The scream belonged to Lara Wolff. Seol Jihu stopped the conversation and hurriedly crossed over to the next room. There, he saw a short-haired girl full of sweat on her forehead. Although she was panting as if she had raced here at full speed, she still looked extremely happy.
“I figured it out! I figured it out!”
Lara wiped her forehead and shook the paper in her hand. When Seol Jihu walked closer and inspected it, he noticed that it was a map. He turned to Snake Eyes, who promptly raised her hands. “I don’t know. She took the map and suddenly ran around like a crazy bitch.”
Snake Eyes gestured at the door with her chin. It was the door they had opened to enter this room.
‘She went back the way we came from?’
Seol Jihu also had a guess, so he asked, “Where did you go?”
“What did you figure out? So noisy.” Straight Face also asked.
Lara made a V-sign with her hand, “I went back the way we came from.” Then, she folded her middle finger, “And I found out where we are.”
In other words, she had figured out the general shape of Stage 1.
Straight Face stepped out, “Say it.”
“You said you figured it out, right? Tell us how this place is laid out then.”
Lara was dumbfounded by her tone that resembled a loan shark. She seemed to be saying, ‘it’s going to get ugly if it’s nothing important.’ However, she quickly got her act together.
“It’s simple. The shape of Stage 1 is most likely a rectangle.”
“Yes. You went straight from the first room. That was to check the length of the labyrinth, right?”
“…Hnng,” Straight Face let out a nasal hum. “Looks like you’re not completely stupid.”
“It was a piece of cake.”
“Strange. I remember a certain someone saying she would act independently just an hour or two ago…”
“Keuk—” Lara clenched her teeth. “T-That’s!”
But when Straight Face waved her hand, shutting down her protest, Lara continued her explanation. “We went through 40 rooms from the first one we started in before the frontal door disappeared, so it should be right to assume the labyrinth has a vertical length of 40 rooms.”
Snake Eyes rolled her eyes. “Huh… you’re right. Then, including the room where we turned left, how many doors did Prince Charming open…?”
“120. He opened 120 doors, and none of the rooms had a door on the right side. And there wasn’t a frontal door in the 120th room.”
“Aah, so if the labyrinth really is a rectangle, then we should be at the top-left corner.”
“Isn’t it too early to decide?” Straight Face spoke up at that moment with her unique, condescending smile. “If my memory serves right, there were three doors in the room where we changed direction.”
“Ah, you’re right. There was a door on the right too.” Snake Eyes agreed with a nod. Lara stared at Straight Face for a brief moment before grabbing the end of her hair. Then, she narrowed her eyes as she fiddled with her hair.
“Oh… Didn’t I just tell you where I went…?” She made her voice airy, clearly imitating someone. Straight Face’s expression stiffened. Seeing this, Lara quickly put her hand down. “R-Right, so I went back to open the door on the right.”
Seol Jihu, who was quietly watching the scene play out from the side, showed a hint of surprise. From the looks of it, Lara had gone all the way back, while he and Straight Face were talking. Although the group had cleaned up the rooms, she had run through 120 rooms and back?
‘Well, it is a straight line.’
“Despite how I look, I am an Archer.” Lara smiled gently at Seol Jihu before continuing, “That’s when I confirmed my conjecture. That room had two doors just like this one – one where I entered from and one on the right.”
“Ah,” Seol Jihu’s mouth opened with a brief mutter. “So that room must be the top-right room.”
“So there are 122 rooms going horizontally and 40 rooms going vertically — a 40 by 122 structure.”
“That’s right, assuming the room we were summoned to doesn’t count.”
Lara raised the map so everyone could see. The map had a ㄱ-shaped pathway. Sophie spoke up after examining the map closely, “It’s like a game of Snake.”
Sophie covered her mouth and giggled at Snake Eyes’ question, then shook her head, “It was a game I used to play on my electronic dictionary when I was little. You control a snake that goes around eating food that is randomly generated.”
With an explanation, Sophie pointed at the map. “Among the rooms that are left, where do you think is the exit?”
“How should I know?”
“…Right, then we’ll have no choice but to check each room….”
