I offered Jin Seyeon my help in saving her comrades. What I handed to her as part of the plan was a bamboo scroll.
Jin Seyeon tilted her head questioningly at the bamboo scroll.
I explained briefly.
“I have 5 scrolls that are linked to each other. Write something on one of them with magic power, and it will show up on the others as well.”
Jin Seyeon raised her head and looked at me. Her eyes sparkled subtly.
“How did you manage to bring these in?”
All items except for apparel and equipment were supposed to be taken away when Players first entered the Colosseum. On top of that, Players were banned from using the Community and other system services once they entered the Demon King’s Tower. As a result, it was imperative to devise a way to communicate with others once you were here.
“I made them.”
My special skill, [Four-colored Enchant].
Making scrolls with this skill was a piece of cake, especially since I used Stigma’s magic power.
“Your comrades should be able to recognize your magic power. You shall explain our plan to them.”
Magic power worked like fingerprints. The plan was to have Jin Seyeon write the message using her magic power, which would then be delivered to other members. Once they recognized her magic power, it wouldn’t be too hard to persuade them.
“But for this plan to work, we’ll need to deliver the scrolls to the others first.”
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
Spartan would be the one to deliver the scrolls. I handed the rest of the scrolls to Spartan beneath my robe. He delivered the scrolls to Aileen, Kim Suho, and Yi Yongha, respectively.
“I knew it. He really was your pet bird.”
“No need for chitchat. Write your message there.”
“Your eagle is very handsome.”
Spartan put on a stern expression at Jin Seyeon’s compliment. I pushed Spartan further down the big space beneath my robe.
[Seoul — Hero Association’s Tower]
A large crowd was gathered on the front yard of the Hero Association, the international organization in charge of appointing and managing Heroes all over the world.
The crowd attending today’s event was simply impressive. It was comprised of famous Heroes and celebrities whose faces alone could serve as their ID cards, the Association authorities, the heads of conglomerates, the leaders of guilds, etc…. Of course not all were here to ‘congratulate’, but still, the formality and the influence of a ‘Master-rank Hero Promotion Ceremony’ felt very real.
This was the first Master-rank Promotion Ceremony in four years.
The Hero to be promoted this time was none other than the leader of ‘Essence of the Strait’, undeniably the most influential guild these days.
However, even the fact that today was the day her father’s dream would come true wasn’t enough to make Yoo Yeonha rejoice.
Without getting out of her limousine, she continued to stare at her smartwatch.
She had not heard back from Kim Hajin for a week now, and the video captured by the drone could not be any clearer.
She had watched the footage hundreds of times already and was now left with no choice but to accept the truth. The man in the video was undoubtedly Kim Hajin, and by the ‘humanoid monster’ that he’d been chasing after, he was….
She dared not to finish her thought and clenched her teeth.
‘…did he go alone?’ She had told him millions of times not to bear everything alone. Yet, why?
Yoo Yeonha clenched her fists. She played the video on her smartwatch again. In the corner of the screen, there was one other robed person besides Kim Hajin. Because of the hood, she couldn’t tell whether this person was a man or a woman. She also couldn’t figure anything out regarding this mysterious person.
And now it was too late to learn anything about him or her.
Yoo Yeonha let out a somber sigh.
Suddenly, her smartwatch rang. This surprised her to the extent that she received the call without even checking who the caller was.
The voice on the other side of the smartwatch belonged to Chae Nayun.
—It’s me, Chae Nayun. How have you been doing~?
Chae Nayun’s cheery voice felt like blades to Yoo Yeonha. Yoo Yeonha couldn’t say anything. When no reply came back from her friend, Chae Nayun chose to speak first.
—I heard your dad’s being promoted to Master-rank. How is it that I can hear that news all the way in the Himalayas?
“…You’re, still in the Himalayas?”
Yoo Yeonha forced her tears back. Her choked voice trembled miserably.
—Yup. I was actually climbing just a few moments ago but now I’m in a town.
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Chae Nayun sounded so innocent. Yoo Yeonha wanted to imitate her cheerfulness, but tears were already filling her eyes.
“So, how’s the work going?”
—I’m taking my time. One of the townspeople told me that he’d seen him, so I think it won’t take too long.
Yoo Yeonha felt she needed to stop Chae Nayun. Even if she successfully uncovered the truth, nothing would change with Kim Hajin dead. The belated truth would transform into cold sorrow which could crush Chae Nayun for good this time.
—Oh, by the way. I’ve gotten really strong. The Himalayas are just as good as Baekdu Mountain. There are tons of monsters here.
Chae Nayun continued. She went into details about how much stronger she became, about the rapid growth of her magic power in terms of its amount and quality, about the feeling of satisfaction she felt when she reached new heights, and about how the Himalayas had granted her an immeasurable boost in her state of existence….
At that moment, someone knocked on the window of the limousine.
—Oh, right. The promotion ceremony must be starting now, huh? Sorry, I took up too much of your time. I’ll call you later!
Chae Nayun ended the call first.
Yoo Yeonha never got a chance to say what she had to say.
Kim Hajin was dead.
She couldn’t force Chae Nayun to accept the truth that she herself had a hard time accepting.
The knocking continued. Yoo Yeonha pulled the window down about halfway. Behind the window was a staff member who looked like a bodyguard.
“If you don’t have the invitation, you’ll need to pull out… Ah, I’m so sorry!”
The staff recognized Yoo Yeonha and bowed. Yoo Yeonha pulled the window back up without answering and exchanged glances with her driver. The limousine smoothly entered the parking lot of the Association.
…Shortly after the limousine parked, Yoo Yeonha got off the vehicle and walked to the front yard of the Association.
Though she caught a lot of attention, no one seemed to approach her, except for a few associates. Half of the people gathered here today were her enemies, after all.
Among the swarm of enemies, the one person she could call an ally with certainty, SH Agency’s Park Soohyuk, approached her.
SH Agency had recently renewed their contract with Essence of the Strait after proving its competence by emerging as a respectable conglomerate.
“It’s been a while. I hope all is well.”
Yoo Yeonha greeted him normally. Park Soohyuk, too, received her happily; but the words that came out of his mouth the next moment stabbed Yoo Yeonha in the heart.
“Oh right, Leader, how’s Hajin doing?”
Yoo Yeonha froze.
“We stayed in touch with each other until about a month ago, but I can’t seem to reach him now. Is he still inside the Tower?”
Yoo Yeonha stood still as she watched Park Soohyuk, obviously oblivious, speak.
The Tower of Wish.
Yoo Yeonha had already went back into the Tower to be sure. She sent a fair number of messages to Kim Hajin—Extra7—and did not receive a single reply.
“He’s too busy, I never get to see him now. You know, several years ago, he was the one who initially…?”
Park Soohyuk moved on to talk about how heartless Kim Hajin was for not keeping in touch, but stopped when he felt something wasn’t right. He realized Yoo Yeonha was far behind him.
When Park Soohyuk called, Yoo Yeonha only smiled.
That was all she could say.
At that moment, she noticed a familiar face approaching her from afar. It was Shin Jonghak. Shin Jonghak glanced at Park Soohyuk and then stood in front of Yoo Yeonha.
This was Shin Jonghak’s first word.
He was never around when she needed him. Yoo Yeonha replied sharply, out of subconscious resentment, “Yeah. Long time no see. I heard you were hanging out with the big shots in the Tower… But why did you come here so early? Were you kicked out?”
Shin Jonghak’s eyebrows wiggled. He glared at Yoo Yeonha with a frown but soon shook his head.
“I’m just taking a break. Anyways, is Chae Nayun here yet?”
Even now, all he did was look for Chae Nayun.
Yoo Yeonha clenched her small fists.
“Nayun’s not coming.”
A short answer.
Then, Yoo Yeonha walked past Shin Jonghak.
“Hey, where are you….”
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She heard Shin Jonghak’s voice from behind but chose to ignore it.
Yoo Yeonha kept walking. She walked past all the people gathered for the ceremony, past all the flowers and fallen leaves in the garden, and finally arrived in front of her father’s waiting room.
“Ah, you’re here.”
The guard at the entrance recognized Yoo Yeonha. She simply nodded. The guard opened the door for her, and she approached Yoo Jinwoong who was obviously nervous.
“Oh, oh~ Sweetie!”
Yoo Jinwoong walked over to her with a smile and gave her a big hug. Yoo Yeonha closed the door behind her in her father’s arms.
“…Yeonha, thank you. I can’t stop thinking that you’re my good luck charm.”
Yoo Jinwoong said. His voice was filled with boundless love for his daughter. And when she felt it, her tears burst out again. The sorrow she had been trying to suppress could no longer be kept inside. Out of gratitude but also resentment for her father, Yoo Yeonha shed tears.
Yoo Jinwoong couldn’t describe the confusion he felt at that moment in words. As her father, he could tell these were not tears of joy. Yoo Yeonha was not the type to show tears even in the most serious circumstances.
“Yeonha, what’s wrong? Yeon, Yeonha?”
Yoo Yeonha cried, trembling. Everything she had been holding back until now exploded all together. The stress that had been eating away at her body and mind turned into tears that overflowed. Yoo Jinwoong was heartbroken by all the tears his daughter shed in his arms.
“Yeonha, Yeonha. Please calm down. Please. I can’t help you unless you tell me what’s wrong….”
Yoo Jinwoong’s voice faded in her ears. Yoo Yeonha pounded her father’s chest with her fists.
‘Father, do you know that there was someone you owe repentance to?’
She swallowed those words, reproaching her father. She resented her father’s wrongdoings of the past.
But with Kim Hajin dead, everything was meaningless. This fact made Yoo Yeonha cry even harder.
[27F, The Colosseum]
Kim Suho received a letter from Jin Seyeon. When he got up after exercising, he found a bamboo scroll on his bed. Jin Seyeon’s magic power was engraved on its bamboo poles.
[If you confront Black Lotus, you should lose on purpose. That way we’ll be able to reunite and escape from the Colosseum. If you have doubts, send me a message.]
The message was hard to believe, but Jin Seyeon’s magic power proved its authenticity.
In any case, Kim Suho wrote the reply.
[Is this real? I only heard that Senior lost.]
The reply returned quickly.
[Black Lotus helped me. We formed a temporary alliance…]
It was hard to believe she was cooperating with that Black Lotus, but he didn’t have a choice. Not only the magic power but also the handwriting looked just like Jin Seyeon’s.
—Now, the battle will begin soon! The challenger this time is Dwarf Aileen, who has three consecutive victories!
At that moment, the voice announced the next fight. Kim Suho waited for Aileen’s voice to follow.
—Hey, who are you calling a dwarf? I told you to change that nickname!
As expected, Aileen’s sharp yell resounded, shaking heaven and earth.
Aileen was still Aileen.
Kim Suho smiled warmly, but a dangerous thought crossed his mind the next moment.
—Aileen’s opponent is Black Archer, who is also on a winning streak!
Did Aileen receive the bamboo scroll?
No, did she even notice the bamboo scroll that appeared all of a sudden?
“God, this is ridiculous. I told you to change that nickname! Why won’t you listen to me? Hm? Do you wanna die?”
Aileen nagged the guard as they walked down the aisle together to the arena. The demon guard, who was shaped like a snowman, would only scratch the back of his neck.
“You, forced me, to say it….”
“Don’t make an excuse.”
“It’s not an excuse….”
“I said don’t.”
Aileen’s Spirit Speech shut the guard up.
