Chapter 235. Third Phase (1)


Early morning.
I stood in a harbor full of a salty smell. Just five minutes ago, fierce screams and a torrential clash of magic power occurred in this place, but now it was nothing but quiet.

“Haa….”

I took a deep breath to calm the hot spirit power coursing through my body.

The gentle ocean wave brushed up against the harbor, and the cool wind caressed my body. Soon, the boiling hot beating of my heart subsided. I opened my eyes.

No one remained in the empty harbor. I had killed dozens of Djinns alone.

“…It deserves to be called an ultimate skill, that’s for sure.”

I muttered in surprise and checked the ultimate skill’s description again.

===
[Lv.2 Ultimate Skill – Complete Understanding of Spirit Power]
○1. Limit Break – Upon activation, all skills become level 11 for 5 minutes.
○2. Ultimate Peak – Upon activation, the efficiency and the realm of your spirit power reaches the peak for 5 minutes.
○3. Passive Purification – Purifies your spirit power as time passes.
Cooldown Time – 3 days
===

Just like my unique skill, my ultimate skill was an advanced self-buffing skill, known as an Avatar-type.

This side-effect of using this ultimate skill was far lesser than my unique skill, which was a godsend. When I activated it, I became flawless in both offense and defense.
I had an unlimited amount of spirit power to spend, leaving no holes in my defense, as Lv.11 [Extraction and Permanent Materialization] absorbed all attacks.
I was equally overpowered in offensive strength. With the strengthened [Algorithm], the destructive power of my bullets was amplified exponentially, and the spirit power coursing through my veins reinforced Aether’s functionalities as well.

As I kept ‘spirit power’ as ‘spirit power’ rather than fusing it into magic power like most Players, this ultimate skill was especially beneficial to me, who was reliant on skills and Aether. Complete Understanding of Spirit Power wasn’t even one of the ultimate skills I came up with. My luck probably had something to do with it again.

Wiing—

At that moment, my smartwatch vibrated.
Yoo Yeonha was video calling me.

—Hello?

As soon as I picked up the phone, Yoo Yeonha’s face popped up on a hologram screen.

“Yo, it’s been a while. What’s up?”

—…Where are you? It’s kinda dark.

“Me? I’m at a harbor.”

I raised my smartwatch and showed her the nearby scenery.

“I stopped Djinns from robbing Essential Armory’s cargo.”

—…Really?

“Yep. Do you know Jeffrey?”

—Yes, I do. The Association has a bounty out for him… Isn’t he a brown-rank Djinn?

The Hero Association assigned ranks to Djinns as well. A brown-rank Djinn’s bounty was around 1~2 billion won. The brown-rank was equivalent to high-intermediate rank grade 3~4.
That aside, was there something Yoo Yeonha didn’t know? There were hundreds of brown-rank Djinns other than Jeffrey.

—What about Jeffrey?

Seeing me smile without answering her question, Yoo Yeonha’s expression turned serious.

—J-Jeffrey is there too?

I shook my head.

“Not anymore.”

—…You killed him?

“Yep.”

—….

Yoo Yeonha stared at me with a dumbstruck expression. I scratched the back of my head and changed the topic.

“So, why’d you call?”

—Oh right.

Yoo Yeonha nodded her head.

—It’s about what you asked before. About the ‘humanoid monster’.

“Oh, did you hear something about it?”

Information about the humanoid monster couldn’t be found easily even with the Book of Truth. So, I had asked Yoo Yeonha to look into rumors about it.

—Yes, it seems something similar has been found in Pandemonium.

Yoo Yeonha sent me a picture.
The picture was of a silhouette that was hard to identify as something specific. But anyone could tell from the figure’s tall height and thin body that it was not human.

“Is this a picture or a video?”

—It’s a paused video.

“Play it.”

The video resumed quickly. Something was running on the ground. Its speed was something even the Thousand-Mile Eyes had trouble capturing.

“Can you slow it down?”

—This is 0.01x speed.

“…0.01x?”

—Yes.

That was enough of a clue. There was only one monster that could display such a speed casually.
‘Kurukuru’, a humanoid monster resembling a praying mantis.
It had glowing scythes for its front legs and a pair of lightning-speed wings. Although it looked more like an insect than a human, it undoubtedly possessed ‘intelligence’.
One shouldn’t look down on it just because it looked like an insect.

Wings that could exhibit hypersonic speed, and front legs that could sever any physical matter.

In terms of ‘assassinations’ and ‘speed’, Kurukuru was unrivaled in this world. Frankly speaking, he could be called the middle boss of the third phase.

—This footage is from yesterday. This creature supposedly killed dozens of Djinns in Pandemonium before moving south.

“Thanks.”

—…There’s something I’m wondering.

Yoo Yeonha suddenly turned serious. She locked her fingers together and rested her chin on them.

