「What could someone who has never been to Chaos know about the Great Lands? …… Why? Afterall, I've never been there either.」
一Lazy Sovereign Gainak.
It was the next morning, and both Jae Hwan and mino were walking towards the nearby fort. Along the way, Mino asked Jae Hwan a question with a flustered voice.
"……what did you want to hear?”
“What kind of story?”
“I was hoping to hear about when you cleared the Nightmare Tower.”
A story about a lonely journey. Considering how long the path before them was, it was only natural that a conversation topic would come up.
It was something that Mino was hoping would happen as well.
The problem was the nature of the topic.
“Isn't it kind of rude to suddenly ask a question like that?"
Asking another Adapter about what had happened to them in the Nightmare Tower was an unspoken taboo. Rather than calling the《Nightmare Tower》 by its name, ‘Nightmare Tower’, most people referred to it as the root of the Illusion Tree.
Nobody wanted to recall the days when they were nothing but mere「Products」. Even though eight years had passed since Mino had cleared the Nightmare Tower, she would still often have nightmares about it. A nightmare where she, as a survivor, would climb out of the damnable 'root' of the《Illusion Tree》.
“What if you tell me in exchange for me saving your life?”
It was not surprising that things turned out this way. After grinding her teeth, Mino finally spoke up.
"……I guess I have no choice."
Mino paused like she was carefully choosing her words before speaking up again.
“It’s something you probably wouldn't be interested in, but the name of my home 'world' is Arkal.”
Like that, Mino began to recount her tale.
It had been ten years.
Mino recalled the day when the 《Nightmare Tower》first appeared in her home world, World 7651.
But now, she couldn't quite remember what the tower looked like. The world that she had used to live in was normal, the world that the tower had come to find was normal.
An item mass produced for the sake of cultivating, the Nightmare Tower.
But the towers being mass produced didn't make that the deaths and suffering of the people who climbed the tower insignificant.
In the end, she had somehow miraculously cleared the 100 floors of both the Tutorial Game and the Main Game. On the 100th floor, Mino and her colleagues met the 'Demon'「Cultivator」in charge of that tower.
Mino would never forget the words that the Demon had said with bored eyes.
—Aah, this is difficult. You're all「Non-Adapters」.
By now, Mino and Jae Hwan had arrived at the thickest part of the forest, an area with lush greens that blocked their view. It was a forest where one could easily lose their way if they weren't careful. Jae Hwan asked a question.
"What happened after?"
Mino bit her lips. She looked unwilling to speak.
“It's a very obvious story. A simple story where a normal girl leaves the root and wanders about in the《Great Lands》.”
“Is it hard for you to say more?”
Mino let out a deep sigh.
"…… if you really want to know, then I'll talk."
Even to this day, Mino still hadn't forgotten the joy she had felt when she first set foot in the《Great Lands》.
The demon had said at that time.
一In the Great Lands, both money and education are worthless. The only thing of value there is a high 'Value'.
To her, it seemed like a promised land that followed a long nightmare. Mino had thought that everything would then resolve itself. All that was left to do was to live an extravagant life with the skills and items she had received from the tower.
She was mistaken.
The Great Lands was not the paradise flowing with milk and honey that the demon had made it out to be. There, Mino had to collect more skills instead of money, and she had to build them up instead of an education. Furthermore, emphasis and value were placed on higher order Adapters, making the native humans from other worlds obsolete.
More quantity, more power, and more Value.
In the end, Mino was a「Non-Adapter」who did not fit any of those requirements. When put on the food chain, Mino had the weakest skills and the lowest amount of spirit power. An expendable on the battlefield, a plaything for higher order Adapters…… a life worse than death. After that, Mino's life remained the same. Mino was constantly on the run.
“The rest isn't something I should talk about. It's a matter between those who've come to《Chaos》.”
Mino had a grimace on her face, making it clear that her memories were painful to recall.
“You, you have a really cruel mind. To make someone recall these kinds of memories.”
“I'm sorry, but it was something I really needed to hear."
Actually, it wasn't even Mino's story that Jae Hwan needed to hear. What Jae Hwan wanted was a general grasp of an Adapter's journey after they cleared the Nightmare Tower. It was a cruel thing for Mino who essentially became the representative of all Adapters…….
“……then we're done. Let's say that I've repaid the favor with this. Now that I've gotten it off my chest, it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. Perhaps it's because so much time has passed.”
Even though Mino had just finished a difficult story, she had a lighthearted expression on her face. She was like a person who had flipped over the last page of a novel that they had been reading for a very long time.
After she finished recounting her tale, they finally left the grove they were walking through and entered another one. Evergreen forest with thin leaves quickly replaced the thick and broad-leafed trees of the deciduous forest that they had just been in. Then Mino spoke up as though she had been waiting to say something.
“Well then, isn't it your turn?”