“Change it next time, no matter what. Or else.”
It seemed their relationship was somewhat reversed, but it couldn’t be helped. After all, Aileen became known for guaranteed ticket sale success in a mere 4 days.
Aileen remembered her opponent, ‘Black Archer’.
But there wasn’t much time left for her to scrutinize his identity.
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They arrived at the arena soon after, and Aileen received her weapon from the guard.
In reality, it wasn’t so much a weapon as it was a bracelet. A bracelet to help circulate magic power in her body.
—Today’s battle will be another round of Human vs Human, a feisty and bloody battle! Enjoy your time!
The Host shouted as the doors opened.
Aileen entered the arena valiantly even with her small steps.
And with her two feet firmly grounded, she finally looked at the man standing across from her.
A black robe with an embroidered lotus symbol.
A black mask covering his face.
A black bow in his hand.
Her opponent’s appearance was too familiar. All the pieces pointed to a specific person, and Aileen’s eyes widened.
“You’re… Black Lotus!”
Aileen pointed at the man in front of her and yelled. For a moment, her hair stood on end out of surprise, but she soon regained her composure. If her opponent really was Black Lotus, she would need all the calm in the world to prepare for the fight.
—Begin the duel, fight for your lives!
Though the start was declared, neither of them moved. They were studying each other.
3 minutes passed.
Bored, the spectators jeered at them, and Aileen finally initiated Spirit Speech.
“Hey you, take your hood off first.”
Aileen was curious about his face more than anything. Her Spirit Speech came out from her mouth and reached Black Lotus.
…However, Black Lotus didn’t even flinch.
Aileen was confused.
Why wasn’t there any reaction?
‘Did he really just resist my Spirit Speech? No, even if that’s the case, I should have been able to see some change….’ Aileen tilted her head sideways and used Spirit Speech again.
“I said, take your hood off!”
But Black Lotus still did not comply, and at that moment, Kim Hajin also harbored the same curiosity as Aileen.
‘…Why doesn’t Spirit Speech work on me?’
[Temple of Plucas — 34º51’15.4”N 128º43’50.2”E]
…Amidst the scarlet darkness, several stone towers stood tall. The ground between the towers was covered in blood and bones. The redness of the blood and the whiteness of the bones interjoined and stretched, forming a strange pattern.
“Lord, far too many people wander around here. We’ll need to move you to a different temple.”
This was the temple where a devil resided. Inside the temple which had been prepared specifically for the evilest presence, a Djinn bowed to the devil.
The devil, who was sitting upright on the throne, answered.
“There is… no need….”
The devil had the appearance of a young man. A voice flowed out from the mouth of the youth. The devil’s words continued thickly.
“Let them… come….”
His voice was similar to the sound of boiling iron or the sound of burning fire inside a brazier.
“I want to meet… a worthy… human….”
But the emotion embedded in it was far from pure curiosity.
The devil was holding a human head in his hand. The human was still alive even after being separated from his body. He had degenerated into a toy for the devil who prolonged his life.
But all would end today.
The devil tightened his grip around the head. It exploded then became flaccid, devoid of any definite form. Yet the human was still alive. The devil, ‘Plucas’, did not intend to grant him a quick and easy death.
Plucas was a devil who loved violence and sadism. At the same time, he was also the grim reaper who was in charge of death.
He wanted even more brutal pain and agony to ease his insatiable thirst for evil.
“Send me… more… humans….”
“Your wish is my command, O Gracious Devil.”
The Djinn committed himself to the devil’s order.
Just like that, the barrier isolating the island located somewhere in the southern sea was lifted.
The Djinn could now hear the voices of humans.
—The barrier around the island is gone!
The eyes and the ears that the Immortal had planted near the island detected the presence of the temple. The Immortal saw and heard everything that was reported to him.
“They will be… the first….”
And the devil took in those serving as eyes and ears to the Immortal.