Boss looked up at the clock vacantly, and, with a little courage, turned her gaze to Kim Hajin.
Kim Hajin was sitting on the ground, shuffling cards. It was an elaborate, magic-like shuffle. Although he appeared normal on the outside, he was clearly not his usual self.
Boss recalled what had just happened as she glanced at Kim Hajin.
She didn’t know what kind of dream Kim Hajin had. But the image of Kim Hajin muttering to his mother and father was imprinted on her mind. His sorrowful voice made her heart ache slightly.
She gave a small sigh. Right now, the cabin was very quiet. Spartan had gone back to the waiting room to sleep, and the other members hadn’t come back. Who knew what they were up to?
She knew that, in order to break this awkward silence, she would have to talk. But she didn’t know how to start a conversation and carefully began choosing her words.
After much thought, she turned on the messenger and wrote a message.
This was too unfriendly.
「What’s up Hajin.」
The only thing different about this one was that it had a period at the end.
「What’s up Hajin?」
She didn’t like the question mark for some reason.
「What’s up Hajin ㅋㅋ」
This one wasn’t too bad.
She agonized over whether to put 2 or 3 ‘ㅋ’s but ultimately quit.
She turned the messenger off and looked at Kim Hajin again.
…Should she apologize now?
And ask for his forgiveness?
But no words came out of her mouth. She only looked at him, as anything she said now would be nothing more than deception.
But everytime she looked at him, her heart ached as if it had been pierced by a needle. She didn’t know why.
…Suddenly, a thought crossed her mind.
She had killed many people to this day. Whatever the reason may be for the murders, they too would ultimately sum up to this. All those people she’d killed were someone’s mother, father, daughter, or son.
…She shut out the emotions that were starting to boil.
It was too late for her to regret now. Late regrets couldn’t change anything. The people she killed could never come back to life, and she would continue to kill many more in the future.
—Don't fret over what can't be undone. Do what you can do well.
That was what the former Boss said to her.
She believed so as well and thought that the guilt in her heart had already perished.
Suddenly, a voice called her name. She raised her head up slightly to where it had come from. Kim Hajin, who had come near her, was looking down at her.
“Why are you doing that?”
Only then did she finally see her posture. She was crouched down while hugging her knees.
I wonder why. I guess I’m sleepy, too— She murmured and smiled bitterly.
“Boss, I’m bored. Do you want to play cards?”
“…I thought you didn’t want to.”
Kim Hajin gave a small smile.
“I have an idea. You can start with 10 cards and I’ll start with 5. That way there will be some tension. Oh, you do know how to play poker, right?”
“Then, let’s do it.”
He sat in front of her with some distance between them. She watched him shuffle the deck of cards. Then she found herself instinctively trying to spot a trick and became slightly disgusted with herself.
“Alright, I’m dealing the cards~”
And the game began.
Boss was pleased when she saw her hand.
Of the 37 games that they played for the next 3 hours,
Boss lost 36 times.
The last game in which she held quad queens but lost to quad aces was the final straw.
She put the cards down and turned to her side.
“Man, that didn’t work. Then how about I get 5 cards and you get 14—“
[8-3F, Crevon Mainland]
The Players gathered in Eastern Crevon.
Crevon mobilized magicians to construct a secondary wall just outside the primary wall and built a fortress inside the walls to draw in the Players.
They used ‘TP’ and ‘items’ as bait.
The Crevon Royal Family declared that it would lend items to the Players for free and offer TP for every monster killed. And, if all of the ‘calamities’ were destroyed, it would give all the items away completely. (Of course, it promised to offer one of the treasures of the royal family and 100,000 TP to the Player who directly killed a calamity.)
“We got the first-entrance reward for the 10th floor only.”
Currently, in a restaurant near the eastern wall, Aileen was talking to several key members of the Guild Alliance: Rachel, Kim Youngjin, and Yoo Yeonha.
“It was Black Lotus and his gang who killed the 5th calamity, ‘Python’. It was also them who made it through the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, and the 14th floor.”
Kim Youngjin nodded at Aileen’s remark.
During the last 20 days, the Players in the Tower were shocked and astonished by the series of notifications they received regarding the climb.
[A nameless party has entered the 11th floor for the first time.]
[A nameless party has entered the 12th floor for the first time.]
[A nameless party has entered the 13th floor for the first time.]
[A nameless party has entered the 14th floor for the first time.]
It took them almost a year to climb from the 1st floor to the 10th floor, but only two weeks from the 10th floor to the 14th floor.
The players argued over which of the two—Aileen or Black Lotus—the nameless party belonged to. And today, Aileen herself put an end to the debate.
