Chapter 68 - The Tower (10)

"Look who’s popular. Hahaha!" Phante burst out laughing as Yeon-woo looked at the table with a slightly irritated face. Even Edora smiled, her hand covering her mouth. The tabletop was covered with invitation letters from several clans, all addressed to Yeon-woo. This meant that his performance had drawn the attention of clans all over the Tower. Most of the invitations were from small and unknown clans, but a few were from quite large ones.

"So, hyung, what’s your plan?" Phante asked with a grin.

"What plan?"

“About those clans! Seems like everyone wants you; even the Eight Clans might come looking for you. But you’re going to move on your own, right?” Just like other places, the Tower followed the law of the jungle, and most clans were always on the lookout for strong new recruits who could help them ascend to greater heights and assert greater dominance over the Tower.

Phante was curious about Yeon-woo’s decision since he knew how strong Yeon-woo’s sense of independence was. Although Yeon-woo seemed to have become close to Kahn and Doyle in the Tutorial, Phante heard that Yeon-woo didn’t clear the sections as a member of their team. Also, if Yeon-woo cleared the Tutorial as a solo player, Phante wondered if he would continue this unconventional route even after entering the Tower.

But Yeon-woo's answer was somewhat vague. "For the time being."

"Huh? What do you mean ‘for the time being’? You mean you're only planning to go solo for a while and look for a clan when your value increases?"

"Think whatever you like."

"Hmm."

Yeon-woo waved his hand as if he no longer wanted to bother answering, and Phante looked puzzled, unable to guess what Yeon-woo was planning. However, despite his vague answer, Yeon-woo had no intention of joining any particular team or clan. 'Even if I join a clan, they’ll just get in my way.'

In the Tutorial, Yeon-woo had become acquainted with quite a few people, and even though he’d become a little attached to some of them, he still didn’t fully trust them, especially knowing how his brother had been betrayed. He didn’t want to risk anything that might backfire and become his weakness. He tried to keep a certain distance from people—Henova and the siblings included. 'Well, if I joined a clan, it would only be for one reason.’ Yeon-woo laughed at the idea of him joining a clan, but his laughter was full of murderous intent. ‘It’d be to sneak into their safe house and stab a dagger into their hearts.’

But that would have to be something to consider later as he was still too weak at the moment. ‘For the time being, I have to focus on building up my strength and gathering all the hidden pieces that Jeong-woo left for me. It won’t be too late to have my revenge after that.’ Even though he’d gotten rid of Leonte’s right-hand man, Bild, he was aware that it had mostly been due to luck.

Yeon-woo wasn’t ready to face them head-on, and he had to suppress his vengeful thoughts and behave like an ordinary player trying to reach the top. 'I don’t need to belong to a team, a clan, or anything related to other players. I just need to keep my head down and lie low.' Yeon-woo's eyes glowed with determination. 'And when the time comes, I will rise up and cut their throats.'

The first thing Yeon-woo had to do was to enter Olympus’ Treasury to take an important artifact he needed.

"Are you guys done drinking coffee? Let’s go."

"Yup."

"OK."

But as soon as they got up from the table, a man with long red hair that looked like a flame stepped into the terrace. "Hmm, this place hasn’t changed much since the last time I was here." The noise around them vanished, and even the players following Yeon-woo outside the cafe disappeared.

The man looked around the terrace as if it were familiar to him, then turned to Yeon-woo with a warm smile. However, Yeon-woo’s face stiffened as their eyes met. 'Why is he here?' His head was filled with apprehension.

"You’re the Hoarder, right?" the man asked. His smile was placid and benign but it contained a powerful charisma that almost overwhelmed Yeon-woo. Most of the people who came to recruit Yeon-woo spoke with honorifics, but the man spoke in a natural and relaxed manner that almost seemed as though he were looking down on Yeon-woo. It felt like the area around the man was completely under his control.

Yeon-woo knew people with this power very well: rankers. He didn’t expect to meet a player from the upper floors here, much less this one, whom he recognized. It was Bahal, the Flame Fist, a man who usually had a gentle personality but burned everything down to ashes when he was fighting. He was one of the executives of Red Dragon and also a former member of Arthia.

‘He was Henova’s disciple once, but I never thought he would come back to the Outer District after Henova kicked him out. Why is he here? Is it because of what I did to Night Watch? I thought that the clans in the Outer District didn’t concern them. Was I wrong? Or is he here simply to recruit me just like other clans?' Although Yeon-woo wasn’t sure what the situation was, he made sure of one thing. 'Whatever the reason may be, I can’t act surprised.”

Rankers were mostly people with superhuman abilities and endless combat experience. For them, reading an ordinary player’s expression and guessing their thoughts was as easy as turning their hand over. Bahal was one of the enemies Yeon-woo had to take revenge on one day, but that day hadn’t arrived yet, so Yeon-woo tried to hide any sign of agitation as much as possible. He answered with a silent nod.

Bahal smiled slightly at Yeon-woo’s response. "I've heard you have a blunt personality, and it looks like it’s true. Well, that's not a bad thing,” Bahal said with a gentle laugh. "If you don’t like long conversations, I’ll make this short, then. I want you to join Red Dragon."

His words were so unexpected that Yeon-woo's eyes widened slightly.

