"Ohyohyo. Not only did he awaken the Despair of the Black King, but he also received Aegis as a reward. He is such an unpredictable player!" Yvlke smiled cheerfully as he watched Yeon-woo disappear into the portal. From the Tutorial to the Beginner Zone, the way Yeon-woo managed to clear everything as a solo player had entertained him greatly, not to mention the added fun of what he earned from the bets he’d made. "It seems like the Tower’s system has begun to take notice of you, Yeon-woo Cha.” For a second, his voice was unusually serious. "By the way, who is the next part’s general Guardian? Laplace, is it?"
Yvlke’s two large fangs appeared as he broke into a wide grin. "I wonder how he'll react. He can be quite annoying when he finds something interesting.” Yvlke’s eyes glowed as he stared into the gradually fading portal.
* * *
“The Hoarder?" Bahal paused and turned to look at the leader of Flame Beast. The Flame Beast unit following behind him halted at the same time.
"Yes, he’s broken every single record in the Beginner Zone, from the first to the tenth floor.”
Bahal tapped the air in front of him a couple of times, and a window suddenly popped up.
[1. Unknown (9,345 Points)
2. Jeong-woo Cah (6,566 Points)
2. Edora (6,556 Points)
4. Phante (2,210 Points)]
[1. Unknown (31,008 Points)
2. Phante (7,299 Points)
3. Jeong-woo Cah (6,900 Points)]
[1. Unknown (18,115 Points)
2. Jeong-woo Cah (11,331 Points)]
"Oh?" As soon as he saw “Unknown” on the list, he knew it was Yeon-woo. He was the only one among the novices who could pull something like this off. "What an interesting friend he is." Bahal skimmed through the rest of the rankings with a huge smile. He’d suspected that Yeon-woo was up to something big as soon as he laid eyes on the novice, but this was more than what he expected.
Jeong-woo had set his records because he had assistance from his team, Arthia. However, Yeon-woo had done everything on his own. Thanks to this, he was going to get even more attention. Bahal thought to himself that it had been a good move to visit Yeon-woo before the other clans could snatch him.
"Isn't it frustrating?" the leader suddenly asked Bahal.
Bahal tilted his head. "Hmm? What is?"
"I’m talking about the records. Though they’re under Jeong-woo’s name, you had a share in it too.”
Bahal chuckled, understanding his intention. "I thought I already passed your test. Haven’t I?"
"Oh, I’m sorry, don’t get me wrong. This is just a personal question."
But Bahal only retorted with a snort. "Hmph! Our queen’s dearest henchman asking a personal question? You think I’d fall for that?”
The leader silently lowered his head in answer. Bahal closed the ranking window and stroked his chin as he answered. "Well, it’d be a lie to say it isn’t frustrating. No matter what I do, it is an undeniable fact that I was once part of Arthia. Those records are part of my past. Who’d like having their past erased?"
The leader looked at Bahal questioningly but his doubts were eased after Bahal’s next words.
"But what’s past is past. I’ll have to let go of it in order to advance. What matters to me right now...” A sly grin crept over Bahal’s face. "Is how to make this novice ours."
The leader didn’t know what to reply.
"I do think he’ll be ours eventually, but we can’t wait for him forever to decide, can we? If he won’t join us, then we’ll have to destroy him, just like we did to them." Although Bahal didn’t specify, the leader understood whom he was referring to: Arthia. If they couldn’t have someone, then no one else could. "So, did that answer satisfy you?" Bahal looked at the leader with a smile.
The leader nodded calmly.
"Seems like I got a passing mark."
"You did say too much unnecessary stuff. You’d better be careful next time."
"Haha! I thought I had already earned some trust, but it seems our queen still doubts me. By the way…" Bahal came to a sudden stop in front of a steep cliff. "Are we in the right place?"
"The coordinates say we are."
"So this is the Cheonghwado’s doghole. They’ve been pretending to be so noble and aloof, acting as if they have nothing to hide, but look what they have here. Haha!" Bahal slowly moved to the edge of the cliff to look at the forest below. It was serene and empty, perhaps because it was far from the Outer District.
Bahal began to circulate mana into his eyes, staring at a certain point inside the forest. Then, he noticed a strange structure that looked like an altar hidden under camouflage. Five players patrolled around it, and there was a blue portal at its center.
‘That must be the portal that leads to Arangdan.’ Bahal chuckled as he continued to examine the portal. ‘I don’t know what you’re trying to hide by opening a portal in such a remote place, but you really haven't changed a bit, Leonte. It’s so sloppy.’ Bahal turned to look at the leader. "It’s about time now. Let's get ready."
"Roger." The leader raised his hand. Flame Beast scattered across the cliff and stayed low. Their plan was to ambush Leonte as soon as he showed his face. Their information said that Leonte would be passing through the portal in an hour. When the time came, the portal’s still surface suddenly rippled—a sign that someone was coming through. With a gesture from their leader, all members of Flame Beast pulled out short bamboo poles from their pockets. Although they looked little bigger than bamboo shoots, they were powerful guns loaded with steel arrows, magic, and gunpowder that could easily devastate a large area.
