Keyboard Shortcuts
prev chapter
next chapter
+ ctrl (cmd)  increase font size
+ ctrl (cmd)  decrease font size
« Back to Novel
66.67%

Chapter: 88


"Ugh…." Every time Gi-Gyu heard new information about the basement, he would feel that atrociously horrid pain. The pain from the penalty made him groan, worrying Old Man Hwang. "Are you… okay?"

"I… am okay… P-please continue…" Gi-Gyu bit his lips again and groaned. A drop of blood trailed down his face and fell on Old Man Hwang’s forehead. The blacksmith murmured appreciatively, "Thank you." 

Old Man Hwang was thankful Gi-Gyu was willing to listen to his story. But Gi-Gyu wasn’t enduring this pain just to appease the blacksmith. 

‘A different world…’

As expected, the Tower had many secrets. Gi-Gyu guessed that Soo-Jung, Tae-Shik, and the others refused to tell him these deep secrets because they knew about the penalty. So this was his chance to find out as much as he could.

Old Man Hwang continued, "Like a vagrant, I roamed in this new world." 

"What was it like down there?" Gi-Gyu asked as he poured more potion into the elderly man’s mouth. The potion was doing nothing more than temporarily prolonging the blacksmith’s life, but that was enough. Gi-Gyu kept giving him small doses to keep him alive and fulfill his dying wish.  

"Burning lands… Lifeless desert… It wasn’t a beautiful world," answered Old Man Hwang. 

-Hmm. 

When Lou made a noise, Gi-Gyu asked silently, ‘What’s wrong? Do you know this place?’

-Just listen for now.

It looked like Lou also had something to say about this place. The elderly man continued, "I explored that place for a long time, but I couldn’t find anything special. It felt like I was wandering through an endless gate… It felt useless. After spending a long time there without finding anything, I decided to return home. But on my way back…"

Fear crawled on Old Man Hwang’s face as he said, "I met a monster. It was a creature with dozens of arms and… Mind you, I was a pretty powerful player then, but this monster was much stronger than me. It played with me as a cat does with a yarn ball. I was being ripped apart when…"

The fear receded, serenity took over, and a faint smile appeared on his lips. It told Gi-Gyu that he was thinking about something pleasant. 

Old Man Hwang continued, "That’s when I met her."

"Her?"

"Indeed." Old Man Hwang’s simple smile turned bright and innocent as he added, "My wife."

Yearning matured over years of separation floated in the old man’s eyes. Strangely, the statement made Gi-Gyu uncomfortable; he asked, with a tense face, "Was she… a player?"

‘His wife saved him in this new world? Wait! Was she even… human?’

"No… She was… Khoff, khoff!" Old Man Hwang coughed up more blood. 

"Sir!" Gi-Gyu yelled, seeing the last of his vitality fading away. Tears rolling down his cheeks, the blacksmith whispered, "No, I can’t die like this… Min-Su will be left all alone…"

Old Man Hwang always looked so strong and stubborn, but even he couldn’t face his death calmly. As sadness filled Gi-Gyu, Old Man Hwang’s face brightened, and he said, "Wait! You can make Egos… You can’t create weapons, but… just like how you gave Brunheart a new life..."

Quickly realizing what the blacksmith was talking about, Gi-Gyu became pale. Old Man Hwang begged, "We don’t have much time left." The elderly man looked up at Gi-Gyu with determination and asked, "You must turn me into an Ego."

"Sir!"

"I’ve heard the rumors that you can egofy the dead."

"But it isn’t always a success."

Old Man Hwang forced his mangled hands to move and held Gi-Gyu’s hand. "I’ll die either way, so don’t you think it’s worth a try?"

-No way! If the egofication fails, his soul will be torn apart. He’ll never ever be resurrected then.

Gi-Gyu relayed Lou’s warning to the elderly blacksmith, but Old Man Hwang was, once again, adamant. 

"I’m begging you." The elderly man looked at Gi-Gyu desperately, making Gi-Gyu call upon Lou for help.

-I hate humans.

Lou answered in frustration. Gi-Gyu asked, "Lou, is there a way to increase the success rate of an egofication process?"

-Cannibalism isn’t something you can control. Everyone must accept the fate given to them based on their qualifications. I can’t guarantee you anything.

Suddenly, Old Man Hwang grabbed Lou’s blade, staining it with his blood. The elderly man already had enough wounds, and grabbing a sharp sword's blade did him no favors. But, his nerves were already too dull to feel pain; he slowly pulled Lou toward his chest and murmured, "P-lease… Do this for me…" 

The problem here wasn’t only the success rate. Even if the egofication was a success, Gi-Gyu had no weapon to incorporate the Ego in. It might be a dying man’s wish, but Gi-Gyu still had a full shell. 

So, even if everything worked out perfectly, Gi-Gyu couldn’t immediately converse with the egofied Old Man Hwang. Gi-Gyu had to gain as much information as possible right now. "Where is Min-Su?"

"The 1st floor of the Tower. The door to the basement… T-take this with you." Old Man Hwang let go of Lou to rummage for something in his pocket. He took out a keychain-sized hammer and a crumpled piece of paper. Gi-Gyu accepted them and asked, "Are you saying Min-Su is inside the Tower?"

"T-that’s right. You must rescue Min-Su. Min-Su will become a blacksmith much more powerful than me… Min-Su… He was kidnapped, so you must…"

Gi-Gyu shook his head, unable to understand what the old man told him. Sadly, Old Man Hwang’s hour had come, and he was at peace with it now. When Gi-Gyu looked him straight in the eye, Old Man Hwang smiled. 

Gi-Gyu murmured, "I hope I will see you again…"

"Thank you."

Lou pierced the elderly man’s heart. 

[Cannibalism is being activated.]

The system announcement made Gi-Gyu’s heart heavy, and sadness engulfed him slowly.

***

There were too many confusing pieces to this puzzle. 

‘So Min-Su was kidnapped. The kidnapper also fatally wounded Old Man Hwang, stole all the weapons, and escaped to the Tower.’

What confused Gi-Gyu was the part about Min-Su.

‘How did Min-Su enter the Tower? And that boy will become a greater blacksmith than Old Man Hwang?’

Min-Su was not a player, so how did he enter the Tower. Did he receive an invitation since the last time Gi-Gyu saw him? 

When Gi-Gyu opened the crumpled piece of paper Old Man Hwang gave him, he gasped. 

"This is…" Gi-Gyu immediately recognized it. In fact, he suspected not many in the entire world knew about it better than he did: It was a detailed map of the 1st floor. The only thing new to Gi-Gyu was a hand-drawn door. 

"This must be the entrance to the basement?" Gi-Gyu murmured. Surprisingly, it was in a spot that other players usually overlooked and rarely visited—a familiar spot. 

"Could it be…?"

R-r-r-ring.

Gi-Gyu wasn’t given much time to contemplate. He picked up his cell phone and answered, "Hello?"

-Did something happen? 

Sung-Hoon replied without greeting Gi-Gyu. The association agents from before must have contacted him.

Gi-Gyu replied, "Nothing important. I’m going to the Tower right now; I need to get there as quickly as possible, so…"

-Got it. I’ll have everything arranged to keep interferences to a minimum.

Sung-Hoon could hear the sorrow in Gi-Gyu’s voice, so he promptly reassured Gi-Gyu and hung up, making Gi-Gyu smile.  

"Haa…" Gi-Gyu took out the small hammer Old Man Hwang gave him. For now, he had no idea how to use this item.

"Haa…" Gi-Gyu sighed deeply once more before heading out.

***

True to his urgency, Gi-Gyu moved like lightning. All the emotion felt a little overwhelming, but the wind slapping his face helped. 

‘I wonder what this other world is like.’

