“The culprit is definitely among us.” Vieira Dune examined me and frowned. The color red had appeared after multiple tests, which meant that I was in critical condition. Someone had been poisoning me over a long period of time, so carefully that even my trait, Perfect Adaptability, hadn’t caught it.
Arthia was a very reclusive clan, and even after we became a Large Clan, we only accepted a few members. It was impossible to join if you hadn’t been recommended by someone I knew or accepted by the majority after a vote. This was why even though we didn’t have a lot of members, our bond and trust in each other was unshakeable. A few of us were even ready to give their lives for the clan.
Sadi had been one of them. After we were trapped by our enemies, she had volunteered to distract them so that the rest of the clan members could escape. Kun Khr had been injured and unconscious at the time, but it was obvious how he felt after.
But an assassination attempt was almost a bit embarrassing. I was the clan’s leader and core. If the information that someone had been poisoning me for a while, distrust would break out among the clan members. Everyone was already going through a hard time because of Kun Khr’s departure. I couldn’t add fuel to the fire.
As I put my shirt back on, I said, “Don’t tell anyone about this. If they ask, just say I’ve overworked myself these past few days.”
“Please. I don’t want to make people feel even more unsure. Besides, now that we know about it, we can start treatment.”
“You’re so…” Vieira Dune looked at me with frustration. She seemed to have a lot to say, but then she just grinned and shook her head like nothing could be done. “Fine. You’re usually sly as a fox, but you’re as dense as a bear when it comes to things like this. But that’s why I like you.” With a laugh, she hugged me.
I hugged her back, laughing as well. A bear. It might have been influenced by my desire to take after my brother in that aspect. Still, I was grateful to be alive. I was sure I would die when I fell—in fact, I felt like I was dead.
I was so relieved that it had only been a needless fear that I pulled her in tighter. We stayed like that, feeling each other’s warmth. I was happy at that moment. I didn’t realize it was poison, too.
* * *
The peace we enjoyed for a short while was broken all of a sudden.
“Bad news!” Leonhardt brought more bombshells to our clan.
“Friend, what is it?”
“Kun Khr, that crazy bastard…” Leonhardt couldn’t speak properly because he had run all the way back.
Worry suddenly flashed through me as I thought of Kun Khr’s face when he bowed in apology. I realized belatedly that he had the expression of someone who’d made a decision about something. Why hadn’t I been able to tell back then? Before Leonhardt could speak, I quickly rushed out with my companions. “Valdebich, get the Dragon Killers! Vieira, check how many chimeras we can use right now. Bahal, Leonte, check our manpower. Quick, hurry!”
The clan members all rushed around, likely thinking the same thing that I did. However, no one spoke about their anxiety for fear that the words would become a reality. The only thing I could think of was that I had to rescue Kun Khr, but when we arrived at the temporary base of Blood Land, we could only stand and stare blankly. Kun Khr’s head was on a pole still dripping blood. His face still retained its expression of rage.
Crack. My heart was slowly breaking apart.
* * *
Was it at that moment? The clan members didn’t say anything. We all strategized during war-room meetings and discussed our enemies, but we rarely spoke about personal matters anymore. It seemed like we mechanically fought when we needed to fight and rested when we needed to rest. Everyone was tired and done.
Valdebich and Leonhardt tried to lighten the atmosphere, but everyone just smiled bitterly. There was no happy laughter any more, and even though I wanted to lead the clan properly, the Devil Poison had entered my heart, and I struggled to do so. It was all I could do to keep my seizures under control and focus on war. I didn’t have the strength to look around me, but I wasn’t worried because I believed things would go back to normal. I didn’t realize my baseless faith was exhausting the clan members even more.
The tense atmosphere that often felt like we were walking on knives finally exploded thanks to Bahal.
“So, he joined Red Dragon.”
The clan members glanced at each other without saying anything; the news was that shocking. Although we hadn’t spoken to each other lately, a comrade who had walked shoulder to shoulder with us had crossed over to the enemies. No one had seen it coming, and the gloom deepened.
The changes didn’t end there. The first time was the hardest, after all. From that moment on, things began to fall like dominoes. Aether left. Blinded by money from our enemies, Horst died while trying to assassinate me in the middle of a battlefield. Bayluk left with a smile after planting poison in me. The Devil Poison, which had already settled down a bit, grew worse, and my Dragon Heart was completely destroyed.
Valdebich disappeared one day without a word, and Leonte stabbed me in the heart after capturing me in a trap. Leonhardt tried to calm me down, but even he couldn’t take it and left for the Sea of Time. Other clans that had expressed goodwill to me turned their backs. Those people I helped, people who had sworn allegiance to me, people who had promised friendship—they’d called themselves my wings when I was blazing in the light, but as soon as I fell into darkness, they pretended like they didn’t know me.
