Chapter 71 - The First Floor (3)

[You have entered Obelisk.]

[You will soon be summoned to the 1st floor waiting zone. The 1st floor’s trial will begin once there are enough players.]

As Yeon-woo walked through the passage, the surroundings began to change, and before he knew it, he found himself in what appeared to be a spacious meeting hall that was made of white marble. A chandelier hung from the ceiling, illuminating the whole area with a soft light, and there were pieces of furniture like comfortable couches placed at each corner. There were two long corridors full of doors at each end of the hall. ‘So this is the waiting zone.’

Lots of players set up their bases and form villages on the eleventh floor and above, where long-term missions begin. However, below the eleventh floor, the missions only start once there are enough players, so there is a waiting zone on each floor. Although they are just places where players stay before the trials start, the waiting zone on the first floor is one of the most important places for players.

It is the first and last place where players can rest without any worries or danger. It’s also full of conveniences and amenities of all sorts. Players can rest, meditate and even do some training if they want. Sometimes, the mysterious merchant appears and sells basic items.

The players had to stay here before carrying out the trials—called “missions” by the system—given by the Tower, and it was already packed. Some had already befriended each other, while others were making deals. There were roughly fifty players just inside the meeting hall.

"They're here."

“Yup, there they are again.”

A sudden silence fell over the boisterous hall as all the players turned to look at them with vicious expressions. Yeon-woo tilted his head slightly, wondering what was going on. They were all strangers to him, and he couldn’t understand why they were all looking at him with such hate-filled eyes. However, he realized they weren’t focused on him. ‘They are looking at these two.’

However, Phante and Edora didn’t care one bit about.

"Let’s see what we’ve got here. I think it was somewhere around here."

"Don't even think about drinking again. Don’t you remember the mess you made last time?"

"Hehe. I’ll just drink a glass or two. Is that OK?"

"No."

Phante rummaged through a shelf looking for leftover liquor. Edora tried to stop him but soon gave up and sat down in a corner and began reading her book. It was as if the two were in a bubble away from the other players.

'Right. That’s just how they are.’ Yeon-woo remembered that these two had taken the first and second places in the Tutorial at first. They were the royal scions of the One-horned tribe, the chosen ones who had learned various martial arts and trained physically and mentally at an early age.

It was as if there was an invisible wall between them and the other players, who couldn’t even think of getting close. As he considered this, Yeon-woo noticed people looking at him with similar expressions.

"That's him, right?"

"Yes. He’s the Hoarder."

"God damn it. This round is a lost cause from the start."

"Maybe we can get a free ride."

"You think they’re just gonna stand and watch us do that?”

The news of Yeon-woo's participation in the upcoming round seemed to have spread among players on the lower floors. Yeon-woo thought it was a good thing since he wasn’t planning to make friends with any of them—or anyone else in the Tower. Even Phante and Edora tagging along hadn’t been part of his plans.

As he had told them outside, Yeon-woo was going to leave them behind if they got in his way.

He had only one aim: speedrunning. 'My goal is to clear the first ten floors in ten days. No, nine days. Easier said than done.’

It was the only way he could acquire Hades’ Key. In addition, there was another secret hidden inside the Beginner Zone. ‘I also have to find the keys hidden in each floor.” He’d gotten one key from the tutorial, and he’d get another if he broke the record of the Beginner Zone. That left ten more keys to unlock Olympus’ Treasury.

Those keys had been spread around as hidden pieces on each floor of the Beginner Zone. Some of them were hidden quests, others were in unexpected locations. In other words, Yeon-woo had to go through a double whammy of clearing ten trials in quick succession and looking for ten hidden pieces at the same time.

‘If I remember correctly, the key hidden on the first floor is Hera's Key.’ Thinking of the method to acquire Hera’s Key made Yeon-woo rub his eyes from the sudden headache. 'I feel tired already just thinking of it.”

Yeon-woo cursed at the Guardians for designing hidden pieces with such an outrageous level of difficulty as he sat and closed his eyes. As he sank in meditation, he focused on the movement of mana flowing inside his Magic Circuit. He never considered failure because of the statistics and skills he had developed, as well as various artifacts that would aid him in combat. Above all, he had Gyges’ Eyes. The mana circulated faster inside his body.

*   *   *

"Welcome, players. My name is Aaron, I am the Guardian that will be guiding you through the first floor trial." Unlike Yvlke, the Guardian of the first floor was a tall, pale-skinned man with a pair of fangs sticking out from his red lips.

