Chapter 226. Mystery Shuffle (1)


Tiriring—
A sound unbefitting of the situation rang out.
In that instant, the pain surrounding her entire body disappeared, and Rumi turned around curiously.
The shadow that had been suffocating her was still there, with her hair flowing down like a ghost and her eyes staring into space.
It looked like she had just received some kind of message… Was she typing a reply or something?
But the halt only lasted for a moment.

“Kyaak—!”

The blade that had stopped for a moment came back bigger, and Rumi realized that this woman did not intend to keep her alive.

“You… You should also know… that the current Seat of Black… Fenrir is a time bomb. As he gets more famous, more people will try to dig up his past, and your relationship to him will soon become known.”

As such, rather than begging for her current life, Rumi decided to add weight to her future persuasion. She endured the spreading pain and continued persistently.

“The day will come when you… ultimately have to decide between the former boss… and the current Seat of Black.”

The result would be unavoidable. Will she seek forgiveness from the Seat of Black by insulting the man whom she trusted and followed, or will she finally kill the Seat of Black who she was supposed to kill a long time ago?

“Let me guess. Between the dead and the living, you will choose the dead again.”

But no answer came from the shadow.
Amidst the pain that spread throughout her entire body and the rage that sprang up from the imminent death— Rumi clenched her teeth and cursed.

“You will, for your boss, end up plucking the lotus flower….”

Those were her last words. A blow landed on her spine, and her body immediately turned into a current that disappeared. Rumi had now died once.
At the same time, the barrier that had enveloped them scattered.
The back alley of the vessel was engulfed in silence. Only a single shadow stood there.

Boss’ head strangely hurt. What she had just heard came as an unexpected shock to her. It was surely nothing but nonsense… When did she become so weak?

“Haa….”

Boss sighed and turned on the messenger.

[Boss, come to Area 3 at 9. Let’s have breakfast together]

The message that just arrived was from Kim Hajin. ‘I should have turned the notification off…’ Boss murmured inwardly as she read the message and remembered Rumi’s last words.
‘You will, for your boss, end up picking the lotus flower.’
But she soon shook her head and brushed it aside.

“There’s no way…”

There was not a slight possibility that would happen.
It was nothing but an ominous curse.

“That I would betray you.”

‘You may betray me, but I could never betray you.‘
With a low whisper, she disappeared into the deep darkness.

**


[15F, a fancy restaurant in Genkelope’s Vessel]

“So does that mean you already purchased the 20th floor tickets, Miss Aileen?”

“You could say that. In fact, yes, I did.” Aileen said proudly as she stuffed herself with the dessert pudding. In front of Aileen sat Kim Suho and Yoo Yeonha, and next to her was Shin Jonghak.
The four had met by chance today.

First, Kim Suho ran into Yoo Yeonha by chance on his way to a local ramen restaurant and greeted her. Yoo Yeonha, who was originally heading to the ramen restaurant, pretended instead to go to a fancy restaurant nearby and changed her path.
But Kim Suho tactlessly tagged along behind Yoo Yeonha, and the pair ran into Aileen and Shin Jonghak at the restaurant.

“All four members of my party have their train tickets. All first class. Oh, none of us are doppelgängers, so don’t worry.”

Aileen suddenly recalled the day she fought with the doppelgänger on the 20th floor.
Because Spirit Speech didn’t work on another Spirit Speech user of the same level, their fight devolved into a brawl.
The two Aileens each tried to demonstrate awesome combat techniques. Papapa—! They stretched their short legs and feet systematically.
But the result was simply a catfight in which they pulled each other’s hair out, and Aileen defeated the doppelgänger with all her effort.

“A battle with a doppelgänger… Sounds difficult.” Kim Suho, who had been all ears, remarked modestly.

“It’s difficult but not impossible. The doppelgänger is less experienced in skills. You should learn to use skills at the right moment.” Shin Jonghak, who had been quiet until now, explained.

“What’s this? You’re giving him advices now, Jonghak?” Yoo Yeonha remarked softly, but no answer came back from Shin Jonghak. He would only move his fingers swiftly like he was texting someone.

“Mm~ Mmm….” Yoo Yeonha shrugged casually and turned her gaze away from Shin Jonghak.

