[8-3F Crevon Mainland, Ironblood Duchess’ Mansion]
The Ironblood Duchess led me to her office without any further explanation, unaware of how confused I was.
I absentmindedly followed her. I tried hard to piece together what was happening inside my head but failed, so I took a peek at the smartwatch as a last resort.
…No new message.
Recently, the smartwatch had stopped warning me about changes like this. It was probably because I changed the present too much.
“Hehe, you have a funny face. Were you that surprised?”
I was in her office now.
The Ironblood Duchess offered me a seat in front of her and smiled at me, who was still puzzled.
“S-Stop joking around. Seriously, tell me how you’re here.”
“Should I explain that first?”
She finally began to explain why and how she came to be here.
As her explanation continued, my expression became more and more dumbfounded. The gap between my upper and lower lips widened and my jaw dropped as if it were about to touch the floor.
However, I soon realized that just because things didn’t align with my novel, it didn’t mean that they were impossible.
But still, the first question that came out of me was an unconditioned response.
“…What? An invitation?”
My question harbored both confusion and astonishment.
Unlike me, who was still bewildered, the Ironblood Duchess just nodded casually.
“Yeah. You came in with an entrance ticket, right?”
I stared at her who had a perfectly calm expression.
Crevon’s Ironblood Duchess
Kim Hajin’s past classmate.
The villain that I created and converted to good, ‘Tomer’, had once again appeared in the main story after a dynamic turn of events.
Was the co-author determined to give a main supporting cast an important role?
“…What exactly is the invitation?”
“An invitation is an invitation, just like the word says. It invited me to the Tower.”
This was what had happened to Tomer according to her.
About 4 years ago, shortly after dropping out of Cube, she joined a group of mercenaries. She planned to transfer and become a Hero after gaining some real-life experience.
By a strange twist of fate, the mercenaries discovered an underground Dungeon that winter. Although it was illegal to conquer an unregistered dungeon, the mercenaries decided to proceed in an attempt to evade taxes. Tomer, their best soldier, naturally participated in the mission.
With Tomer’s help, the mercenaries successfully conquered the Dungeon.
But with Tomer being Tomer, she met an unfortunate end. The mercenaries had convinced her to take a break and then left her inside the Dungeon. They then ran away after sealing the entrance.
Tomer woke up from her nap and realized that they had betrayed her. She searched for an exit with her life on the line and ended up discovering the ‘invitation’.
“…What did it look like? There must have been some words written on it. What did it say?”
Tomer shook her head.
“It was just an invitation. ‘You are invited to the land of fantasy’… something like that. I assumed anywhere would be better than the damp, soggy Dungeon, so I tore the ticket right away.”
“Did anyone else receive an invitation?”
“Probably a dozen or so?”
It meant that there were at least a dozen people who existed outside the setting.
“Yeah, but no one is as important as me. At least, not on the 8th floor.”
That was good to hear.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“…If you entered through the invitation, does that mean you started on the 8th floor?”
Tomer grinned mischievously.
I examined her for a moment. Her appearance had changed a lot since the last time I saw her. After overcoming her trauma, she had obviously lived a good life. Her face was rounder and so were her eyes. She used to be a sharp-looking, voluptuous Latino, but now she looked more soft and Asian-like.
“Also, what’s up with the ‘Ironblood Duchess’ title’?”
“That’s my nickname, I guess. I trained hard as soon as I arrived here. Unlike you guys, I have something called a ‘level system’. I can get much stronger by leveling up. So I trained a bit and voila, I’m stronger, just like that.”
Tomer cheerfully continued.
“And there are battles here all the time. Monsters come pouring in every month. While fighting them, I made a name of myself in no time. I’m already at level 35.”
“Ya, and I’m also super rich. I even got a title, and that’s how I’m posing as a noble here. What do you think? Cool, right?”
I had no choice but to admit that she was strong since ‘Minotaur’, one of the stronger calamities waiting on the 9th floor, was level 40.
“So you can take it easy here. I’ll show you how reliable I am. I'll pay you back 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times for what I owe.”
Tomer smacked her chest and boasted.
That’s right, she owed me money. Couple hundreds of millions, I think. I’d been making so much money lately that I forgot.
