The players looked at each other for a moment. A hundred players seemed like a lot of people, but in reality, it wasn’t. Anyone who stepped forward now would have to lead the rest of the floor’s trial.
Most of the players had already become acquainted with each other at the waiting zone, and quite a few of them had been in the same team during the previous round, and someone had already taken the lead before. "I'll take them." A man in red leather armor stepped forward under everyone’s gaze.
But just as Aaron was about to hand over the crystals, Phante stepped between them. "Hold on.”
"What is it?" The man asked Phante with a slightly irritated face.
"I don’t remember agreeing to this.”
The man felt a sudden surge of anger. "Does it matter who takes them? We’ll decide where to hide after I…"
"Actually, it does. Because I’m going to take all five of them with me."
The man's face crumpled like a sheet of paper. “That’s nonsense!'
"You think it’s better to hide them than to have me protect them? Or are there any among you who think they can protect the crystals better than I can?” Phante laughed furiously, looking around him. The players flinched and turned their heads to avoid his eyes. Phante looked back at the man, raising one of his eyebrows as if saying that he couldn’t see anyone denying the truth of his words.
Angered, the man argued back, "Don’t you even feel ashamed of yourself? You’re the reason our crystals were shattered in the last round. It was because of your goddamn ego!"
Some of the players nodded along as if to support him. Yeon-woo clucked his tongue as he watched the quarrel from the back. ‘So that's what happened.’ He could imagine what had happened previously. It wasn’t like Phante to let anyone else take important items. He had to be in control since he was the strongest—even though he was difficult to get along with.
In the world of the Tower, power was a priceless possession that made up for any shortcomings.
Might was right, especially in the Tower. And even Edora, who was a reasonable person unlike the simple and self-centered Phante, understood this. This was why she hadn’t stopped Phante from taking the crystals because in her eyes, he was still the best option. No matter how difficult the trial was, they were still dealing with average players. Their fists wouldn’t even be able to brush past Phante’s collar even if they flocked towards him at the same time.
The only problem was Phante’s carelessness.
"If you hadn't lost your mind and gone on a rampage last time, you wouldn’t have broken all the crystals yourself. We would have at least had a chance. I can’t let you take the crystals this time!"
Yeon-woo almost burst out laughing when he heard that Phante had been responsible for his own team’s defeat. Even though he hadn’t seen what had happened, he could imagine it in his head, as though he were watching a video. He could easily picture Phante running to the other side and knocking the players down one by one with his overwhelming power. The players on the other team must have believed that all was lost, only to receive a message notifying them of their victory as soon as they gave up hope.
‘They must have been terrified.' Yeon-woo presumed that the man couldn’t trust Phante because of that incident, but there was no way Phante would listen to someone weaker than him. He was probably thinking he just had to avoid repeating the same mistake.
"So? Do you want to sort it out my way?" Phante rolled up his sleeves and posed as if he were ready to fight. The players’ faces turned pale as they felt Phante’s ferocious aura, and the ones standing behind the man pulled at his clothes and shook their heads. In the end, the man gritted his teeth. Veins popped out on his clenched fists, which trembled in anger.
Edora stood a step away from the two without intervening, watching the situation unfold with her sword in her arms, just as she had when Yeon-woo had first seen her in Section G. Phante smiled in victory and reached his hand out to Aaron.
"Seems like you’ve made your decision. I wish all of you good luck." Aaron handed all of the blue crystals over to Phante. He stepped into a portal on the ground and melted away.
"Hehehe. It’s gonna be different this time.” It was clear that Phante hadn’t come up with any plan to protect the crystals, and he fooled around with them like a child playing with toys.
'What an asshole.’ The players’ expressions stiffened at his behavior. But as soon as Phante was about to put the crystals in his pocket, Yeon-woo stepped forward. Phante looked at him with a puzzled expression, and as soon as Yeon-woo was in front of him, he suddenly put his hand out. “Hand them over. All of them.”
* * *
Aaron teleported to a different area through the portal where all the Guardians of the ninety-nine floors congregated. Hundreds of screens floated along the walls, displaying the situations of each floor in real time. A number of Guardians ran around the room busily.
"Ohyohyohyo. Are you back already?” Aaron heard a voice behind him, and when he turned, he saw a Goblin that only reached his waist. It was Yvlke.
Aaron nodded silently. He was always polite to Yvlke because they didn’t have the same position. Guardians had different jobs within a single floor, such as managing and monitoring the trials, handling the rewards, and taking care of miscellaneous tasks, and so on. Just like a corporation on Earth, Guardians had different statuses and positions according to their job. Those who enjoyed the highest position on each floor were the directors of the trials, and they could exert their power over the players on the floors they managed. They could even dominate players on the level of Lords if necessary, but of course, the system would penalize the Guardians if they interfered directly.
As the director of the first floor, Aaron had one of the top positions, but even he had to be careful around Yvlke because the Goblin was one of the leaders of the Guardians known as the Twelve Zodiacs.
