When Bahal had walked out of the cafe, the group of players blocking the streets gathered around him. Flame Beast. They were Red Dragon’s combat unit, who also acted as Bahal’s escort unit. Bahal looked at the deserted streets with his brows furrowed. "Were you blocking the streets again? I told you to not do anything stupid.”
"As you know, sir, there are a lot of players after you in the Tower. There's no harm in being careful."
Bahal shook his head at the leader's words. Although they were considered his escort unit, they were originally one of the special task forces created by the head of Red Dragon. The members of Flame Beast weren’t following Bahal out of loyalty but because of their orders. They followed him but they often disregarded the specifics of his instructions, especially with the unsettling atmosphere that lingered over the Tower. The power of a clan was measured by their rankers, so they could not afford to lose a player such as him.
Bahal tried to explain that there was no danger in a place like the Outer District, but they did not listen. Of course, he didn’t take their disobedience to heart. With them around, he could move around more freely without having to worry about being ambushed.
"But sir, how come the Hoarder didn’t come with you?"
"Well, he said he’d consider our offer.”
The leader frowned as if he was upset. "He’s pretty bold for a novice." Yeon-woo’s decision irritated a deeply loyal person like him, but Bahal chuckled and waved his hand.
"Don't take it so seriously. He’s just a novice overflowing with pride, you know? You and me, we all went through that after passing the Tutorial."
"But still, it’s rude of him...”
"Simmer down. He’ll regret turning down our offer as he climbs up the Tower anyway."
The leader nodded and did not speak any further, agreeing that the Tower wasn’t a place that could be understood by just experiencing the Tutorial.
"And besides, our goal was to keep other clans from approaching him in the first place. I mean, I came to see him in person, what kind of fool would dare to approach him now? Now he’s only got our clan to rely on. By the way…” Bahal gently waved his hand as he changed the subject. A sharp expression appeared on his gentle face. "How did the investigation go? Did you find anything?"
The leader answered with a nod. "It turned out just as you expected, sir."
"Is that so? Hahaha! Leonte hasn't changed a bit. He’s a very reliable friend." The reason Bahal had left the Tower wasn’t simply to recruit Yeon-woo, which could have easily been accomplished by sending one of the Flame Beast members. Instead, he had taken on the task to hide his true goal to search for Leonte’s whereabouts.
Not long ago, Red Dragon’s intelligence network had come across a strange piece of information about Leonte, who they knew was aiming to become the Cheonghwado’s new Martial God, secretly plotting something in the Tutorial.
Red Dragon already knew that the Cheonghwado was behind Arangdan, but they hadn’t taken any measures. This information on its own wouldn’t do much harm to the Cheonghwado, and they needed something more to add to it to make it have an impact.
The information they received stated that Arangdan was actually Leonte’s private group. And not only that, he was kidnapping players in the Tutorial and using their lives as material to craft something. Red Dragon concluded that the issue required a closer investigation and delegated full authority and responsibility to Bahal.
He had once been Leonte’s teammate in Arthia, so Bahal knew him better than anyone else in the clan. With his team, Flame Beast, Bahal began to track down Arangdan’s and Leonte’s trail: their funding, deployment of resources, and the personal information of the players dispatched to the Tutorial.
Soon, they were able to come to a conclusion: ‘They are trying to make a Magic Power Organ out of hundreds, maybe thousands, of players. I thought that these things could only be found in myths or something. I never imagined that someone would actually commit such an atrocity.’ Bahal had not yet figured out exactly what Leonte was making, but he could infer its function: it had to be something like a mana organ or mana engine.
Every player in the world and in the Tower had mana inside their bodies, and the vessel containing mana was called the mana organ. However, because the mana organ was part of the body, it had a limit to how much it could hold. It was said that a player’s vessel would grow once they reached a superhuman level, such as ranker or Lord, but only a tiny minority ever accomplished that. And even for these beings, lack of mana was still a problem.
Many players sought ways of supplying themselves with mana from outside sources, and the first products that had appeared were items known as potions. But once these proved to be successful, more items spread through the Tower, such as magic tools, which were items embedded with various options, and mana sources, which was a storage for surplus mana. Players even created skills known like Energy Drain to steal mana from other players. But as they said, avarice knew no bounds.
Players craved ways to gain even more mana, and they even tried to create things that could give them an infinite supply of mana. Bahal was sure that this was what Leonte had in mind. The purer the mana, the better it was at producing energy, and the purest source of mana known in the entire history of the Tower was the human soul. The easiest way to extract it was to simply squeeze it out of the body.
In the past, there had been several attempts to make use of mana extracted with this cruel method, but each one had ended up in failure because mana extracted from human souls was easily corrupted by the cursed spirits of the dead.
And yet despite such risks, Leonte was still trying to extract mana from the souls of living players, which meant that he’d found a way to make use of that mana, to process it and keep it from being corrupted.
‘Don't tell me you were making the stone.’ There was a legend from ancient times among alchemists about a substance that could contain as much mana as the mana organ of the masters of mana, the Dragon race. They called it the “stone” or the “heart”.
‘It’s impossible, and even if it weren’t, it wouldn't be revealed to the world.’ Though he knew such an item could not exist, Bahal still wanted to obtain the procedure and the product. 'It’ll be of great help to Red Dragon and me.' Bahal licked his lips in anticipation. "So, have you figured out Leonte’s whereabouts?"
"We found him in the Tutorial, and he’s currently moving in this direction."
"All right. Let’s head towards them. As I said, our goal is to secure both the item and Leonte. However, if you think you can’t secure them both, you may kill Leonte, but you must take the item by any means necessary."
"OK, let’s give them a warm welcome." Bahal and Flame Beast jumped into action to hunt Leonte down. Little did they know that the item they wanted to take wasn’t in Leonte’s hands.
* * *
"What is it, kid?"
Henova was still the same old Henova. Even though he now knew Yeon-woo’s name, albeit a fake one, he still called him “kid”. The difference was that he was now looking at Yeon-woo with a satisfied expression. He was clearly happy to see a player armed with weapons and armor that he’d created. It was probably the first time in a long while.
Yeon-woo smiled for a second and continued with a calm voice, "It might be a long time before I come back.”
"Hmm." Yeon-woo noticed Henova flinch for a split second, but he puffed out his stomach as if nothing had happened. "Of course. After all, you’re a player trying to climb up the Tower. Why did you even bother telling me that?”
Yeon-woo was going to say something but gave up and shook his head. "Nothing, I just wanted to let you know." Did Henova suspect that he was saying goodbye for the last time? 'It will do him no good if I get any closer to him. I can't have him getting involved in my revenge.’ He already understood why his brother had been so fond of Henova, and he had to end it now.
The path ahead of him was rough and perilous. Anyone next to him would also be destined to walk on a thorny path. Yeon-woo couldn’t let that happen to Henova. Just as he’d said to Galliard, it was his personal war. He couldn’t leave it in others’ hands. "Thank you for everything you’ve done for me."
Henova brought his pipe to his mouth as he waved his hands without looking his way, but Yeon-woo now knew that this was his way of saying “take care”. After bowing one more time, Yeon-woo turned his steps towards the Tower.
* * *
Yeon-woo stood in front of the enormous iron gate. The Tower was a mysterious place where anyone who ascended to the top floor would become a god. He had thought it many times before, but he had the sense once more that the Tower was just too tall. It almost looked like a pillar supporting the sky. Just as he was about to open the gate, he heard someone rushing towards him from behind.
"Stooop!" A giant hand popped out from behind and grabbed Yeon-woo's hand. “Huff, huff!” The owner of the giant hand panted heavily as he loomed over Yeon-woo, taller than him by a head. It was Phante. His face was red as if he had run a long way. "You didn’t even listen when I begged you to go to the Tower! What made you change your mind all of a sudden? And why didn’t you tell us you were going in? You could have left us a message or something!"
Yeon-woo tilted his head as if he couldn't understand. "Why would I?"
"Goddamn it! " Phante pounded on his chest with his fists as if he were frustrated.
Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes. "I don't know what you think of me, but I don't have time to play with you two. I have my own business to take care of.”
Phante had a lot of things to say to Yeon-woo's coldhearted words, but he couldn't open his mouth easily as he looked at the two eyes glittering behind the black mask. Their intense aura reminded him of the ferocious eyes Yeon-woo had shown back in the Tutorial, the eyes of a strong and righteous man. It reminded him of the eyes of his father, the Martial King, before going off to war. 'What the hell are you going to do?'
As Phante stood speechless, Edora arrived, grinning as she swept up her sweat-soaked hair.
"You can go first, oraboni."
Phante looked at Edora in surprise. Yeon-woo frowned because he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Her smile grew brighter as she continued, "But we will follow behind you. It’s up to us to go wherever we want, so you can’t stop us from following you, right, oraboni?”
Phante burst into laughter, thinking it was a great idea. Yeon-woo glared at the siblings for a few seconds but soon shook his head. "Do whatever you want. But if you lag behind, I’m not going to help you."
"Hahaha! Don’t worry! I'll probably be at the front destroying everything that stands in front of us. I've already been to the first floor, so if you have any questions, just ask me."
"Oh really? I remember someone didn’t even understand the rules and made a whole mess on that floor."
"Shut up. I’ll do better the second time."
Leaving the quarreling siblings behind, Yeon-woo pushed the iron gate. Creak! The entrance to the first floor of the Tower slowly opened.Previous Chapter Next Chapter