Chapter 192. Ranker (3)


I was driving the Dwarven Supercar through the 6th floor Splendor.
Gentle wind blew past us.
Colorful flowers could be seen everywhere, and the eyes of deer twinkled from the mountains afar.
The scenery put my mind at ease.

In this simple state of happiness, I couldn’t help but reminisce.
I didn’t know why, but the memories from a far past flickered in my head.

In my teenage years, I felt invincible with my friends by my side. I studied hard for the college exam.
Years passed, and I was in the military long before I had a chance to enjoy my life as an adult.
After I was discharged, I started writing.
Things went well, I earned some money and finally left home. Back then, I thought I had achieved everything solely on my own.
But I was wrong.
The support from my parents and relationships I had established with others over 25 years were what made me who I was back then.

Well, I spent 25 years there, and 5 years here.
How would they have changed in five years?
Was the world I lived in still the same world I knew?
A strange anxiety rose from the depths of the beautiful scenery.

“Hajin.”

Suddenly, Boss called my name.

“…Yes?”

Absorbed in thought, I answered her a little late.
The weather was especially nice today on the 6th floor.
I felt as if I was in the center of a glittering universe.

“…”

Boss stayed quiet. The silence incited me to turn around, and I saw Boss glaring at me.

“What?”

“Where did you say we’re going?”

“Huh? I said, the hot spring… Aah~”

I scratched my head.
No wonder she misunderstood.
My mind was completely occupied with the landscape that I forgot to explain.

“I don’t mean anything strange by it. The hot spring is used for training. There, your stats go up really fast.”

Kieeek—
Suddenly, Spartan descended and sat on Boss’ shoulder. It was quite skillful of him to catch the Dwarven Supercar at such a high speed.

“…For training?”

—Prrrr.
Spartan looked at Boss with twinkling eyes.
He seemed to be having strange thoughts again.

“Yeah. My stats went up by 2 in a week.”

“…Really?”

It seemed Boss finally took interest.
The way she mumbled ‘hot spring, hot spring, hot spring…’ even made her look excited.

“Also, that horse is still following us.”

Hearing her, I smiled wryly.
Just like what Boss said, Bucephalus was indeed still following us. She appeared to be speed walking and not quite running, yet her speed was equal to that of the Dwarven Supercar running at 100 km per hour.

“She’s super fast, right?”

“…”

Boss nodded in silence.

“Look carefully, and you should be able to obtain some information.”

“…? I can’t see anything. Just a question mark.”

“Ah, I forgot.”

The information of a Lv.13 creature couldn’t be viewed on the 6th floor. Players gained increased access to information the higher they climbed, and the highest level that one could access on the 6th floor was Lv.10. The reason I was able to view Bucephalus’ information was because of my smartwatch.

“Have you heard of Bucephalus?”

“Bucephalus?”

Boss’s eyes widened a little.
It seemed she’d heard the name before.

“Of course. She appears in the novel I’ve been reading.”

“…I see. Anyway, that’s her.”

“Hm? How is that possible? Didn’t that horse die a long time ago?”

“Well, I mean, I don’t know. It’s just that anything’s possible in the Tower….”

We continued talking and soon enough we arrived at the hot spring.
White steam obscured the view of the water sparkling like diamonds, surrounded by rocks reminiscent of emeralds.

“We’re here.”

“Oho….”

The scenery was indeed beautiful enough to impress Boss.

“…!”

Boss, who had been scrutinizing the hot spring, suddenly widened her eyes. She must have received the system notifications regarding the ‘skill increase’.

“Um… Hajin, should I go in, just like this?”

“Huh? Oh… um…”

I looked at Boss. She had clothes on: Lv.4 Leather Armor and Robe, both of which I had made for her.

“It’s better to get undressed. Completely.”

“…What?”

Boss frowned at me.

“Well, we’re like a family, so it’s noth-… I’m joking. Boss, you know how to put up a barrier.”

I could sense her face turn grim, so I quickly took my words back. She didn’t know how to take a joke.

“…Barrier?”

Boss asked back in seriousness.