“So, thanks to you I skipped floor 8-2?”
“Yep. Oh, but if you want to go down there, that’s fine too. If you’d like to train there, that is.”
After making it to the end of Field of Trials, a Player could go to the 8-2 floor, ‘Crevon’s Temporary Fortress’. It was a city-sized fortress, and Players had to clear special tests and quests to receive enough performance points to reach the 8-3 floor.
“No, I don’t really need to.”
But I declined. Fighting was a good training method but only for those with potential. I couldn’t get stronger through normal means since I was already at the limit of my innate talent.
“Why, because you’re already at the top?”
Tomer grinned as if she knew something.
“I’m pretty close with the administrators. I’m like their right arm, so I know a thing or two about secrets.”
“Yup. Who would have thought you would actually take all that money from Medea?”
I stood up silently, approached the window behind Tomer’s seat and stared beyond it.
A full view of Crevon was before my eyes.
Shops were lined up beside neat sidewalks. They were bigger than a house but smaller than a building. They looked nothing like those of the modern times but didn’t have any similarity to those of the Middle Ages either.
A new world in a category of its own, populated by thousands of people.
“Are we on the west side?”
“Yeah. Northwest, to be exact.”
In the original novel, Crevon was divided into three districts with a river in the middle.
First, the South and the North. They were both residential areas similar in size to Gyeonggido.
But the most important district was the East, a narrow plot of land between the South and the North.
The East, also called the ‘World’s End’, was off-limits to NPCs. At the very end of the ‘World’s End’ lay the ‘World’s End Bridge’ serving as Crevon’s final border.
“…Here, have this first.”
As I was looking at the view of Crevon, Tomer handed me something.
○You are now a guest of [Lv.15 Duchess’ Mansion].
On the surface, Tomer’s mansion was much higher leveled than Medea’s Palace.
In truth, considering its architectural value, Medea's Palace was sophisticated enough that even a level 30 palace would be a downgrade. The only reason its level was set so low was because of its geographic location, Prestige.
“Stay here for the time being. You have other companions, right?”
“Then I’ll look after them, too.”
I smiled happily.
In truth, most Players had to struggle a lot inside Crevon due to inflation.
Think about how the cheapest product at the Upgrade Center on the 7th floor was worth 15,000 TP.
Here, where the level of civilization was similar to that of the 21st century and even better in some aspects, the value of TP was significantly lower.
In that sense, Tomer’s words couldn’t be more dependable.
“Trust me. There are loads of fun events here, I’ll show you later.”
In exchange for the inflation problem, Crevon had a number of huge events where Players could make TP. The Colosseum, Virtual Reality Game Tournament, Monster Hunt, and Dance Competition, to name a few.
However, since there were no common quests, after hunting a monster, Players had to dismantle it and sell and negotiate the price all on their own. Unlike on Earth, there were no agencies that helped them with it.
“How’s the weather right now? Is it cold?”
I asked, looking down at the street with patches of snow here and there. It seemed to have snowed recently.
“Yeah. It’s probably around -23 degrees right now. There are four seasons here just like in Korea, but they tend to be a bit more extreme.”
“…Yeah? And how much are the buildings here?”
This time, the system informed me.
[Crevon, due to its dense population and limited residential areas, does not offer the Hideout System.]
“You guys can’t buy buildings here. It’s overcrowded, so we decided not to sell any to outsiders.”
Once again, this was out of line with the original story.
“Yeah. One day, after getting a revelation about outsiders coming in, the administrators’ subordinates proposed a legislation about it.”
The revelation happened in the original novel as well, but the legislation was new.
I sighed. But the most important thing— the fact that the administrators of this floor were ‘Agamemnon’ and ‘Moses’—hadn’t changed, so that was a relief.
“By the way, how did you know that I was here?”
“Because you were the first Player to arrive on the 8th floor. It’s been a long time since I saw anyone from Earth, so I went to take a look, and you were there. I hardly recognized you at first because your face was so different. Did you get a plastic surgery or something?”
“…No. It became more handsome on its own.”
Tomer frowned instantly.
“I’m kidding. I didn’t have any surgery. I guess I just lost my baby fat as I got older.”
“I don’t think that’s it…. Anyway, do you know how to go up?”
I nodded without hesitation.
“Oh, really? How did you know?”
“I have a way.”
Since we were on the subject of going up…
I fixed my gaze again on Tomer.
“I want to ask you one more favor. Is that okay?”
Before I could even say what the favor was, Tomer grinned.
“It doesn’t have to be just one. Thanks to you, my dad… Kuhum. Whatever, continue. I’ll do anything my dad’s friend asks me to do.”
I felt slightly guilty at her touching words.
The fact that I was close to her father had been fabricated.
I nodded with a wry smile.
“Thanks. The thing is….”
I explained my plans to Tomer.
Tomer thought for a moment and then nodded.
“That’s hardly a favor.”
Now, blocking that bridge should be much easier.
We shook each other’s hands to celebrate our reunion.
Suddenly, a stern voice came from the crystal ball in the office.
—Your Grace, a player is causing a commotion on the 8-1 floor.
8-1F, Field of Trials.
A woman had destroyed all attacks with a terrifying wave of magic power and reached the end of the field. It took her a mere 15 minutes.
At the end of the field was a bulwark, an army of soldiers, and a general. They stepped aside with facial expressions that said “You have earned our respects” and showed her the stairway to the 8-2 floor.
The stairway stretched far above into the sky.
If she went up the stairway, she would reach the 8-2 floor.
But she didn’t climb the stairs.
Instead, she turned to the general.
“…Answer my question.”
The magic power she emitted was enormous enough to leave marks on the ground.
“Outsiders are not allowed to ask questions.”
But Crevon’s general who stepped up to stop her was not intimidated. In fact, he looked as if he was ready to fight, even more so than her.
Magic power that flowed out from his hand engulfed the blade of his sword. It was an aura of ‘sword reinforcement’ which was stronger than ‘sword qi’ which every swordsman dreamed of having.
“I will ask again.”
The woman spoke up. Her stern voice echoed across the field.
“Then I shall say it once more. No questions are allowed for outsiders.”
The general answered. He maintained an upright stance just like that of mountains which didn’t bend or waiver.
“Did a man pass by here or was he killed without making it through? Answer.”
That was all she wanted to know. Of course, she knew that death in the Tower wasn’t a permanent death. Still, she believed she had a duty to avenge the death of her subordinates.
“Questions are not allowed. Take the stairway or step back into the field again. Those two are your only options.”
Their conversation did not last long. It was only natural that stones and trees could not communicate with each other.
A question left unanswered could only be addressed through violence.
The woman emitted black magic power. Soon, her eyes turned red.
In turn, the general’s eyes glowed with determination.
They were about to fly at each other… when there was a soft whisper.
She recognized the voice right away.
The woman called Boss stopped and turned to where the whisper had come from.
“Stop, Sir Kipha.”
And the general stopped after hearing the next voice. The general, Kipha, stared at his comrade.
The tension between the two melted away like snow.
I arrived in Crevon Mainland, the 8-3 floor, with Boss. Walking in the unfamiliar streets of Crevon, we held a conversation.
“Hoo… oho… ooh…”
Boss, walking next to me, was just like a child. She seemed curious about everything here.
It was no wonder, since there was a hoard of airships up in the sky and occasionally, beautiful magic would decorate the sidewalks. Strangely, horses were still the means of transportation.
“Hey Boss, why did you try to fight Kipha?”
“…Mm? Ah. I would’ve won.”
It was really touching that she came all the way here to save me, but her confidence had to be discouraged.
Her opponent, Kipha, was a legendary Flowering Knight from history. Although he was inferior to Cheok Jungyeong, Boss shouldn’t be sure of her victory until at least 70% of her abilities were restored.
“…Are you doubting me?”
Boss narrowed her eyes at me.
“Of course you would win in a regular one-on-one match, but you haven’t learned any skills yet.”
Boss must be the only player without any skills at this point.
“Learn what I recommend you later. Don’t be so picky. …Actually, find the skills you want to learn by yourself.”
“…That’s not how you should talk to your bo—“
I casually interrupted her.
“By the way, how did you come here?”
Boss looked as if she wanted to say something but didn’t and simply let out a sigh.
