"We’ll clear it absolutely perfectly, without anyone getting hurt."
After saying that much, Hyukjin calculated the time.
‘It took about three minutes for the Predator Trees to completely appear.’
So how long would it take, if the monsters they were up against were Big Black Dogs? For the sake of balance, there was a high chance the Players would be given a little more time to prepare.
He examined the shimmer. It was, of course, a clue.
‘My intuition tells me it’ll be around seven minutes.’
Seven minutes. There wasn’t time to fool around, but it also wasn’t too tight a time frame. Hyukjin turned his gaze on Ahn Seohye, carefully examining her eyes.
‘She doesn’t have the Red Eyes anymore.’
Seohye was different when the Red Eyes were kicking in. She acted like a slightly different person. But that didn’t matter in the current situation.
"You said you trusted me, right?"
Seohye fell into a moment of contemplation. She didn’t say yes right away. But she did think of the ‘man’ named Kim Hyukjin a little differently from other men.
She thought of the ‘adult’ Kim Hyukjin as a slightly different kind of ‘adult’. Despite that, Seohye had been burned and hurt too many times in her nearly eighteen years of life. She couldn’t produce a cheerful "Yes!" when suddenly faced with the question.
"I know you better than you think."
"Because, as you know, I’m a sovereign, and I am constantly doing the observation that comes with that role. What my teammates are thinking, what cards they have, I need to have a precise grasp of those things in order to organically and efficiently lead this team."
Her sword momentarily lowered, Yeonseo looked at Hyukjin and the shimmer around the Guardian Tower in turn.
‘What’s Hyukjin talking about?’
Why was he suddenly talking to Seohye? Would Big Black Dogs really pop out of that shimmer? Could they really clear this place without anyone getting hurt?
"I’ll be frank and get to the point."
Hyukjin was well aware that they didn’t have much time. Even with the Thousand Dog Master title, Big Black Dogs were ferocious monsters by nature. There was no knowing what kind of disaster they would cause. Even if they didn’t attack him, they could certainly attack the teammates around him. There wasn’t much time, so he had no choice but to cut to the chase.
"I know you’ve already put up a special barrier here."
Seohye’s gaze wavered.
"Most likely from the time that I asked you to install a protective barrier around our place. I’m sure you knew."
She knew there was some kind of ‘flow’ here.
"Your instinct picked up on it. That ‘something you need to hunt’ will appear here."
"I also know that you’ve come here multiple times with Sunhwa."
Did the Red Demon’s ‘hunting instinct’ originate purely from the influence of the Red Eyes? The answer was no. There was definitely ‘hunting instinct’ within the deep darkness Ahn Seohye possessed. This wasn’t an issue of good or bad. To put it in slightly more extreme terms, it was simply that she had an ‘instinct for killing’ and an outstanding talent for it.
‘The past Ahn Seohye expressed that in the wrong way.’
The current Seohye’s path was a little straighter. If her rage and destructive urge were directed at people, it would be a crime, but if directed at monsters, her killing instinct was a fantastic quality for a Player.
"That’s why you set up a barrier here. I’ve already confirmed it."
Even Hyukjin didn’t know what kind of barrier the future Red Demon set up. But he confirmed its existence back when the Predator Trees showed up. Those powerful flames were unable to harm Seohye. He clearly saw that she was being protected by an ‘unknown force’.
"...So that’s why you didn’t try to protect me."
Seohye’s heart settled a little. To be honest, she’d felt a slight contradiction in her heart. Why did ‘that person (Kim Hyukjin)’ throw himself over Cheon Sooji instead of her? Her feelings became a little complicated upon seeing that. Getting half-forced down like that by Kim Hyukjin the ‘man’, she didn’t like. It was still scary for her. And yet, she thought it was a little strange that he didn’t choose her, but the woman called Cheon Sooji. It wasn’t an issue of being sad or disappointed. Rather, it was something close to, ‘Oh, I wasn’t chosen.’
"Yeah. I was already certain at that point." Hyukjin tapped the side of his eye. "My eyes are a bit special."
Looking at her, he asked, "For what reason… are you hesitating?"
"It’s true that I put up a Frenzy Hunting Barrier here in advance."
"And if you wanted to, you could activate it, right?"
Seohye nodded. "The problem is… I can’t kill Big Black Dogs with just that. I also know what kind of monsters they are. It’ll actually make them more vicious."
Hyukjin brought up another issue. "Also, a barrier capable of hunting that level of monster will inevitably be flawed. It’ll be impossible to perfectly control it."
As a result, her teammates might get hurt. If her control slipped, they could even get wrapped up in her Predator Barrier and die.
"But even so, you have to do it."
From what Hyukjin had seen of Seohye’s talent, as long as she could properly direct her ‘killing instinct’, she could definitely pull it off.
"I have as much faith in you as you have trust for me. No, even more than that."
To be exact, he had faith in her ‘ability as a barrier magician’.
There was only about one minute left. The shimmering around the Guardian Tower was telling him that either Big Black Dogs or a Twin-Headed Big Black Dog, both incredibly strong foes, would soon grace the stage. The final test of the Guardian Tower, a test impossible to clear with standard tactics, was nigh.
"I didn’t tell you to kill the Big Black Dogs."
Even with a Predator Barrier set up in advance, Seohye couldn’t kill the Big Black Dogs alone.
"Hinder their movements. It should be more than doable if you lower the main function of the Predator Barrier from [Killing] to [Binding]."
Seohye was a little alarmed. She had never disclosed the fact that she could change the nature of her Predator Barrier.
"If Binding is too hard, then you can weaken it even further to Slowing. I’ll add my title, Thousand Dog Master, on top of that."