I denied the truth at first. How could everyone leave? How could everyone turn their backs on me? How, how? Trust twisted into betrayal. I died multiple times and was revived again and again. My resolve to get the elixir barely got me through, and when I finally started collecting the pieces of myself, Vieira Dune was the only one left behind. She was my lover and everything to me. I didn’t mind if the world abandoned me as long as she was there. I could start again, I could wake up!
Thunk! “You used to be someone who shone like the stars in the sky. Although you seemed arrogant and proud, you were warm inside. I don’t want to see you pathetic like this. I just want to remember your glorious moments. That’s OK, right?” A sword that hurt more than Leonte’s pierced a wound that was barely closed, but her words caused even more pain. I finally realized who the person behind the Devil Poison was.
“I love you,” she whispered in my ear and disappeared.
The sky fell.
* * *
Her eyes looked at me so sadly that I wondered what expression I had on my face. Was it twisted from pain or annoyance? Or was I just overwhelmed with sadness? “Don’t show yourself to me again. Ever.”
Ananta was the only person who stayed by my ruined side until the end. I was grateful to her. Knowing that she liked me, I’d rejected her, prioritizing Vieira Dune’s emotions instead. I was a fool who didn’t know how to read people. That was the reason I had to push her away. I had no hope, and the situation around me was so terrible that I couldn’t pull a beautiful and kind person like her into it.
Ananta hesitated as she looked at me as though she wanted to say something. Her eyes were filled with pity. Then, she bit her lower lip like she decided something and spoke firmly, “Anything.” The strength in her voice resounded in my heart. I thought it had been destroyed a long time ago, but it seemed like it could still perform some of its functions. “I’ll do anything I can to protect her.” With those words, she left.
I collapsed to the ground and sobbed without making a sound. I wanted to shout over and over, “Stay by my side." I wanted to say that I was lonely, tired, and in pain. I wanted to tell her how cold this place was. But I forced myself not to say a single thing.
“I’ll do anything I can to protect her.” Ananta’s words moved me. I didn’t know who she was going to protect, but I had something to protect as well. I put my hand into my breast pocket where a glass bottle containing a sparkling blue liquid lay hidden. It was the elixir, the mysterious medicine that would heal my mother. I had gotten it from Allforone on the seventy-seventh floor after forcing my way through the seventy-sixth floor.
"Is this your fourth time here? The time…yes. You’re closer than before. But that’s all. Nothing has changed. I supposed the fate engraved into your soul won’t change?" Allforone had been surrounded by darkness and fog, but he spoke like he was proud of me as he patted my head. "Child, you’re dreaming of nightmares over and over, trapped inside a cycle. I hope you can escape the nightmares and understand your path someday."
I still couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I could tell he was encouraging me. There was still one person left in the world who could say those words even after everyone had abandoned me.
Even though I didn’t ask for it, Allforone had given me the elixir as if he understood, saying I did a good job. He returned to the spot where he had been standing and looked up at the glittering night sky. It was beautiful. A galaxy split the center of the sky, and stars twinkled around it. I was so dazzled by the sight that I couldn’t do anything other than stare at it blankly for a while. I don’t remember exactly, but I probably cried because my eyes were wet when I came to my senses.
I returned to the hidden stage of the fiftieth floor where the clan house was. I was already wrecked beyond recovery after getting through Red Dragon and fighting the Summer Queen, but Allforone’s encouragement and the galaxy of stars had given me a taste of happiness.
When I touched the elixir, I was filled with the impulse to drink it, but I knew that it would be impossible to heal myself even with the elixir, so I just shook my head. I hadn’t forgotten what I’d come to the Tower to do and the promise I’d made to Mom. There was a problem, though. I had to retire in order to return to Earth. I wouldn’t be able to climb the Tower again, but since I didn’t have much longer to live, it didn’t matter.
However, the problem was that the fiftieth floor was filled with enemies who had smelled blood in the water after sensing the catastrophe on the seventy-sixth floor. I needed to get through them in order to retire, but I didn’t have any strength left. What could I do? How could I get through them to give Mom the elixir? I was deep in thought for a while.
[A god quietly observes you.]
I lifted my head at the message that suddenly popped up. It was a gaze that appeared from time to time from a being who was interested in me but never revealed its name. Even now that I was stronger, I still couldn’t see any of the being’s characteristics to tell what kind of position it had or who it was. But it wasn’t the message that inspired me, it was the being’s actions.