Soon, a large group of players in the Cheonghwado uniform started to emerge from the portal, and Bahal spotted Leonte without much difficulty. Flame Beast aimed their guns at the group of players standing near the portal. Once it seemed like no one else was going to emerge from the portal, the leader gestured to his team.
Boom! Like thousands of lightning bolts crashing all at once, a terrifying roar rang over the entire forest as a massive explosion swallowed the portal and the surrounding woods. Most of the guards and the players, including those who came through the portal, couldn’t even react to the sudden attack and were swept away by the explosion.
Those who survived the explosion were pierced by the steel arrows raining from above. However, Leonte, as if wanting to prove himself worthy of being a high ranker, managed to avoid most of the explosions and arrows. However, when the attack was over, his body was still covered in soot and blood.
Leonte clenched his teeth. He had just recently managed to calm himself after the loss of Arangdan and the stone, and now he had suddenly lost another group of players and three subordinates to an ambush. Unable to contain his anger, Leonte let out a loud roar into the sky and began to look around for the cause of the disaster.
Not long after, he spied a group of players standing at the edge of a cliff, one of them with a very familiar face. It was the face of someone who’d once been his great friend and was now a bitter enemy. "Bahal!"
"Long time no see, my friend." Although they were far from each other, Bahal could see the expression on Leonte’s face, and so he jumped down with a smile. Boom! As soon as Bahal’s foot touched the ground, Leonte kicked off and propelled himself towards Bahal.
Two swirls of wind spiraled around Leonte, following him like shadows before hurtling forward to become massive cyclones. Leonte's nickname was Storm Bringer, and as befitting his name, he sent the cyclones spinning towards Bahal with stupendous force.
Whoosh! With a burst of laughter, Bahal raised a pillar of fire in front of him. Boom! With a loud explosion, the cyclones and the pillar of fire collided in midair. Waves of scorching wind radiated from the point of impact, burning everything around it. It seemed like a sight that only ever appeared in myths and legends.
Flame Beast had to retreat a considerable distance away so that they wouldn’t be swept away by the aftermath of the two former friends’ confrontation. However, the injured players of the Cheonghwado couldn’t escape and were turned into ashes.
"You! How dare you do this to me! Do you realize there’ll be consequences to your actions?"
Leonte grimaced at Bahal, his voice sharp.
Bahal answered with a smile. "I do." He’d expected this reaction from Leonte, who fancied himself a good strategist but was boring and predictable in everything he said and did. "Because I am going to start a war.”
Leonte's face stiffened at Bahal’s declaration of war. Red Dragon was declaring war against the Cheonghwado!
"If I take the head of one of the Martial Gods, wouldn’t that be a nice way to kick it off?”
Leonte was speechless.
"You know, we used to be friends a long time ago. I couldn’t stand the idea of you being killed by anyone else, so I came here to finish you off with my own hands." Bahal lifted a hand, smiling broadly. Then he swung his hand, casting his signature skill, Volcanic Hammer. From the sky, a red hammer made of flames slammed down on Leonte’s cyclones, tearing them apart until they disappeared without a trace. It was only then that Leonte realized how much stronger Bahal had become.
"Just hand it over to me."
"Hand over what?"
"The mana organ you created. If you give it to me now, I’ll finish you as painlessly as I can."
Leonte’s expression hardened. He didn’t know that Bahal knew about the stone. However, Bahal took his expression as a sign of refusal and clucked his tongue lightly. "You and your damn pride. Well, you leave me no choice, Leonte. I’ll have to take it by force.” As soon as Bahal finished speaking, he jumped towards Leonte.
Boom! Dozens of Volcanic Hammers lashed down onto the ground, spreading flames everywhere, and surrounding Leonte. The Flame Beasts blocked all possible escape routes, and Leonte had nowhere to run. Bahal's nickname was Flame Fist, and no one could match him in the sea of fire, not even the head of Red Dragon, the Summer Queen. Hammers of fire pounded on Leonte several times, but Leonte managed to block them with his cyclone. The explosions from their fight swept over the entire area around them once more.
* * *
[This is the 11th floor, the stage of the dream world.]
Yeon-woo opened his eyes to see the message, and then a new world appeared in his sights. Fields and hills stretched out before him, and he could hear flowers and grass sighing in the soft breeze as the sunlight warmed him. It was very different from the floors he’d already passed.
Yeon-woo looked around but he couldn’t see anyone else. 'I guess they’re still on the tenth floor.'
It was understandable that Phante and Edora would need more time to reach this floor since they didn’t have Gyges' Eyes. Yeon-woo would have struggled too. ‘Looks like I’ll have to wait.'
Yeon-woo thought it was a good thing that he arrived earlier than the two. He was physically and mentally tired from passing through ten floors without a single break, and he needed time to check the items he’d acquired on the tenth floor. However, at that moment, a blue portal formed in the sky, and someone dropped down. Whoom.
Since he was wearing a tuxedo, Yeon-woo could tell it was another Guardian. When he looked up, he saw that the Guardian had a rabbit’s head and looked just like the White Rabbit from the book Alice in Wonderland.
"It is so nice to finally meet you in person. My name is Laplace and as you can see, I am the Guardian of the eleventh floor.” Laplace's red eyes glistened with curiosity as he looked Yeon-woo over.Previous Chapter Next Chapter