Chapter 87 - Flame of Life (3)

Yeon-woo’s fame as the best among the novices was only useful on the lower floors, and to the two giant clans, he was no better than any other ordinary player. He didn’t have the ability to control a battlefield where thousands of players could be slaughtered by just a small number of rankers. Still, Yeon-woo wanted to take part in the war.

The information he would acquire as a participant would be hugely different than if he were just an observer. 'I might be able to gain something unexpected.' Yeon-woo had to know the reason why Bahal and Leonte had gotten into a fight. Although he knew their friendship had fallen apart after Arthia’s disbandment, there must have been a more specific cause.

Fortunately, there was a way for him to participate in this war. 'If I go to Bahal…’ Yeon-woo recalled the offer Bahal had made him. He’d even told Yeon-woo to look for him whenever he was ready. If he took that offer and attached himself to Bahal, he might access plenty of information since Bahal was the catalyst of the war and was once a member of Arthia.

But Yeon-woo shook his head at the idea. 'No, that would be too dangerous. He’ll ask me to reveal my identity if I stick next to him.’ It would be a big problem if he ordered Yeon-woo to take off his mask. 'What if I join the war as a mercenary?'

A war of this scale meant that both clans would need as many skilled players possible. 'This is the best option I can think of right now.' However, they might conduct several tests to see if he was a suitable mercenary. 'They might do a background check on me to confirm I’m not a spy. It’ll be less dangerous than going straight to Bahal, but there’s still is a good chance they will want me to take my mask off.’ The fact that he had to hide his identity was becoming a huge obstacle. 'Or maybe…’ Yeon-woo’s eyes glowed at a new idea. ‘I can make them come to me.’

If he could build a reputation big enough to grab the clans’ attention and make them approach him, they would be less likely to ask him to remove his mask and show his true identity. 'But it’s not the time to think about this. It’s not as if the war will break out in a few days. I have to focus on clearing the eleventh-floor trial first.’ Yeon-woo summoned the quest window. Every item on the list was marked as “Completed” except for one. ‘Manticore’s Heart.’

Manticores were Demonic Beasts that had the body of a lion, wings of an eagle, and the venomous stinger of a scorpion. It was the most difficult beast to kill on the eleventh floor, aside from the four Legendary Beasts. It was also known to live deep inside a dungeon guarded by countless Demonic Beasts.

In order to kill a Manticore, clans often organized large hunting parties with more than fifty players. However, Yeon-woo was planning to break through the dungeon all by himself. ‘The question is how long it will take me to make my way through a dungeon that has ten floors.’ Yeon-woo hurried towards the Manticore’s dungeon, but suddenly, he stopped walking as his strengthened senses noticed a group of players hidden in the woods. "When are you going to come out?"

With a rustling sound, thirty players appeared from behind the trees and bushes, each one holding a weapon.

"Is he the Hoarder?" The player who seemed to be the leader asked a player behind him.

Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes as he recognized their faces. They were the members of Behemoth that he had seen back in Barrack. The player standing behind the leader took out a piece of paper and looked back and forth from Yeon-woo to the paper.

"It should be him. His appearance matches the description." The players began to buzz with excitement. Some of them even whistled as if they were amazed at the sight of the player who was at the center of so many rumors.

Yeon-woo could see their eyes glow with greed like those of hyenas staring at their prey. "What do you want?" he asked in a cold tone.

"We are from Behemoth, and we are here to investigate."

"Investigate?"

"Yeah. Have you heard that someone has been ruining beast dens on the eleventh floor recently?"

His remark almost made Yeon-woo sneer. It was obvious what they wanted from him. "Yes?"

"Well, several innocent victims have suffered some serious losses because of his evil deeds. As the representative of the victims, we’ve been looking into the situation, and it’s come to our attention that you might be the culprit. We'd like you to cooperate with our investigation." The leader ran his tongue over his lips and gestured at the other players. They ran past him to surround Yeon-woo, clearly intending to force him to submit if he didn’t comply.

The leader couldn’t stop his lips from curling in a smile at how smoothly things were working out. The only step left was to seize Yeon-woo’s belongings to see whether or not he was the criminal they were looking for.

If he was, he would take away Yeon-woo’s materials, and if he wasn’t, he could still take his artifacts. Regardless of the outcome, he would make a good profit. He was very excited because they were dealing with the player rumored to be the Hoarder. It was his chance to see the rewards he had been receiving from the Tower.

The leader was confident that everything would turn out well. His clan, Behemoth, had the Cheonghwado’s backing, and everyone on the eleventh floor knew it. He was sure that Yeon-woo wouldn’t dare attack them and make himself the enemy of the Cheonghwado.