“Yes. Just get naked inside a barrier. The hot spring will be most effective that way. It’ll help you train your magic power. Would you like to give it a go now?”

“Hmm… Okay.”

Boss walked into the hot spring fully-clothed. I stopped Spartan from trying to go after her.

—Pieeek…
The bird was about to throw a tantrum when I managed to cover his beak. Boss glanced back at me and Spartan, then formed a black, dome-like barrier around her. The barrier divided the hot spring exactly in half. Half for me, and the other half for Boss.

—Prrr!

I let go of Spartan since the barrier was already up.
Spartan rushed towards the barrier as soon as I set him free.

“Hey, you can’t go in anyways…?”

Swoosh—
To my surprise, Spartan penetrated the barrier with ease.

“…What?”

I tapped on the barrier as a precaution.
Tok, tok.
It was firm enough to make knocking sounds.

“…”

To enter Boss’ barrier without losing a drop of blood…so this must be the power of a divine bird.
Feeling somewhat envious of Spartan, I took off my clothes and entered the hot spring. Then I opened my inventory and went over what I had to do.

[Lv.2 Consolidation Coupon]
[Lv.3 Skill Consolidation Coupon]

I got these two last week as part of my reward for being the first to enter the 6th floor.
Of the two, the [Lv.2 Consolidation Coupon] obviously had to be used to upgrade the system.
Chwaak—
I ripped the Consolidation Coupon in half without any hesitation.

[You used a Lv.2 Consolidation Coupon.]

“I’ll apply it to the system.”

[Consolidating ‘Lv.1 Extra7’s System’.]
[‘Lv.1 Extra7’s System’ became ‘Lv.2 Extra7’s System’.]

I raised my system to level 1 last time. Now it became level 2.

[Your waiting room increases in size and its efficacy improves.]
[Your inventory level increases from Lv.1 to Lv. 2.]
[You can now access a wider array of information.]
[Community…]

I quickly glanced over a myriad of system windows. Now, it was time to use the Lv.3 Skill Consolidation Coupon.

‘Let’s see where my skills stand right now.’

[Basic Skill List (3/3)]
[Lv.4 Extraction and Permanent Materialization (2 slots)] [Skill Exp 55%]
[Lv.3 Synthesis (1 slot)] [Exp 0]

[Extraction and Permanent Materialization] could be upgraded through repetitive training and was at level 4. However, [Synthesis] was still at level 3 since it could only be upgraded with Skill Consolidation Coupons. As such, it was quite obvious which skill I should use the skill consolidation coupon on.

[Synthesis increases to Lv.4.]
[You can now apply the skill in a more diverse way.]

Just like that, [Synthesis] was now Lv. 4.
The maximum level for a normal skill was 11.
I was about halfway there, so now I should be able to do what I’ve been wanting to do.

“Now then…. Let’s take the ‘Hot Spring of Peace’ to my waiting room.”

I took out the reward I got from the castle attack, the [Lv.4 Special Chemical Activity Beaker].

===
[Lv.4 Special Chemical Activity Beaker]
-—Lv.4 Property Transformation
===

As soon as I filled the 1L beaker with the water from the hot spring, ‘Property Transformation’ activated. The water inside the beaker turned into heavy liquid similar to mercury.

Then I used the [Synthesis] skill on the hot spring water.
Synthesis also had the power of compression. The semi-solid water became compressed, making extra space in the beaker.

From here, I just needed to repeat this process multiple times.

I used the beaker and [Synthesis] to gather and compress the water from the hot spring. 1L to 2L, 2L to 4L, 4L to 8L… In the end, I was left with 128L worth of spring water compressed inside a 1L beaker.

“All done.”

I spoke with a wide grin.
Now I just had to bring this over to my waiting room. Then I’d turn the compressed water into liquid again and release it inside the mini hot spring I prepared.

To leave the hot spring as it is seemed like a waste, so this was the solution that I came up with after much deliberation. Of course, the spring water would lose its purifying ability after compression, but Stigma’s magic power could take care of that.

