Chapter 74 - Breakthrough (1)

[This is the second floor, the stage of hills and fields.]

When Yeon-woo opened his eyes again, he was in a breathtaking world covered in woods and greenery and filled with refreshing air. Perhaps because the other players hadn’t finished their trials yet, only Yeon-woo and the siblings were in the waiting area.

"Seems like we’re the only ones here. So, are you gonna start right away, hyung?" Phante muttered as he looked around.

Yeon-woo nodded in reply. ‘I need to find Demeter's Key here.’ He said out loud, “Like I said, if you think it’s unfair for me to hoard all the karma, you should stop following me.”

"Why? I’m curious to see how far you can take this, so I’ll be sticking with you for now."

Yeon-woo looked up at the sky with a faint smile on his lips. "I want to start the trial right now."

A portal suddenly opened over him, and someone in a clean tuxedo that was just like Yvlke’s and Aaron’s dropped down. He was a humanoid with the head of a wolf, a lycanthrope. "My name is Johannes, and I am the Guardian of the second floor. So, you want to start the trial with only three players?” The lycanthrope looked at Yeon-woo with eyes full of curiosity. "It will be dangerous."

"But I will get more karma for that, right?”

"Seems like you have a good understanding of the Tower’s system. Fair enough. I’ll get you three started right away." As soon as he spoke, a message popped up in front of them.

[The second-floor trial will now begin.]

[Description: You are currently in a forest blessed by the goddess of harvest. The forest has always produced enough food for all the animals that dwell in it. But lately, several monsters have appeared to take over the forest and monopolize its bounty. Defend the forest from the monsters and restore peace.]

The Tower's system was designed to assist the players participating in the trials to become gods, and so it created special rounds just for players who wanted to complete a trial on their own or in small groups. It was thanks to this system that Jeong-woo and his team, Arthia, had broken through the Beginner Zone in just a few days.

However, even though it sounded like it was easy, this method was madness since small teams or single players had to go through a trial that was designed for dozens of players. Apart from Arthia, no other players or small teams had been able to complete the second-floor trial.

Rumble! In the distance, Yeon-woo saw a horde of Orcs charging through the green fields towards him. However, the noise wasn’t just coming from them. A swarm of Gnolls approached from the west, Goblins from the south, Ogres from the north, and several other monsters from random directions.

The goal of the second-floor trial was to subdue the monsters and become king of the forest. Normally, winning the trial meant intensive planning and a lot of players, but it was just a piece of cake to Yeon-woo. With a grin on his face, he thought, 'This is nothing more than the Monster Outbreak.’

With the Magic Bayonet in his right hand, he jumped forward. ‘Focus on eliminating one group, and then another.’ His first targets were the Orcs, and he spied a helmeted Orc, the Orc King, commanding his army at the back of the rushing horde.

*   *   *

[You have acquired Demeter’s Key.]

Yeon-woo put together the pieces he’d gathered from the corpses of the monster kings, and with a bright light, they turned into a green key.

[You have set a new record on this floor. Will you register your name in the Hall of Fame?]

[You have refused to register your name.]

[Your record has been engraved in the Tower. You can register your name later, if you wish.]

Yeon-woo shouted to the sky. "Next." Whoosh!

[This is the third floor, the stage of swords and spears.]

Yeon-woo was greeted with a familiar scene.

"Waah!"

"Kill them all!"

"Stop them! Don’t let them get in!"

It was a battlefield where soldiers wielded their swords and spears against each other, dead bodies lay scattered in piles, and the smell of blood mixed with the stench of burning flesh. He had to acquire Ares’ Key on this floor, and it would only appear after he combined fragments that appeared randomly after destroying the swords and spears of the soldiers.

[The third-floor trial…]

Before the Guardian could even make his appearance, Yeon-woo was already running around with his Magic Bayonet. ‘It took Arthia ten days to get through the Beginner Zone.’ Yeon-woo was already swinging his bayonet towards a man who seemed to be the general. ‘If that’s the case, then I’ll finish in five days.’

Whack! The general’s head hurtled violently into the air.

*   *   *

Inside the Guardian’s chambers, all the Guardians watched the screen with horrified faces.

"He passed through the seventh floor!”

"What about the time? How long did it take this time?”

"Twelve hours and twenty-eight minutes!"

"That’s just nuts!"

"How is that even possible?”

"Arthia was at least a team. This guy is doing it all by himself. Damn it!"

The Guardians slammed their fists on the table, dropping listlessly on their chairs, and lighting cigarettes as they tried to ease their shock and despondency. At first, they’d thought Yvlke had only been joking about Yeon-woo, but as he cleared each floor with unbelievable speed, it slowly dawned on them that there wasn’t a single bit of exaggeration in Yvlke’s words.

Yeon-woo skills wouldn’t have attracted so much attention since many of the Guardians had once been players that had climbed up to the higher floors. Some of them had even reached the level of Lords. However, they were impressed because Yeon-woo had an almost perfect understanding of the Tower’s system.

Not only did he set records on each floor he passed through, he also snatched all of the hidden pieces. For the first couple of floors, they’d watched him as though he were a marvel. It had been a long time since a player so interesting to watch had appeared. But as he continued to advance, he completed each trial faster and faster, and their dropped jaws never had a chance to return to their original position.

Although it was only the Beginner Zone, trials were still trials. They couldn't believe how easily he broke through each floor, and they didn’t think it was an exaggeration to call him a monster. At the rate he was going, he would beat Arthia’s record all by himself, and there was nothing they could do to stop him. The Guardians’ powers were limited to punishing misconduct and actions that could be seen as hindrances to other players ascending the Tower.

After a few hours, a dismayed Guardian who’d just joined read aloud a report he had just received to his seniors. "He’s already beaten the eighth floor, and it took him only seven hours and five minutes! It says he completed the Laurel of Athens, and acquired another key!″

"Huh!" Hollow laughter escaped from the Guardians’ mouths.

"Ohyohyohyo. It seems I’ve won again.” Yvlke laughed comically once more, his broad smile revealing giant fangs as he held out his hands to the eighth floor’s Guardian, the eighth victim of his wagers.

The Guardian's hand trembled as he handed over the promised item. Yvlke laughed out loud with a pleased smile. "I'm gonna be rich thanks to Cain! I wish every day could be like today. Ohyohyohyo!”

*   *  *

“Graaah!” A scream of pain rang across a world full of fire and lava. It came from Vulka, a monster that with red hide as tough as iron and horns as dangerous as swords. It was a monster concealed on the ninth floor as a hidden piece, which meant it was virtually impossible for a novice in the Beginner Zone to kill it on his own. However, Vulka already had several daggers stuck in his tough hide.

"You little vermin! How dare you touch me, the king of flames?” Despite his anger, not a single word reached Yeon-woo’s ears.

"Tsk. I guess he won’t submit yet. I guess it can’t be helped. Edora, try to keep him distracted. Phante, just give him a good punch."

"OK."

"Got it!"

Phante and Edora dashed forward at Yeon-woo’s command. They’d joined Yeon-woo in fighting only a few floors ago, but they’d already spent a great deal of time observing him and acquainting themselves with his style of combat. They were unusually willing to act as his support and didn’t say a word about it even though previously, they would never have accepted subordinate positions.

However, they’d discovered that Yeon-woo’s combat style had a lot to teach them, especially things that they hadn’t learned during their own training when they’d only concentrated on honing their skills.

Yeon-woo had battle insight, an ability to assess a situation correctly and use elements to his advantage. It was something that could only be learned from experience, and they were shocked to see combat from a perspective that they never knew existed. It gave them an opportunity to reflect on their own abilities and experiences with a fresh perspective, and they were able to understand things they were lacking in. When they began to apply their newfound understanding to help Yeon-woo, they found their skills greatly improving.

Phante kindled thunder energy onto his fists, the yellow thunderbolts coiling around his thick forearms. "Heave ho!" He kicked off the ground towards Vulka. Boom!

Edora also darted forward with Shinmado in her hand, her combined attack with her brother completely in sync, as though they were one person. Phante drew Vulka’s attention, while Edora attacked him from behind. Just as Vulka tried to attack Edora, Phante dug into his blind spot.

Once Vulka was completely distracted by the two, Yeon-woo made his move. He jumped on the wall, climbing all the way up to the ceiling, and dropped down on Vulka’s head with Carshina’s Dagger in one hand and the Magic Bayonet in the other. Whack!

Vulka twisted his body in horrendous pain as the two blades penetrated his head. Boom! Boom! The earth quaked whenever he stomped on the ground

'His skull is too hard.’ Although Yeon-woo had infused the blades with a heavy dose of mana, they couldn’t penetrate too deeply, which meant that Vulka was resilient to physical attacks, just as the diary said. Yeon-woo then quickly backed off with Shunpo before Vulka could reach him with his hand.

Boom! Phante jumped into the spot that Yeon-woo had just vacated and gave Vulka a powerful punch. Bang! With a loud explosion, Vulka was thrown into the air against the wall.

Phante’s power was formidable, and Yeon-woo had to admit that the three of them made a good team. 'Without these two, I probably couldn’t have cleared the Beginner Zone this fast.’ Although he had all the information about Olympus’ Treasury, it was not an easy task to gather all the keys in each floor, and not only that, break through all the floors quickly enough to get the last key.  

Vulka was so strong, Yeon-woo even wondered how such a strong monster could exist in the Beginner Zone. If Yeon-woo had to fight him on his own, it would have taken him a long time even at full capacity. But Phante and Edora followed his every command perfectly, just like his comrades back in the military, and they immediately understood the intent behind each order. "Are all One-horned tribe members like this?” There was no other way to describe this but as a natural aptitude for combat.

Boom! Vulka finally collapsed onto the floor from their attacks, his body glowing red and fading away. Hiss! Before he completely disappeared, Yeon-woo quickly shoved his hand into his body and pulled out the last piece of the key. When he connected it to another piece, a message popped up in front of his eyes.

[You have acquired Hephaestus’ Key.]

···

[You have set a new record on this floor. Will you register your name in the Hall of Fame?]

[You have refused to register your name.]

[Your record has been engraved in the Tower. You can register your name later, if you wish.]

Yeon-woo clasped Hephaestus’ Key, which glowed red like a ruby. 'Now, all that's left is Hermes’ Key. Just one more.' Yeon-woo had already gotten hold of all the Olympian gods' keys up to the ninth floor: Hera on the first floor, Demeter on the second floor, Ares on the third floor, Poseidon on the fourth floor, Apollon on the fifth floor, Artemis on the sixth floor, Aphrodite on the seventh floor, Athena on the eighth floor, and Hephaestus on the ninth floor. With Zeus’ Key from the Tutorial, he now had ten keys in his possession. There were only two keys left. One was Hades’ Key, which could only be obtained by setting a new record for finishing the Beginner Zone. The other was the god of travel and messengers Hermes' key, which was on the tenth floor.

'Let's get it over with.’ Yeon-woo stepped onto the blue portal on the floor.

[The trial has ended. Will you continue to the next floor?]

[The next floor is limited to solo play only. Your party will be disbanded upon entering the portal.]

Yeon-woo looked at Phante and Edora. "We’ve come together this far, you won’t fall behind now, will you?”

"Ha! Get ready to get your ass kicked because we’re going to be faster than you!" Phante sniffed with his arms crossed, but he had a big smile on his face.

After a faint chuckle, Yeon-woo proceeded to the next floor.

[This is the tenth floor, the stage of pure white.]

Before he knew it, he was already on the next floor. Instead of the landscapes he’d seen on the other floors, he was faced with an endless white space. Yeon-woo raised his head. Just as he had done on the other floors, he began the trial immediately.

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