For the two players, Yeon-woo’s offer was like rain after a long drought.
"We want to survive tog—"
"No, I want to live! I have to live! Please, I’ll do anything if you spare my life!" Before the first player could even finish speaking, the other one jumped up and shouted to Yeon-woo. The first player looked at his friend with wide eyes, as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened. They were best friends, and he had been planning to ask Yeon-woo to spare them both. But his friend had completely shattered his hopes for their survival. He saw the apologetic expression in his friend’s eyes, then the world went to black.
Whack! Yeon-woo ruthlessly got rid of the first player and lightly shook the blood off the Magic Bayonet. He turned to the last player, putting his bayonet back in its sheath. "You said you’ll do anything?"
"Uh, yes! Please don’t kill me, I have a child…”
Yeon-woo raised his hand and stopped him from speaking. He didn't want to hear his story. If he had to listen to every player’s story in the Tower, he’d never be able to do anything else. "You know those guys who tipped you off about my location? Go and tell them right now. If this happens one more time, I will make sure they are wiped out from this world."
The player asked with a shaky voice as if he couldn’t believe his ears. "Oh, umm, is that it?"
"Why? Should I add something else?”
"Oh, no, not at all! I'll be sure to tell them—I mean, warn them! Don’t you worry about it!" The player turned tail and ran away, afraid Yeon-woo might change his mind.
Crackle! As soon as the player was out of sight, Nol appeared dimly over Yeon-woo's head. "Follow him."
After nodding, Nol once again vanished into thin air in pursuit of the player to find out who’d spread the information about Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo had no intention of letting anyone who messed with him live. He had to nip things in the bud in order to prevent any future issues.
Even though his Spirit Familiars grew weaker when they were too far away from him, he had already considered the problem and fed Nol Spirit Beads. "I bet they’re still a match for an ordinary player.'
Yeon-woo glanced around the forest. The grey mist had already lifted, and the view of the forest was clear enough to show that it had turned into a disaster zone. Puddles of blood and shredded flesh spread everywhere among fallen trees and scorched plants. Most of the corpses were missing limbs, and some were even missing their entire torso. The corpses that were relatively intact had twisted limbs or broken necks.
Despite their different conditions, Yeon-woo noticed that each corpse with an intact head died with a horrified expression. "I didn’t realize there were so many players.” Yeon-woo clucked his tongue when he looked at the number of souls he had collected from this battle: 382 players. It wasn’t really even a battle anymore, it was more of a massacre. From start to finish, it had been a one-sided affair.
Boo had created the grey mist and thwarted the clan union’s siege; Nol and Ka had launched surprise attacks while hiding in the mist; and Yeon-woo, who leisurely followed from behind, had finished off the remaining players. It was a simple but effective strategy. However, something was off. 'I don’t feel anything.’
Even though he’d killed so many players, he didn’t feel anything. One of the players had spat out “You call yourself human?” and the memory lingered in his mind. ‘I’ve heard that so many times in Africa.’ However, he only did what he had to do.
They had attacked him first, and he had to defend himself. He wondered if he’d always been this kind of person or if the Tower had changed him. But then, he did receive his code name Cain from this aspect of his personality, after all. 'I don't think it's any good.’
Yeon-woo converted all the souls he collected into Spirit Beads and handed them out to the rest of his Spirit Familiars. ‘It’s pointless to think about this. I’ll have to do this a lot later, and I can’t let these thoughts distract me.’
Yeon-woo jumped into the air. He had spent too much time dealing with the players, and he had to get the final materials needed for the vessel for the Flame of Life as soon as possible.
* * *
At the Starlight Pub in Barrack, the bartender narrowed his eyes as he placed a dry cup on the shelf. "They should be coming back at any moment now."
Several hours had passed since he’d given the clans in the city the information regarding the Hoarder. Because of the coming war, there were plenty of them around, and he’d made quite a lot of money from the information. The smaller clans who couldn’t afford the price he charged had even signed a contract agreeing to share part of their loot. The hunt was a big deal for the Starlight Pub, and even the bartender himself.