“We were on the 10th floor for 3 full days, I think? We did clear it, but it was surprisingly difficult. Right now we’re on our way to the 13th floor.“
Meanwhile, Yoo Yeonha was listening to Aileen but at the same time thinking of something else. This deep, complicated anguish of hers was derived from her delusions.
This was how her train of thought went:
The ‘Black Lotus’ team is undoubtedly the Chameleon Troupe. Kim Hajin would surely run to wherever the Chameleon Troupe is located. But Kim Hajin isn’t the type to believe in others easily. So he’s going to try to chase after the Chameleon Troupe on his own, without the help of others. But that’s too dangerous.’
“Then… Senior Aileen… about Fenrir….”
Yoo Yeonha asked carefully. It had been almost a month since she first entered the tower, but she had yet to meet Kim Hajin. Even when she suddenly smelled Kim Hajin while walking and chased after the smell, she only ended up finding Rachel who was drenched in his smell.
It happened again today.
Rachel, completely oblivious, asked happily if Yoo Yeonha had come to see her. Yoo Yeonha couldn’t say no to her smiling face, and so they had decided to meet Aileen together.
“You’re looking for Fenrir?”
Aileen sulked. Needless to say, not only her party but also Fenrir were the center of gossip nowadays on the public forum.
“He’s not too popular these days.”
It all started with the ‘Black Lotus Incident’ a while back. The incident in which Black Lotus, who used to attack other Players before the calamities, switched sides and attacked monsters when the calamities took over Crevon.
The incident was, of course, surprising.
That day, hundreds of monsters were murdered with a mere five arrows.
He had given people one more story to tell. People started referring to Black Lotus as the real ‘Dark Hero’.
“People are probably bad-mouthing him as much as me. Are you worried about him?”
“No, he’s not the type to concern himself with such a thing.”
“…Really? Well, I know nothing. He always does well on his own, so he’s probably fine~”
Yoo Yeonha looked glum at the insincere remark.
Next to her, Rachel let out a dry cough. She stepped forward quietly. ‘Since I’m on good terms with Aileen, I’ll try to get her to talk, for Yoo Yeonha’s sake,’ she thought.
“Excuse me, Ail—“
“…So, you were here.”
But before Rachel could say anything, the restaurant door opened, and someone came in. Aileen, Yoo Yeonha, Kim Youngjin, and Rachel all turned their attention to the door.
There stood a magician who was similar in size to Aileen.
Aileen widened her eyes at the unexpected encounter.
“Ah, she’s my companion. She said she wanted to meet you, Senior Aileen, at all costs.”
Yoo Yeonha stood up and introduced her companion to everyone.
But Aileen was simply stunned.
The staccato beat of high heels echoed off the floor as the magician, who had appeared all of a sudden, approached them.
Even with her kill-heels on, she was barely 160cm tall, and her round face gave off child-like vibe. But the way she walked and the expression on her face were the epitome of elegance and pride.
Kim Yongjin desperately tried to hold back his laughter, and Rachel sent an adoring gaze to the doll-like figure.
But only one person—Aileen—was more serious than ever.
Ah Hae-In spoke.
Aileen’s jaw dropped.
“It’s been a while.”
—On a side note, there were facilities called Talent Education Centers on Earth. Of all cadets in Agent Military Academies, ‘children under the age of 11’ could only take classes until 2 p.m. due to issues with children’s rights, so private institutions were established to educate and train them during subsequent hours.
And the most famous Talent Education Center in the world was the ‘Veritas Education Center’ located in Gangnam, South Korea, which both Ah Hae-In and Aileen attended. When Aileen first registered, she was 5, and Ah Hae-In was 11. The two first met each other then.
They had a long history together, but Aileen didn’t offer any greeting and simply swallowed her saliva.
The reason for that was simple.
A long time ago, the two had fought to the death. Literally, to the brink of death.
Ah Hae-In approached arrogantly and sat in front of Aileen.
The two little adults stared at each other in silence. It was as if a dog and a cat were having a staring contest. The two of them were dead serious, but from a distance, the atmosphere between them was so cute that it was funny.
Yoo Yeonha tapped on Kim Youngjin’s shoulder, inducing him to take a look at the messenger. Kim Yongjin pretended to look at the time and instead looked at his messages.
YooYeonhaYeonha: 「I received a report just now about a massive-scale artifact site being uncovered in Central Asia.」
Kim Youngjin widened his eyes a little bit, but he turned the messenger off calmly. He felt sorry for Rachel, who was accompanying him, but this was a matter of utmost secrecy.