‘He’s a vampire.’ Yeon-woo wondered whether all Guardians had the appearances of different monsters.

The vampire gracefully greeted all the players wearing a sharp tuxedo like Yvlke. Four days had already passed since Yeon-woo entered the Tower. Thankfully, each player had been given a room while they waited. Each room was securely protected so that no one could enter without the owner’s permission, which allowed Yeon-woo to focus on checking his artifacts and meditating.

The countdown to break the record and acquiring Hades’ Key only started once the trial itself began, so he didn’t have to worry. In the meantime, the number of players arriving steadily increased until there were almost 100.

However, during those four days, something started to bother him. The other players were extremely wary of Phante and Edora, even more than of Yeon-woo, who had made a name for himself in the Tutorial. It even felt like the reason why they were wary of him wasn’t because he was the Hoarder but because he was often in the company of the siblings.

‘Phante said that he and Edora had gone through the first floor before, but why are they still here? Did something happen?’ He couldn’t imagine the siblings failing the first floor trial. If they did, things must have gotten really messy, or maybe they got into a fight with their own teammates. Judging by the atmosphere, the latter situation seemed more plausible.

'I'll have to ask them later.’ He couldn’t let them ruin this round. As Yeon-woo thought about this, Guardian Aaron gave a speech to the players about the things they should be wary of and provided them with a list of items they might find useful for climbing the Tower, and so on. Yeon-woo had already seen them in the diary, so he didn’t pay too much attention.

When Aaron’s speech was over, he put on a wide smile. "Let’s move on to the trial. Now, I'm sure some of you are already familiar with the rules I’m about to explain, but for the first-timers, I’ll go over the rules in detail. However, I won’t repeat them, so please listen carefully.”

Aaron clapped his hands and the space around Yeon-woo and the players began to warp, sending them to a different location. When they arrived, a sudden gust of wind threw the players off balance. Whoosh!

"Urgh."

"Whoa!"

They regained their balance and their senses, but as they looked around, they unconsciously began to spit out curses. They were standing on the edge of a giant canyon. The abyss beneath their feet was filled with dense mist that made it seem bottomless. One misstep meant certain death.

Three rope bridges with wooden planks connected one side of the canyon to the other, and they swayed dangerously in the wind.

‘This is the stage for the trial.’ Yeon-woo eyes glittered as a huge message popped up in the sky.

[This is the 1st floor, Gate of the Double Cliff.]

[The 1st floor trial will now begin.]

A pool of light emerged just below the message and turned into five palm-sized blue crystals.

The message continued.

[Description: On each side of the canyon is a team of 100 players that possesses 5 crystals. Protect your team’s crystals and steal or destroy the enemy team’s crystals. The team that steals or destroys the most crystals within a set time will be the winner.]

When the message was over, the crystals fell onto Aaron's palm. He smiled and explained further, “As the message said, there is a team of 100 players on the other side of the canyon who have five red crystals. For convenience’s sake, you’ll be ‘Blue Team’, and they’ll be ‘Red Team’.” Aaron looked at the players, whose eyes were fixed on the crystals. "You are allowed to use any means possible to protect your crystals. You can hide them somewhere or leave them to a single strong player. You’ll have to consider what kind of strategy the Red Team might employ.”

Players frowned as they looked at the other side of the canyon and at the bridges wobbling in the wind. If they wanted to cross to the other side, they would have to fight on those bridges, and neither the wooden boards nor the ropes seemed strong enough to withstand much force.

“The difficulty level is insane for a first trial.” Yeon-woo clucked his tongue. The Tutorial had been difficult too, but it was still possible for a solo player to clear it. However, this option had been taken away from the very beginning in the Tower.

Players were required to work with other players who were strangers to them. To get Hera’s Key, Yeon-woo had to do one more thing: 'Get hold of all ten crystals.’ The problem was that this goal conflicted with the trial’s goal since players could steal or destroy the crystals. Even if one were destroyed, his chances of acquiring Hera’s Key in the round would also be destroyed. It was a bit annoying, but there was nothing he could do about it. Negotiation? War? Yeon-woo didn't have time for such things.

‘I will destroy anyone that stands in my way.’ Yeon-woo's eyes glittered coldly. ‘First things first, I’ll have to take all the blue crystals.’ His eyes were fixed on the blue crystals on Aaron’s hand.

Aaron continued with a smile, "Let’s start distributing the crystals. Who would like to volunteer?”

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