“Their encirclement is closing in. We can’t hide like this anymore. Let’s make a run for it. Don’t look back, just move forward.”
Dash! Ananta ran with Hayang on her back. Because she possessed the blood of the draconic species, Ananta used her will to apply basic magic to increase her running speed and her strength and to set up multi-layered shields to protect them against external shocks.
Of course, those efforts alone could not handle all the incoming attacks, and they couldn’t even think of counterattacking. Fortunately, as the pocket watch around her neck started operating, the magic power of Cha Jeong-woo’s vestige flowed to Ananta and strengthened her magic. Jeong-woo sometimes even manifested to defeat the enemies pursuing them. However, this wasn’t sufficient, and Ananta had to keep running.
She ran in a straight line, passing through all obstacles like hills, despite the approach of her pursuers. The Head Elder opened the path a short distance ahead, withstanding the powerful beings of the Tower who were also the frontline forces of the Sea of Time. In fact, the Head Elder was even displaying his overwhelming power.
Bam! With each step, several kilometers of ground sank, and blood-red thunderbolts rained nonstop from the sky, tearing the pursuers into pieces. Rumble! Each time the Head Elder brought out his power, he created a terrifying storm filled with thunderbolts, gusts of wind, and torrential rain that tore its targets apart.
The Blood-Red Philosopher had already destroyed the city on the sixty-sixth floor. Although the Martial King’s fame had overshadowed the Head Elder, the Head Elder had also dominated the Tower in the past. He was so powerful that he could casually talk about his possible exuviation and transcendence. Even if his pursuers appeared by the truckload, he would not bat an eye.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! The Head Elder was a being that even the Central Bureau and the Sea of Time found difficult to contain. The reason that Hayang hadn’t been captured over the past two years wasn’t his ability to hide.
『I thought the Martial King was the only monster, but it seems like that old fogey is pretty amazing as well.』 Cha Jeong-woo’s vestige inside the pocket watch stopped assisting Ananta to look at the Head Elder’s overwhelming power. Although Jeong-woo had seen similar battle scenes dozens of times in the past year or so, his heart still beat faster at the sight of the being who tore the world apart with his blood-red thunderbolts.
Unlike the Martial King, who was like a god of war who overwhelmed his enemies with his martial arts prowess, the Head Elder was a natural-born fighter. When it came to combat, the Head Elder was head and shoulders above the Martial King. It was enviable that the One-horned tribe produced not one but two such monsters. The more one thought about it, the more obvious how absurd the One-horned tribe was.
『I wonder what would happen if the Head Elder undergoes exuviation or transcendence?』 And if that happened, what would the result be?
Rumble. Rumble. Rumble. Rumble! Boom! An impact powerful enough to smash the stage many times over swept through. Everyone trembled at the flashes of red light all over the stage.
“How are we supposed to go through that?”
The players who had been lucky enough not to get swept away by the impact looked at Head Elder with fear in their eyes.
“Are there more?”
The Head Elder waved his hands in a beckoning motion as he looked back at their pursuers. He didn’t seem tired in the least, and he only had a bit of soot on his hands. He was even holding his right hand behind his back as if to spite them. The pursuers did get angry at this, but they also grew even more fearful.
“Hahaha!” Suddenly, a loud roar of laughter rang out, and a powerful force spread out from the sky. All of the Head Elder’s Blood Lightning smashed to the ground, raising up a cloud of dust that formed a hazy fog.
In an instant, the wrinkles at the corners of the Head Elder’s eyes deepened. It was an opponent that he did not want to face: Rosinante the Horse. The craziest of the High Guardians had appeared.
When Rosinante had first appeared with the other two High Guardians, he had a sensible, reserved expression. However, now, he looked anything but reserved. “Arhat, Head Elder of the One-horned tribe! The Bureau has designated you as a dangerous person. We are now proceeding with your punishment.”
[The system has designated player Arhat as a dangerous being by vote of the Central Bureau.]
[The system’s protection of Arhat has been weakened.]
Behind his old glasses, the Head Elder’s eyes narrowed. “Since when did the Bureau start taking sides? Hasn’t it always been the Bureau’s policy not to interfere with players as much as possible?”
“Policies and actions are subject to change at any time.”
“Well…” The Head Elder smirked. “That can go both ways.”
Whoosh! In an instant, a new aura spread, possessing a fighting spirit and intent that was nothing like what the Head Elder had previously shown. He was engulfed in a dazzling light that was different from the bright-red color of the Blood Lightning.
Rosinante’s face twitched. “Wait…you, maybe…?”
“I must open a path.”
『Rosinante! Stop that bastard!』 Diablo urgently called out.
Rosinante instinctively grabbed his sword and rushed forward. However, it was already too late.
[Player Arhat is attempting exuviation!]
When the light subsided, a new aura swept through composed of holy power. Boom! The Head Elder shot out like a cannonball towards Rosinante.
[Exuviation has been successful.]
[Arhat has leveled up from player to demigod.]
[Preparing for transcendence.]
[The sixty-sixth floor has been declared a temporary holy territory for the demigod Arhat!]
Even though he had only become a demigod, the Head Elder already made the sixty-sixth floor’s stage his holy territory. This meant that his level and power overwhelmed the other beings on the stage. This new power was evident as he headed quickly towards Rosinante.