So even though both of them were using honorifics, Yvlke’s spoke to him like an adult talking to a child. "So, how was it?" From his appearance, no one could tell that Yvlke was a Guardian with such a powerful position. He only seemed like a Goblin with a strange monocle and a weird laugh.
"To be honest, sir, I'm not sure." Aaron crossed his arms and tilted his head in response to Yvlke’s question.
Humor filled Yvlke's eyes, which shone behind his monocle. "You’re not sure?”
"Yes, I can tell he's a strong player compared to the other novices, but he's just a novice after all. I don't understand why you have such high expectations of him.” Aaron raised his head and looked at the screen floating in midair as he spoke to Yvlke. On the screen, he could see Yeon-woo trying to take the crystals he had given Phante.
When Phante looked disgruntled, Yeon-woo calmly asked, “Should we sort things out your way?”
Phante flinched, looking scared just as the players had.
In Aaron’s eyes, it looked like a pair of friends fooling around, but Yvlke couldn’t stop giggling as he watched the screen. "Ohyohyohyo. I see. If that’s what you think, do you want to make a bet?”
“Whether or not he will achieve something great. I’ll bet in favor."
Aaron narrowed his eyes slightly, but soon nodded, thinking it wasn’t a bad idea. "Sure. I'll bet that he won't."
"Ohyohyohyo. Great. About the stakes...”
* * *
The players looked at Yeon-woo with their mouths agape. Only a moment ago, Phante had taken the crystals with his ridiculous arguments, but Yeon-woo managed to extract them with just a few words. Even more strangely, they were sure they heard Phante calling Yeon-woo “hyung”.
“Phante? Calling someone ‘hyung’?”
“What the hell happened to him outside?”
“What's going on?”
In the Tower, the One-horned tribe was commonly perceived as a bunch of arrogant fools. It was well-known that they were very strong and had a great sense of pride. They rarely talked to anyone outside their tribe unless they acknowledged them as their equals, and they valued loyalty so much that they wouldn't hesitate to die for their friends once they opened their heart to someone.
As members of the royal family of the One-horned tribe, Phante and Edora also inherited this arrogant nature, and from their experiences, the players knew that the reputation of the One-horned tribe was accurate.
Phante was aloof, impetuous, and even haughty, and so the players were surprised that Phante would not only keep company with Yeon-woo but even consider him a hyung. The players who had watched the match between Yeon-woo and Phante in the Tutorial rubbed their eyes several times as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
"You know, you’re such a bad hyung for taking away my chance to show off like that." Phante grumbled and kicked a stone next to his feet.
Edora approached Yeon-woo. "What’s your plan now, oraboni?”
Once again, the players couldn’t believe their eyes. It was the first time they’d seen Edora’s cold expression replaced by a beautiful and heartwarming smile. The players felt their hearts skipping a beat at the sight.
Yeon-woo, on the other hand, was unmoved. "Can you help me guard this place for a moment?" He glanced at the other players with a stern look.
Edora's eyes sparkled. "For how long?”
"Half an hour. One hour at the most."
"Sure. Take your time."
Yeon-woo nodded and moved towards one of the rope bridges at the side of the canyon. The players frowned, not knowing what Yeon-woo was planning to do. The trial of the first floor was difficult not only because the players had to invade the other team’s base to look for the crystals while under attack, but also because they could only use the feeble rope bridges to cross the canyon.
Since there were only three bridges connecting the two sides, a fight on the bridges was inevitable, and if the ropes snapped in the process, the players on the bridge would plunge to their deaths. Those who managed to make it to the other side with the help of skills or artifacts still might not be able to accomplish much because they’d be facing a barrage of attacks from their opponents.
Because of these harsh conditions, the trial of the first floor was known to produce the biggest number of casualties and dropouts out of all ten floors of the Beginner Zone. It wasn’t unusual for Phante and Edora to fail on their first attempt, and so while the players were interested in Yeon-woo’s next move, there was also suspicion in their eyes. Some even frowned in his face.
Yeon-woo ignored them and stood in front of the rope bridge as he slowly pulled Vigrid from his back. He could see the players from the Red Team on the other side running towards the bridge. 'No matter how hard it may seem, there must be several ways to pass this trial.’
Whoosh! A strong whirlwind began to form along Vigrid's blade. The wind was so intense that it pushed away the wind blowing from the canyon. Yeon-woo gripped Vigrid and held it high in the air.
It was the Factor of the Sword, the option that had proven to be effective against a large number of foes. Yeon-woo’s lips curled. ‘The best way is to beat them with overwhelming power.’
Slash! Yeon-woo drew a diagonal line with Vigrid, and the whirlwind around the blade flew towards the gap, snapping off all the rope bridges at the same time and lashing out at the other side of the canyon.
Boom! Boom! The cliff wall quaked with a loud exploding noise as a giant furrow appeared along its length. Rumble!
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