Chapter 88 - Flame of Life (4)

“Why is it so dark in here? It wasn’t like this a while ago.” The leader of the Sungwoong clan, Baek, frowned as he looked at the grey mist covering the forest. It had begun to thicken as soon as they stepped into the forest, growing denser the deeper they went into the woods. Now, he could only see three meters ahead of him. At this rate, they might end up missing their target if they couldn’t get a clear view. And strangely, the mist didn’t just confuse their vision but also their other senses. If their target ambushed them right now, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

“This is not going to work. Guys, gather around!" Baek decided to gather his clan members and continue the hunt as a group. It would create a gap in their encirclement, but safety was more important. Soon, the clan members appeared.

"Wait, where did the others go?” There were only thirty-one players present. Sixty of them had entered the forest, which meant that almost half of the members had disappeared. The clan members looked around the forest anxiously.

The gloomy atmosphere and the screams were making their palms sweaty, and they couldn’t shake a sense of uneasiness that they might cease to exist just like the ones that weren’t there. Their instincts warned them to get out of that forest as soon as possible. The players glanced at each other.

"Hey, captain, I think we should consider backing out.” A player had just stepped up to persuade Baek when someone burst out of the fog with a loud cry. "I-is that you, Baek?"

Startled, the players instinctively put their hands on their swords, but their eyes widened when they saw the face of the person who’d just appeared. It was the vice-leader of Behemoth. The confident expression he’d worn when he and his clan had entered the forest was gone. Instead, his face was deathly pale and terrified. "Why are you guys here? N-no, we don’t have time for this. We have to get out of here! Quickly!" The vice-leader kept glancing over his shoulder as though he were being chased by someone.

"OK, calm down and take a deep breath. We can’t just abort the mission without knowing the reason. You have to tell me what happened.”

"G-ghosts! They are c-coming after us! Th-they're going to rip us apart and kill us all! Quick, we have to run away!"

But Baek frowned at the gibberish. "Ghosts? You mean monsters like Wraiths or Banshees?”

"N-no, they’re different. Fuck, just get out of my way! This is not the time to chat!" The vice-leader shook Baek’s hand away and tried to run, but before Baek could even react, he realized that the vice-leader was just standing frozen. Baek looked around and saw that his own clan members had gone pale and they trembled, unable to move. They seemed to be mouthing something to him.

'Behind me?' When Baek turned around, all he saw were the open jaws of a giant beast, and it was too late. Crunch! The giant beast chomped on Baek and the vice-leader, leaving the lower halves of their bodies to fall to the ground.

"Aaagh!"

"The ghost is here!"

The players screamed at the sight of the gigantic monster that had just killed the strongest players in their group. In response, Ka, who had once been the monstrous Vulka, roared at the sky, making the forest shake.

The players collapsed on the ground, losing their will to fight and hoping the monster would ignore them. But Ka simply dashed to the next player with an earthshaking rumble. Boom!

*   *   *

Hiss! Somewhere above the forest, another Spirit Familiar was looking down as it floated in the air. Krikikik! Boo laughed eerily as he oversaw the forest from the skies. At times, his laughter sounded like a mournful cry, and he felt he would almost die from laughing, even though he was already dead. He was tickled by the situation, and every time he swung his hand in the air, more thick mist rose in the forest.

The humans that walked into his mist either shrank in fear and lost their will to continue forward or else they started screaming in order to overcome their fear. The mist he was spreading around the forest had a special ability to dull the senses and induce confusion.

Although the debuff was minor, it was very effective against large groups as it could affect many players at once and mess with their cooperation. The mist made the surroundings indistinguishable, and players could barely see their own positions, much less the people standing next to them.  

The poor visibility and the echoing screams created a terrifying atmosphere, and the feeling that they were alone in the forest filled the players’ minds with fear and a sense of impending danger. The fear ate away at their will and their minds.

As Boo watched the proceedings, he laughed once more. ‘How dare you weak humans come to kill my master?’ It was nonsense. For Boo, Yeon-woo was someone who had to be treated like a god. To him, Yeon-woo was a god who had saved him from the limbo of the deceased, the abyss of hell, and even granted him a physical body as well as great power.

