He was the challenger at the highest floor in the Korean server.
Until the first tournament happened, people said perhaps he was one of the strongest in the server, along with myself.
People thought it was a certainty for that he would clear 100th Floor soon and return to the reality. So, everyone gathered up the messages they wanted to give to their friends and families outside and entrusted their messages with Lee Chan-yong to deliver.
As for the Order of Vigilance, they went beyond just the messages for the families and friends. They even seriously talked about messages or measures to explain to the government.
However, in the past few months, the public’s opinion about him was flipped upside down.
The 89th Floor of the Tutorial’s Easy Difficulty…
He was only one floor away from the residential area at the 90th Floor. He was not far from the 100th Floor. However, he was stuck at the 89th Floor.
Until the 89th Floor, the man was unstoppable. However, he ended up stopping here. The reason was simple. The 89th Floor was the floor that truly tested the abilities of the challenger.
Lee Chan-yong’s goal was just leaving the Tutorial as fast as he can and being reunited with his family.
He focused only on clearing the stages. He neglected the development of his skills and power.
It is true that people grow naturally in the process of trying hard to clear the stages.
However, Lee Chan-yong had been proceeding with clearing stages only with the perfectly-arranged plans of conquest based on the information gathered from the help of the Order and other sponsors.
He had been spending highest quality items and expendable potions like water as he proceeded through the stages. In the end, he was not able to achieve the growth necessary to face the 89th Floor.
HIs determination, focus and abilities to think and find conquest strategies were definitely commendable. However, they meant nothing at the 89th Floor.
The stages in Tutorial were always like this.
At one point, it would seem like the Tutorial was telling the challenger should focus on survival. However, all of the sudden, a new stage would test the challenger on something completely irrelevant to survival skills.
The Tutorial would teach the challenger to doubt others, and then it would throw a new stage at the challenger that requires cooperation.
Like this, the requirements for stages are all over the place.
While Lee Chan-yong was stuck at 89th Floor for several rounds, other runners who were behind him got to the 84th Floor before long.
Now, the situation was that these other people were definitely going to catch up to him. As of result, the people’s interest completely left Lee Chan-yong.
Like that, he was forgotten, but how would he be feeling?
He is chewing on his loneliness in the waiting room. At the stage, he is facing a wall that he cannot overcome. His days would have been repetitive of despair and defeat.
I could understand how he must have felt better than anyone.
I have experienced that once at the Sixth Floor.
In the pit of despair, repeating the challenge over and over like a machine…
No, perhaps due to hopelessness, maybe Lee Chan-yong had not even been challenging the stage anymore.
To someone like him, I’m sure an event like the tournament must have been quite thrilling, to the point of making him decide to put everything on the line.
It is very unfortunate.
I understood how he felt, and I sympathized with him. Meanwhile, I was also disappointed in him.
Lee Chan-yong was like a star who shined brighter than anyone.
To protect his family who are outside, he endured the bone-cutting pain of hard work and cleared the stages faster than anyone.
Instead of wallowing in fear about being tossed into a world of unknown, he set a definite goal and charged forward. He was so heroic to watch.
Other challengers who were also concerned about their families and friends all watched Lee Chan-yong and followed his steps.
I was like that too.
There are fifteen enemies.
There are enough to form two or three parties.
They are counted among the top of the Korean server’s rankers. Their combination of classes is not bad.
A well-formed party can bring out the power that far exceeds a simple sum of individual members’ strengths.
Even against an overwhelming raid monster, a well-formed party can hunt it down without sustaining any casualties. That was the power of such a group.
So, it seemed they must be thinking that they stood a chance. Even now.
I spent a bit of time killing the bald head and the black man from the Australian server. In that time, they assumed formations and successfully surrounded me.
Although I showed power that was beyond their expectations, they were thinking that they could win if they fought against me as a coordinated group.
Looking at them, I felt bitter.
Before the first tournament happened, Kim Min-hyuk made a proposal.
It started with the notion that preventing crimes by show of force has its limits. The proposal ended with Kim Min-hyuk saying maybe I should hide my strength instead.
I thought it was ridiculous.
Still, as he said, I hid my strength to a sufficient extent.
It was not like I had any reason to reveal my full strength through the tournament anyway.
As of result, before the second tournament started, there was more talk from people saying that perhaps the difference between me and the high-level rankers had decreased significantly.