In any case, I was about to return to the waiting room with the beaker…

Splash—

…when the water splashed.
I looked up and saw Bucephalus splattering water with her front legs.
Splash splash
Splash splash

The water splashed all over my face.

“…”

I faked indifference and messaged Boss.

「Boss, can you help me with my training after you’re done?」

Boss 「Trauning?」

「Yup. Training.」

Boss 「Ok. But what kind of traoning are you referring to?」

「Archery practice. And it’s training, not traoning. I’ll shoot, so all you have to do is evade.」

Boss 「It’s a typo.」

In addition to the Hot Spring of Peace, there were many other training grounds on the 6th floor.
For example, the Jewel Forest and the Dark King Mountain Range were nearby.
The Jewel Forest was a great place for training skills, and the Dark King Mountain Range was great for training Traits.

「But first, spend 3 more hours in there. It feels nice, right?」

Boss 「Yes. It’s good.」

After a short pause, Boss sent one more message along with a screenshot. So she learned how to take a screenshot. Good for her.

Boss 「(Photo)」
Boss 「Lol.」

It was a photo of Spartan splashing water. In it, Spartan was smiling like he was the happiest bird in the whole wide world.

“….”

For some reason, I felt bitter. Why was I jealous?

“Ku, kuhum.”

I closed my eyes slowly and was about to share vision with Spartan… but held back.
I endured the blazing desire.
It was all thanks to my endurance stat which amounted to an amazing 7.207.

**


Time flew, and Boss and I spent our time well.

Leaving aside other details, Boss restored 3.5 points of magic power.
As for me, I raised my Trait ‘Master Sharpshooter’ to 57% grade 5, and ‘Extraction and Permanent Materialization’ to level 5. I also succeeded in creating a scaled-down version of the ‘Hot Spring of Peace’ in my waiting room. It wasn’t as good as the original, but it was still worth 1-2 hours of my time per day.

—Prrr, prrr.

Most importantly, after 4 additional days of playing hard to get… I finally tamed Bucephalus.

—Hiiing.

[Lv.13 Bucephalus consents to becoming your pet!]
[This relationship can break anytime because Bucephalus’ loyalty is weak.]

I was satisfied with the temporary ‘master and servant’ relationship between us. I had enticed her by saying I’d give her good food everyday if she became my pet.

“Boss, can you recommend me a name?”

And now, Boss only had about an hour left to spend.
I asked Boss as I stroked Bucephalus’ mane.

“Can’t you just call her Bucephalus?”

“No. That stands out too much.”

“Hmm….”

Boss rubbed her chin, deep in thought.

“Kwangmyung. What do you think? Kim Kwangmyung in Korean style.”

“…”

Suddenly, my mind went blank. It was such a weird name that I had to doubt my hearing.

“Hm. Do you not like it?”

“Huh? Ah… It’s….”

‘Well, I suppose it’s better than Spartan,’ I thought.

“It’s good, but she’s a girl.”

“Ah. That’s right, a girl. Then… How about Sannuri?”

“Oh? I like it.”

Sannuri.
It was an unexpectedly pretty name.
I asked Bucephalus for her opinion, but she didn’t seem to care about her name and simply nibbled the grain I had given to her.

“Alright, let’s go with Sannuri.”

[Lv.13 Bucephalus’ nickname has been set to ‘Sannuri’.]
[Lv.13 Bucephalus secretly likes her new name.]

For the record, you could park(?) tamed animals in the waiting room. I already prepared a stable with an automatic feeding machine in the waiting room as well.

“Then, I’ll see you later.”

I said to Boss. Currently, there was a ticket in her hand.

===
[7F Ticket]
—Use this ticket to travel to the starting point of the 7th floor.
—You cannot return to 6th floor ever again after using this ticket.
===

“Okay. I’ll go on ahead.”

Despite saying so, she didn’t use the ticket. Instead, she placed her hands on the crystal stele nearby and went down to the 3rd floor. She was probably trying to save the first-time rewards for me.

“….”

She was unexpectedly considerate when it came to things like this.
I stood there for a while, then turned around.
I had about 4 hours left now.
There was nothing left that I needed to do in a hurry, but there was one more person that I had to meet.