“What are you doing?”

—Do you think humanoid monsters really exist?

“…Huh? Oh, well, I’m sure we’re hearing about them because they do.”

I was more surprised that Kurukuru was in Pandemonium.
Was it sent out first since it was quick?

—No, that’s not what I mean. I think the creature from the video might be a new type of Djinn.

“…It’s not that, don’t worry.”

—No, it’s dangerous to rule off this possibility so easily. Think about it. As you go up in the Tower of Wish, demons start to look more and more non-human. We might be seeing something similar. Depending on whether we’re facing Djinns or monsters, our response should change….

I yawned as I heard Yoo Yeonha’s theory. This was why smart people were tiresome. They didn’t believe things easily and tried to extrapolate other possibilities from the smallest things.

—What do you think?

“You’re definitely wrong.”

I answered firmly.
Yoo Yeonha glared at me with a pout, but I knew this as a matter of fact. There was a small episode where Djinns and humans joined hands to defeat humanoid monsters, so humanoid monsters being a type of Djinn was laughable.

“I’m right.”

—…That’s what you always say.

It looked like Yoo Yeonha wasn’t going to give up on her theory any time soon.
Luckily, I had a way of persuading her.

“Did you forget I was rank 1 in theory?”

—…Ah.

If Kim Hajin stays in academia, getting a Nobel Prize will be a piece of cake for him.
Remembering the words of Cube’s professors, Yoo Yeonha went quiet.

“You might not know something I know, but there’s no way I won’t know what you do know.”

—…Then you should’ve looked into the rumors yourself.

Her pride hurt, Yoo Yeonha crossed her arms and grumbled with a pout.

“Just don’t argue with me if I say I’m sure of something. I wouldn’t say anything that’s harmful to my partner, would I?”

—….

Yoo Yeonha stared at me silently for a moment before nodding.

—Fine. I’m hanging up now. I have work to do.

Just like that, she hung up.
With a smirk, I sent her a message.

[Continue looking into this matter. I’m trusting you.]

Her reply came quickly.

[I will, but don’t trust me so much. I’m not a kind nor trustworthy person.]

‘Haha. Is she sulking? Maybe I should make her a set of pajamas later,’ I thought to myself when my smartwatch suddenly rang again.

[★Ready★]
[Chameleon Troupe, gather~!]
[Let’s go devour Pandemonium~♡]

It was from Jain, alerting members of the Chameleon Troupe that its long wish of conquering Pandemonium was about to start.


**

[Busan – Chae Nayun’s Mansion]

Recently, Chae Nayun had been living a life buried under documents. She wasn’t much of an avid reader even when she was in Cube, but now she was doing her best to understand all sorts of complicated text.
Through all the effort she put in, Chae Nayun realized something. That what seemed impossible became possible if she put in enough effort.
In fact, she felt like she had gotten smarter through all the reading.

—The case files will be sent through Violet Banquet’s secure system.

“Okay.”

But that feeling only lasted for a moment.
Every time she felt like she understood something, a new piece of information came in to complicate the matter.

—This case file contains key information on the incident.

Kim Hosup managed to hack a grade-1 confidential document labeled the ‘Chae Jinyoon Case File’. He had spent a full month to hide his tracks. All this was to obtain ReOrient Nox.

“Y-Yeah, good job.”

Chae Nayun accessed her Violet Banquet account. It was the only platform that couldn’t be hacked by any means. From there, Chae Nayun received the case file from Kim Hosup.

“…Huu. I guess I’m not sleeping tonight either.”

Chae Nayun muttered as she looked at the document on the screen.

[Chae Jinyoon Case File]

Her heart beat as soon as she laid her eyes on it.
To think she instigated someone to hack the Association’s database. The past her could never have even thought of such a thing. Not only would she not have someone like Kim Hosup, but her father would have found out and stopped her immediately.

“….”

[Download complete.]

But now that the document was in front of her, she couldn’t help but feel a little scared.
Am I going to see Oppa’s corpse?
Am I going to see the detailed report of what happened that day?
Will I be fine after that?

“…No.”

Chae Nayun clenched her teeth.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
Even if this case file was a Pandora’s box, Chae Nayun was willing to take the risk. No matter how painful the result, this had to be done…

“Huu.”

After taking a breath to collect herself, Chae Nayun slowly opened the file.

“…Hm?”

But the moment she checked the file, the determination she just had disappeared.
White pages were filled with tiny black letters. Most of the words were complicated jargon that she had never even heard of.
As she expected to see a summarized report like in the movies, the actual case file left her dumbstruck.

“….”

It took her a moment to snap out of her stupor. Then, she began to slowly turn over the 239-page case file.
It was, of course, to find a ‘picture’.
Page 1… page 33… page 48… page 63… page 129…
…Finally, on page 169, she came across the picture that she had been desperately wanting to see.
It was a picture of Chae Jinyoon’s corpse.