Some were saying that it is not an overwhelming difference like it was during the first tournament. They wondered if maybe the high-level rankers stood some chance now.
They said I could be handled if a party fought against me, and some said a party would even have the upper hand.
As people talked about such in the community, it seemed these people were thinking they stood a chance.
Of course, they were being delusional.
A strange-looking green arrow flew at me.
I wrapped my body with Talaria's Wings. Instead of dodging, I actually charged in toward the direction where the arrow came from.
The magic arrow and I collided, and green smoke spread wide immediately.
I ignored it for now.
As soon as I started my approach, there were people trying to stand in my path to the mage.
They were the so-called tankers who held the front line and protected the ones behind them.
Their role was drawing the enemy’s attention and enduring as long as possible without dying.
I swung my sword and cut off the arm of the warrior in front of me.
I was going to slash through the man’s entire body in half like earlier. However, the warrior skillfully twisted his body away.
Right after that, another warrior was throwing a his body at me from the side.
Using my left arm’s elbow, I struck his chin to neutralize him. A hook was coming at my ankle, but I avoided it with ease.
Again, I used my sword to cut below the chin of the warrior who had his arm cut. After that, I swung the Talaria's Wings in a large motion.
I shook off other warriors who were trying to stick to me. I layered my sword with mana.
This time, the mana did not stabilize in Aura Blade form. The sword was full of mana. In that state, I swung it across the air.
The mana was launched to the front. The enemies at the rear of their formation immediately cast a barrier to protect themselves. However, due to the shockwave, they all fell down.
A large crack materialized in the enemy’s formation. I charged in further.
Every time the Talaria's Wings swept the surroundings, the tips of the wings, the sharp crystals to be exact, cut the enemies’ arms and legs.
When the wings struck down, that struck down an opponent with it.
My sword, which was layered with Aura Blade, was swung. Every time it was swung, the barriers and armor tried to stop it, but in vain. The sword swings resulted in fountain-like spread of blood every time.
The enemies’ attacks could not deal much damage to me.
Their swords and spears were not able to pierce through my armor or skin. Magic attacks occasionally flew at me, but they were mostly blocked by the Talaria's Wings.
They moved around quickly and tried desperately to constantly change their formations.
Front and back, left and right… They were trying hard not to get done in by my attacks and distract my focus as much as possible.
They were desperately trying to make a gap in my defense. However, their effort only resulted in making gaps in their own formation.
This was not a simple difference in specs and skills.
Of course, my power skills had overwhelming differences in performance and levels. Still, the difference in the ability and mastery were greater.
The difference between us was essentially the difference in experience.
From the Sixth Floor to the 11th Floor…
As I passed through six different stages that required party play, I continued battle after battle.
I destroyed, blew up, bit and beat enemies.
Every day, every hour and minute…
Through those days, during each round, which contained 30 days, I spent all 30 days inside the stages and I never wasted a moment. I focused only on the battles.
During breaks for meals or rest, I spent them by practicing the new things I realized during the battle or new skills I acquired during the battles.
Like that, I even forgot the flow of time. I only had extreme obsession in my head. I sacrificed all my time to do battle. That’s how I was able to get through those stages.
There was this difference between me and these people, and the difference was too great.
One after next, the number of the enemies is decreasing.
Also, because of the Soul Steal’s effect, every time an enemy died, I regained mana and vitality.
However, the effect felt stronger than the usual.
In fact, I could even feel a sense of pleasure from it.
[God of Death is very happy.]
[God of Death is satisfied with your actions.]
[God of Death is overjoyed by your actions.]
Every time I killed an enemy, the God of Death was showing a strong response.
Even before this, I had killed many enemies while the Soul Steal was active.
However, this was the first time to see such strong reactions from the God of Death.
What could be the difference?
Because this time, these people are real?
Now that I think about it, this is the first time for me to kill real people.
Nobody cared about this, and I never thought about this either, but actually, I had never killed an actual human being before.
Until today that is.
I just committed murder. However, it didn’t trigger any emotional response from me in particular.
After all, I had killed all sorts of monsters throughout the Tutorial stages.
In that case, is the difference a matter of the difference between beings I met in the Tutorial and the living people?
Does that mean the others I met inside the Tutorial stages are not really alive?
Is that the difference?
Having thought this far, the pleasure I was feeling at the moment didn’t feel all that pleasant anymore.