“It's only fair. Since I gave my back story, shouldn't you do so as well?”
From saying that she was paying back a favor, her tone of voice did a quick 180.
"You're still curious as to what my identity is?”
Mino's eyes smiled in response.
"Not at all, I just want to hear your story."
What she was saying was ridiculous. If you looked at it from a certain perspective, it would be a story that made up someone's identity. It was only natural that his story would reveal his identity. This woman was more suited to being called a fox than the actual members of the Red Fox Clan.
"Did you forget? I'm an amnesiac.”
“…… what amnesia. Are you still sulking about what happened yesterday?”
Jae Hwan silently shook his head. Looking at Jae Hwan, Mino's eyes took on a peculiar gaze. She remembered that this man knew absolutely nothing about《Chaos》. Thinking about it, it was definitely something strange. There were many people outside of Chaos who knew nothing about it, but how was it that there was someone in Chaos that knew nothing about Chaos?
If it was the Chaos that she knew of, then it was impossible.
“You, your memories from when you entered Chaos, is that why you don't remember anything from when you were in the《Great Lands》?”
"Well, it's something like that.”
Since he had never been to the《Great Lands》it wasn't wrong to say that he had no memories of ever being there. But hearing what he said, Mino looked at him with an expression she had never had before. That's sort of一
"If that's true, then I can't help but envy you.”
It was the expression of someone who was genuinely envious.
“I truly am jealous of you who does not remember."
She spoke with a very dry tone. Jae Hwan questioned her as he did not understand.
"What is so envious about having no memories?”
"Those who reside here would without a doubt be envious of you.”
Mino did not answer. The distant spires of the fort walls and the he large battlements of the wall slowly came into view through the now sparsely populated evergreen trees. Their destination was slowly drawing closer.
"Gorgon Fortress. It's the largest fort in the surrounding area."
Jae Hwan felt a strange mood while looking at such a magnificent fort. Even in《Chaos》there were people who flocked together and formed communities resulting in such a fortress to be built. At first glance, one would think that the world possessed a scant amount of residents.
— It's a matter between those who've come to《Chaos》
Jae Hwan suddenly felt curious. What were Mino's circumstances that she ended up coming to a place like this? Jae Hwan arbitrarily asked Mino about her ‘circumstances’, but after a few moments passed, he realized that he had made a mistake.
"……you're wondering 'why' I came to Chaos?”
Her voice was icy cold. Mino's face held an expression that she had never made before.
"You, if you realize what you are asking, you will regret it.”
Mino rebuffed Jae Hwan and walked ahead of him with heavy footsteps. They finally exited the forest and approached the giant medieval castle walls of the fort. He had never seen a fort as big as this before in his entire life. If he were to compare Atopos, the city that humanity had built on the 50th floor of the tower, to Gorgon Fortress, it would be like comparing a country village to a city. The varied colors of the bricks that made up the fortress walls reminded Jae Hwan that this fort's history would most likely be very long.
But at the fort's entrance was a strange existence. There was a large circle drawn at the entrance.
Jae Hwan felt a strange grating sensation somewhere down his spine. He knew of a similar place like this. It was the same structure as the 《Nightmare Tower》's 1st floor summoning area.
"Euuh, I don't want to die!"
Above that humble circle stood naked people occasionally bending their waists forward. Some were crying while covering their breasts while others were groaning in pain. Their faces were full of despair as though they had received a fatal attack. There were some other people who looked as though they were asleep, but Jae Hwan could tell the truth with one glance. They looked like they all had different expression, but in actuality, all of their expressions held the same meaning. Jae Hwan knew very well when people would make that kind of expression.
The circle started to glow again, and a few moments later, new people had appeared. People whose bodies were soaked with fear and couldn't stop trembling.
Screaming, cursing, loneliness and despair…….
Jae Hwan felt goosebumps tingle up his spine.
"Do you know now? Do you realize what you had asked me?"
Mino spoke in a voice tinged with deep sorrow and pain.
“…… 'why' did I come to《Chaos》, nobody in their right minds would ever ask that question here.”
With those words, Mino pulled out a dagger from her bosom and slightly pricked her pinky finger. A drop of blood swelled up at the tip of her finger before falling through the air. The drop of blood disappeared into the air and scattered into white powder.
In this world, one's soul would scatter away as white particles. It wasn't anything very surprising. He had seen it happen hundreds of times during the Tutorial Game, and the same thing had happened when he had killed the Red Fox Clan here in Chaos. It wasn't something that Jae Hwan was surprised with, but it was something that he hadn't really thought about. Flesh was originally a miserable thing that would shed blood and spill guts.
But he himself had yet to shed any white dust. It was then that Jae Hwan realized the identity of this world.
“Then, the people here have already……"
Mino nodded as Jae Hwan looked over with sad eyes at the people on the summoning circle
"Welcome to the land of the dead. This is the world of 《Chaos》."