“Ah….”

When she saw it, her heart dropped a beat.
Tears and swear words surged up from inside.
Chae Jinyoon’s corpse didn’t have a face. There was nothing above the neck.
It was then that Chae Nayun realized why her father and grandfather refused to show her Chae Jinyoon’s corpse.
Chae Nayun bit her lips strongly. Feeling an insurmountable rage rising from the depths of her heart, she clenched her fist until it bled.
Why? Why did it have to be cruel…?

“…Eh?”

However, Chae Nayun felt that something was off. Looking at the picture, a strange feeling flickered inside her.

“This….”

It wasn’t just a strange feeling.
Her intuition was telling her.
That this corpse wasn’t Chae Jinyoon. That it couldn’t be Chae Jinyoon. That it was too different and too unfamiliar…
Chae Nayun began to examine the picture closely to confirm her suspicions.

“Wait.”

Soon, she discovered the source of her strange feeling.
If this corpse really was Chae Jinyoon’s, it was missing something that should be there.

About 15 years ago, Chae Jinyoon had suffered an injury while protecting her from a sudden monster attack. While Chae Nayun cried and apologized, Chae Jinyoon consoled her, saying that his injury would leave behind a scar of honor.

However, this corpse didn’t have the scar.

—Is something wrong? If the information isn’t right, then…

Chae Nayun hung up.
She didn’t have the peace of mind to be listening to someone right now. Her heart was beating wildly, and a piercing headache struck her.

“This….”

Staring at the picture in the case file, Chae Nayun murmured with a distant voice.

“This isn’t Oppa.”

The corpse inside the picture wasn’t Chae Jinyoon’s.
She could determine that much even without the presence of the head.
Someone, for some reason… had switched the corpse.

**


[Central Asia, Pandemonium]

This was a lawless zone devoid of regulations and rules. It was a wilderness, inhabited by Djinns who had given up being human.
The Chameleon Troupe arrived in this place imposingly. Other than Cheok Jungyeong, who was busy exploring the Tower, every member was present.

“….”

Boss stood in front of all the members. However, she didn’t say anything. The strategy and scheming were Jain’s job, and Boss’ role was only to set the mood.

“It’s nice to see you all.”

Boss spoke. I looked at her hand. A ring was on her left pinky.

“…Kuhum.”

She seemed to have felt my gaze, as she stealthily hid her left hand behind her waist.

“Today, we will take the first step to achieve our goal….”

Boss began her speech.

“…We will resolve the humiliation we suffered for dozens of years. Pandemonium will come into Chameleon Troupe’s possession, and the screams of the victims will become a requiem for the previous boss. We will regain what was once ours….”

There was a lot I didn’t know, but it seemed the Chameleon Troupe’s previous boss played a huge role in the creation of Pandemonium. Satan’s Servants seemed to have stolen control after his death.

“Everyone, thank you for believing in me and following me until now.”

Boss’ speech finished. Although she didn’t talk much, she had a certain charm about her that grabbed the attention of the masses. The other members of the Chameleon Troupe looked at Boss with touched faces.

“Now, I’ll brief you guys on the plan.”

But there was no time to waste. As soon as Boss finished her speech, Jain stepped out and continued.

“As you all know, the de facto leader of Pandemonium is Satan’s Servants. After Ex-Boss’ death, they held onto Pandemonium’s sovereignty.”

Jain’s voice rang in our heads.

“But in the end, Djinns are Djinns. They don’t like having anyone sitting on their heads. So I made some preparations. Like I always say, war is 90% planning, 10% execution. Pandemonium’s Djinns should be happily killing each other right about now.”

Sparking fire, leaking information, spreading rumors, persuading, betraying, etc, etc… With her Gift, Disguise, Jain had already finished all the necessary preparations.

“Back to the main point. Our goal today is Pandemonium’s eastern region.”

Pandemonium was broadly split into four cardinal regions. That was how the rulers of Pandemonium, Satan’s Servants, drew the map.
Furthermore, they put Djinn groups that swore loyalty to them in charge of each region, and these Djinn groups split up their territory to give out to those who swore loyalty to them.
Satan’s Servants’ influence was especially weak in the eastern region.

“We will take over a quarter of Pandemonium in a day.”

Jain announced as if the Chameleon Troupe had already won.
Not starting a fight that couldn’t be won.
Winning first and then starting a fight.
These simple tactics gave Jain confidence in all her decisions.

**


Everything went according to Jain’s plan.

—We notified the Djinn groups that agreed to cooperate with us. First is Dark Moon Society, who have influence in the eastern region. Silver, Turquoise, and Green will join them to destroy the opposing ‘Proclamation of Darkness’.

The war began with the help of Dark Moon Society, which I had some connections to. It seemed they fully defected to Chameleon Troupe’s side over the past several years.