‘Do I have to get past all my enemies? Everything will be over if I lose the elixir. If I can leave it to someone I trust…’ However, there wasn’t anybody I could trust.
No. There was one person. Hyung.
‘But it’s too dangerous for hyung to come here without anything.’ It had been a long time since I left Earth, so his personality could’ve changed, but the world of the Tower was rough and difficult. Even hyung would struggle to get to where I was. However, if hyung could see the path I’d walked, just as the gods and demons on the ninety-eighth floor watched the lower floors, he would be able to ascend quickly.
I quickly pulled out the pocket watch and Soulstone. A memory I shared with my brother could hold my memories and vestige, and the stone of Superbia could be the medium. No, that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to leave just a simple diary. I wanted to create an item to help hyung find the right path. I’d walked a path of failure, and I couldn’t ask him to do that as well. I had to find a more efficient and correct path for him. What could I do to make this happen?
[A god watches you.]
I was deep in thought again.
[A god takes interest in your decision.]
There was a way. ‘The benefit.’ I’d gained it a long time ago but I hadn’t been able to use it because I didn’t know how.
[A god smiles with satisfaction at the choice you made.]
The benefit Drawing Dreams was like a simulation. It would simulate a situation with its specific conditions and choose a few variables for the best possible ending. It could influence reality to create an advantageous result.
I had never used it before, so at first, I didn’t know how it worked. Afterwards, I realized that it needed too many conditions. It was a benefit that mortals couldn’t use. If a dream were applied to reality, it would influence the principles of causality. Gods and demons wouldn’t be able to touch them easily, either.
It was a power that only an almighty being could wield, one whose existence was beyond that of a superior divine being. This was why I didn’t attempt it, but if the limits were changed, the story would be different. If the information about the Tower could be copied to create a small Tower inside the storage location, and the simulations could continue in the form of dreams, the data would still look for the most successful and efficient result. Wouldn’t the result help hyung somehow?
In the world of this Tower, there could be a successful version of me instead of the failed reality. A smile grew on my face as I thought of it, but my eyes widened. ‘Then...’
I looked around. Everything was vivid and real, but all of a sudden, it was all meaningless because I finally realized the truth. ‘This is all a dream.’ Memories of happy, sad, and lonely moments floated around in my head from time to time, and I’d dismissed them as fragments of dreams or déjà vu, but they had actually happened. At least, they had in this world. That meant one thing.
‘In the end…’ I tightened my grip on the pocket watch as a bitter smile spread across my face. ‘Even in a dream like this, there was never a time that I smiled at the end.’
* * *
“Stupid jackass.” Yeon-woo clenched his teeth as he looked at the countless scenes created by the letters, Jeong-woo in his arms. He watched different events playing out, all with one thing in common: Jeong-woo. He watched his brother die multiple times from different causes. There was a Jeong-woo who died from blood loss when a rain of arrows penetrated his shield. A Jeong-woo who fell for a trap set up by scavengers just as he was about to enter the Tutorial. A Jeong-woo who died after fighting Allforone, and a Jeong-woo who died from the explosion of his Magic Circuit when he tried to absorb the Soulstone.
At each end, he would take the elixir and realize the truth, closing his eyes and rubbing the pocket watch with bitterness.
Yeon-woo looked down at his brother in his arms. He had always had questions about the things he’d done. The hidden pieces in his brother’s diary were rare and precious items that Large Clans would’ve hoarded for themselves if they’d known about them. There was Bathory’s Vampiric Sword and Olympus’ Treasure. Yeon-woo had wondered why no one had taken them, but if they were things his brother had left after repeating his life multiple times, it made sense.
The path Yeon-woo walked had been created after his brother died tens, hundreds, no—maybe even thousands of times. All so Yeon-woo wouldn’t have to face the same difficulties he had.
Yeon-woo was fine with getting hurt, which was why the only thing he could say when he saw Jeong-woo was that he was stupid. No matter how many times the dreams repeated, there would be memories left in his subconsciousness, and his soul would be eroded bit by bit. Still, he hadn’t stopped, and even now, Jeong-woo didn’t seem to have any intentions of opening his eyes, still walking on his lost path in the world of dreams.
[A god is looking at you with sad eyes.]
Yeon-woo lifted his head at the sudden message. It was the one that had followed Jeong-woo around ever since he entered the Tower. Jeong-woo hadn’t learned who it was even until death, but not Yeon-woo. She was connected to Yeon-woo too strongly through the Channeling. “Did you see this future when Jeong-woo first came here?”
[A god is silent.]
Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes. “Athena.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter