Chapter 75 - Breakthrough (2)

[The tenth-floor trial will now begin.]

[Description: You are in the Realm of Void, an outside world isolated from the living and the dead, where the laws of time and space do not exist. A living being such as yourself does not belong here. Escape from the Realm of Void by any means possible.]

"This is the floor in the Beginner Zone which causes the second largest number of players to drop out. I can see why." It was said that the tenth-floor trial was harder than those of all first nine floors combined. It was a trial that even players who were on a roll could find themselves meeting a wall. Conversely, players who barely managed to clear the previous floors might find it easy.

The trial of the tenth floor was very unpredictable, and it only tested one thing: willpower.

Since we managed to set new records all the way up to the ninth floor, my teammates and I felt like we were on top of the world. We thought we could clear the tenth-floor trial just as easily as we did the other floors, but this goddamned Tower knows how to shatter people’s hopes too damn well.

They took everyone away, and without a single friend or teammate, I was alone in a world of nothingness, forced to escape with no idea how. But the thing I found most difficult was the sensory and social deprivation.

Man is a social animal. No matter how mentally strong someone is, I’m 100 percent sure they would go mad within a few days in a place like this. For that reason, even when they know what’s ahead, many players who enter the tenth floor often fail the trial.

Mental strength and physical strength were two different things. Solitude could devastate a physically healthy person’s mind, and the more confident they were, the greater the effect it had. That was the reason his brother and Arthia had hit a snag in their winning streak.

During the trial, none of them could tell whether they were even progressing, and a feeling of apprehension had taken over their minds and nearly driven them insane. 'However, that won’t happen with me.'

Years of experience on the battlefield had made Yeon-woo impervious to negative emotions like this. He had already trained himself to stay composed and rational under even worse conditions. ‘There must be a door somewhere around here.’

However, he found that he wasn’t facing just one door. 'There are ten doors, all different colors and shapes.’ Yeon-woo closed his eyes and activated Sense Strengthening to pick up any abnormalities. His armor split open to reveal dozens of eyes. Suddenly, Yeon-woo opened his eyes and swung the Magic Bayonet to the side. Whack! The bayonet stopped in midair. Yeon-woo pulled it down, slicing what seemed to be nothing but air. However, the bayonet’s blade left behind a slice in the space that eventually revealed a red door. 'Found it.'

*   *   *

The tenth-floor trial was somewhat like a labyrinth full of doors that connected to other blank spaces. Finding the doors in a world full of nothingness was a difficult task, but the most troublesome part came after finding one because each space contained ten doors that were different colors and shapes.

When players faced these doors, doubts would sprout in their minds.

‘Why do they have different colors?’

‘Did I open the wrong door?’

‘Should I have settled with one color?’

‘Is there any order to the doors?’

‘Could there be a secret about these doors?’

'This place digs deep into the psyche of players.’ The players fell prey to something called “the heart demon” in Chinese. It referred to the inner demon of doubt that ate away inside one’s psyche and made one crazy. Those who fell prey to it ended up dropping out of the trial.

Yeon-woo heard that many of the dropouts ended up suffering from mental disorders. Some even committed suicide as they tried to figure out the answer to the doors and to the trial. It was unfortunate because the answer was actually quite simple: 'Just go through any of the doors as much as possible.'

There was no hidden trick or special consideration required according to the color or the shape of the doors. The doors were all just doors that led to the next section of the labyrinth. It didn’t matter which door players selected. If they opened enough of them, they would eventually make it outside. The players only had to have faith in their choices and the mental strength to overcome any doubts in order to pass.  

Of course, some players entered the tenth floor with this information, but even though they knew the answer to the doors, they still couldn’t get through. Some spaces had doors that were easy to find, others didn’t, and as they wandered around an endless nothingness, it was easy for players to forget all the plans, advice, and any advantages they’d brought along.

However, Yeon-woo didn’t have to worry about any of that. He only had to scan through the area with his strengthened senses, move towards any door he detected, and go through the door to enter another area. And yet, at some point, Yeon-woo’s steps began to slow. He even started turning back after finding a door. 'Not this one. Not this one either. And this one...no.’

Yeon-woo didn’t give a second glance at the doors that were useless because he wasn’t after the exit of the tenth floor. 'There are hidden pieces lying somewhere behind these doors.’

Hermes’ Key was the most difficult hidden piece to complete among all the keys in the Beginner Zone, which was why only a handful of players had ever succeeded in opening Olympus’ Treasury. To complete Hermes’ Key, he had to collect 100 shards of the key that had been scattered throughout the trial. If he accidentally opened the door that led to the exit before he could find all the pieces, the trial would end, and it would be impossible for him to complete the Hermes’ Key.

He had to go through the labyrinth while being careful not to finish it too quickly by mistake. It was a ridiculous endeavor, but Yeon-woo was confident and trusted his senses to find the unique mana that the hidden pieces possessed. Most of all, he had Gyges’ Eyes with him. 'Find them.'

At Yeon-woo’s command, the eyes on his armor started rolling in different directions, searching for the pieces, and he could feel what lay behind each door. Without this artifact, he wouldn’t complete Hermes’ Key, and so he’d willingly spent a month in the Outer District to get it.

‘Well, I could probably find them even without it.’ If he groped his way through the labyrinth with his strengthened senses, he would still be able to find all 100 pieces. 'But I wouldn’t be able to finish quickly enough to get Hades’ Key.’ Yeon-woo kept walking forward. With each step he took, Gyges’ Eyes busily rolled around in search of the hidden pieces.

In a few hours, Yeon-woo managed to gather all 100 pieces and brought them together. Click! Click! As Hermes’ Feathers snapped into their places, they started to take the form of a key. 'This is the end.'

[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.]

···

[All the trials of the Beginner Zone have ended.]

[You have cleared the Beginner Zone in 151 hours, 35 minutes, and 1 second. You have broken the previous record held by Jeong-woo Cah by 83 hours, 2 minutes, and 9 seconds.]

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

For a brief moment, Yeon-woo silently stared at the name ‘Jeong-woo Cah’ in the Hall of Fame. ‘It's been so long since I’ve seen your name.’ All kinds of thoughts went through Yeon-woo’s head, but he shook his head and spat out a short answer. "No."

[You have refused to register your name.]

[Your record has been...]

[You have acquired Hades’ Key.]

[You have acquired the Ring of Ice.]

[You have acquired Skull Crest.]

···

Though there were a lot of rewards, the only thing that caught Yeon-woo’s eye was the key carved out of amethyst: Hades’ Key. It was the same hidden piece his brother had acquired. Yeon-woo put Hades' Key and Hermes' Key on the floor, then took the rest of the keys out and placed them next to the two keys. The keys began to glow with brilliant, colorful lights.

[You have gathered all twelve keys of the Olympians. A new key will be created.]

Just as how they’d been created, the twelve glowing keys merged together to form one single key. Unlike the twelve keys, the new one was silvery-white and ordinary-looking, without any fancy decorations. However, Yeon-woo could feel the mysterious energy emanating from it.

[You have created Olympus’ Key. You are now qualified to enter Olympus’ Treasury, the vault containing the gold and treasures that the Olympians have accumulated over thousands of years.]

[You can take only one item from the Olympus’ Treasury.]

A golden door appeared before Yeon-woo. ‘This must be the door to Olympus’ Treasury.’ Yeon-woo found a keyhole below the doorknob, and without any hesitation, he pushed the key into the door and turned it. Click! Once the door unlocked, the key disintegrated into fine sand.

As he thought about all the things he’d gone through to get that key, Yeon-woo couldn’t help thinking that it was a rather anticlimactic way for it to disappear. However, he shrugged this off and pushed the golden door open.  

As the door creaked open, he saw a world of darkness that was the opposite of the Realm of Void. It was only after he’d stepped through the door that he saw an immeasurably huge iron gate just ahead. The giant gate had a mural depicting the war between the Titans and the Olympians, Titanomachy. The mere sight of it made him feel overwhelmed, just as when he’d seen the Tower for the first time, although he felt more awestruck this time.

When he turned his gaze to the bottom of the gate, he saw a man sitting there looking at him with interest. He wore a winged helmet and winged sandals and held a staff entwined with two serpents. ‘That must be Hermes.’

The great being laughed as he spoke to Yeon-woo. "It's you. The man who shocked all the Guardians." As the god who could move freely between the worlds of mortals and the divine, Hermes had been tasked to be the gatekeeper of Olympus’ Treasury. Since he could see into the world of mortals, he could protect the Olympians' treasures from those who coveted them. This also meant that he was always watching the mortal world and observing everything that happened, which earned him the nickname “the Beholder”.

"I've had visitors before, and even more frequently now, but I don't think there has been any mortal as surprising as you." Hermes expressed his admiration as he looked at Yeon-woo. "I have never seen a mortal like you." It seemed like he was genuinely shocked by Yeon-woo.

However, Yeon-woo brushed Hermes’ praise aside. "I'd like to enter the treasury." He wasn’t in the mood to stand and chat. He wanted to enter the treasury as soon as possible, and he’d already decided which artifacts he wanted: Zeus’ Astrape and Athena’s Aegis.

Astrape was a spear that launched lightning bolts, and it was one of the best weapons in the Tower. Aegis was one of the best shields, whose strength allowed it to fend off most attacks. It also had a Gorgon’s head embedded in its center that could paralyze or petrify enemies. Both artifacts had appeared several times in myths, and with them, the wielder could harness the power of the gods.

"Haha! I see your heart is already set on opening the treasury. Very well. I will attend to your wish." Hermes clapped his hands with a cheerful laugh.

Rumble! The iron gate began to open with a thunderous noise. Through the gap, a beam of golden light poured into the dark world.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter