[This is the 42nd floor, the gate of Kyukjaeng.]
[The trial of the 42nd floor is beginning.]
[Trial: In the past, battlefields were the only stage where warriors could prove themselves. They had to show their courage, unbending spirit, leadership charisma, and outstanding physical abilities. Aside from these, there are also other things that can be demonstrated in the battlefield: strategy and luck.
On the battlefield, you must have the ability to rationally assess the forces of your base, a resourceful brain to turn the tides in your favor, and luck to ensure your plan goes smoothly.
There are waiting areas so that you and 99 other players can observe each other. In front of you will be 4 different paths: red, blue, black, and white.
Choose one, and create a team for your path to compete in a randomly-assigned environment.
The rules of the competition are as follows:
1. Once chosen, the team members cannot be changed.
2. Each team is given five skeleton insignias and one team flag.
3. A skeleton insignia represents a debuff. The more insignias a team has, the more powerful the debuff grows. This means that teams must transfer their insignias to other teams.
4. If you steal the flag of another team, you will exchange team colors and number of insignias.
5. Every 24 hours, each team’s insignias will be counted. The team with the most insignias will lose.
6. The competition will run over for 5 days, and the team with the highest score will be the victor.]
The trials of the floors numbered in the thirties focused on solo playing to help players grow their individual strengths, but the trials of the floors numbered in the forties involved random teamwork. Of those floors, the forty-second was famous for having the most complicated rules. A maximum number of 100 players would be divided into teams of four. They had to get rid of as many skeleton insignias as possible so that they could avoid the debuffs. A team that lost once would likely lose again.
Also, forming a team in the first place required great tactical skills. Since you couldn’t replace team members, if you had a small or weak team, you would fail the round. Players often already formed teams even before entering the forty-second floor, sometimes recruiting mercenaries or using other devious methods.
With that said, weaker teams didn’t always lose. Since teams could exchange colors, sometimes, all a team had to do was steal a flag, and they would end up with the other team’s insignias instead. However, there was no way to know how many skeleton insignias other teams had. One could only observe and judge carefully. Some teams even pretended that they only had a few insignias when in fact, they had the most, while those who had a lot of insignias pretended that they only had a few, and so on. At times, teams could work together or betray each other.
The word “kyukjaeng” was the word for striking a kkwaenggwari, a small flat gong. It was an appropriate name for the stage.
However, this round had a new variable that could even be considered a hurdle.
“What? The Hoarder is here? Why? Shouldn’t he be on a higher floor? Did he come to massacre civilians?”
“Have you forgotten that the Hoarder still hasn’t reached the fiftieth floor?”
“Oh right! Damn it!”
“I thought he was dead because there was no word from him for a while, but he had to come this time.”
“What should we do?”
“Do we have any other option…”
After the ruckus settled, the participants began to furiously guess which path the Hoarder picked.
“Of course, we have to find the team the Hoarder’s in.”
The Hoarder had been missing in action for the last few months, but that didn’t mean his reputation had disappeared. Although rankers still believed that his abilities were overstated, the players on the lower floors were sure of his overwhelming power. The stories about his destruction of the alliance between clans that included the Iron Lion Clan on the twentieth floor still made their rounds.
Obviously, the players desperately wanted to be on the same team as the Hoarder, as it would be the best way to clear the complicated forty-second floor. However, opinions about the path he chose were divided, and there were no clues to help the players guess. Most of them had to depend on their luck or sixth sense.
The player Willump also wanted to be on the same team as the Hoarder, and he had one advantage: ‘I’m not like those blind fools.’ Willump smirked at the other players in their waiting spaces, deep in thought. His trait was Star of Fate, which meant that every decision he made resulted in something even better than expected. Even if he was in a terrible situation, he always managed to get out alive.
It was thanks to this trait that Willump managed to climb the floors with a score that higher than someone with his skills would have. Now, he was a skilled player thanks to his luck.
Willump quietly pulled out two small dice before beginning the trial.
