Following Yeon-woo’s instructions, Hanryeong searched for Edora. The unstable Pairing he had with Yeon-woo told him that something unusual was going on but he was more intent on carrying out Yeon-woo’s orders than returning to find out what was wrong. After all, Hanryeong’s presence would probably not make much of a difference to Yeon-woo’s situation. Moreover, Hanryeong felt a strange sense of anxiety as he continued his search for Edora. ‘Something’s strange. Is this everything they planned? No, it can’t be. There’s probably more.’
Yeon-woo and the others were busy preventing more incidents from occurring in the village, but, if one took a step back, a couple of things didn’t seem to make sense. First: who was behind this operation? At first glance, it appeared to be Faceless, who enlisted the help of White Dragon and the Daud Brethren, planning everything with a mole within the One-horned tribe. However, when Hanryeong thought about it, Faceless seemed to be a red herring. Hanryeong had once served as the Saber God of the Cheonghwado, and he knew very well what the Sword God and Spear God were like.
At the time, they considered themselves apex warriors and rulers. However, after Red Dragon destroyed the Cheonghwado and Hanryeong became Yeon-woo’s familiar, Hanryeong realized that he had been little more than a frog that lived its entire life inside a well. Hanryeong was skeptical about Faceless’s ability to involve the godly society of Asgard. Although Faceless possessed Gungnir, a great divine weapon, that alone wasn’t enough to mobilize an entire godly society. Furthermore, the risks that Asgard was taking to fight Olympus and Yeon-woo, who claimed the throne of the king of gods, made it absurd that they would join this operation for a minor reason.
‘There’s someone behind all this. I’m certain.’ The information Faceless had given Nocturne about his origins was not something he could obtain on his own. So far, only two people had reached the last section of the twenty-first floor. Additionally, either the player or the simulation had to die in order to exit the section. In other words, there were only two people who could know what the last section was like: the Martial King and Yeon-woo.
The Martial King was the one who had taken out Allforone’s simulation. Yeon-woo hadn’t fought Allforone’s simulation because it was missing and left the floor tied with him in the first place. How could the Sword God, who didn’t rank as high, know of Nocturne’s identity? Hanryeong felt that it didn’t make sense.
Nor did it make sense that anyone else would know the truth. Hanryeong could only conclude that a greater being who could look down upon the lower world had intervened. That being was also great enough to intervene and bear a large amount of the penalty that came from the laws of causality. How many such beings were there? Which of them were willing to go to war with Olympus? Only a being who didn’t care about antagonizing Yeon-woo would plan such an elaborate conspiracy.
Which society? Or was it an individual? ‘What’s more, whoever is behind the curtain hasn’t made an appearance yet. The main purpose of this elaborate plan was not to assassinate the Martial King—his death probably doesn’t even matter. It’s just a smokescreen to hide whatever the main purpose is. They must be aiming for something else.’
The possible candidates flashed through Hanryeong’s mind. However, a large concern overshadowed his thoughts. If the people behind the curtain were targeting someone, it was easy to see who it would be: ‘The Psychic Medium.’
She was the person who maintained the principles of the founder, Shaohao Jintian, and possessed the eyes to protect his tribe. Moreover, her eyes were not inferior to Allforone’s Thousand Li Eyes.
Bam! Once Hanryeong arrived at the Spirit Pond, where the Psychic Medium was supposed to be, he realized that he was right.
“Oh dear. You’ve figured it out much sooner than I expected.” A grotesque figure with wrinkled, copper-colored muscles and a bald head with flopping bunny ears waved warmly. It was Laplace. Six equally grotesque beings were gathered around him. Their eyes glittered sharply.
“Ugh…ha…ha…!” A bloodied Edora panted violently as she propped herself up with Divine Evil. There were several badly wounded tribal warriors around her, and slumped on the ground was the Psychic Medium, whose hands were over her eyes. Tears dripped through the gaps between her fingers.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
“Why?” Waltz managed to scream out. “Why, Mother?” She wanted to know why her mother, whom Waltz had trusted and depended on so much, was standing with her enemies.
The White Dragon members who risked their lives to help Waltz were already dead. The Summer Queen’s magic spells had swept them away without a trace. Even as they collapsed with screams, they could not understand why the Summer Queen was acting against them.
