Chapter 223. 20F (3)


—My name is… Kim Chundong.

The man who looked just like me spoke as he stared at me. I couldn’t estimate the depth of his eyes.
Kim Chundong.
The moment I heard those three characters, it felt like I was hit on the head with a hammer. I had to say something but couldn’t. All sorts of thoughts swirled inside my head before disappearing.
While I stood blankly, the other me spoke first.

—And who are you?

It was a question I could easily answer.
I was undoubtedly Kim Hajin. But Kim Hajin wasn’t supposed to exist in this world. After all, I was an irregular who took over Kim Chundong’s life.

—I don’t think you’re me.

That sentence woke me up coldly. It clearly indicated that the doppelgänger was aware that he was a doppelgänger.

“You know what situation we’re in….”

—….

He closed his mouth and eyes in silence.
Judging by this reaction, it seemed I was correct. Of course, that didn’t change the fact that we had to fight. But before then, I wanted to ask him something more ordinary.

“…Hey.”

Hearing me, he opened his eyes. We looked at each other with the same eyes.

“What did you do last night?”

It seemed he didn’t expect this question as he tilted his head. After thinking about it for a bit, he let out a groan and pressed his temple.

—…I can’t remember. A portion of my memory is blocked right now.

“Is it?”

The reason I asked last night’s memory was simple. If Kim Chundong was really Kim Chundong, then last night for him should have been 4~5 years ago.

—But for some strange reason….

Suddenly, he began to examine his body. Shoulders, hands, face, stomach, legs… He touched himself and tried out various poses before widening his eyes.

—I feel like my body is stronger than it was before.

“….”

He was most likely talking about the time before I came to this world. In that case, how was the normal Kim Chundong?
I wanted to talk more with him.

“Do you? Then… I want to ask, what did you want to do? You would have entered Cube soon. Didn’t you have a goal or something?”

—…I don’t know.

Thankfully, Kim Chundong was cooperative. He seemed cold and somber on the outside but was warm and gentle on the inside. Considering the volunteer work he regularly did, it wasn’t so surprising.

—At the time… there was something… something I wanted…

“…Something you wanted?”

—I can’t remember well… uk!

He suddenly clutched his head and knelt down in pain. By the looks of it, a severe restriction was placed on him when he was summoned to this place.
I let out a sigh and looked up at the sky.
Why did the Tower of Wish put Kim Chundong in front of me?

…I knew why, but I wanted to ignore it.
The Tower had not acknowledged me as a being of this world.

“…Do you know why you’re here?”

—I do. It’s written in front of me.

“What does it say?”

Kim Chundong made a cold smile.

—It says I can replace you if I kill you. That I, the doppelgänger, can become the real one.

Goosebumps shot up on my body, but I changed the topic quickly.

“…Not that.”

That wasn’t the question I wanted to ask.

“I’m asking how you became me, and how I became you.”

—….

Kim Chundong didn’t say anything. In the thick silence, we stared at each other. Our identical appearances were reflected on our identical eyes.
Soon, he spoke.

—I know you replaced me.

“…How?”

—I just do. Naturally. It’s not something I can explain.

“…Then what do you plan to do now? Are you going to kill me?”

It was a sharp question. However, Kim Chundong maintained a calm expression and replied.

—I don’t want to live by killing someone.

“…Hm?”

—It wasn’t a life I wanted to keep living anyways.

As he said that, Kim Chundong laughed inaudibly. It touched me emotionally in a strange way. It didn’t just move me. It resonated with my very soul. The breathtaking effect his words had on me caused my eyes to widen.

[Warning! Synchronization increases by 5%!]
[Warning! Your synchronization with your doppelgänger is increasing!]
[Warning! A portion of your doppelgänger’s emotions flows into your subconsciousness!]
[Warning! If your synchronization reaches a high level, it may cause dangerous side-effects!]

I shook my head violently and chased the thoughts out of my head.
I calmed myself down with a deep breath, then looked at Kim Chundong once more.

“…You.”

The system was telling me that it was dangerous, but I still had many questions I had to ask. Perhaps this was the last chance to ask him, so I had to resolve as many of my doubts as possible.

“Do you know about the Kwang-Oh Incident?”

Kim Chundong flinched, hearing this question.

—…I do.

“How?”

—It’s easy. It’s a huge incident that occurred in the year I was born. I figured I could be a victim of that incident, so I investigated.

Kim Chundong made a bitter smile.

—3 or 4 years ago, I found out there was something big hidden behind that incident. But even though I figured that out, nothing changed. There wasn’t anything I could do, since I didn’t have any power or money.

