「Climb the Illusion Tree if you wish to grow stronger. That is, if you are confident in maintaining your sanity.」
—Sovereign of Steel, Heoyu
Episode 2. Witch of Slaughter
A rainforest without end.
It was a dense forest of broad-leafed trees.
The sun was hanging in the sky, its sweltering heat sticking to his body as though they were small, white granules.
He had been wandering for some time.
Jae Hwan wiped off the sweat flowing down his face and took a look around.
'I finally found it.’
The size of the footsteps along the ridge near the bushes were similar to Jae Hwan's. Even if it wasn't humans that left them behind, it would have at least been a group of alien bipedal creatures.
It had already been a month since the《Nightmare Tower》had been destroyed. Jae Hwan continued to travel through the rainforest that had no end in sight.
He wasn't exactly sure where he was.
But, he was certain that he was somewhere in the《Great Lands》, it's just that he was unclear of the exact location.
When he first arrived, the intense forest heat made him think that he had arrived in the 'Flame Zone', the hottest zone of the twelve zones in the 《Great Lands》described in the information that Beastrain had given him. But no matter where he looked, there weren't any 'Flaming Trees' unique to the Flame Zone.
He figured he'd be able to figure things out as he looked around, or so he thought to himself as he walked around.
He often encountered monsters resembling those he fought in the tower. However, all of the monsters here shared one characteristic: they all had horns on their heads.
Those who didn't have a lot could have one, and those who had a lot would have up to five.
But it didn't matter since nothing could be Jae Hwan's opponent.
The strongest monster he had faced so far was a five-horned wolf. Even with Jae Hwan's Thrust, it did not die in one hit. After holding onto its stomach while moving about, it finally died after receiving a few more thrusts.
'All of the monsters here are weak.’
It was because of the fact that he had spent 15 years fighting the Frost Dragon.
He couldn't figure out if he himself was strong or if the monsters were weak.
However, even if Jae Hwan had only encountered monsters until now, things had changed.
Before long, Jae Hwan saw what could be a group of intellectual creatures.
They wore white robes like ancient monks, but had green skin and sported a pair of insect-like antennae.
" Mortal human##### whatever ####"
"For what reason## uncomfortable ###."
It was hard to understand what they were saying (though their words didn't exactly sound pleasant), but they were dressed up in clothes and seemed to be intellectual creatures, so he attempted to approach them and communicate with them.
However, even with「Doubt」, he couldn't quite understand their language structure. The ones who acted first were the aliens at the head of the group.
"### Horn! ##" They seemed to be pointing their fingers (they clearly looked like fingers) at the monster horns attached to Jae Hwan's belt. He was able to obtain them after killing a five horned wolf.
"## Mortal human### five horned wolf###”
"That's right. I'm a mortal human, and these are horns."
But it seemed like he could understand some what they were saying.
"### the horn!"
Some of the bipedal aliens creatures approached Jae Hwan.
The movements of their waving antennae made it seem like they were wary of Jae Hwan.
‘Why did they suddenly approach me?’
He just couldn't understand a word they were saying.
But it did seem like they were yammering about the horn.
Worried, Jae Hwan shook the horns and spoke.
"This is good. Let's trade. I'll give you these, in exchange, tell me where this place......"
Suddenly, the other party drew their swords and charged. It wasn't a simple threat. The movements of their swords clearly carried murderous designs. Looking at that scene, Jae Hwan looked towards the sky with a vacant look on his face.
There was an object similar to the sun floating about.
The weather was hot.
Jae Hwan said as he he dodged a slash.
"You antennae freaks."
He exclaimed as he dodged another swing.
"Hey, if you do that again you're all dead."
He threatened as he dodged a third sword.
It wasn't long before the alien strangers ended up on the forest floor, their bodies turning to white dust. Their blue blood spilled out of the remaining powder that was their flesh. While grabbing onto the antennae of the last remaining alien, Jae Hwan asked it a question.
"I have something to ask you. Where is this place?"
"How### a human#”
"I said where am I.”
"Illusion Tree ### chaos ###"
"Say it in a way I can understand. "Who are you? Are you a demon?”
"### we are the great house of Nokm##......" Jjuuuuk!
"I said to speak in a way I would understand.”
Just how many times did he grab and pull on the antennae. The alien's eyes rolled up until they showed only the whites. Eventually, the alien said something he could completely understand.
"Human. Must. Kill."
Those were the alien's last words.
The alien bit down on its own tongue and collapsed onto the floor, turning into white dust soon after.
'Oh, turns out they're not as weak as I thought.’
An act of suicide devoid of all signs of hesitation as though the alien were expecting to come alive again. Jae Hwan couldn't help but be impressed with the alien's resolution, so he grabbed the dead alien's antennae and stuck them into a mound of dirt in the forest. However, the antennae turned into white powder and were destroyed.
Unfortunately, he wasn't able to glean any useful information, but there were still some things he had determined based on the little bits and pieces he had obtained.
It was exactly the luggage they were carrying on their bodies.
Most of the things they were carrying were useless, but there was one thing that wasn't, and it was the little pouch that was currently hanging off of Jae Hwan's waist. By analyzing the object with「Doubt」, he was able to look at the item information.
Name: Small Dimensional Bag
Effect : Allows the user to store many things in a small space. Provides a space of two cubic meters.
‘It seems to be an item that serves the same role as an inventory.’