Kim Suho asked, “By the way, was the 15th floor vessel like this from the beginning? I heard it was rather a mess at first.”

“Yeah. Everything was a mess in the beginning.” Tak. Aileen finished the pudding and put the spoon down. At that moment, the waiter arrived with the main dish.

“This vessel is divided into different areas, Area 1 to Area 9.” Aileen ignored the steak in front of her and continued. “Area 1 to Area 6 have been restored to their normal functions. Area 7, Area 8, and Area 9 are still full of ‘alien creatures’. You probably know about them. It’s hard to miss those gross-looking things.”

Kim Suho and Yoo Yeonha nodded.

Aileen continued, “At first, those guys were everywhere. Then suddenly, a bunch of NPCs came and stole Area 1 which I had taken over… then they also brought an AI from somewhere and changed the ship into this. Area 1 was originally mine…”

Aileen pouted, and, at the same time, glanced at the pudding in front of Kim Suho. Because Kim Suho didn’t like sweets, his pudding was completely intact.

“…Aren’t you going to eat that?” Aileen, who had been after it for a while, finally asked.

“Ah, no.”

Kim Suho handed Aileen the pudding. Only then did Aileen pick up her spoon again. Squish, squish— She spooned a bite of pudding, put it in her mouth, and shuddered slightly.

“This flavor is different from mine~”

Seeing Aileen’s happy murmuring, Yoo Yeonha asked. “But did you receive a proper reward?”

“Hmm? Ah, I did.” Aileen nodded and took out some kind of black card. “This is the VVIP card for the 15th floor. Anything here can be used with this card. So other than a few exceptions, everything is free.”

Kim Suho and Yoo Yeonha widened their eyes and stared at it. Aileen puffed out her chest triumphantly.

“I’ll pay for the food today so don’t you worry~”

“Wow. Thank you.”

“…Anyway, hurry up and come up to the 20th floor. Apparently the train needs at least 100 passengers to start.”

It was then.
The restaurant door suddenly opened, and two men in neat suits approached their table.
Tak, tak.
As everyone in the restaurant watched them curiously, they politely called out the name of a certain person.

“Are you the Player, ‘YooYeonhaYeonha’?”

“…Pardon?”

Yoo Yeonha, who had been picked out unexpectedly, tilted her head curiously with a fork in her mouth.

**


I invited Yoo Yeonha to the VVIP Room in Area 3. I had promised to meet her once she arrived on the 15th floor, and I had an appointment with Athena today too.

“…Where are we? You must have made it big.”

Yoo Yeonha pouted as she entered the VVIP Room.
The VVIP Room, built just for me, was that perfect. It wasn’t just because of the luxurious interior and the convenient furnitures.
I didn’t have to move a finger in here. The AI did everything for me on its own.

“So, we finally meet in the Tower~”

“First, sit down. Have you eaten?”

“I got dragged out halfway.”

Yoo Yeonha grumbled and sat down on a chair nearby. Unlike Yoo Yeonha who had sat down, I stood up and headed to the kitchen.

“…What are you doing?”

“You said you didn’t eat.”

I was going to make a special ramen for Yoo Yeonha.

“Just wait a little bit.”

Dadadada—

My hands moved at an undetectable speed.
Yoo Yeonha let out a deep sigh as she watched me make the sauce and remove the heads from anchovy.

“I can see what you’re trying to make… but I’ve already told you that I’m not into those kinds of food.”

“Isn’t it about time you got honest?”

“…Rather than that, what’s your nickname? Add me as a friend.”

Yoo Yeonha pulled up her friend list.
I was putting the sauce into the boiling water when I stopped.
Nickname.
My nickname, Extra7.
‘Can I really tell Yoo Yeonha?’ I wondered, then soon gave in.

“Extra7. Add me.”

“…Eh? That’s you?”

But it looked like Yoo Yeonha had already heard of my nickname. I quickly glanced at her and saw that she was quite surprised. I didn’t know exactly how my nickname spread, but I had a good guess.
Since Yoo Yeonha knew how to keep a secret, I probably didn’t need to worry about it too much.

“You’ve heard of me? Where and how?”

