Chapter 480 - The Tortoise and The Hare (5)

The ninety-eighth floor’s heavenly world was divided into two camps: gods and demons. The gods were further divided into various societies, and among them, the Chan Sect was considered one of the most prestigious.

The Jade Emperor and other great gods had formed the sect, and it was also home to other great beings such as Hou Yi, West Empress Dowager, Daode Tianzun, and Lingbao Tianzun. They also had the ancient god Sanhuang Wudi behind them, which made even the demons reluctant to confront them.

The only exception was the Jie Sect, which was diametrically opposed to the Chan Sect. However, if it wasn’t for the presence of the Jie Sect’s own ancient demon, they would never have been able to confront the Chan Sect on relatively equal footing.

With the greatest god, the Jade Emperor, at its helm and many illustrious gods among its ranks, the Chan Sect could be considered a true eminence among the various heavenly societies. If one were to pick the most skilled god among the Chan Sect, it would likely be the eldest among the five heads, the Yellow Emperor.

Kiku was a battle general that the Yellow Emperor cherished most. The legends about the Chan Sect told about a time when the Yellow Emperor lost his treasured Sage Bead while traveling through the Kunlun Mountains. The Sage Bead was a treasure that allowed insight into all things of the world and peeked into the future of the universe. It was an important, indispensable treasure that the Yellow Emperor used to rule the entire universe.

At that time, he ordered the most knowledgeable of his subordinates, Ji, to find the Sage Bead, but Ji was unsuccessful. Then, the Emperor ordered Li Ju, who had the ability to see everything within hundreds of thousands of kilometers, to find the Sage Bead. However, Li Ju also failed to find the Yellow Emperor’s treasure.

Only after these successive failures did he send his most cherished subordinate, Kiku, to search for the Sage Bead. Although Kiku did not find the Sage Bead in the end, he searched for several days and nights without rest, unlike the other subordinates. The Yellow Emperor was impressed by Kiku’s stupid, stubborn loyalty, and he developed a deep trust in this subordinate, asking him to stay close by his side whenever he moved around.

Yeon-woo did not know why the Yellow Emperor had sent his loyal subordinate to be the gatekeeper of the Three God Mountains, but ever since the Tower’s inception, Kiku had faithfully carried out his duty, never leaving his station for the past thousands of years.

The Jade Emperor slept in the Golden Jade Palace inside the Three God Mountains, and since Kiku was protecting him, he would never allow uninvited visitors access. It was disrespectful to raise weapons or reveal murderous intentions in sacred ground, and these acts would be seen as a direct affront to the Jade Emperor himself. It was impossible for Kiku not to take action when he heard the commotion, and so he quickly eliminated Vlad Tepes and Gilles de Rais. By the time they realized who was guarding the entrance, it was too late.

Bang! Pssh! Kiku tightened his grip on Bango’s Crescent Sword. It seemed that he was still dissatisfied with something. His bloodthirsty gaze turned to Yeon-woo.

‘What kind of momentum is…!’ Although Kiku couldn’t speak well, he was strong enough to be recognized as the greatest fighter in the Chan Sect and the heavenly world. He might be inferior to Hades or Typhon when it came to overall skills and power level, but in terms of pure fighting ability, he overwhelmed them all, as though he had been created just to fight.

Even though only their eyes met, Yeon-woo felt his skin tingle and crawl. However, this brief exchange helped Yeon-woo understand the path he needed to take to develop his right wing of fight.

However, it wasn’t the time for him to lose focus. Since Kiku might consider him an uninvited guest, Yeon-woo felt nervous, so he anxiously tried to pull out Laplace’s book, all the while hoping that Laplace wasn’t on the blacklist.

“I don’t like it. You!”

Before Yeon-woo had the chance to say anything, Kiku yelled at him. Despite his distance from the Three God Mountains, Yeon-woo heard him as clearly as though he were standing right next to him.

“Human. With Black King remnant. You. Candidate. But not Black King. You smell like close friend. So, I let you go!”

‘What?’ Yeon-woo wondered how Kiku knew about the Black King. Unlike the gods and demons of death, or even the otherworld gods searching for the Black King, Kiku’s hostility bordered on hatred. Yeon-woo could tell that there was a story behind Kiku’s dislike of the Black King, but he couldn’t understand what the hell Kiku meant by saying Yeon-woo smelled like a close friend. However, Kiku disappeared immediately after finishing his sentence, as if he didn’t care what Yeon-woo thought.

Sss! At the place where Kiku had stood, the mist scattered to reveal a trail leading into the mountains. It seemed to beckon at Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo paused for a moment, but as if possessed by something, he used Fire Wings to glide towards the trail.