However, Yeon-woo only sneered. The situation was just ridiculous to him, and the expressions of the Behemoth members crumbled. "Did you just laugh?"

"I did. It’s funny how you’re trying to boss me around as if your words mean something to me.”

Yeon-woo warmed up his shoulders and slowly drew the Magic Bayonet from his waist. "Stop with the excuses. If you want to take what’s mine, come and get it."

The leader’s face flushed red with anger, but he managed to calm himself and continued with his acting. "So, you are the culprit after all. Well, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to force you to compensate us for the losses you’ve caused.”

Yeon-woo laughed out loud. "Try me, if you dare."

"What the f—" Wondering where Yeon-woo’s confidence came from, the leader was about to order his teammates to strike him at the same time, but his voice didn’t even leave his throat, and his surroundings began to turn black.

Snikt! The leader's head dropped to the floor, completely detached from his neck, and a fountain of blood shot up from his neck stump. The leader’s body collapsed to the floor to reveal a figure who had been standing behind him. The figure seemed to be composed of grey smoke and it cackled in a terrifying manner. It was Nol. Krikikik!

"Captain!"

"Wh-what the fuck just happened?"

Shocked, the players backed away from their leader’s corpse, but it was only the start. The other Spirit Familiars appeared one by one from all directions to slaughter the screaming members of Behemoth. Snikt! Snikt!

"Aagh!"

"R-run!"

The players panicked as they realized that their swords barely damaged the grey monsters. Torn limbs were tossed all over the ground as cries of terror rang through the forest. Some players jumped at Yeon-woo to kill him, thinking that he was controlling the monsters, but Yeon-woo simply infused dark energy into his bayonet and swung it at them.  

Splat! Splat! Splat! The dismembered bodies dropped to the ground, dying it red with blood.

"D-don’t you know who’s behind our clan!? Y-you’ll regret…Urk!" A player started screaming at Yeon-woo as he backed away. However, he tripped over a severed limb and fell to the ground, his trousers growing wet. The smell of urine rose in the air.

"Who’s going to tell them?”

“Wh-what?”

"No one will be making it out of here alive.” Yeon-woo's dagger was unstoppable.

"Aargh!"

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

Eventually, the surviving players realized that they had no chance of winning and tried to escape from the brutal monster that could control invulnerable ghosts.

"Don’t leave anyone alive. And when you bring their souls back, keep them separate from the rest of the souls." The souls of those who died in terror could be used in many ways, particularly for making Spirit Beads to enhance his Spirit Familiars.

Krikikik! With incomprehensible cries, the Spirit Familiars followed the fleeing players into the woods. Yeon-woo also moved into the woods as he cast Shunpo.

"Ahhh!"

"No, please don’t!"

Terrified screams resonated through the entire forest.

*   *   *

"Well, there they go."

"Aren’t they supposed to be the top experts in Behemoth?”

"Yup. And now we know the Hoarder is stronger than all of them combined."

"I mean, I knew he’d be strong since he has been arming himself with the best artifacts one can get up until the eleventh floor, but…"

Stern expressions appeared on the faces of the leaders of the clan union, who were waiting outside of the forest. It was obvious the screams were coming from the players of Behemoth, not the Hoarder.

Behemoth used to be a medium-sized clan that was famous among the players in the lower floors. Although they had lots of enemies due to their bullying behavior, they had the skills to back it up. However, once they became subordinates of the Cheonghwado, things grew worse.

All the other clans tried to avoid getting into trouble with them because they would have to face the Cheonghwado as well. When Behemoth said they were going to hunt the Hoarder on their own, the other clans couldn’t complain. However, now they were relieved that they hadn’t insisted.

‘He can take Behemoth down all by himself?’

‘Doesn’t he even care about making an enemy out of the Cheonghwado?’

They felt a terrible chill running down their spines. When the Starlight Pub pointed Yeon-woo out as the possible cause of the destruction of the beasts’ dens, nearly all of the clans staying in Barrack readied themselves to go after him because they desperately needed the materials to prepare for the upcoming war.

The clans formed an alliance in order to subdue the Hoarder, believing that he wouldn’t be able to handle so many players at the same time, no matter how skilled he was. However, this belief was turning into doubt. And yet, none of the clan leaders could tell the others they wanted to back out. They knew very well that it would be over for them if they showed any weakness.

"No matter how strong he is, he is just one player. We have numbers and tactics on our side. Let’s surround the forest, encircle him, and slowly close up on him. There’s nothing he can do against this.” The clan leaders decided to go with the plan that one of the leaders came up with, and the clan union finally set off into the forest where the Hoarder waited for them.

Hiss! They didn’t notice the grey mist ominously oozing out of the forest.

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