“Yes, though not in detail. Nayun told me herself. I’m probably the only one she told. She said that Extra7 was the person who saved her. Plus, your nickname itself is quite famous. I heard you came in first in the first tutorial.”

“…”

I nodded without words.
Meanwhile, the ramen had finished cooking, and I moved some noodles to a plate and placed it in front of Yoo Yeonha.
Suddenly, Yoo Yeonha asked.

“…Is Nayun still the one for you? You’ve been watching over her from afar.”

Her voice, filled with bitterness but also envy, stopped me.
I recalled the past.
How did I feel about Chae Nayun back then?
What I felt was probably… affection.
I was a human, and I was lonely.
Humans lived by relying on others, and a human without someone to rely on ceased to be human.
Back then, I had wanted to become human.

“I don’t know.”

But I only said that much.
Yoo Yeonha didn’t ask any more questions.

“I have an appointment now, so I need to head out. Add me as a friend first and have some ramen. Also, take this.”

I handed Yoo Yeonha a card. It was the ‘Black Express Card’ which could be used in almost all facilities on the 15th floor free of charge.

“Eh? How come you have this?”

I answered Yoo Yeonha with gusto.

“This ship belongs to me.”

“W-What? Don’t lie—“

“I’m leaving now. You can relax here for tonight.”

“Wait, hold on….”

I left Yoo Yeonha puzzled and stepped outside.
But I only had to move a few steps before I discovered the administrator ‘Athena’ standing nearby.

“Oh, Athena-nim. Right here.”

“Greetings.”

“Yes.”

Before we got down to the business, I glanced back. Yoo Yeonha was sitting alone at the table, stuffing her face with ramen. Slurp slurp— She gobbled up everything; It looked like she had been enduring with superhuman patience when she was talking to me.

“…My business is simple. Barter.”

“Huh?”

Athena hastily began to speak at that moment.

“Barter?”

“That’s right. I want one of the black arrows that you used last time.”

“Ah, those?”

It was no surprise that she would want them. She was, after all, the Goddess of War.

“But I put a lot of effort into making them.”

Still, they were the fruit of my efforts, something I created after hundreds of ‘Synthesis’ and ‘Setting Modification’. There was no way that I would give these arrows away….

[Lv.11 Athena’s Moonlight Arrow]

“You can have it.”

The moment I laid my eyes on the arrow that Athena had put forward for barter, I took out the [Lv.9 Dark Ore Arrow] from my inventory. Items over level 10 belonged in a league of their own. They became much more powerful, and, well, now wasn’t the time for me to dwell on the memories of the past.
Even if I give one away, I would still have four left. It wasn’t a very precious memory really.

“Thank you. This is all I needed.”

I exchanged a dark ore arrow with Athena’s moonlight arrow. As soon as I received the arrow, I examined it thoroughly. The shaft was moonlit, and the arrowhead looked as if it was made out of carved meteorite.
It was, of course, more beautiful and incredible than the arrow made only from dark ore.

“I shall have another talk with you in the future… Please, do survive.”

“Oh, I will be able to, thanks to this.”

I even followed Athena to see her off.

**


[20F, Station of the End]

—It looks like we’re approaching the end.

—Right. This place is called Station of the End after all.

—One year is a pretty long time….

—But what will happen to the Tower once our climb is over? Will it still be here?

—I hope so. A person dear to me is here.

—He’s going out with an NPC, leader.

—Hey, NPCs are real people.

3 weeks later.
Today, a crowd of passengers were waiting for the train to arrive on the 20th floor platform.
Desolate Moon, Essence of the Strait, Frost Sanctuary, Rothschild, Empire of Glory, English Royal Court Guild. Kim Suho, Yi Younghan, Kim Junwoo, Aileen, Jin Seyeon, Kim Hakpyo, etc…. There were a couple hundred people even at a glance.

“So tense.”

I took a quick look around and muttered. Most players in the Top 500 seemed to be here. Did I hand out the strategy guide too easily? I got a little scared.

“Hey, doesn’t your body feel itchy already?”

Cheok Jungyeong asked.
I sent him a vicious glare.

“Haa. Didn’t I tell you that fighting in the train will get you kicked out immediately?”

