“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at what you did.”
Lou’s whisper was enough to make Yeon Nam-Ju shudder. He, however, didn’t dare to make a single sound because Lou’s anger was palpable.
“So you’re saying you sacrificed your people to survive here.” El’s voice was icy. Yeon Nam-Ju’s survival story had reminded them of the humans’ selfish, authoritative, and cowardly nature.
“So, you killed the other Phoenix Guild members with your own two hands?” asked Lou.
“T-that is correct.”
Yeon Nam-Ju hadn’t been imprisoned in Gehenna alone. All those who had been a party to the Phoenix Guilds’ terrible acts had also been sent there. At the time, Yeon Nam-Ju’s arms and legs were amputated. And when they had entered Gehenna, they had learned just what kind of hell they had bought tickets for.
“It is hellish here,” Yeon Nam-Ju whispered. Just being in this place was agonizing, driving many to insanity. They were in the middle of nowhere, they didn’t have a source for necessities like food and water, and if one could survive all that, this place further tortured them with odd, insistent screams and an overwhelming amount of energy. And then there was the despair from knowing they could never leave this place.
“You’ve never been to hell, so how can you say that?” Lou muttered. “But… I guess you’re right.”
Lou had to admit that Gehenna was indeed very much like hell before it had become more organized. Before said organization, hell had been a world of nothingness filled with monsters hunting each other for food and power.
“But it seems that your colleagues were decent people,” said Lou. He knew Yeon Nam-Ju was an evil man, but based on what he had heard, Yeon Nam-Ju was lucky to be surrounded by players who seemed to care about him.
“...” Yeon Nam-Ju remained quiet. A new emotion had replaced the fear in his eyes—guilt. The other Phoenix Guild members were the sole reason he had survived here despite being limbless. They had done their best to keep him alive, going as far as to sacrifice themselves for him.
“And the elixir…” Lou muttered. According to Yeon Nam-Ju, they had stumbled upon two vials of elixir.
Elixir wasn’t a common item. A player would hardly see one in their entire life, so for them to chance upon two vials, there had to be something to this place called Gehenna.
Lou studied Yeon Nam-Ju. All the other Phoenix Guild players had died, and he had consumed one of the two elixir vials.
“So where is the other elixir?” asked Lou. Yeon Nam-Ju flinched.
“And tell us how you were able to survive so far.” When Lou asked the second question, Yeon Nam-Ju began shivering again.
Even after all the Phoenix Guild members' death, Yeon Nam-Ju had managed to survive. Consuming the elixir had made him stronger, but that shouldn’t have been enough to survive in Gehenna.
“Tell us right now,” Lou insisted.
Yeon Nam-Ju shuddered and slowly opened his lips. “Someone has been helping me.”
Lou and El looked at each other knowingly.
“This is…” Go Hyung-Chul trailed off. “Don’t you think it’s too peaceful here?”
Gi-Gyu and the rest were finally on the 85th floor. There was one main difference here compared to the other floors: This floor was just too peaceful and quiet. Unlike the other floors, which felt unstable, nothing was happening on the 85th floor.
Gi-Gyu nodded. “I think this might have been a safe zone all along.”
This wasn’t a fact, but all players considered floors ending in five a safe zone. They were currently on the 85th floor, and while all the floors before had collapsed, this floor showed no sign of collapsing.
It wasn’t just Gi-Gyu who felt uneasy. Although nothing was happening around them, everyone seemed to have their guard up.
“Wait.” Gi-Gyu suddenly released his power toward the ground. Like fog, it spread to explore the area around them. He estimated how big this floor must be and then sent out his energy again to investigate.
‘Where on this floor is that powerful creature?’
Gi-Gyu had to find the identity and location of this mysterious creature. Strangely, ever since they had arrived on this floor, he hadn’t been able to sense the creature. There had to be a good reason for this; it was either a bait or a warning.
When Gi-Gyu and the rest had been on the 84th floor, whoever was on the 85th floor had purposefully given away its presence.
‘Either it wants me to enter if I feel confident enough or get lost if I’m scared.’
But if this was a trap, then they needed to be prepared.
“...” Gi-Gyu glanced at Hal, Go Hyung-Chul, and Haures. He didn’t say a word, but his creatures nodded in understanding.
They ordered their respective group, “Get ready for a battle.”
If this was a trap, the enemy must be hiding and watching them even at this very moment. If it was a warning, Gi-Gyu had no idea what to expect.
“Either way, I must find who it is,” Gi-Gyu mumbled. Even if he could, he knew he must not leave this floor without learning about that creature. Who or what it was didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were on one of the Tower’s highest and unconquered floors, meaning they were intelligent enough and not some simple monster. Gi-Gyu had to learn their identity.
“Found it.” Suddenly, Gi-Gyu began moving toward something. He disappeared quickly, and the rest hurried to follow.
Haures, Go Hyung-Chul, Hal ordered, “Follow him! Stay alert and keep your eyes out for anything unusual!”
Yeon Nam-Ju looked at Lou with a cowardly expression and announced, “This is the place…”
“Ack!” Yeon Nam-Ju screamed when Lou slapped the back of his head. Lou hadn’t struck him with full strength, but it still had enough power to knock him out. It indicated that Yeon Nam-Ju had indeed become stronger.
Frustrated, Yeon Nam-Ju protested, “Why did you do that?!”
“Are you really telling me this is where the survivors are?” Lou raised his fist once more in annoyance.
“That’s enough,” El stopped Lou.
“Haa…” Lou sighed deeply and looked around. Yeon Nam-Ju had promised to take them to his savior’s location. He had also claimed that a camp of survivors was also located there. Yet, now that they were here, they could see nothing.
“There is nothing here,” Lou muttered, failing to sense even a single presence around.
El murmured, “I don’t think he lied. He knows what will happen to him if he does.”
“Perhaps he is afraid we might harm the survivors. Maybe he risked his life to keep them safe,” Lou suggested.
El glanced at Yeon Nam-Ju coldly and replied, “I doubt he’s that type of person.”
El looked around. Just like Lou, she couldn’t see or feel anything either. She released her energy to investigate but found nothing.
Lou and El looked at each other. Lou whispered, “Nothing can hide from our senses. We should be able to detect even the best of the barriers.”
Since they couldn’t see anything, their only guess was that a barrier was hiding the camp. However, they hadn’t yet met a barrier that could fool them.
Just then, they heard a strange noise.
“See?! I told you!” Yeon Nam-Ju yelled. Suddenly, the wasteland before them began transforming. It was as if they had been seeing a virtual image until now, and when the real image appeared, it shocked both El and Lou.
“Oh my god,” Lou whispered.
“So it’s true,” El said under her breath.
“I told you so!” Yeon Nam-Ju yelled again.
There really existed a barrier that could fool the both of them. And behind it, Lou and El saw hundreds of people.
“Welcome to the Pandemonium,” some inhabitants announced.
“Demons… and there are angels too,” Lou whispered. A heterogeneity of creatures seemingly lived together in this place.
Gi-Gyu paused and looked around. Hermes was still in dire straits, so he couldn’t look around from the sky. Then again, he didn’t need a higher ground to examine the place.
“It’s over there,” said Gi-Gyu. He could see a faint barrier, the kind used to hide presence, far away. He could feel that there was something giant behind it.
“Haa… Haa… Slow down a little,” Go Hyung-Chul complained as he and the rest of the group arrived. The dragons, Fenrir, and the human players quickly took positions in case of an attack.
Go Hyung-Chul asked, “Is that it?”
“Yeah,” Gi-Gyu replied. Behind the barrier, far away, was something that kept bothering Gi-Gyu. He needed to take care of this before going to the next floor. If it weren’t an enemy, there wouldn’t be a battle. But if it was, Gi-Gyu did not intend to avoid the fight.
“Fenrir.” When Gi-Gyu called out, the giant wolf growled and shook its head. It appeared next to Gi-Gyu and began enlarging. Its hair stood on its end and became sharp like swords. Their color darkened, making them look like black swords. And as the wind rustled its fur, the sword-like hair strands rubbed against each other and created sparks. And then, it began blending into its surroundings.
“Is that the same wolf?”
“I can’t believe it…”
The Red Players who had ridden Fenrir here couldn’t hide their shock. After the transformation, Fenrir shook its head again, creating a sound similar to a gunshot. Everyone stared at the wolf.
Gi-Gyu wondered in confusion, “Is that a horn?”
Bi had evolved into Fenrir, but this was Gi-Gyu’s first time seeing Fenrir’s true form. The wolf had decided to transform because it had probably also sensed the presence behind the barrier. Fenrir’s energy was powerful enough to make even Gi-Gyu shudder. When Gi-Gyu patted its leg, Fenrir growled affectionately.
“Deputy Guild Master Kang Ji-Hee,” Gi-Gyu called out.
“Y-yes, sir!” Kang Ji-Hee answered crisply like a newbie soldier. It was clear that she had an excellent instinct.
‘She knows I hold her and the other players’ lives in my hand.’ Gi-Gyu liked Kang Ji-Hee’s attitude. Even though she was a deputy guild master of a famous guild, she showed him the utmost respect. This showed that she really cared about her guild members.
“The Angela Guild players don’t have to join the battle. Just focus on keeping yourselves, the Red Players, and the injured safe,” Gi-Gyu ordered.
“Of course!” Kang Ji-Hee didn’t arrogantly try to participate in the upcoming battle.
‘She is an excellent leader.’ Gi-Gyu was impressed.
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“Kirrk!” Suddenly, the lizardman rushed forward. It stood in front of Gi-Gyu and saluted, waiting for an order.
Gi-Gyu grinned. “All right. You help the Angela Guild too.”
As soon as the lizardman answered, the barrier far away began disappearing. Whoever was behind the barrier had likely taken Fenrir’s transformation as a taunt. This was exactly what Gi-Gyu had wanted. Now, the mysterious creature would reveal itself.
Just then, Gi-Gyu heard a voice in his head.
“...?” Gi-Gyu turned around, thinking he had heard it wrong.
-I want to fight.
“You…” Gi-Gyu stared in disbelief. “Fenrir… You can talk?”
-What are you talking about?
Fenrir tilted its head.
-I could always talk.
While Gi-Gyu was still reeling from the shock, Fenrir continued.
-I’ll take that as a yes.
With an explosive sound, Fenrir shot toward the barrier, which continued to open. Gi-Gyu was still staring at the wolf when Go Hyung-Chul asked, “Didn’t you know he could talk?”