Sssk…
He took out a sword that carried a sharp ring.

—Anyways, we have to fight now. I’m bound by the system.

Hearing this, I raised my gun.

—But there will be a day when we meet again.

“…Really?”

—Really. But before then, do me a favor.

Kim Chundong pointed his sword at me. Ice-attribute magic power undulated from the tip of the blade.

—I want you to find out…

I quietly listened to his words.

—…how my life got twisted to this point, and who caused the ‘thorough solitude’ that coldly rejected my existence.

With that, he charged forward smoothly. My surroundings simultaneously grew cold as the temperature of the space plummeted.

Click—

The bone-shivering cold was easily overcome with the help of Aether, and I transformed the Desert Eagle into an assault rifle.
My target was the swordsman in front of me.
Under the slowed world of Bullet Time, I pulled my trigger at the dancing Kim Chundong.

**


[15F – Genkelope’s Abandoned Vessel]

On the other hand, Aileen’s party, ‘Aileen and the Kids’, finally arrived on the 15th floor after many difficulties. Although the 13th floor was the only floor that was remotely difficult, the problem really was that floor. Not sleeping for 100 hours was a difficult task for Aileen who normally slept a lot.

“Where the heck is this?”

The past, in which she wailed like a kid and burst out into tears, became a dark history that she banished from her mind. Now standing on the deck of the vast space vessel, Aileen murmured.
Jin Seyeon, who was standing next to her, answered.

“It seems to be a spaceship of some sort.”

“Well I can see that.”

A spaceship that gave off an SF-movie vibe. Because of how different it was from the other floors, Aileen couldn’t get used to it.
Of course, she also knew it was stupid to seek familiarity in a Tower.

“Anyways, let’s go.”

“Yes.”

Aileen’s party always had the same formation. In the front was the smallest but strongest Aileen, followed by Jin Seyeon and Yi Yongha, then Shin Jonghak at the end.
They walked slowly while spectating the 15th floor’s mystical scenery.

“Oh right, I heard Suho’s party cleared the 13th floor, too.”

Jin Seyeon mentioned, as though she just remembered it.

“Did they?”

Aileen replied with a thought, ‘I thought they were more focused on protecting Crevon than climbing the Tower. I guess they can balance both equally.’

“Yes, and I heard they also killed ‘Chimera’.”

“…What, really?”

It was then that Aileen finally showed a hint of surprise. Rather, the way she looked at Jin Seyeon with a frown hinted that she was unhappy.

“Yes.”

“…Isn’t this their second one?”

“That’s right.”

The first calamity to be killed was ‘Python’, slain by Black Lotus’ party.
The second calamity to be killed was ‘Medusa’, slain by the Sword Saint’s might.
The calamity, ‘Minotaur’, was the one Aileen had specifically designated as her enemy, since they weren’t able to settle things the first time they fought.
…Of course, it was more correct to say she lost. After all, Aileen and her party had barely escaped using the ‘return scroll’ Kim Hajin gifted them.
But the second time they met, Aileen had won with the help of Divine Archer Jin Seyeon, Hellfire Yi Yongha, and Mr. Anger Management Issues (Shin Jonghak).

“How did they defeat Chimera?”

“Well, we all know Suho’s Gift is kind of a cheat.”

Sword Saint – the ability to cut through anything and everything. It was a top-tier Gift that anyone would desire.
While Aileen and Jin Seyeon were talking, Yi Yongha cut in.

“Ah, but Fenrir is quite strong too. You’ve seen him before, right? How he decimated all those monsters with his gun?”

“…Yeah. How did he get all those bullets anyways?”

“Who knows? He has a gun-related Gift, so wouldn’t he be able to make them with his Gift?”

“I guess?”

Fenrir had recently decimated an entire field of monsters in Crevon. His feat from that day was still being talked about in the Community.

“But you’re right, Yongha, he really is something. Who would have thought he would bring his gun into the Tower with a black ticket?”

At that moment… KOONG—! A sudden explosive sound erupted, and strange-looking creatures popped out of the tiles on the floor.
One, two, three, four… there were at least 20 of them. Aileen crossed her arms and frowned.

“Ew, what are these guys?”

The words ‘horrifying’ and ‘grotesque’ aptly described them.

“They seem to be our enemies on the 15th floor. Their appearance is a little… bad.”

Jin Seyeon answered as she loaded her magic power. Shin Jonghak also raised his spear, and at the moment that Aileen was about to activate her Spirit Speech, an overwhelming magic shot up.

“…?”