"I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but this is the first time we've ever made an offer to a novice. And you are that lucky novice." Bahal continued with a grin. "If you join our clan, we are willing to spare no effort to help you climb the Tower. And believe me, the support we can provide…I’ll just say it’s beyond what you can ever imagine. So, what do you say?"

Yeon-woo pressed his lips together tightly. He was aware that it was the first time that one of the Eight Clans had asked a novice to join their ranks because no matter how good a player’s performance was in the Tutorial, they often died soon after entering the Tower. There were also plenty of situations where a player with a slow start would suddenly rise to prominence at a later point. The Eight Clans preferred to recruit those with a proven track record over someone with potential. The only exception was the Cheonghwado, who fostered players with potential.

This was why Yeon-woo took all the offers in stride. However, he realized one thing from Red Dragon’s offer: ‘They need power, even if it’s as small as mine.’ Yeon-woo recalled the high price the mysterious merchant in the Tutorial had paid for ownership of Hargan’s Lair. At that time, he already presumed that the atmosphere between the Eight Clans was crackling with tension. He couldn’t think of any other explanation.

As for Red Dragon, their main goal was likely not just to recruit a talented novice but also to prevent other clans from acquiring players like him. Because of their offer, no other clan would try to recruit Yeon-woo unless they wanted Red Dragon as their enemy.

'If that’s the case…’ Yeon-woo decided that he should give a satisfactory answer. Bahal was a kind and well-mannered person on the outside, but he had a feral beast inside him. Yeon-woo had to avoid raising his suspicions. "I’m just not ready to be tied down, yet.” Yeon-woo shrugged, acting like a novice drowning in narcissism.

Fortunately, Bahal fell for his acting and said with a smirk, "Right, I see. You just finished the Tutorial, and you feel like you can do anything you want." Bahal did not bother adding “but the Tower is different from the Tutorial”. He believed that Yeon-woo would come begging to join their clan once he experienced the hardships in the Tower and realized the limits of solo playing. "Take your time and consider our offer."

"Sure."

Bahal patted Yeon-woo’s shoulder a couple of times before walking towards the exit. Yeon-woo could feel a huge pressure with each touch. "Oh, and…” Bahal suddenly stopped as if he had forgotten to say something. "Master seems to have grown fond of you. He’s a soft-hearted old man, so please take good care of him." Bahal smiled faintly.

Yeon-woo tilted his head, pretending he didn’t understand. "Master?"

"Oh, I should have said his name. I was talking about Henova. Well then, take care." The former relationship between Bahal and Henova was not very well known even in the Tower. Most people knew that Henova was quite hostile to the Eight Clans, which was why the underworld clans like Night Watch had bullied him.

After Bahal left the cafe, Phante exhaled loudly as if he had been holding his breath. "Phooha!" A serious look appeared on his face. "Who the hell was that?” He’d found himself unable to speak a word while Yeon-woo and Bahal were talking in front of him, almost as if he’d been trapped in a separate space. It was just like the pressure he felt when his father was talking with other experts, and he couldn’t believe that he’d felt it here in the Outer District.

Yeon-woo seemed like a monster in Phante’s eyes to be able to talk so bluntly in the face of so much pressure.

"He’s one of the rankers. I think he’s the Flame Fist.”

"Wait a second, you mean the Flame Fist?" At Edora’s response, Phante jerked his head towards her in shock. To his knowledge, Flame Fist was one of the strongest members even among the Eighty-One Oculus of Red Dragon. He couldn’t believe someone like him had taken an interest in Yeon-woo.

Red Dragon was known to be so aloof that they hardly had any interest in events that took place below the fiftieth floor. Even the One-horned tribe could not take liberties with them and just now, Yeon-woo had gotten an offer from them.

There was a touch of awe in the way Phante looked at Yeon-woo now, but Yeon-woo ignored him and jumped from his seat. "I have to get going. You can stay here if you want."

"Where are you going?”

"Back to the smithy. I just remembered I left something there." Yeon-woo rushed to the exit of the terrace before Phante could try to go with him.

*   *   *

'If Bahal is in the Outer District, there’s no way he wouldn't have dropped by Henova’s smithy.'

Henova was a grumpy old man with a heart as brittle as a glass pane, and Yeon-woo wasn’t sure what kind of adverse effect Bahal’s visit would have. But when he reached the smithy, he saw that Henova was sitting in front of the furnace puffing away at his pipe. "Huh? What are you doing here at this hour?"

Yeon-woo had been expecting to find Henova weeping and was rather startled to find him so calm. He couldn’t even bring himself to ask whether he was fine. 'Maybe I didn’t have to worry that much.' Yeon-woo tried to come up with an excuse for showing up, but Henova suddenly jumped to his feet without even listening to him.

"Well, that doesn’t matter. You came at the perfect time. I was hammering to work off the stress I’ve been experiencing recently, and I happened to finish the artifact a little sooner than I expected.”

Yeon-woo’s eyes widened. "You mean…?"

"Yup. Your Gyges’ Eye is ready." Henova took out a huge box from the corner of the shop. Bang! The box made a loud noise when Henova put it on the ground. "Open it,” Henova said, arrogantly raising his chin as if telling him to be prepared for a surprise.

Yeon-woo nodded and slowly removed the lid. Inside was not one but two artifacts lying neatly next to each other.

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