‘I wonder what he’s doing now?’
I closed my eyes and shared vision with Spartan.
Spartan was flying across the sky on the 5th floor just as I had ordered.

“He’ll be here soon.”

I confirmed that he had arrived near the Forest of Fairies, then headed back to the Hot Spring of Peace.
I dipped my body in the hot spring that I’ve grown a little bit tired of and waited for him to arrive.

Tik, tik—

30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours went by….
I now had about 40 minutes left on my watch.

Rustle—

Suddenly, I felt a presence approaching behind me.
I didn’t bother getting up.
I simply sat with a smile on my face and waited for the presence to unveil.
The rustling sound grew louder, and the sound of footsteps grew more vivid.
My heart beat a little faster as the distance between us shortened.
After 5 minutes that felt like 30 minutes—
His scent finally touched my nose.

“…Oh?”

A confused voice rang out behind my back.
However, I didn’t turn around.
I leaned against the rocks surrounding the hot spring and simply grinned. I didn’t have to check to know who this person was.

“You’re here.”

I stared at the surface of the water, which acted like a mirror and reflected his face.
A well-tended undercut and a flawless appearance.
Kim Suho looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face.

“Long time no see.”

It was a reunion after three years.
I was glad but also a little bit nervous.
I was to face him not as ‘Black Lotus’ but as Fenrir— as Kim Hajin.

**


Around the same time, 5th floor, [Materialized Demon Realm].
A party made up of Aileen, Yi Yongha, Jin Seyeon, and Shin Jonghak was exploring deeper into the Demon Realm.

“The executives of the demon race aren’t anything to worry about.”

Shin Jonghak smiled as he thought about the demon whom he had pierced to death a moment ago.

“Haha, right, you were outstanding. You have the potential to become a spear god in the future….”

“I don’t know about that~”

Jin Seyeon played along with him, but Aileen seemed rather uninterested.
In truth, Jin Seyeon’s original plan was to travel alone.
However, when Shin Jonghak asked her to join them, she had no choice but to accept. Afterall, she owed a great debt to his grandfather, Shin Myungchul, though it happened more than 20 years ago.

“Shall we set out again?”

“Yeah, whatever. Let’s go.”

Aileen answered Shin Jonghak, evidently annoyed.
As a member of this amazing party, Shin Jonghak had nothing to fear for. He walked with confidence. The monsters that appeared from time to time were indeed no match for them.

For one, most enemies were killed by Jin Seyeon’s arrows before reaching them.
Even if they managed to come close, Aileen’s Spirit Speech and Yi Yongha’s hellfire, and, although not on an equal level, Shin Jonghak’s spear easily destroyed them all.

“Then, let’s walk a little bit faster.”

Shin Jonghak led the way. He felt a little strange at the fact that he was not the leader in a group, but he was satisfied enough to be just a member. It felt as if he had become a Hero of an equal degree.
They continued on for about 10 minutes.

“Ah, there’s the crystal stele.”

Suddenly, Jin Seyeon pointed to a distance.

“Where? Where?”

Aileen widened her eyes and looked in the direction indicated.

“It’s about 3 km away, so you might not be able to see it, Miss Aileen.”

“…You’re joking.”

“Haha….”

Jin Seyeon smiled and observed the scene.
There were three robed people standing next to the crystal steles.
One of them was very tall, probably over 2 meters in stature, and had a sturdy build. Another one was slim and held a spear in his hand. The last seemed like a woman as she was wearing heels.

“….”

Jin Seyeon couldn’t figure out who they were. They seemed familiar enough, but she couldn’t identify them clearly. Suddenly, the largest one turned his head and looked in her direction.

“Who is it, what is it? What or who are you looking at?”

Aileen asked in a hurry.
Jin Seyeon whispered without averting her eyes.

“They certainly don’t look friendly… We might have to confront them to use the crystal stele.”

“Yeah? Then let’s confront them.”

As expected, Aileen continued forward without a hint of hesitation.

“Yes. Let’s go.”

Yi Yongha, Shin Jonghak, and Jin Seyeon followed her.

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