It was unpleasant now.
The unpleasant mental pleasure continued for a while.
Before my spoiled mood could fall to the bottom,
“P… Please, spare my life, Ho-jae…”
Lee Chan-yong was drenched in blood. He was begging for his life. I felt like the blood in my brain was getting cold.
There weren’t any enemies left around me.
The people who were not drawn by the Soul Cry all forfeited and ran to the spectator seats. I killed all enemies.
In the end, why did I leave Lee Chan-yong?
Is it because I saw my past self in him?
Perhaps what I’m seeing is my future self.
If I ever reach the limit of my abilities and cannot progress anymore. I wonder how I would look like?
Am I confident that I won’t end up like Lee Chan-yong?
“Ho-jae, I… I was wrong. I didn’t do this for greed. I just didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know. I really didn’t. I just wanted to participate in a match called the faction match. I had no intention of going against the Order’s will or…”
Perhaps, what he needed was time, time to get a hold of himself?
Understanding and conversation?
In the end, although I came this far with this, I feel regretful. I feel like this is my fault.
“You know well, don’t you, Ho-jae… I am usually not interested in this kind of…”
I felt the unpleasant pleasure to the end. I put away the Transmutable Thousand Arms in the inventory.
* * *
The faction matches concluded awkwardly.
While the match was happening, there were battles taking place at the spectator seats and outside of the arena building.
Unlike the Order’s past method of hunting down and executing all related individuals, they based their measures on observation and reports. The Order executed only the ones they were absolutely certain of being criminals. As for the rest, they stopped at just giving them warnings.
Compared to the past, the Order’s method was a little less harsh. However, the people who watched it all happen had horrified looks on their faces regardless.
Also, their gazes on me were…
As usual, the executions carried out to solve the problems gave birth to new problems.
In the process of minimizing such problems as much as possible, Park Jung-ah and Kim Min-hyuk became extremely busy. I didn’t want to be in middle of all that. So, I decided to leave the tournament quickly.
Park Jung-ah pleaded with me and asked me to wait until the last day when her work was done. However, when the sixth day of the tournament came and it was possible for me to leave immediately, I returned to the waiting room.
I was disappointed.
If possible, I wanted to be at the tournament with everyone to the last day with a brighter atmosphere.
It would had been nice if only good, pleasant things happened.
No matter how I think about this, I’m saddened by how the tournament went.
There was no information about if there was going to be another tournament. That made me feel even more sad.
I had no idea when I was going to meet them again, yet this is how I parted with them.
Again, I’m having regrets after the fact.
I developed a bad habit.
[Welcome to the waiting room.]
The waiting room was completely empty. I sat on the bed.
It was a world where I was all by myself.
Of course, the conversations were still in full swing in the communities. In the lower floors of the Hell Difficulty, there were other challengers including Lee Hyung-jin.
However, not a single one of them were directly related to me.
That’s how I felt.
The empty waiting room felt strange.
Usually, it was only obvious that I would be in this place. I was away from this place for just a few days due to a special event. That was all.
However, I was not able to come to terms with that easily.
Instead, I was thinking about how this place was god-forsaken solitary confinement, and I should be having fun spending time with the people on the other side.
I felt lonelier than how I felt before the tournament.
It had only been six days with the people. Could it be that my mind became weak because I was feeling the warmth of the people through those days, although it was not much?
Compared to the first tournament, which was only for three days, this tournament was longer only by three additional days. However, that difference felt huge.
It had not been long at all since I came back from the tournament, but I was regretting my decision once again.
The people I met and chattered away with at the tournament…
The people I met and spent a few days with at the 16th Floor, the Holy Knight, Knight, Mercenary, Adventurer, and Mage (although she turned out to be a doppelganger.)…
The monks who I had conversations about the combat methods and philosophies after duels at the 13th Floor…
Idy who was with me through the 12th Floor and taught me the joy of daily life instead of the battle and conquest in Tutorial…
I wanted to have conversations with them.
Anyone of them.
I opened the skill window and read the description about the Dead Summon skill.
I thought deeply about summoning Idy to help my loneliness.
After agonizing over it, I relinquished the thought. Instead, I brought out the Transmutable Thousand Arms from the inventory. I quietly started to hurt myself.
Like that, I waited for the stand by time to pass and time to enter the stage to come.