***

According to legend, the Three God Mountains were originally composed of five mountains: Dae-Yeo, Won-Kyo, Bang-Jang, Yung-Ju, and Bong-Le. Each mountain was 30,000 kilometers tall and had gold and jade facades that made them look like lavish pavilions. The mountains were filled with beautiful trees that lined up like beads.

However, after sitting on the back of the Tortoise and floating in the Sea of Time and Space for a long time, two of the mountains had floated away, two looked different due to the constant wind, and only one remained intact.

Also, because the three spiritual mountains have existed for what seems like eternity, it appears as though time has ceased within them. Each mountain holds an endless amount of time.

the Three God Mountains also represented time. Yung-Ju Mountain represented the past. Bang-Jang Mountain represented the present. Bong-Le Mountain represented the future.

The three spiritual mountains were connected to each other like a mountain range, forming a circle from the past to the future, and then from the future to the past.

‘At first glance, it’s like the structure of the sixteenth floor.’ Yeon-woo thought of the temples of the Three Norns. Although he had clashed with Urd and made her lose many followers, the divinity that the goddesses possessed was real, and Yeon-woo even heard that their influence had grown recently.

The sixteenth floor had a forked path that divided into three paths, each one leading to a different goddess. Here, each mountain represented a section of time. However, on the sixteenth floor, players had to choose a path to receive the blessing of one of the goddesses, and this blessing would influence their characteristics and achievements.

At the Three God Mountains, one had to follow the cycle of time, from the past to the future. Disconnection and connection. The two areas were polar opposites despite their superficial similarities.

‘The sixteenth floor is just an imitation of this place.’ The concept of time and space could not be easily countered even by the greatest beings. Even after achieving transcendence, cosmic beings could only adjust the flow of time and space. They could never reverse it. If that were at all possible, none of them would be imprisoned on the ninety-eighth floor or continue a pointless war.

Gods who possessed abilities related to time and space were treated as important figures in each society, and each society didn’t hesitate to do unthinkable acts and commit unspeakable atrocities in order to create gods and demons with space and time abilities.

The predominantly stationary goddesses of the sixteenth floor were members of the godly society Asgard. Were they stationed on the sixteenth because they were not considered important gods? Or were they seeking specific qualities from among the players?

‘After my clash with Urd, none of the goddesses seemed to be interested in me.’ The gods and demons usually saw players and natives as insignificant beings. Instead of being wise guardians, the gods and demons were often petty and sought revenge for slights, both real and perceived. As transcendental beings, their fears centered around the contamination or defilement of their divinity. After clashing with Yeon-woo, Urd’s divinity had been damaged, and she lost many of her Apostles, as well as the faith of her followers. The same thing happened to the other two goddesses.

However, they had never taken any action against Yeon-woo. In fact, neither did the entire Asgard society. Among their members, only gods like Thor, who was interested in Yeon-woo’s fighting and combat powers, were interested in him. Since he did not want to get unexpectedly smacked on the back of his head later, Yeon-woo felt that he should take time to investigate why the gods had not moved against him.

Yeon-woo walked on the trail with these thoughts. He couldn’t figure out his location, and both the trail and his surroundings were shrouded in mist. ‘Perceiving the Heavens’ allowed him to see outside the mountains, even though the flow of time and space was chaotic, but it became impossible as soon as he entered this space. It was the same when it came to expanding his Consciousness to his surroundings. He could not detect anything.

He gathered his magic power and shot it out like a bullet towards the side of the trail, but the mist just swallowed the bullet without showing any change. He wondered what would happen if he veered off the trail, but he decided not to take any unnecessary risks, so he just continued walking.

Since the sky was also filled with the opaque mist, Yeon-woo could not use his wings to reach the Golden Jade Palace through the air.

After some time, Yeon-woo felt the path rise. He had finally set foot on the first of the Three God Mountains, Yung-Ju Mountain.

[You have entered ‘Yung-Ju Mountain’.]

The short message appeared clearly on his retina as the landscape began to change.

Sss! ‘It’s something I’ve been through before, but…this truly feels dirty.’ The mental anguish and trauma that Urd had provoked in him flashed before his eyes. Yeon-woo recalled the abandonment he’d suffered from his trusted associates, his death crisis, and return to the army headquarters. However, unlike his recollection before, Yung-Ju Mountain continued to show him what happened after he returned to the base.

His return upended the Joint Command Center. Everyone thought Cain was dead, and Yeon-woo remembered clashing with some of the high-ranking military officials, who tried to cover up the incident. Anticipation. Revenge. The casings that he threw in their faces. After they imprisoned him for mutiny, the higher officials continued to condemn and silence him. His commander, a father figure to him, ran around like a headless chicken to save him. Yeon-woo felt like he was watching a third-rate film, but he had to endure it. Back then, each passing day brought fresh dangers.