“Anyway, Senior Aileen, Fenrir will probably continue to chase after Black Lotus. So if you happen to run into him later, please tell him that Yoo Yeonha wants to see him.”
“H-Huh? Oh, o-okay….”
Aileen nodded, studying Ah Hae-In’s expression.
“We have to go now. You two, please take your time.”
“Huh? G-Go where? You can stay here. No, you should stay….”
Yoo Yeonha and the others got up, leaving Aileen’s grievous voice behind.
Soon they were completely out of the restaurant, and the woman who had been eavesdropping on their conversation muttered coldly.
Jin Sahyuk was extremely frustrated.
Everyone was talking about how Fenrir was after Black Lotus or about how Fenrir killed Black Lotus.
What a joke.
She wanted to tell them if she could, just like that barber who shouted about the King’s ears in the bamboo forest. 
‘Kim Hajin is Fenrir and also Black Lotus, you brainless fools—!’
But Jin Sahyuk didn’t. It wasn’t, of course, that she feared angering Kim Hajin. She simply hated mudslinging. It’s way too ungraceful to be called revenge.
“How am I gonna make 150,000 TP this way…?”
In any case, she was more concerned with TP; so that she could use the Upgrade Center on the 7th floor.
It would be easy if she could rob rich NPCs’ houses and hunt other players for TP, but Kim Hajin’s threat forced her to stay put. She consoled herself by saying that in the Tower, nobody, and not just herself, could stand up to Kim Hajin.
Suddenly, a message arrived.
Bell: 「Sahyuk. I heard from our informant that a bunch of artifacts were uncovered in Central Asia.」
It was from Bell.
Jin Sahuk didn’t bother messaging back. Right now, even the time spent eating was a waste. She needed to kill monsters in order to collect TP and use the ‘Upgrade Center’ with that TP as soon as possible.
Bell: 「It looks like the Chameleon Troupe will be there as well. What do you think?」
But the moment she read that message, her gaze sharpened like a blade.
「You sure? By Chameleon Troupe, you mean Kim Hajin?」
Bell: 「Probably? You know how I’m acquainted with their boss. I’d say there’s a 90% chance. But why? Do you want to fight him? So he can kick your butt again.」
She clenched her fists automatically.
Outside the Tower.
Not inside, but outside.
She was confident that she would win on Earth….
No, not confident. She was sure that she would win. Jin Sahyuk pulled up her self-esteem that had sunken to the bottom and muttered with extreme resentment.
“I’ll bite and chew every bit and piece of….”
“Here are your chicken legs.”
At that precise moment, the waiter set down a plate of 20 chicken legs in front of her.
Jin Sahyuk took the legs and tore them apart roughly.
As she bit into the tender meat, her eyes glowed with fury and the will of revenge.
[15F, Genkelope’s Abandoned Vessel]
The Chameleon Troupe decided to halt their climb on the 15th floor, which appeared quite futuristic.
We were inside an abandoned warship which looked like it had come out of a science fiction movie like Alien or Event Horizon. Currently, Cheok Jungyeong and I were sitting on a bench that was covered with moss.
Cheok Jungyeong spoke up.
“We’re stopping here?”
“Yeah, we have to go back to Crevon now.”
Crevon was still under attack, and the other calamities besides Python were still alive and well, even as we climb the Tower.
Kim Suho would defeat Medusa soon enough. But the remaining calamities were Minotaur and Chimera, both level 40, and Cyclops, level 45.
Furthermore, there were many more calamities besides them waiting on the 9th floor.
We couldn’t forget that we didn’t break through the 9th floor.
We simply ‘skipped’ it by killing a calamity.
“Oi, Cheok Jungyeong?”
“…Ah? Oh, what’s up? Sorry, I’m not used to you talking to me in casual speech.”
“Is that so?”
“Uh… Well, I’m not saying you should never talk to me like that. Haha, I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually.”
I smirked in silence.
Faking death seemed effective. Actually, I wasn’t acting, since I did suffer almost to the verge of death.
“Um… does it still hurt?”
Cheok Jungyeong asked, scratching his cheek.
“I’m somewhat alright.”
But since Time Reversal’s side effect was too severe, I planned to go back to the Upgrade Center and raise my stats a bit more.
I’d been putting it off since it was a very painful surgical operation, but I did want to raise all stats by 3 points, which was the maximum.
“What do you mean by ‘somewhat’? Alright is alright.”
I got up.
The 15th floor was one giant machine called the [Genkelope’s Abandoned Vessel]. The warship was the size of two Jejudo put together. On this floor were appalling, futuristic phenomenons scarier than monsters. To reach the 16th floor, we needed to restart the ship.