Conspiracy theorists believed the Tower and the gates were separate worlds, different from ours. And according to Old Man Hwang, there indeed was a different world beneath the Tower. It took a strong and open mind to accept this theory. 

‘Lou! El! Is there anything you know about this?’

-Well, I wonder if you’ll be penalized again if I tell you. 

When Lou murmured, Gi-Gyu paused and shivered. He was somehow able to endure the pain while Old Man Hwang told him his story, but he wasn’t sure he could do it again. 

‘So much agony for so little information. That’s a shitty bargain.’

-You better believe it. I bet most other players would’ve died. You a freak! Most likely, either your willpower or your evil eye kept you going. But I’m telling you that you almost died back there. Probably, Old Man Hwang didn’t expect you to get this penalty. Else, he also wouldn’t have spilled the beans like that. 

Gi-Gyu agreed with Lou’s assessment. After gulping loudly, he asked, "You can tell me. Just do it."

Just in case the incredible pain returned, Gi-Gyu stopped moving. After a short hesitation, Lou replied.

-Idiot. You could die, you know. I’ll just give you the safe information.

Lou paused, wanting to see if the penalty was activated. When nothing happened, he continued. 

-Yes, different worlds exist. Many different worlds exist. There are many El or I don’t even know about. As for the Tower…

Suddenly, a mild ache appeared in Gi-Gyu’s head. A sign of the penalty beginning. Realizing what was happening, Lou stopped. He muttered instead,

-There is no need for you to rush like this. Just wait until you reach the 50th floor. 

***

Gi-Gyu continued to sprint after he entered the Tower. He briefly considered asking others for help, but that would mean sharing too many secrets. This situation involved a completely different world. In addition, Min-Su’s safety was at risk. Min-Su could be the next best Ego blacksmith; revealing this to others could create problems for Gi-Gyu. 

Gi-Gyu also felt confident he could take care of himself. He was much stronger now, so he was confident he could get out of any problem alive. 

‘In the worst-case scenario, I can just escape.’

Fortunately for Gi-Gyu, this confidence didn’t come from arrogance. 

Gi-Gyu hurried toward the location marked on the map—the familiar spot.

‘I can’t believe it’s here.’

When he worked as a guide, Gi-Gyu visited this spot every day for five years. Yet he never noticed anything odd. He still couldn’t believe that the basement door was located there. 

The surrounding scenery changed quickly. Since the assimilation grade increased, Gi-Gyu’s speed went up another notch. Most players on the 1st floor were newbies, so they couldn’t even perceive him. 

"Phew…" Gi-Gyu suddenly stopped. It felt like he was going around in circles for some reason. The other players might not have noticed it, but something wasn’t right. Gi-Gyu knew exactly where he needed to go, and he should’ve arrived by now.

"I think there is a barrier around here," he muttered. Inside the Tower, all barriers became stronger, so Gi-Gyu could tell he was standing before one. 

‘Evil eye.’ He activated his skill silently. His right eye turned light violet, allowing him to see through the magic. The increase in assimilation grade also gave him his evil eye back. With it, Gi-Gyu quickly discovered a transparent membrane. 

"Two barriers? Cognitive impairment barrier and an entrance limitation barrier."

When Gi-Gyu put his hand on it, it bounced back.

"Something’s definitely happening inside," he muttered. The problem was that he had no idea how to break it. Did he have to get help from the other after all? Gi-Gyu was thinking of possible solutions when he suddenly remembered something. 

-Yeah, there is a very good chance this is the key.

Then, Gi-Gyu took out the mysterious small hammer Old Man Hwang gave him before his death. 

Bzzz...

When it reached the barrier, a small portion of the transparent membrane ripped. The opening was just big enough for Gi-Gyu to enter. The hammer wasn’t a one-time use item since it remained perfectly intact in Gi-Gyu’s hand.

Putting it back in his pocket, Gi-Gyu sighed deeply. A sudden tension-filled him as he took a step forward.

COMMENTS
Leave a comment