken at all. ‘I only need to find a way to break him.’

Yeon-woo repeated many simulations over and over to find the answer. His consciousness had broadened after absorbing the Summer Queen, helping him do more calculations. He gained a lot of knowledge in the process and discovered some variables.

‘Poseidon’s followers also have Apostles. I’ll have to be careful of them too.’ He hadn’t seen who it was clearly, but someone had blocked Duke Ardbad and protected Benteke. That meant he had players as powerful as he was behind him, players who all had holy power.

It was clear they were Apostles of Orion, Antaeus, and Charybdis—Poseidon’s children—and that they were the ones that the sudden quest were targeting as well. If they were related to Poseidon, they had to be strong, as well.  

‘Orion is a hunter so powerful that he was called a Giant, and Antaeus is as much of a brute as Heracles. Charybdis is a monster who swallowed an ocean.’ Antaeus and Charybdis weren’t as well known, but they were also children of Poseidon and Gaia. Since they were descended from a higher god and a founding god of Olympus, they might even be more powerful than Poseidon.

‘The clan is filled with monsters that are related to the sea.’ He realized how Triton managed to control such a large number of forces so quickly. If they had four Apostles, there was no way they would stay a minor clan. 

Also, it was clear that Triton was hiding many things. He had to stand against them alone. It wouldn’t be easy. 

* * *

Hoarder! You, how can you…! It took him quite a while to realize he was dead. It had been so sudden, and he hadn’t imagined that Yeon-woo would hurt him somehow. It was impossible that someone would repay rescue with death.

He was a knight who protected the emperor and an honorable swordsman, and this meant that he found it hard to grasp how Yeon-woo could act like that. He’d even admired Yeon-woo’s courage and will to fight Benteke. 

However, when Yeon-woo smirked and took off his mask, Duke Ardbad trembled from the betrayal. Aahh! He was shocked, just like the others who had seen Yeon-woo’s face. He screamed that it was impossible. You! You…!

Duke Ardbad realized that they had all been played by Yeon-woo, starting from the time that Viscount Lao had been swept away in the Demons’ Forest. The fall of Walpurgisnacht, the death of the Summer Queen, the enmity between White Dragon and the Blood Land—these were all the results of one person’s machinations. The same person they believed they already killed!

Duke Ardbad couldn’t speak. 

“Swallow him.” Not caring about Duke Ardbad’s reaction, Yeon-woo looked at Hanryeong, who was waiting for his orders quietly, and nodded.

You dare! Who do you think I am?! Let go! Take your dirty hands off me! Duke Ardbad struggled to get away from the shadows rising from the ground. However, they became tentacles tightening around his hands and feet. They took him apart and began to swallow him up. Let…!

Crunch, crunch. The monsters ate up Duke Ardbad as if he were a tasty meal. As Hanryeong absorbed all of the energy, a dark fog rose around him, and he began to change.  

[Hanryeong (Death Knight) is undergoing a change. His level has been raised by one tier.]

[His evolution is beginning.]

[Warning! Until the evolution is completed, please ensure that there are no interruptions. If the evolution fails, all the levels earned may disappear.]

Hanryeong’s level when he was alive was already high, and he had the potential to become stronger as long as his body could match it. He’d managed to surpass his limits by absorbing Duke Ardbad’s soul, and he began to evolve into a Death Noble. 

“It would be nice if there were more people like this,” Yeon-woo muttered looking at Hanryeong. It would be good to have at least one more strong subordinate.  

Shanon snorted, his arms crossed. It had been a while since he’d left the shadows.

How greedy. But this won’t work anymore, unless they’re fools.

Yeon-woo silently nodded. He knew it too. He’d only managed to catch Duke Ardbad thanks to coincidence and not his skills. The Duke had been weakened by a long battle, and he had been so focused on Waltz that he hadn’t expected to be ambushed by someone else. Hanryeong had also managed to spot the opportunity and attack.

The Saber God was still the Saber God, no matter how low his level was. He definitely wasn’t weaker than Duke Ardbad. But now that people had seen how Yeon-woo could use shadows to attack, they could prepare for it.