‘If the hunt fails, that fact alone would serve as a measurement of the Hoarder’s strength. That kind of information also sells well.’ In any case, he would profit no matter what the outcome was. At that moment, the door swung open with a loud thump. This alone already told the bartender everything. 'Looks like they failed.’
If they had succeeded, the players would have swaggered back into the pub, but only one appeared covered in dried blood and dust. It was Shum, the leader of a clan named Lante. He glared furiously at the bartender as he approached the counter. "You son of a...!"
The bartender beckoned with his finger, and five large men sitting at a table in the corner stood from their seats. They were players he had hired to get rid of troublemakers in the pub. Realizing what the bartender was going to do, Shum flinched and turned to make a run for it. It was at that moment he noticed a presence above his head. When he looked up, he saw the monster he had seen back in the forest, Nol.
Shum screamed and collapsed on the floor. The bartender and the five players stopped walking towards him and stood with puzzled looks. Before they could even understand what was going on, Nol combined his dark energy with the Flame Infusion skill Yeon-woo had prepared.
Boom! The explosion not only blew up the pub, but even incinerated several buildings nearby. The city of Barrack was thrown into chaos by a sudden act of violence.
* * *
Three days later, Yeon-woo returned to the Phoenix's nest.
『It took you longer than I expected.』the Phoenix said in a surprised tone.
Yeon-woo answered with a bitter laugh. "A lot of people tried to bother me."
『It looks like you got yourself into some trouble.』
Yeon-woo only nodded. After he annihilated the clan union, the residents of the eleventh floor grew warier of him, but some clans who’d been seriously damaged had the gall to set a price on his head, and so he’d had to get rid of more groups of players on the way to the Manticore.
‘Well, they did make great food for the Spirit Familiars.’ There was another reason he couldn’t return sooner. "And dealing with the Manticore was harder than I thought it would be. I didn’t know there would be a whole colony of them in that dungeon.”
『I see. It can be a problem that they live in packs. I also forgot about that.』
When he entered the dungeon, he hadn’t really encountered much difficulty thanks to his Spirit Familiars, but as soon as he entered the boss room, he saw a male Manticore with around twenty females and over a hundred younger Manticores. His brother had explained in his diary that Manticores lived in families, but he hadn’t said anything about how huge the families were.
'Maybe they just multiplied.’ Wherever the extra Manticores came from, he still had to deal with them by himself. ‘However, it didn’t turn out so bad. It was quite profitable.’ Since the Tutorial’s Inner Area, Yeon-woo had never fought with all of his strength, and he’d been wondering for a long time how he could measure his strength, especially after acquiring Despair of Black King and Aegis. 'I tried using my skills while training with the spirits, but I can’t tell how strong I am just from that.’
But the fight with the male Manticore had given him a chance to go all out while the Spirit Familiars dealt with the females and the young ones. Yeon-woo had faced several life-threatening moments during the battle, especially towards the end, when he was struck with the aftereffects of Combat Will. His connection with Aegis had suddenly disappeared, and he’d almost suffered a critical hit from the Manticore.
But whenever he overcame the challenges, he’d felt thrill surge down his body, and he was finally confident that he had a good measure of his strength. ‘It did end up giving me tons of work to do.’ Vigrid’s blade had grown very dull from the fight, and the other artifacts also needed to be mended. Yeon-woo figured that he would have to take up his hammer pretty soon.
'The biggest change from the fight had to do with the Spirit Familiars.’ Yeon-woo had lost six of the Spirit Familiars during the fight. He had felt their connection disappear, and when he tried summoning them again, nothing happened. However, he wasn’t frustrated by the loss since the rest of the spirits grew stronger, and Boo, Nol, and Ka managed to reach the maximum level of growth for a Spirit Familiar.
These formerly powerless ghosts were now giant monsters that emitted a powerful aura that made even Yeon-woo flinch when they approached him.
『It looks like you have gotten everything you wanted.』
"It’s all thanks to you."