Seat of Silver, Kaita.
Seat of Turquoise, Setryn.
Seat of Green, Jin Yohan.

The above three joined up with Dark Moon Society to demolish the groups that favored Satan’s Servants.

—While the plan is in motion in the eastern region, Violet, Indigo, and Blue should create a scene in the west. You only have to catch their attention.

Seat of Violet, Droon.
Seat of Indigo, Yoo Kyunghwan.
Seat of Blue, Khalifa.

The above three started a huge attack with Djinns hired beforehand. Pubs, brothels, casinos, and other huge sources of income were destroyed, and subordinates of Satan’s Servants were dispatched to suppress the matter.
Droon, Yoo Kyunghwan, and Khalifa had caught the attention of Pandemonium’s upper echelon perfectly.

—It’s only a matter of time before they find out what we’re up to. Satan’s Servants are the sovereigns of this place. They should be able to find out that we’re after the eastern region. That’s when Boss and Black will come out.

Boss and I were tasked with sniping down Djinns.
I shot down the Djinns flooding to the eastern region with my arrows.
[Temujin’s Bow Blessed by Horus] and [Lv.11 Athena’s Moonlight Arrow] countered Djinns perfectly. As soon as the arrow touched even a single hair on their body a white flame would engulf them until they scattered into dust.

—We should be able to take care of this in half a day. No, we have to finish it during this time. The eastern Djinns have lots of grudges against Satan’s Servants. They think the western region is favored.

Jain set a time limit of half a day, and just like she said, the fight began to reach its climax around that time.

—Black’s role is the most important in achieving this. Executive-level Djinns are surprisingly scared for their lives. If you shoot them from their blind spots, they’ll be too scared to come out. So start powerfully.

Just like she said, executive-level Djinns were too scared of my arrows to appear in the open. Because of this, the eastern region’s ordinary Djinns happily joined our side to rebel. Dark Moon Society was, of course, the ones leading them.

—If all goes according to plan, we won’t have to do much else. We’ll have won the fight before it even begins. Satan’s Servants will have no choice but to give up on the eastern region, no matter how powerful they are.

Time passed, and the sun had now set. The fight that began at dawn was now coming to a close.

“Well done.”

Under the gentle sunset, Boss stared at me and said with a bitterness that seemed to carry off some of her resentment.

“You too, Boss.”

I was deeply moved as well.
[The Chameleon Troupe conquered a part of Pandemonium].
It felt like just yesterday that I wrote this sentence in my novel. I had now personally participated in this historical battle. Though, of course, the plan was only ¼ complete…

Then suddenly…

“…?”

The world suddenly slowed down.
‘Bullet Time’ activated on its own.
Feeling a fraction of a second, my senses became capable of capturing the movement of wind. With my heightened perception, I was able to see something crawling out of the ground.
Crunch—!
Dirt and pebbles shot upward as a strange creature came out of the ground.

—Kurururu, kurururu.

It was a bipedal insect.
Kurururu, kurururu.
I didn’t know why it appeared now. But the creature growled its name and shot towards Boss.
Leaving behind a clear afterimage, it transformed into a beam of light. Behind it, a sonic boom erupted.

Kwaaaa….

While the creature was charging forward, Boss was still staring at me, and I couldn’t react either. The 2-meter-tall insect traveled faster than a ballistic missile, leaving me to think that I was dreaming.
In the blink of an eye, Kurukuru arrived in front of Boss.
It then raised its scythe-like front leg.

Kiiiik…

A chilling sound of flesh being cut rang out.
Kurukuru’s scythe had pierced Boss’ heart.
Even in the slowed world, Kurukuru moved fast, and Boss couldn’t react in time. No, it was impossible to react to it in the first place. Its blade was designed so that it couldn’t be avoided.

Though it was too late, smartwatch windows popped up in front of my eyes.

[Kurukuru – a humanoid monster that can reach hypersonic speed for 3 seconds by drawing out its internal energy to the limit.]
[Setting change – as it is considered a boss-level assassin of the third phase, its strength has been modified to 9.2/10]
[Setting change – Kurukuru’s intelligence has been increased to the level it can make deals with humans and Djinns.]

I stared at the setting changes and used Time Reversal before Boss’ body split apart any further.

…The time that passed by like the speed of light reversed.

Boss was no longer dead, Kurukuru was still underground, and the sunlight was still shining down on us warmly.
I returned to the past by three minutes.
Immediately, I looked to the side.

“…Boss.”

“Hm?”

Thankfully, Boss was still next to me. However, my heart was still beating roughly, and my breath refused to calm down.

“What’s wrong…?”

I grabbed Boss’ wrist.

“W-What? K-Kim Hajin? Why are you grabbing my h-hand—”

Boss muttered in a fluster. I had to get away from this place as soon as possible.

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