Why wasn’t the Summer Queen on their side? Maybe the enemy was manipulating her, or perhaps they were using the Summer Queen’s weakness against her. If the Summer Queen had only told her loyal subjects, they would have done something. During Red Dragon’s heyday, they had already decided to sacrifice their lives for the Summer Queen, and they had followed Waltz after the Summer Queen’s death because they saw the eldest of the Summer Queen’s children as her legitimate successor. This was the reason why White Dragon continued to maintain some semblance of stability despite all its defectors and rapid collapse.
However, since Waltz did not inherit the powers of the Summer Queen, Waltz often wondered if the Summer Queen was displeased with her or had another heir in mind. Regardless, Waltz chose to remain loyal to the Summer Queen.
However, the Summer Queen’s actions shattered everything Waltz believed in. Despite the Summer Queen’s ugly skeletal appearance, she did not appear agitated nor controlled by the enemy. Even the way the Summer Queen utilized magic and used Dragon Fear was no different from her prime, before she lost her Dragon Heart. The last dragon, the Summer Queen who ruled the world of the Tower for over a thousand years, had returned!
One by one, the former subordinates that she had nurtured herself melted from her attacks. In the end, only Waltz remained. However, Waltz was teetering precariously on the cusp of death, and her death wouldn’t be unexpected.
Waltz had been disadvantaged from the start. Most of her power originated from the Summer Queen, and her fight with Ananta had already reduced her stamina. Furthermore, the black flames that swept the earth and devoured everything in sight encircled her, leaving her no way to escape.
There was only one reason Waltz was holding on. She wanted to hear what the Summer Queen would say. Why was the Summer Queen standing with the enemy? And why had the Summer Queen mercilessly forsaken her clan?
If the Summer Queen told her that they were too weak and didn’t meet her standards, Waltz would understand and accept the Summer Queen’s response. Thus, Waltz waited for the Summer Queen’s answer.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Perhaps thinking it was a waste of breath to offer an answer, the Summer Queen continued to unleash a barrage of Hell Fire with an indifferent gaze.
『Request for help! Request for help!』
Suddenly, through her connection, Waltz received an urgent message from the clan’s headquarters on the seventy-sixth floor. ‘What? No way.’
『The floating castle, Laputa, has broken through our defensive barriers and has entered the seventy-sixth floor! Our headquarters is under attack! Requesting help!』
『The Fantasy Regiment has also breached our defenses!』
『The other organizations and clans affiliated with Arthia are also appearing! Iron Throne, Children of the Forest… Damn it! There are too many!』
『We repeat! We repeat! Arthia is attacking our headquarters! We request immediate backup…argh!』
『It’s too dangerous here! Queen, please evacuate as soon as…!』
Crackle! Crackle! Crackle. The messages, which had been flowing out one after the other with an increasing urgency were soon replaced by static noise. At that moment, Waltz realized what was happening. As her squad attacked the One-horned tribe, Arthia was attacking their empty headquarters. Waltz should have conducted a hit-and-run operation and left the One-horned tribe’s village quickly, but she had lingered for too long. Yeon-woo had probably sent Arthia to attack her headquarters as soon as he appeared in the One-horned tribe’s village.
Now that Waltz’s squad had also been annihilated in this village, White Dragon was finished.
“Won’t you answer? I…we… In the end, we were all nothing more than expendable things to you. Hahaha…!” As she continued to deflect one attack after another from the Summer Queen with her high-level martial arts ability, Waltz’s eyes gleamed coldly. The tears that formed in her eyes evaporated from the heat around her. Then, a plume of black smoke rose between the two, blocking their view of each other for a moment. Due to this, Waltz did not see the Summer Queen’s trembling eyes. The Summer Queen had maintained an expressionless face up to then, but for the briefest of moments, her emotions had gotten the better of her.
“You’re all the same!” Waltz roared. Her voice seemed to be filled with anger, but in fact, it was filled with bitterness.
Her parents had been abandoned by the One-horned tribe. Waltz had many people who pretended to care, only to abandon her as well when she was no longer a benefit to them. Waltz had slowly spiraled into despair. When she thought that all was lost, she had found a lifeline: the Summer Queen. Now, it turned out that it was nothing more than an illusion. Waltz had lived a life full of broken promises and unscrupulous people. Nothing was ever right in her life. Everything was always a mess.
She had believed that she could overcome these disadvantages through sheer effort. If she clenched her teeth, did not give up, and continued to endure and persevere, she thought she would one day see the light at the end of the tunnel. She would break off all the chains that restricted her and proudly stand tall for everyone to see. She wanted to prove that even those who fell into the depths of despair like herself could stand proudly under the bright sky. However, it had all been for naught. She would die without accomplishing anything.