Rosinante reflexively swung his sword. However, the Head Elder seemed to break the law of inertia and abruptly stop to dodge the sword strike. He slammed his hand as quick as a thunderbolt on Rosinante’s chest. Rosinante’s chest plate was instantly crushed and smashed into pieces. The fragments spread through the air. A hole the size of a human head had appeared in the spot where the Head Elder’s attack had landed.
[Data could not be restored due to an unknown impact.]
The High Guardians usually represented the will of the system, and even if they were injured, the system could heal them using data restoration. However, the Head Elder’s holy power interfered with this process. Rosinante collapsed to the ground, his eyes unfocused. He had died instantly.
Could a mere player or a demigod kill a High Guardian? Could this happen to High Guardians, whom even the transcendents in the heavenly world were afraid of?
[Most of the godly societies have fallen into shock.]
[Most of the demonic societies are asking for a comprehensive review of the One-horned tribe.]
Whoosh! Breath poured down from the sky. Diablo had reverted back to his true form and ceaselessly poured out Breath, not giving the Head Elder a moment’s rest.
[High Guardian Rooster has bestowed blessings!]
[The protection of the Central Bureau is being applied.]
[The blessing of the Central Bureau is being applied.]
[The status ‘Mania’ has been applied to those who have received protection and blessing!]
Lapis Lazuli cast a wide area-of-effect spell using the magic principles that made her known as a great mage. With the Central Bureau’s authority and the Tower’s protection, her magic amplified severalfold. The eyes of the players who received the protection and blessing opened wide, burning with enthusiasm once more. The additional power made one feel like one could do anything.
The unyielding confidence blinded them, and observing the change, the Head Elder drew in his holy power, which had been stretched out in all directions. He grasped the condensed aura and holy power in his clenched hand. ‘It won’t be easy this time.’
Although he managed to kill Rosinante after achieving exuviation, it would not be easy to deal with both Diablo and Lapis Lazuli at the same time. The system was also constantly trying to interfere with the Head Elder, and he had to clear the way for Ananta and Hayang. His hands were full. There was a saying that many hands triumphed over one, meaning that it was difficult for an individual to stand against others. For a fleeting moment, the Head Elder considered his options. ‘Do I need to transcend too?’
It would not be too difficult for him to achieve transcendence. However, the problem was what would happen right after that. Would it be possible for him to defeat all the pursuers after he became a divine being? If not, what could he do next? And if he did defeat them, what would happen after? Would he continue to exist?
For an unknown reason, Allforone had abruptly stopped acting two years ago and remained silent on the seventy-seventh floor. The Head Elder was certain that Allforone would not appear to stop him from transcending, but the Head Elder still had a duty and responsibility to protect the One-horned tribe until Phante had fully developed. Naturally, the Head Elder was reluctant to make a rash decision.
However, it would be impossible to contend with Diablo otherwise, so the Head Elder decided to attempt transcendence. Only then would he be able to break free from the Tower system’s constraints, even for just a moment.
[An unknown force is encroaching on the stage!]
The message popped up above the heads of all the players and High Guardians.
Slash! Slash! Slash! Sss!
Many of the players who were part of the encirclement around the Head Elder and Ananta suddenly became startled and started swinging their swords at their fellow comrades.
“W-why are you doing this all of a sudden?”
“Wilson! What are you doing?”
Many of the players were either stabbed to death or seriously injured. The shadows of those in the encirclement shook ominously.
[An unknown force is attempting to dominate on all privileges and authority of the stage.]
[The firewall has been destroyed due to an unknown cause.]
[The stage’s authority has been violated due to an unknown cause.]
[Caution! A bug has occurred!]
[Caution! A bug has occurred!]
[The system’s protection has been suspended due to the bug.]
[All effects have been terminated!]
[The blessing has been canceled.]
[The protection has been canceled.]
[The status ‘Mania’ has been downgraded to ‘Confusion’!]
[The area-of-effect magic has been canceled.]
[Penalties shall be applied!]
“Ugh!” Lapis Lazuli crumbled to the ground and vomited a lot of blood. Now that her system authority was blocked, all of the penalties crashed down on her. The large number was sure to cause such a terrible shock that her magic foundation would never recover, and her power would inevitably collapse.
Crackle! Crackle! Lapis Lazuli’s body made so much static that it seemed she would die at any moment.
『Lazuli!』 Diablo only just noticed his suffering comrade and stopped raining down Breath. However, it was already too late to save Lazuli. The system repeatedly sent out messages about an unknown force and unknown causes, making a chill run down Diablo’s spine.
The responsible force was so unexpected and unknown that it immediately crashed the system and caused this tragedy—and the High Guardians hadn’t done anything!
Since he didn't really know what was going on, Diablo grew flustered. ‘It’s him! That being that I sensed in the crowd…!’
Even though the being Diablo was referring to was not a High Guardian, anyone who could cut off a High Guardian’s system authority would be a greater threat because that meant that there was no longer a need for the Bureau. The being’s existence also meant the Sea of Time now had an enemy. However, Diablo could not find the being who had brought all these misfortunes to them.
Whoosh! Suddenly, a dark shadow covered the ground and rose high into the air.
[Warning! An irregularity has appeared!]
[Warning! An irregularity has appeared!]
[Warning! An unknown force is exerting a powerful influence!]
[An unknown force has dominated the stage!]