“…I know. I’m aware. It’s just that… itchy. It’s itchy. I just have to give it a good scratch.”

Cheok Jungyeong sulked slightly and started to scratch his lower back.

“Oh, by the way, I heard two more members of the Chameleon Troupe are here~ Kaita already died two times too~”

“…Just what the hell is that Kaita up to? He’s always dying. Pathetic.”

What Jain said was familiar to me. The fight between Zurahan and Kim Suho had been delayed slightly, but the ‘Ordinary People Alliance’, which had plotted to take Prestige over, finally went under two weeks ago.

—The train to the 21st floor will arrive soon. Everyone, please step back.

Suddenly, there was an announcement.
The 403 rankers gathered on the platform nervously formed a line, and the four of us Chameleon Troupe members came together.

—The train to the 21st floor will arrive soon. Everyone, please stand in a line and board the train.

This train was designed to quickly end the Tower arc.
It was a device that could take us straight to the 26th floor.
But I couldn’t afford to let my guard down; it was clear a lot had changed.

—The train is now arriving at the station!

Chwaaa…
A loud cry rang out. The train swallowed every sound of the world and ran.
Players stood on the platform and watched the huge piece of iron storm in from the end of the tracks. The train, which was so huge that it covered the sky up almost completely, finally arrived at the other side of the tracks and let out a violent steam.

…Kiik.

The train soon came to a stop, while silence filled the station.
The crowd waited for the right moment.
Tzzzz—
As if trying to satisfy their expectations, the train door quickly opened. The NPC that appeared from behind the door was an attendant who looked like a mannequin.

—Welcome, Players. Please check your tickets and enter the aisle that is marked on your ticket. Aisle 1 is for the A Class. Aisle 2 through 4 is for the B Class… First, A Class, please board the train!

Team Chameleon Troupe was in A Class. We entered Aisle 1 together. I could feel the competitive glares from other Players land on the back of our heads.

—Ticket confirmed.

The attendant inside the train checked our tickets, and we moved to the A Class VIP suite. As A Class passengers, we had the privilege of keeping an entire compartment to ourselves.

“…Wow. It’s so big~”

“The train is under space expansion magic as well. There also should be things like a sports field and a club.”

“I’ll definitely visit the club later~”

Jain grinned and sat on the sofa. I sat near her and glanced at Boss. Just looking at Boss made part of me feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but stare at her, even though all she was doing was sitting still.
It was probably all because of synchronization.

“…Hajin, why do you keep stealing glances like that~?”

“Huh?”

“Boss. He keeps glancing at you. He must like you~”

“…”

Boss raised her head and looked at me with an expressionless face. She continued to stare at me for a while, then said just one thing.

“Don’t.”

“…Ah, yes.”

Meanwhile, the boarding process seemed to have ended as all doors slammed shut with a loud sound.
Now that we didn’t have to mingle with other players, we decided to sit in a more comfortable position. Cheok Jungeyong lied down on a bed, Jin Yohan opened the magazine that he got from who knows where, and Jain and Boss together started looking through the Community.

…Then suddenly.

—Uwoah! Oh my! We just checked, and there are a total of 403 passengers on board! That’s so many! As the captain, I am truly happy, yes I am!

A frivolous voice suddenly descended down.

—To commemorate this occasion, we’ll hold a special event: the ‘Mystery Shuffle’!

“W-What is this?”

—Starting now, your seats will be switched randomly. But rest assured! Your name, face, and nickname will all be hidden under the ‘Veil of Anonymity’! Oh, of course, others can remove your veil, and you may also removed it yourself!

‘What the heck is happening?’My body shot up like a piece of spring.

—But please be careful! There are doppelgängers on board. Remember the 20th floor! The doppelgängers who have taken over the original owners’ bodies will try to take your lives.

“What….”

—However, we too despise the doppelgängers! We only want Players as passengers! Therefore, we’ll offer prizes to Players based on the number of doppelgängers they have defeated. The prizes are… 2 ultimate skill books and 3 unique skillbooks!

I was about to say something regarding the unexpected event, but suddenly my seat and the view before my eyes changed.

—Now, all players will be summoned somewhere between Aisle 3 and Aisle 8! The time limit for this event is 36 hours!

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