『I am glad to hear that.』 The Phoenix burst into laughter. She seemed to be very pleased with his words. 『Now, shall we start?』
"Yes, ma’am." Yeon-woo put the pouch around his shoulder on the floor. It opened by itself, and the items inside flew out.
『It looks like you’ve selected only the best materials. These will make a fine vessel.』
[Hidden quest (Flame of Life) completed.]
[You have made an achievement that is not easily accomplished. Additional karma will be provided.]
[You have acquired 5,000 karma.]
[You have acquired 3,000 additional karma.]
[You have received the Phoenix’s favor.]
[Intimacy with the Phoenix has increased. Chirpy has noticed the change and has become very pleased.]
[Affinity towards fire element has increased by 30.]
[Affinity towards wind element has increased by 30.]
[The effects of the contract you formed with a Legendary Beast will be enhanced. All Mythical Beasts including Demonic Beasts will now be less vigilant towards you, and become very friendly with you.]
[Phoenix has begun the creation of Flame of Life.]
Whoosh! The materials floating up in the air started to combust into a white flame—the Holy Flame that was the embodiment of the Phoenix. One by one, the flame consumed the offerings while emitting a sacred energy. All the materials merged into one big flame.
[Flame of Life (Superior) has been created.]
[You have acquired Flame of Life (Superior).]
『It has been a long time since I have created a Flame of Life of this quality. What do you think?』 the Phoenix said proudly. When she looked at Yeon-woo, however, she discovered that he was staring at the flame with a blank look.
The Flame of Life flickered a brilliant gold, bright red, ocean blue, turquoise green, jet black, and many other colors, and Yeon-woo watched them change with his mouth open. He felt his mind clear, and the memories he’d buried deep inside suddenly rose to the surface. There were memories of warm days when he could still laugh easily and brightly. He saw his twin brother in all of those memories, the person who looked just like him but with a more positive personality.
Yeon-woo was staring into the flame for a while before he came to his senses. He quickly wiped his eyes with his sleeves. He hadn’t even noticed that tears were welling up in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to make a scene."
『It is OK. It’s a good opportunity to know that even someone who appears to have a cold heart like you has feelings just like everyone else.』 the Phoenix said as she looked at Yeon-woo with interest. 『This holy flame symbolizes life, and those who look at it see the meaning of life to them. It seems your memories have a great deal of importance to you.』 The Phoenix’s voice was full of warmth. 『Do not worry, I do not know what you saw in the flame, but I do know that your memories will become a sure and steadfast support against the waves of hardships awaiting you in the future. Therefore, human, do not lose those memories.』
"Thank you for your kind words."
『It is a pleasure that I can say this to the human who saved my child.』 The Phoenix brought out Yeon-woo’s egg, which she had been keeping safe in her nest. Chirpy came running out, flapping his tiny wings. “Tweet! Tweet!”
『My youngest child has grown very fond of your egg. It seems like he is sad to part with his friend.』
Yeon-woo couldn’t help laughing as he saw Chirpy holding onto the egg with his wings, not wishing to let go. He knew that Chirpy and his beast egg had already become special friends, even though he had no idea where the information had come from. Perhaps the connection they had told him the little Phoenix’s feelings, and he was sorry he had to separate them, especially after seeing the tears falling from Chirpy’s eyes.
‘I'll have to come to visit him often even after clearing the eleventh floor.’ While Yeon-woo was distracted by his thoughts, the Flame of Life suddenly drew near the egg. When it touched the egg, the flames scattered all over the egg and began to sink into it.
The egg expanded as it absorbed the flame, the patterns on it taking on vivid colors. Yeon-woo could feel the link between him and the egg growing clearer and stronger. He could feel the egg’s great joy in his own heart. By the time the egg finished absorbing all the flames, it had grown two meters tall, taller than Yeon-woo.
『It is very rare for an egg to grow this big. Could it be a Mythical Dragon?』
A bright light enveloped the egg, and it began to tremble as though the beast inside were trying to break out. Then, all of a sudden, the bright light disappeared as if nothing had happened. Whoosh!
Yeon-woo and the Phoenix both blurted out at the same time. The egg did not hatch.Previous Chapter Next Chapter