Sophie pointed at the room on the top-left corner, the one they were in. “Opening doors randomly will only make the game more complicated. Since we don’t know where the exit is, the best course of action would be to plan the most efficient way to visit each room. Like this….”
Sophie moved her finger down to the bottom-left corner, then to the right, up, left, then back down. Just like a coiled-up snake, she spun her finger in a counterclockwise direction, drawing a whirlpool, before finally ending in the centermost room.
Snake Eyes frowned, “Hell, so we have to go through every room?”
“That’s only if we don’t find the exit until we reach the center. But this is one of the most efficient ways.”
“I agree. Looks like it’s obvious what we should do.” Seol Jihu agreed. The group had been running without a headlight, but they now had a clear direction.
When Seol Jihu gave Lara a look of praise, Lara twisted her body. “It’s nothing much. Anyone could have figured this out if we just checked the room on the right before going left….”
“Still, there might have been monsters in it.”
“Yes, to be honest, I was really worried… but I didn’t think it was right for just the three of you to put yourselves in danger.”
Sophie smiled faintly. Seol Jihu glanced at Straight Face in secret.
“…Ha,” Seeing the glance that seemed to say, ‘Are they still freeloading?’, Straight Face let out an empty laugh like it wasn’t enough to satisfy her.
“Who knows? We still haven’t seen the 39 rooms on the rightmost side.”
Lara’s shoulders dropped and a sigh came out. “Can’t you just say ‘well done’? You don’t even have to mean it.”
“Where’d you drop your conscience? Don’t act so haughty after opening a single door.”
Lara shook her head, expressing her disagreement.
“Tsk.” With a click of her tongue, Straight Face turned to Snake Eyes, “You.”
Snake Eyes tilted her head slightly, but Straight Face didn’t offer an explanation and turned back to Seol Jihu.
Seol Jihu understood her intent and slowly nodded his head. “Sure. We’ll switch after 80 rooms.”
Straight Face snorted, but that was all she had to say. Seol Jihu had performed beyond what he had promised and had even offered a new method. Lara had also proven she wasn’t a freeloader.
“What are you doing? Get over here.”
As Straight Face urged Snake Eyes, Seol Jihu couldn’t help but smile on the inside. It felt like the wound got stitched up stronger. Of course, it had yet to heal completely.
“Fuck!” Snake Eyes spat out a curse. Her complexion, as she looked at the frontal door, was one of exhaustion. “Snake Game my ass! We should have just gone to the centermost room to begin with. We did all that work for what?”
Embarrassed, Sophie dropped her head. The group had taken the method she suggested, but no one expected that they wouldn’t find the exit before reaching the centermost room.
“That’s not necessarily true. Maybe the exit isn’t in a fixed room. Maybe, we have to enter every room before the exit opens.”
When Seol Jihu sided with Sophie, Snake Eyes narrowed her eyes, “Wait, you’re telling me that the exit might not be in the next room?”
“…We’d have to go through the 39 rooms on the rightmost side.”
“AAAAAAAAH!” Snake Eyes pressed her temples and screamed.
“I was all excited for the Banquet! The hell is this?”
“Where’s all the killing and backstabbing and, you know, the fun stuff? It’s gotta be more hardcore than this!”
Seol Jihu wanted to say, ‘I don’t think that’s it’, but he kept quiet thinking there was no reason to provoke her. Judging by what Snake Eyes was saying, the Banquet was supposed to be much more difficult.
“Ah, fuck. I want to say fuck it all to the Banquet or whatever. I’m going to cry if Stage 2 is like this too—” Snake Eyes spat out one complaint after another before pushing Straight Face to the side and throwing the door open. Taken aback by Snake Eyes’ sudden action, Lara moved to stop her but stopped almost immediately.
With Snake Eyes’ skills, it was likely that she acted after checking for any potential threat. More importantly, her spazzing eyes seemed to be searching for a target to vent her anger.
Soon, the word, “FUCK!”, rang out from the room. The six of them, who stepped into the room late, all stood stunned as if they had all promised to react the same way before entering.
They saw a normal room that was no different than any of the others.
“Why aren’t there any doors?”
The only difference, like Snake Eyes said, was that the door they used to enter was the only door.
After examining the room slowly, Seol Jihu noticed this incongruity.
‘The door we used to enter the room is the only door?’
That meant that they couldn’t have entered the room through other directions. It was then…
Kirik! A familiar sound rang out. Drrrk! And a tremor shook the room. It was the same phenomenon they experienced in the room they were summoned to.
“The door disappeared!” Maria shouted.
Seol Jihu turned around instinctively and frowned. Just like what Maria said, the door they used to enter was gone. It had disappeared without a trace as if it blended into the wall.
Straight Face pulled out her glowing, silver longsword and slowly backed off.
Snake Eyes picked up her weapon for the first time as she also backed off slowly. Seol Jihu did the same while tightly holding onto his Ice Spear. The five combatants stood in a circle around the two Priests.
The room quickly turned silent. Maria’s muffled chants were the only sound. Tension slowly seeped in, but Seol Jihu decided to first wait. Activating the Nine Eyes, he saw that the room was glowing with a golden light just like before.
‘I did everything I could.’
Although he wasn’t happy with the process, he had succeeded in preventing the team’s collapse and brought all seven members here. Although one person died, he was already on the verge of death when he entered the stage, so there was nothing anyone could do.
Right, he had done everything he could. If the Nine Eyes wasn’t lying, if this space really was a place of Golden Rule, then now was time to accept the result.
At that moment, a cool breeze tickled his forehead. Seol Jihu turned his head up, his eyes immediately widening.
It wasn’t just him. The seven members of the group were all looking at the slowly splitting ceiling with looks of disbelief. As if a huge box was opening up, or as if a huge bird was spreading its wings, the ceiling opened up and a clear sky revealed itself.
Kigik! Kigiiigik! Unpleasant noise struck their ears. In the next moment, their sense of balance shook, and their bodies tilted sideways.
Seol Jihu stopped Maria from falling and was shocked to see the walls around them going down.
No, that wasn’t it.
“What? We’re going up?”
Like Snake Eyes said, the ground they were standing on was going up. Like an elevator, the ground rose toward the opened ceiling. Once the ground passed the ceiling, the outside scenery appeared. Seol Jihu looked down in a daze.
He could see the ground getting farther and farther away from a rectangular structure. The shape of the labyrinth was just as Lara had guessed.
“What happened…?” Someone muttered. However, no one could answer that question. They could only guess.
“As I thought….” Lara mumbled to herself, and everyone’s gaze naturally fell on her. She flinched in a fluster and then opened her mouth.
“Ah, I meant the Banquet. I’m convinced now.”
“There are several theories… but I think the Banquet really is the Empire’s inheritance.”
[Some say the Banquet is a stage created by a god from the era of the ancient Empire to carry out some sort of a test. Others say it is a game created by a grand magician for his amusement. Some even call it a lair that the extinct dragons created as a dummy.]
Jang Maldong’s words flashed by Seol Jihu’s head. Lara stomped the moving ground with her foot.
“Don’t you think so? The Kingdoms’ technology isn’t enough to make this stage. To have created something like this, at the very least, it would have to be the Empire, which is said to have reached the pinnacle of magic engineering.”
‘That makes sense, but…’
Seol Jihu was only half-convinced as he looked around the area. The labyrinth they left now looked like a dot. Looking at it, his lower stomach churned. He didn’t have acrophobia, but he couldn’t help but be a little nervous as the platform went up endlessly.
In the end, he had to take a couple of breaths before the surrounding scenery entered his sight. The first thing that caught his attention was a giant mountain that stretched endlessly into the sky. He couldn’t see the peak, even though the platform continued to travel up since leaving the labyrinth.
“Hey, there are people there.”
Seol Jihu immediately turned his head at Snake Eyes’ words. The place she was pointing to was several hundred meters away, so he couldn’t see well with his naked eyes. But that didn’t seem to be the case for Lara and Snake Eyes who were Archers. They both were clearly staring at a single spot.Previous Chapter Next Chapter