In the end—the bullseye. ‘Damn it.’ Someone shot his lover while she tried to protect him. The killer escaped from the scene immediately, and Yeon-woo could not catch him because his lover had grabbed his sleeve to tell him her last words, which were forever linked to the image of her fluttering hands: “I love you.”

I love you. Those words made Yeon-woo crazy. Whenever he clashed with his lover’s younger brother or his lover, she always wept. She never asked him to forgive her brother or to apologize to her. Even when Yeon-woo tormented her for no good reason, she only looked at him with a sad gaze. Then, with her last dying breath, she said, “I love you.”

This was why Yeon-woo had thrown the casings in Jang Wei’s face before walking out. Jang Wei had pulled the trigger that fateful day, but Yeon-woo blamed himself for his lover’s death anyway. He didn’t want to get his hands any dirtier and he wished to rid himself of the past when he’d thrown the casings. Jang Wei was already in a state of ruin, and it was impossible that he would survive, so Yeon-woo thought that Jang Wei would meet his end.

However, Jang Wei unexpectedly reappeared in the Tower, of all places, holding onto the casings with “Christmas Day, 2017”—the words he’d engraved on Mount Shimbiris in Somalia. Jang Wei had been swept away by the emptiness, but where was he now?

Yeon-woo looked at his past with a dry expression, like someone watching an unenjoyable movie. He was indifferent, but entirely so. He remembered all the feelings, thoughts, and circumstances that he had gone through then, but it did not affect him now. He had come too far to get caught up again in his past.

Yeon-woo thought that what Shannon had said about him before was right: tool. For Yeon-woo, even his past was nothing more than a tool to be thrown away once it was no longer useful. Even the feelings he’d shared with his old lover had withered away to the point that he wondered if they’d ever been in love with in the first place. Could he really be called a human? He’d asked himself this question already before.

[You have entered ‘Bang-Jang’.]

After an unknown period of time, Yeon-woo passed the first mountain and reached the second mountain, which showed the present, and he viewed the things he’d gone through in the Tower, beginning with the memories of his younger brother and the leave of absence to return to Korea, which he’d thought would be his final visit home. He saw the moment he entered the Tower, the Tutorial, the friendships he’d struck, his slowly changing attitude and perspective until he reached the very moment he was in now. The scenes had the same effect as when he’d crossed Yung-Ju Mountain.

[You have entered ‘Bong-Le Mountain’.]

As soon as he reached the final mountain, Yeon-woo hesitated for the first time. He’d seen the message but he saw nothing ahead. It was only pitch-black darkness. He couldn’t understand what this meant about his future. ‘What?’

Neither the past nor the present affected him. Only one question mattered to someone like him, who ran forward with only one goal in mind. Would he achieve his goal? Would he be able to conquer the Tower and destroy it?

When Yeon-woo patiently walked to Bong-Le Mountain. He hoped that he would see the scenes he was hoping for. Even if he did not see what he wished for, he wanted to learn anything that might happen, even a glimpse or passing clue. If he could not achieve his goal, he was ready to change his plans. If he were walking the wrong path, he would change it. But, what the hell was this? Yeon-woo was contemplating what to do and where to go.

Sss! Suddenly, the darkness ripped up and disintegrated. Yeon-woo had arrived at the very end of Bong-Le Mountain, where he saw a huge Oriental-style palace that glowed purple. It looked like something that only existed in Eastern legends.

A five-year-old boy appeared in front of him. He was cute, with red cheeks that looked like peaches. He wore silk clothing and his elegant demeanor made it clear that he was of the nobility. Yeon-woo instinctively knew that he was the Snapping Turtle who had led Laplace out of the Demonic Sea.

This young boy was the incarnation of the Tortoise’s spirit. He was also the secretary in charge of handling the sleeping Jade Emperor’s affairs. However, the Snapping Turtle stared at Yeon-woo without saying anything. His eyes were so deep that Yeon-woo felt as if he were being sucked into them. It seemed as if the boy’s eyes contained emptiness itself.

“You, are you a human?” The Snapping Turtle asked a question before Yeon-woo could say anything. Yeon-woo didn’t know how to answer the question. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the Black King’s potential successor. As long as you are part of the cycle of life, you should have a future. Even a god or a demon—any creature, even those beings outside—can not escape the future. It’s destiny. However, I can’t see your future. In fact, you don’t possess one.”

What? Yeon-woo frowned. The Snapping Turtle spoke confidently even though he seemed to contradict himself by saying that Yeon-woo didn’t have a future, even though everyone had one. The Snapping Turtle continued to speak like a sage who mastered all knowledge, his expression serious. “There can only be one of two reasons.” He said in a strong voice, “Either you’re dying, or…” His black eyes glittered. “You’re already dead.”

Previous Chapter Next Chapter