Ever since Jae Hwan had dropped out of the《Nightmare Tower》, everything related to the Interface System, like the Inventory, had disappeared. But if Beastrain wasn't lying, he had told Jae Hwan that the Interface System was available for use all throughout the《Great Lands》.
Perhaps it was because of the strange experience he had gone through moments before he had left the tower.
The event where his physical body had melted away and had been made anew.
That was also probably the reason why he had to use「Doubt」to look at item information. With the elimination of the Interface System, the「Appraise Item」function had become useless.
Being in such a situation, the Dimensional Bag couldn't have arrived at a more timely moment.
Jae Hwan packed the rest of the unknown items he had looted from the aliens and put them in his bag.
"What is this? Is it a gem?’
He wasn't sure if they were some sort of craftsmen, but regardless, each of the aliens were in possession of neatly cut gems. The most plentiful gems were blue with red gems closely following suit. There were also two black gems which he retrieved from the luggage of the last alien whose antennae he had been tugging.
Who knows, maybe it was quite a valuable gem as well.
Jae Hwan stored everything in his bag.
‘Now, I should throw away the rest of this.’
The rest of the equipment that the aliens were wearing or in possession of was too bulky to fit in the bag. He was worried about how he would dispose of these. Suddenly, the Frost Dragon Sword dangling from Jae Hwan's waist began to let out an 'oong oong' cry.
"Ok ok I get it."
He wasn't sure why, but ever since he had left the《Nightmare Tower》, the Frost Dragon Sword had started to act strange. A black light began to cover the translucent blade.
It was as though it had acquired sentience or something, but when it encountered something special, it would cry out 'oong oong'.
Specifically, when it was feeling hungry like it was now.
Jae Hwan pulled out the Frost Dragon Sword and stabbed it into the pile of equipment. The Frost Dragon Sword's blade split open like a mouth, and began to devour the aliens' pile of equipment. It turned black as though it were possessed by a spectre…….
Jae Hwan looked at the sword with an interested look on his face. A brilliant black light would flash every time it successfully consumed an item. Since it looked like it was getting stronger, it probably wasn't a bad thing.
To be frank, it wasn't like he was completely unaware of what was going on with the Frost Dragon Sword. However, because of that suspicion, he just left it alone. It was also because there was something more important going on.
It was the last thing he had obtained after killing the aliens.
It was the map of the forest area.
The map he was looking at was completely different than the ones he had seen on Earth, but with the help of「Doubt」it wasn't much of a problem.
He read the name of the map.
‘How should I read this? Illu……sion tree. Cha…os? Is this how I should be reading it?’
The words《Illusion Tree - Chaos》were written at the top of the map. Something that Beastrain had mentioned in the past came to mind.
“The Illusion Tree is located in the center of the《Great Lands》. The purpose of that tree…… hmph hmph, this information isn't too important, and it's something you'll gradually come to know."
Even the graffiti in the tower that Myullock had left behind had contained writings about the Illusion Tree.
「…Every Tower that I have created serves only as 'roots' to maintain the ‘First Nightmare’ on top of the 《Illusion Tree》…」
Based on these clues, it was highly likely that the original《Nightmare Tower》 was a place linked to the 《Illusion Tree》. Then this place that he had arrived at by piercing through the《Nightmare Tower》could very possibly be close to the location of the《Illusion Tree》.
The thing that he knew for certain was that this place he was in was not described in the information that Beastrain had given him.
‘Damn demon punk.’
It was likely that the aliens were heading towards the 'X' marked on the map. There was a very high chance that it was a community or some sort of village. After a long time of looking at the map, Jae Hwan was only just barely able to figure out where he was.
'For now, I need information about this place.’
He had been lucky up until now and had only encountered weak enemies, but there was no guarantee that things would remain the same in the future. It was unlikely that enemies in the future would be as weak as the horned beasts or the green-skinned aliens. It was urgent that he meet the residents of this world and extract as much information as possible. Since this was a new world, he would have to approach everything as though he were an absolute beginner. It would ensure his safety as he moved forward.
Of course, that didn't mean that he was going to come to an amicable agreement with the world.
Learn about the world, but don't compromise with it.
It was this same principal that served as a driving force for Jae Hwan to defeat the《Nightmare Tower》and eventually came to the various bits of enlightenment required to break through the《Nightmare Tower》.
‘Who knows if there are others that had been able to break through the tower like me.’
If possible, Jae Hwan wanted to see the figure of a living human. At the very least, humans who had survived the long nightmares and shedded off the title of 'Product' might be here.
Beastrain had once said something along these lines:
‘The race known as humans is widely dispersed in the《Fringelands》. The 294th world is only one of many where there are humans.’
If what he said was true, then that would mean that there were already a considerable amount of humans in the《Great Lands》.
Jae Hwan wondered.
What were the humans behaving like in those world? Also, what were they thinking of? What did the humans in those worlds find meaning in……
Thoughts like that were what he wondered.
The shaking of the large, broad-leafed trees suddenly stopped.
The sounds of footsteps rang out from somewhere in the forest, the sounds of weapons accompanying it.
There was no doubt as to who these footsteps belonged to. The owners must surely be the same people who had left those footprints that Jae Hwan had found not too long ago.
From amidst the bushes emerged a party of four or five people who seemed to be hunting a familiar looking horned beast.
They were humans.