The power of the Red Demon’s barrier, plus the extreme intimacy granted to him by Thousand Dog Master. It would be difficult to clear if they only had one of the two. But with both together, they should have a good chance of success.
Hyukjin turned to Sooji. "Also, we need your poison."
"What kind of poison?"
"A poison that can paralyze the opponent’s sense of smell."
Sooji thought for a moment. "I can’t make that immediately."
"It doesn’t have to be terribly strong. Their senses of smell are extremely keen, so they’re susceptible even to weak poison."
"I think I can make it. Within a short amount of time."
Sooji was struck with a strange feeling. It was really, really weird. That order of "Do it" made her feel… good. It was like she was being made to obey. She normally loathed the feeling, but for some reason, it was different when Hyukjin said it.
‘It’s like he’s already drawn this entire situation out in advance.’
That was the impression his actions gave. She felt a strange confidence and sense of ease. It was like he had already planned out this situation, knew that she and her ability to use poison would be here, and readied the stage to secure a big profit from it.
‘I must be overthinking it.’
No matter how amazing Kim Hyukjin was, he couldn’t be that all-seeing.
Hyukjin said, "As I said before, we will kill them without taking any damage."
A notice came, almost exactly at the time Hyukjin predicted.
[Qualifications of a Guardian Tower Master 05 - Big Black Dog Chapter, is beginning.]
The Big Black Dogs began to slowly appear. Hyukjin decided to do the best he could do right now. He picked out the most dangerous spot, the place that would draw the most aggro, and moved to it. This picture was his work. And he, a sovereign, would stand right in the middle of that picture, the most dangerous spot. He didn’t hide in the back like a coward.
Woof! Woof! Woof!
He heard the barking of the Big Black Dogs.
‘Who would have thought we would really end up fighting Big Black Dogs in the beginner period?’
Not appeasement, but actual fighting. But there was no place to run. He did almost everything he could, so now, it was time to do his best. Which meant it was time to slot in the final piece available to him.
He knew that not everything could go according to the conductor’s will. Unless you were a god, you couldn’t direct everything exactly as you wanted. He knew that very well—he had experienced it as early as the Tutorial. But he knew exactly what he had to do in this position.
At the most dangerous position, the place closest to the Big Black Dogs, the sovereign stood in front of his teammates. A faint golden splendor began to bloom from his body, quickly becoming so blinding it turned from golden to white.
The black bodies of the Big Black Dogs.
The white lines of the crosswalk.
It looked as if the shimmer the monsters appeared from and the shimmer of the golden ‘hymn’ were meeting.
Conductor’s Hymn, an ability that shined in group battles, imbued the bodies of every party member. Sooji, naturally, heard the notices.
[Conductor’s Hymn is starting to take effect.]
[Curing status abnormalities of party members at a medium chance. Duration: 120 seconds]
[+6% crit chance. Duration: 120 seconds]
[+30% effect of consumable items.]
Sooji could tell right away that her poison would register as a ‘consumable item’ here. Also, as one might expect from a powerful monster like the Big Black Dog, they had a ‘howling’ intimidation ability.
‘If status abnormalities are cured at a medium chance…’
That intimidation ability could be somewhat resisted.
[A Frenzy Hunting Barrier is beginning to perfectly activate.]
The world shimmering with white, black, and gold began to turn red. More precisely, ‘red threads’ occupied the space, moving almost like an organic lifeform. They flowed quickly in a set direction before suddenly dropping down on one of the Big Black Dogs and binding it down, almost like it was trapped in a spider web.
Seohye focused. ‘If I mess up, people will get hurt.’
She weakened the nature of the Frenzy Hunting Barrier to ‘Binding’ level, calming the killing energy. But one misstep, and that energy could roar back to life.
‘Let’s do well.’
Before she knew it, Hyukjin’s party members became precious people to Seohye, too. In this world without a single person she could trust, they became the only friends she had. And perhaps… they would remain friends with her in the future as well.
‘I, too, will protect them.’
She slightly regretted that she wasn’t able to answer Hyukjin’s question of ‘Do you trust me?’ right away, so she wanted to show him with her actions. She wanted to show him that she trusted him.
Frenzy Hunting Barrier.
Cheon Sooji’s olfactory poison.
And the title effect of Thousand Dog Master.
With everything combined, they were able to successfully bind the movements of the Big Black Dogs to a considerable degree. They flailed about, red [!!!] marks over their heads. If they were to break free of those red threads, it wouldn’t be the monsters getting hunted, but the Players.
‘We’ll finish this quickly.’
If they couldn’t—
‘Then we’ll become the prey.’
Standing at the very front, Hyukjin took out the transcendent artifact Isabel.
* * *
In the end, our party successfully hunted all of the Big Black Dogs, and we did it so swiftly that even I had a hard time believing it. Even as the architect of this situation, I was surprised.
[Qualifications of a Guardian Tower Master 05 - Big Black Dog Chapter, has been completed.]
We really did it. I did my best in the situation I was given, and the result was the scenario clear.
I looked at my teammates. ‘It’s not an exaggeration to say we took no damage.’
Yes, Seohye fainted from exhaustion and Yoohyun’s forearm was dangling limply, blood was running down Sung-gu’s forehead, Yeonseo’s left shoulder was broken, Sunhwa seemed to have broken a few of her ribs, and there was a big wound on Sunghyun’s cheek. And yes, all the bones of my knee seemed to be destroyed.
But we did it.
Considering how strong the Big Black Dogs were, it really wasn’t an exaggeration to say we took no damage. That was how I judged it, at least.
[Guardian Tower Scenario 01 - ‘Qualifications of a Guardian Tower Master’, has been completed.]