In short, we needed at least one month to clear this floor.
“Mmm… I’m going down to Crevon. No, before that, to the 7th floor.”
“Gotcha. Then I’m going to Crevon. There’s a fella I need to take care of.”
Cheok Jungyeong stretched his body as he said so. At his slightly suspicious remark, I asked straightforwardly.
“Why? To avenge Kaita?”
Cheok Jungyeong paused. He awkwardly turned to me, embarrassed that I read his mind, but soon gave a small smile.
“Once a comrade, always a comrade, no matter how stupid you are.”
He probably thought that he said something cool, but it had no effect on me.
For the record, Kaita was defeated consecutively by Kim Suho and was already killed twice.
“…Are you gonna avenge him or not?”
“…I will, you bum.”
Cheok Jungyeong curled his lip in a pout. I felt disgusted. Why did he try to act so gross (cute) nowadays?
“So, there’s nothing that I need to do today?”
“Then I’m going.”
Cheok Jungyeong went down using the crystal stele.
By the way, Boss, Jain, and Jin Yohan left the Tower a long time ago. They probably went out to look into Genghis Khan’s artifacts. That was also an important turning point.
…Suddenly, my heart sank.
There, Chae Nayun would meet the Djinn who killed her mother.
Then should I head there as well?
I hadn’t decided on that yet, but I did need to get stronger for Crevon’s sake anyways.
I went down to the 7th floor through the crystal stele as well.
[7F, Game Center]
I passed by the familiar lobby of the Game Center and went straight to the Upgrade Center.
When I opened the door, the familiar AlphaGo greeted me.
—How may I help you today?
“I’m here to do what I don’t want to do.”
Stat Enhancement Operation. I’d been putting it off for a while because it hurt like crazy, like your limbs were cut off and put back on again.
—Are you referring to the Stat Enhancement Operation?
“Yes. Can you do it?”
— Yes. This operation can be performed up to three times. Player Extra7 can undergo this surgery 2 more times.
“Okay. Then I….”
Enhancing all stats other than magic power.
I easily paid 150,000 TP.
It was then. Suddenly, the door of the Upgrade Center shot open, and somebody came in hurriedly. I quickly realized who she was.
It was the robed sorceress, Medea.
“Hey, it’s great to see you. I knew you’d come back, so I’ve been waiting for you for the last 20 days.”
Medea said gracefully and approached me with a beaming smile.
“You waited for me?”
I played dumb.
“Yes, Extra7. Remember what you said last time?”
“I don’t really like being called by my nickname.”
“Oh… Really? Sorry. Then, Tra?”
She tried to continue, but AlphaGo grabbed me.
—The operation will begin soon.
“…Ah, really? Sorry, Administrator-nim. I need to go into surgery right now.”
Medea looked at AlphaGo, slightly irritated, but nodded hesitantly.
“Yeah? Then… I’ll wait until it’s over. Oh, isn’t this expensive? Do you want me to pay for it?”
“I already paid.”
—Please follow me.
AlphaGo’s mechanical voice pressed me.
I followed him, pretending to be sorry.
…All kinds of horrible surgical sounds filled the shop.
4 hours later.
I came out, overcome with pain. After I drank a few potions to recover my stamina, I saw Medea dozing off on a chair.
I thought as I stared at her.
‘If she’s this obsessed with luxuries, then it must mean ‘that setting’ about her hasn’t changed.’
“…Oh, are you done with the surgery?”
Medea woke up. She smiled bitterly as she handed me a potion but put it back into her pockets when she saw what was in my hand.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Well. You know, about what you said last time? Something bad happened to me, and I was in a horrible mood. I’d like to apologize first. I asked Simad, and he told me that you were really the one who made it.”
I listened in silence.
Actually, rather than listening, I was reading the notification window that popped up in the air.
[Warning! The calamities in Crevon are raging!]
“I wasn’t too surprised. I’ve been thinking about how great your craftsmanship is. But you see, a lot of administrators will come to see you from now on. Such a marvelous robe can’t be found anywhere else. I don’t intend to get it for free or ask you to give me one as a present, of course—“
I widened my eyes and screamed out loud on purpose.
“Sorry, Administrator-nim. Something important came up in Crevon!”
I left Medea perplexed while I reclaimed my things from AlphaGo and took out the portable crystal stele.
“Let’s talk about this some other time! It’s a huge calamity!”
As my body warped, I felt a sense of déjà vu.
1. Korean folklore where the barber of a king who is sworn secrecy to the king’s strange ears yells the truth inside a well, which spreads to the whole world. Read more: http://www.korea.net/NewsFocus/Culture/view?articleId=122701