I didn’t know why, but I felt like recently Boss was giving into me.
“…Spartan helped me.”
“Ah~ Did you worry about me?”
I looked at Spartan who was sitting on Boss’ shoulder and smiled.
“T-That’s not it.”
Boss waived her hand all in a fluster and suddenly looked up at the sky.
“L-Look at the sky. I’ve never seen an airship like that in my entire life.”
Together, we watched magical airships with video screens on the side fly through the sky. Then suddenly, a system alert popped up.
[「Lv.4 Black Suit (J-Green Order)」 has been successfully auctioned off.]
It was a message about the armor I used to wear.
I was about to check who the buyer was but stopped at Boss’ words.
“This floor seems much better than the 3rd floor.”
“Well, on the outside, yes.”
The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. As I mentioned earlier, most Players would probably have a harder time here than in Prestige.
In fact, Prestige wasn’t that bad of a place nowadays. It was full of potential as it was actively under development. Thanks to the work I put into improving Prestige, many ordinary people were living there now. They were artisans and manufacturers who couldn’t obtain performance points because they couldn’t hunt monsters.
In the original novel, they would have been driven to despair and forced to scrape up 1000TP to leave the Tower of Wish, but now there was hope for them as well.
Albeit slowly, ordinary people were also starting to get their hands on ‘skillbooks’, and with the news about people being able to bring acquired skills to Earth spreading, they should be motivated enough to continue to develop Prestige on their own.
“But will you be okay?”
Suddenly, Boss said worriedly.
“What are you talking about?”
“If you continue to climb at this pace… People might find out you’re the Seat of Black.”
I smiled wryly at her words.
Extra7, Black Lotus.
It was a reasonable suspicion. Extra7 achieved first place in the highest difficulty tutorial, and Black Lotus was climbing at a speedy pace.
With that in mind, I changed my ID to a different one on the Game Center rankings, but someone was still bound to be suspicious.
“Don’t worry about it. Rather than that…”
I put a hat that I had made beforehand on Boss.
[Lv.4 Hat Made by Kim Hajin]
○Lv.4 Heat Preservation
○Lv.4 Looks Good
It looked like a beanie, but it had a ball of cotton on the tip like a Santa hat.
“It’s a present since it’s Christmas soon.”
Boss suddenly stopped walking. She blinked blankly for a few seconds and then tilted her head to look at herself in the window of a shop.
There was definitely a smile on her face.
But only briefly. In the next moment, she clenched her teeth.
She obviously looked as if she was having complicated thoughts.
For a moment, I wondered if I had done something wrong.
But Boss faked a smile again and looked at me.
She sounded as if there was a lump in her throat.
“Boss. Did you do someth— Hmm?”
I received a message.
“Hold on a second.”
CaptainBritain: 「I’ll be heading home now, Hajin-ssi.」
It was from Rachel.
I replied quickly.
「Me too. I’ll see you on Earth.」
With that, I asked Boss.
“…Should we head back to Earth now? It looks like today’s the start of the rest day.”
It should take at least a week for Tomer to create the ‘system’ I asked for and for other Players to reach the 8-3 floor. That should be enough time for me to enjoy a short vacation.
“Great, then let’s… No wait, you stay here, Boss.”
I remembered suddenly. Now wasn’t the time for this.
I stopped Boss from buying the return ticket.
I handed the [VIP Certificate] to Boss who was frowning.
“Take this and go to Tom— I mean, the Duchess and decide which skills you’re going to acquire. She should have lots of skillbooks with her. You need to choose at least one before I get back. It’s homework, okay?”
“What? Who in the world gives homework to his boss—“
“It’s all because you’re too difficult. Come, Spartan.”
I called in Spartan, who had been sitting on Boss’ shoulder all this time. He headed my way reluctantly.
“I’ll be off then. I’m gonna do a homework check when I get back, so don’t slack off~”
Dumbfounded, Boss was at a loss for words and looked at me with blank eyes.
“Let’s go, Spartan. To Earth.”
Meanwhile, Spartan used his Authority, the Passage of Light. A circle of light came down from the sky and surrounded me and Spartan.
In it, the strange sense of returning to Earth enveloped my entire body.
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