Was there really such a thing as fate? If so, was it not too unforgiving? Too cruel? She hadn’t done anything wrong. She endured each day that she was given and lived to the best of her abilities. Why did she have to live like this? With these thoughts swirling in her mind, Waltz shouted up at the sky, but there was no answer.
“Hahaha, hahaha!” Waltz burst into laughter, not because she had given up but because she felt an overwhelming sense of ridicule. She was laughing at the fate that shackled her and at whoever was playing tricks on her until the very end.
Waltz knew there was only one way to end her damned fate and take away control from those who treated her like trash. During her life, she had control over nothing. However, she could control how she would die. Waltz let go of her lingering feelings. She ceased to resist and succumbed to the black flames. The black and red tongues of the fire greedily devoured her. It was hot and painful. But that was all. Despite the pain, her spirit was delighted since she could now see the end. She would finally be rid of all the things that tormented her and be free. Life was just a series of pain and suffering for Waltz. However, this freedom was entirely of her own will. It was her decision.
Whoosh! When the black flames were about to devour the last remnants of her consciousness. Waltz saw the Summer Queen watching with a sad expression. She had already ceased her attacks by then. This expression was completely different from the one she’d worn earlier.
Waltz felt incredulous. Why was she looking at her like that? Now that Waltz was dying, did the Summer Queen feel like her possession was being wasted? Waltz wanted to say something, but she could not get any words out because her vocal cords had already melted in the flames.
However, another thought appeared in her mind like an epiphany. Waltz finally understood. Before the flames obscured her view, Waltz mouthed something. Thank you, Mother.
And with that, Waltz disappeared. The fierce black flames subsided in an instant.
The Summer Queen stood and looked silently at the place where Waltz had been. She kept her mouth tightly shut with an expressionless face.
“A long time ago—when was it exactly—around the time Nayu defeated his rivals and came to power, there was a small disturbance in the tribe. One of the kings who lost the competition for the throne defied tradition and started a rebellion,” the Head Elder said as he appeared behind her. The Summer Queen shifted her gaze towards him. Her eyes seemed to be asking what his point was, but the old man ignored her and continued speaking, “Of course, Nayu isn’t the type to just let things be. In the process of stomping out the rebels, many members of the tribe died.”
When a new king gained the approval of the council of elders, all other contenders withdrew their claims and returned to their families, becoming ordinary members of the tribe. This was a tradition that had been implemented to prevent the competition for the throne from becoming too bloody and crowded. Moreover, because of the One-horned tribe’s general reverence for the powerful, contenders usually gave up their claims to the throne once they discovered that the new king was stronger than them. Rejecting this tradition not only challenged the authority of the new king but also the authority of the elders. Naturally, the Martial King vented his anger, and the elders tried to squash the rebellion.
“But in the process, a couple ran away. When we tried to catch them, we found that they had a baby. Of course, I’ve been searching for that baby ever since.”
「Why are you telling me this?」
“You didn't want to pass on the burden you’re experiencing to your precious daughter, right? You lived a life filled with unavoidable anger for many years. And that kid…” The Head Elder spoke calmly as he adjusted his glasses. “She’s just like you. Even if you didn’t give birth to her, wasn’t she born from your heart? You probably couldn’t allow yourself, or her, to continue living with such baggage.”
Without answering, the Summer Queen turned around, ignoring the Head Elder. Then, she returned to her skeletal form, flapping her wings and soaring into the sky. The Head Elder thought that he could sense loneliness emanating from the Summer Queen’s disappearing form. Since he was her peer and once challenged her in the past, the Head Elder could guess what the Summer Queen was thinking to a certain degree. The Elder took off his glasses and quietly covered his eyes with his hand. “My situation is no different from that stupid dragon.”
He wiped his tired-looking face as he moved slowly to another location. Just as the Summer Queen had made a tragic choice for her child, the Martial King had made a fateful choice for his disciple. The Head Elder prepared himself to watch the final moments of the tribe’s king. The Head Elder had to make sure to uphold the Martial King’s last wish. Wasn’t that the Head Elder’s job? The Head Elder also instinctively knew that it would be his final task, and he was committed to executing it properly.
A deep voice immediately replied. The Head Elder seemed to understand Phante’s feelings, which was why he was careful to say in a calm voice, “Once I give the signal, grab your hyung immediately.”