It was a shame but since it wasn’t a great loss, Yeon-woo wasn’t too concerned. ‘I can just think of another way.’ When he was done organizing his thoughts, Hanryeong finally appeared. Light shone through the cracks and settled down, revealing a Death Noble whose Inferno Sight blazed under his helm.

Hanryeong knelt and bowed to Yeon-woo. My respectful greetings, Master! It was a pledge of loyalty to the person who allowed him to walk a new path. 

* * *

When Yeon-woo was done with everything and returned to the island, Heidi ran towards him. The players who were enjoying their break all got up, tense.  

“We’ll set sail later tonight.”

However, everyone just looked at each other in silence, and no one answered, their faces full of concern. Heidi stepped forward cautiously. She was definitely their leader. “Isn’t it too soon? If we leave now…”

“If you’re worried about seeing Triton and the Spring Queen again, you can stay here. The choice is yours.” Yeon-woo turned away. They had no reason to be loyal to him, and he was ready to leave them on the island, although he didn’t know if they’d survive.

The players all sighed. If they stayed on the island, the trial would expire. They didn’t want to let that happen. There was nothing they could do but follow. They hoped that this time, the path the Hoarder walked would be tranquil and smooth.

* * *

The sails rose again thanks to the efforts of the elderly Cannibal Monster Humans, and a breeze began to blow. The ghost ship left the island. As soon they left the fog—boom! There was a large explosion and ball of fire shot out of the island, swallowing everything in its path. A huge earthquake followed, as though a volcano had exploded. 

All the players stared at the ship’s bow, where Yeon-woo was. He didn’t turn back to look and simply focused on the route ahead with Ceto’s holy artifact. The players sweated at the sight, grateful that they had Heidi.

A few of them had thought about staying on the island since it had enough facilities to help them survive. However, Heidi had convinced them all to go with Yeon-woo. If they had refused, they would have been killed in the fire that was destroying the island. The backs of their necks grew cold.  

Fortunately, this time, no one bothered them as they crossed the River of Souls. They didn’t see Triton, the Fantasy Regiment, or Waltz. They didn’t even see a single pirate. It was odd that they were sailing so easily, and so they stayed wary.

After a few days passed, the ghost ship finally arrived at the land of the twenty-ninth floor.

[All trials have been completed. This is the twenty-ninth floor, the gate of the ‘Land of Souls’.]

“W-we’re here!”

“The twenty-ninth floor! It’s the twenty-ninth floor!”

They jumped up and down, happy to return to land. Yeon-woo waited until the ship docked and jumped lightly down on the shore. Heidi dashed over to the edge of the ship and looked down. “A-are you leaving?”

Yeon-woo looked up. Heidi had a concerned expression on her face. He nodded silently. Their contract was valid until they passed the twenty-eighth floor, and the players would have to figure out the rest. Heidi knew that, so she couldn’t stop him. In fact, she didn’t even have a reason to.  

After all, she had saved him. She had done everything she could to avoid the burden of debt, and in fact, she was even in a position to ask him for a favor. Considering all of the threats that were after Yeon-woo, it was wiser to put some distance between them, but Heidi still felt like she should stop him. It could either be feminine intuition or the instinct of an Elf. Or perhaps, she just wanted to do it.

“Later.”

Heidi listened carefully to catch every single word he said. 

“If you want to, come find me.”

“If I want to…?”

Yeon-woo’s words were like a puzzle to Heidi. However, Yeon-woo just turned around and began to walk slowly towards the horizon. Heidi looked at his back for a long time. 

* * *

‘If she didn’t have so much baggage, I’d have recruited her, but I’ll give it some time.’ Yeon-woo grinned as he stepped onto the stage of the twenty-ninth floor. Heidi was like a diamond in the rough that was beginning to shine. He wanted to take her along, but too many people were depending on her.

Still, he didn’t want to give up on her, so he made a promise. He’d look for her again after she’d become cut and polished, or else she could look for him.  

Yeon-woo put the ghost ship behind him and focused on his route. With his Draconic Eyes, he could see Triton’s location. A Guai inside Benteke’s shadow was showing him the way. 

* * *

[You have set a new record on this floor. 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.]

……

[This is the 30th floor, the gate of ‘Site of Souls’.]

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