From the moment he regained his sentience, Boo vowed absolute loyalty to Yeon-woo, and the more Spirit Beads he fed on, the stronger his loyalty grew. He could not forgive anyone who wanted to harm his master, and he saw them as nothing but filthy insects. It didn’t even matter if they didn’t actually have the ability to harm his master. Their malicious thoughts meant that they had to be punished with death; in fact, they deserved to rot in an infernal prison for all eternity.

Boo made the mist thicker and thicker so that they would experience as much pain as possible, and their fear and screams amused him. Once they were done with these vermin, his generous master would give the Spirit Familiars with more Spirit Beads so that they could become stronger.

Boo wondered how strong he could become and the kind of entertainment and amusement he would enjoy then. His master had once told him that he was expecting him to become something called a Lich and achieve something greater. The mere thought of being able to help his master made his heart pound, even though he didn’t have one. Bring destruction down on Master’s enemies! Boo shouted a sentence he found from his memories from when he was still alive. Hiss!

*   *   *

"Just die already!"

Nol leaped into the air and dodged the two blades aimed at his legs. The flips the giant monster made in midair and his counterattacks upon landing shocked the players. Its four sharp claws slashed at a player, leaving his shredded body to fall to the ground. Neither their shields nor armor could stop Nol’s sharp claws, which were infused with dark element mana.

"This isn’t happening, this isn’t hap—" The players who were looking away in an effort to deny reality fell on their backs as Nol threw shards of dark mana at their heads. But even in the midst of the massacre, Nol looked back at the corpses as if he was reminded of something. He saw the souls of the players leaving their dead bodies, and he quickly snatched the bodies and swallowed them before the souls could disappear. Intoxicated with the joy of victory, Nol roared to the sky.

His memories from his previous life had gradually emerged from consuming the Spirit Beads, and he could feel his past habits returning to him. The more the remaining players fought with the monster, the more they felt their battle will draining out of their bodies as they confirmed that the monster was a ghost.

No matter how much they struck it with their swords, the blades just passed through its body as though it were smoke. They placed their hopes on the few magicians in the group and tried to corner the monster and strike it down with magic. However, it quickly came back to life and jumped at them as if it hadn’t taken any damage.

They had never heard of a beast like this inhabiting the forest or even the dream world. The players tried so hard to defeat the monster, but when the battle cleared, there were only three of them left alive. They knew with a horrifying awareness that they were the only ones left because all the screaming had finally stopped.

"Fuck."

"God...Why is this happening to us?”

The three players started to weep at the thought of their imminent deaths. One of them even wet his trousers from the overwhelming fear. They wanted to run away, but their legs didn’t seem to listen. The thick mist covering the forest seemed like a prison, and they couldn’t do anything other than wait for the monster to kill them.

Thud! Thud! The sound of heavy footsteps broke the silence, and they slowly turned their eyes towards the source of the sound to see two bright lights like will-o’-wisps slowly approaching them. As the two lights neared, a dark silhouette formed around them, but it was only when the figure was right in front of them that they realized who it was. The person in black armor and a black mask was none other than the Hoarder.

Blood was dripping down from the dagger in his right hand. He’d clearly killed several players on his way to them. The three players gulped, their shaking eyes focused on the Hoarder. They wanted to beg for mercy, but their voices were stuck in their throats. Finally, one of them managed to stutter, “Wh-why are you doing this to us?” His voice cracked.

Yeon-woo cocked his head to one side. "What do you mean?"

"Why are you doing this to us? Y-you didn’t have to kill us all!” They had lost all their friends and teammates in one day. In fact, the situation was even worse—the clans that they’d had friendly rivalries with had all been annihilated by a single player. On his own, he killed more than 100 people and destroyed a dozen clans. Didn’t he feel any guilt about it?

"That’s nonsense."

"What?” Snikt! The player's head flew into the air with a single slash of Yeon-woo’s dagger. As the surviving players looked at the blood spraying out of the stump where their friend’s head used to be, they fell on their bottoms, their lips parted in a soundless scream. They were already half out of their mind and had lost any hope of survival.

However, Yeon-woo whispered to them in a malevolent tone, "Do either of you want to live? I'm thinking of giving you a chance. Just one of you."

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