〈Dice of Fate〉
It was a skill based on his trait, and a tool that blessed his fate. His comrades had grumbled about it, saying the game was rigged, but Willump believed that the dice would lead him to luck again and choose the Hoarder’s path.
‘Go!’ Willump rolled the dice. He already had set rules pertaining to the colors. Since the total of the two dice was twelve, then anything below three was red, four to six was blue, seven to nine was white, and ten to twelve was black. The dice stopped rolling and settled on six and six. Twelve.
“Looks like I need to choose black. Good!” Willump retrieved his dice and shouted happily. It was rare for numbers this neat to come out. This meant that his choice was highly likely to be correct. Without any hesitation, he walked toward the black flag. It was dark all around him, and all he could see was a narrow, twisted path.
As he walked further, something large suddenly appeared in the middle of the path. ‘What is that?’
It had a humanoid shape but looked more like a bunch of shadows. It held a Sword Breaker as big as his body and emanated an ominous energy. Was there such a creature on the forty-second floor? Willump thought of the information he’d heard about the trial, but he didn’t recall anything about this creature.
Just then, a voice rang out from the shadowy figure. 「Stop.」 It was so powerful that the atmosphere shook.
Willump paused, knowing that he’d be in danger if he continued moving.
「Sorry, but you can’t go further than this. Our temperamental king says that he doesn’t want to deal with lowly things. He’s a super bad guy, huh?」
Willump had the sensation that the shadow was smiling mischievously. Even so, his feet didn’t move from the ground. He felt like his head would be dislocated from his shoulders if he ignored the shadow. It wasn’t advice; it was a warning.
Only then did Willump remember the Hoarder’s subordinates. Each of them was a monster that could easily eat most players. That meant that the Hoarder had indeed chosen the black path, but what was he trying to do? Willump was curious, but he lacked the courage to check.
* * *
“Do you think you can treat Doyle?” In the area for the black team, Yeon-woo sat speaking with Brahm. In order to hoard the score, he had placed Shanon at the entrance so no one else could enter. The more disadvantaged the team, the greater the bonus points—which was his aim.
Yeon-woo was planning on gathering as many skeleton insignias as possible. He’d be debuffed, but there was a hidden piece he could gain from the process. Then at the last minute, all he had to do was take the flag of some guys he didn’t like.
As if he could read Yeon-woo’s plan, Brahm clucked his tongue before nodding in response to his question. “I think it’s possible. I’ll have to take a closer look, but it hasn’t been that long since he established a channel with Persephone. If the syncing has dropped a bit, it’ll work.”
As Yeon-woo cleared the stages, his companions scattered temporarily throughout the Tower. Kahn and Victoria took Doyle to Anastasia to look for a way to sever the Channel with Persephone, and Creutz left to visit the headquarters of the Regiment. Galliard helped Henova return to the smithy.
Later, Yeon-woo heard that Anastasia had been furious when Victoria brought Doyle to her. She could barely part with the Adamantine Nova, and now, as soon as her disciple returned, she was requesting Anastasia to save some guy she’d never met her entire life. She must have been quite astonished.
But it wasn’t easy to cut the Channel of a transcendent, and they needed to bend some rules to accomplish it. They ended up choosing Anastasia’s charms, since the charms’ foundation borrowed strength from a great being. They thought this meant that it would be possible to change the direction of the Channel, and a former divine being like Brahm helping, they thought they would be able to pull it off.
Yeon-woo had been worried that it would be difficult to cut the Channel because it was with Persephone, Mother Earth’s Apostle, but since Doyle had already severed a Channel with the Heavenly Demon before, it was at least possible. However, it wasn’t without its challenges. “The problem is finding a Channel to replace it.” Doyle’s Channel couldn’t be replaced with just anyone. “We’ll have to discuss that further.”
“Indeed. Still, we have some time. We can take it relatively slow. Also…” Brahm delivered news about the rest of the companions with a mischievous smile. “I have some amusing news.”
Amusing news? Yeon-woo looked at Brahm with expectant eyes.
“It looks like the seeds you planted some time ago are beginning to sprout. The situation is developing in a very interesting manner.”
In that moment, Yeon-woo’s eyes flashed behind his mask as he realized that Brahm was referring to: the Blood Land, the Devil Army, White Dragon, and Black Dragon. The magic alliance of the Magic Towers, and the battles within the mercenary alliance under Iron Lion. With what was going on in Tartarus, the Elohim might be participating, too.
“It’s only the beginning, but the Blood Land allied itself with Black Dragon to attack White Dragon.”
Yeon-woo’s expression changed under his mask. He’d believed that there wouldn’t be any major fights because the clans involved were so large, but it seemed like the situation was deteriorating fast. Was the Gluttony Emperor just greedy, or could there be some variable he hadn’t predicted? Whatever it was, things were progressing faster than he’d expected. “When did it start?”
“I’ll have to look into it, but it seems like it hasn’t been that long. There have been minor clashes, but no hints about a large battle. It was like they were testing the waters. But…” Brahm’s eyes filled with amusement. “With Allforone’s appearance, things did a one-eighty.”
Yeon-woo gave him a questioning look.
“The guys in the large clans seem to have interpreted Allforone’s movements as a sign. Since there was always a ruckus in the past whenever he moved, they probably thought that something big would happen again.”
Yeon-woo gripped his forehead. It turned out that he’d been the one to create the unexpected variable by forcing Allforone’s descent.
“White Dragon is trying to attain the Summer Queen’s goal, and believing that something happened to Allforone, they tried to attack the seventy-seventh floor. Black Dragon probably sneaked up behind them to attack. The Blood Land jumped in for fun.” Brahm was basically saying that Black Dragon and the Blood Land had allied together to ambush White Dragon as they moved to take the seventy-seventh floor.
It was only the beginning, but because the clashes had begun, multiples disturbances were bursting throughout the Tower.
‘Did they just go with their gut? It looks like the Gluttony Emperor finally did something big.’ The Gluttony Emperor had once proposed an alliance with Yeon-woo to bring in the One-horned tribe and Fantasy Regiment. It seemed that he was ready to start a war even before he received Yeon-woo’s reply, and it appeared he firmly believed that Yeon-woo was on his side.
“But the problem is…” Brahm clucked his tongue. “They’re fighting among themselves, but Black Dragon is putting the Blood Land forward and showing attempts to get back out.”
Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes. “So the Blood Land might end up taking responsibility for all of it alone.”
“Yes. Green Dragon also said they’d help Black Dragon but got cold feet when the battle began. As such, the current situation is that—”
“The Blood Land is being beaten up by White Dragon?”
Yeon-woo frowned and tsked. Even though White Dragon was a small group, the Summer Queen’s official successor, Waltz the Spring Queen, was leading them. She was skilled enough to be one of the more powerful Nine Kings, and it would be impossible for the Gluttony Emperor to even dream of besting her.
Yeon-woo could already see the Blood Land losing horribly. ‘But that can’t happen.’ He didn’t mind if the Blood Land collapsed, but not as pathetically as this. He wanted the fires to spread and the chaos to swallow up the entire Tower. Every force had to be sucked in it and destroyed. “We’ll have to help him.”
Yeon-woo assumed the Blood Land was probably desperately looking for him since they needed any help they could get. Also, Yeon-woo believed he had the strength to shake the gameboard up even more. After all, he had achieved many things in Tartarus: the wings of death and fight, leadership of Dis Pluto, the greedy Spirit Guai, and the increasingly profound power of the Black King. With his companions added to the mix, they wouldn’t fall short of other large clans.
He could create anarchy. Of course, he had to hide his full power before he revealed his identity, but he could shake things up. It wouldn’t be too difficult to take care of the Blood Land and the Gluttony Emperor after he fanned the flames.
“I don’t want Jeong-woo to see trash when he opens his eyes again. I should clean everything up this time.”
Brahm nodded and grinned. “That’s a good decision, and there’s a perfect opportunity for that.”
Yeon-woo looked at Brahm questioningly. “Do you remember the Iron Lion Clan and the Magic Towers? As payback, they want to send a bunch of killers to the forty-second floor.”
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