In an instant, the surroundings turned white; as snow blew around the air. It was a simple ice magic, but its power wasn’t simple in the slightest. The alien creatures in front of them turned into ice sculptures before breaking apart into tiny pieces of ice.

“What…?”

Aileen and the rest were taken aback.

“Are you okay…?!”

A woman ran up to them, shouting urgently. It was clear that she was the one who casted the powerful, wide-range ice magic. But when she saw Aileen and the others, she froze.

“Eh?”

Aileen recognized the woman’s face.

“Medea-ssi?”

Right, she was the 3rd floor’s administrator – Medea.
‘Why was she here and not in Prestige?’ While Aileen was having such thoughts…

“Aaaah—!”

Medea suddenly screamed frustratingly. Then, she glared at Aileen and the others, frightening them.

“Dammit, just when is he going to get here!?”

She stomped off, yelling about something incomprehensible. Aileen and the others watched her leave with question marks above their heads.

**


[20F, outside the Hollow of Ordeal – Station of the End]

I came outside after defeating the doppelgänger. Nothing changed. I was still Kim Hajin.

“….”

I looked down at the gun in my hand. With this, I’d just killed a man who looked just like me.

[You conquered 20F’s doppelgänger trial.]
[You obtain the ‘Guidance of the Foolhardy Mist’ as a reward.]
[Be careful! Your comrades might have been devoured by their doppelgängers.]
[Be careful! You are currently at 7% synchronization.]

Synchronization.
It started at 5% but had risen to 7% while we fought. I didn’t know what exactly caused it to increase or what it exactly did. But it was clear that small changes would happen inside me as the percentage increased.

“Huu….”

I sighed and raised my head to look at the outside scenery.
The outside of the 20th floor was an empty train station.
Under a thick darkness, a grey railway stretched endlessly to the left and right.
Standing in this vast emptiness, I took a quick look around. There really was nothing but a railway.

Kiik…

The sound of a door opening rang out, and a familiar voice entered my ears.

“…Where the heck is this?”

It was Cheok Jungyeong. His body was full of injuries, but he seemed extremely happy. With a blooming smile, he approached me.
More doors continued to open.
Jin Yohan, Jain, and Boss came out in that order.
They had all defeated their doppelgängers, but my eyes naturally fell on Boss. Her fight seemed to have been the most intense, as she leaned against the station wall and panted.
I turned my gaze away from her and stared at the empty station once again.
Soon, a system alert popped up.

[Welcome to the 20th floor’s residential area, ‘Station of the End’!]

“What? Residential area?”

Cheok Jungyeong furrowed his brows.

“This place is a residential area?”

As soon as he said that, the lights came on in the station.
Our surroundings brightened up, revealing shops, inns, benches, and a ticketing office that were hidden under the darkness.

“Oi, Kim Hajin, looks like we’ll have to go to the ticketing office first.”

I shook my head. This station was the beginning of the Tower’s final portion. Buying a single ticket wasn’t enough to let us on board.

“The train has to get here before we can get on it. There should be a lot of time before then.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Ask the system.”

[This station’s train runs in 3-month intervals.]
[There are 61 days, 16 hours, and 33 minutes left until the next train’s arrival.]
[At least 100 guests must be present to board the train.]

“…?”

I ended up being surprised by the system’s information.
The last condition – requiring at least 100 guests – was something that didn’t exist in the original story.

“Huu….”

Well, it wasn’t the first or second time something like this happened.
For me, there was something else that was more important.
I looked at Boss. She was far away from me when she first came out of the door, but she had gotten close to me before I noticed. Looking at the side of her face, I pondered.

In the past, when I asked about Kim Chundong’s incident, Yoo Yeonha had said that it was the ‘Chameleon Troupe’ that killed his parents. Furthermore, the sketch she showed of the person who admitted Kim Chundong into the orphanage clearly looked like ‘Boss’.
In that case, Boss should have an idea of who in the Chameleon Troupe killed Kim Chundong’s parents.

“…?”

At that moment, Boss looked at me. She seemed to have felt my heated gaze, as she pushed her hair behind her ear and tilted her head.

“…Boss.”

Hearing my serious voice, Boss let out a dry cough and answered.

“W-What’s wrong?”

I looked at Boss and continued.

“It looks like we can’t go up any further for now.”

It might not be a discussion we had to have now. In fact, it definitely wasn’t.
But perhaps because of this ‘synchronization’ the system mentioned… or perhaps because of Kim Chundong’s request…

“Can we talk alone for a moment?”

I couldn’t wait.

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FudgeNouget's Thoughts

Came out earlier than I thought.