The so-called 'promised land' known as the《Great Lands》.
Any Adapter who has spent time in the Great Lands would know how deceptive that rhetoric is. There were no promises of opportunity in the Great Lands. There was only one thing that the 《Great Lands》promised.
It was death.
"……so this place was originally a location you could only come to if you died.”
Jae Hwan started to understand why he had entered the 'root' of the Illusion Tree known as Chaos when he broke through the Nightmare Tower instead of entering the《Great Lands》.
If he had a body, he might have ended up in the《Great Lands》instead.
Jae Hwan had broken through the Nightmare Tower during the Tutorial Game and not from the Main Game, so only his soul must have exited the tower. As a result, there was a high probability that the《Illusion Tree》mistook Jae Hwan as a deceased and sent him to Chaos.
A place where the souls of the deceased from the battlefields within the 《Great Lands》gathered.
《Chaos》was that sort of place.
Jae Hwan looked at the figures of those who had been stripped of everything but their souls.
Those who left the 'roots' but eventually made their way back to the 'trunk'.
There were a lot of men, but there were also a lot of women.
All of them had dead eyes.
Who knows if they were even aware that they were dead.
“You could say that this is the last chance that the 《Great Lands》 has given us.”
Mino said as she looked at the summoned dead.
“If you die here, then it'll really be the end for you. Those who die here in the trunk will have their souls disperse and become nutrients for the Illusion Tree. There are no chances after that.”
Jae Hwan was reminded of the Red Fox Clan that had dispersed into white particles. They must have already become a part of this huge tree by now.
“Then do the people here still have a 'chance'.”
“You could say that.”
“Is there a way to recover one's body?”
“The chances are very slim, but if you're able to survive here……"
No matter what, those words sounded cruel. Even after they had died, they still had to 'survive'. It was an awful world. Mino's eyes became muddled as she stared at the people.
‘That's why I said your words make others envious.'
Mino must have arrived at Chaos by dying as well. She remembered the death she wanted to forget. Jae Hwan's question 'How did you come to Chaos' was no different from saying 'How did you die?'
The light from the summoning circle began to fade away.
A large number of guards from the fort's gate started to gather.
"Man, there's a ridiculous amount summoned this time as well. Alright, let's get to work!"
A bearded man gave a shout, prompting the other soldiers to lift up the deceased in an orderly manner.
“Oy, pay attention! It's because all of you are nothing but skin and bones that you got killed.”
The dead allowed themselves to be shepherded by the guards across the drawbridge to a checkpoint. Processing the arrivals of the newly dead were some of the guards' responsibilities.
"There there, put this on and go stand in line over there.”
When the dozens of dead were roughly gathered, they were lined up in front of the checkpoints. In front of the checkpoint was the bearded man standing by a podium.
The bearded man observed the group of people before opening his mouth to speak.
“Some of you should already know where you are right now. And although you may not accept it, that's too bad. Because regardless of what you want to believe, you are already 'dead'."
To those who had died once already, those words were like another death.
“On top of that, many of you probably died in your first battle since coming to the 《Great Lands》. Your guts have spilled and your head have been crushed. You have died worthless deaths like a bug."
Hearing his words, everyone's complexion changed. It was because the man's words were right. In fact, the majority of the people here had died almost as soon as they had entered the 《Great Lands》.
“Of the lot of you, is there anyone here who knew how they died?”
Even the bearded man stayed silent. Instead, the bearded man pulled out a cigarette and lighted it.
The smoke from his cigarette dispersed into the air.
It was time for everyone to think about how they had died.
In the end, everyone reached the same answer.
The women, wearing nothing but rags, were shivering in the cold. It wasn't long before the cigarette went out. The bearded man flicked the butt of the cigarette out of his hand and stomped it out. Right then, one of the deceased couldn't help but open his mouth after seeing what the bearded man did and speak in a trembling voice.
"That…… it is because I'm weak?"
It was a voice that grew weaker and weaker the longer he talked. The bearded man began to laugh.
"Correct. But if I were to be more precise……"
His gaze rested on the people that had gathered before him.
“The reason why you died like bugs is because you didn't try hard enough.”
Hearing that, the murmuring in the crowd began to grow.
Their eyes expressed their discontent at his words.
They couldn't accept it. Of those present, who here had not put in effort? Those who had not worked hard would not have been able to clear the Nightmare Tower. Some of them even stared at the bearded man with hostile eyes.
“Your eyes tell me that you don't agree. But put your hands to your chest and think. Have any of you ever trained so hard that you thought you would die? And I mean literally 'to death'.”
It was the first time any of them had felt such pressure behind the words 'to death.'
“But now that you've died, you'll learn. If it's you who have spilled your guts by an enemy's blade, had your head cut off by them, was trampled underfoot, or had shamefully endured the slurs and insults of your enemies before death, then you will know. You will know what I mean when I say 'to death'.”
Moaning and weeping. Vivid memories of death. The deceased clenched their fists and tucked their heads, their shoulders were trembling. No one was able to look at the bearded man in the eye. It was because he was right.
It was something that they had realized only after they had already died.
None of them had ever once trained 'to death' before.
“You guys are in luck. All of you have another shot at 'effort' here in this place.
But y'all are still just souls, for now.”
Chance. Some people began to lift their heads at this point.
“There is only one thing that you need to know here.
If you die this time, then you will 'really' die.”
Die for real.
For those here that had already died once before, the word 'death' was terrifying.
"Therefore, there is only one thing all of you must do here. Survive. You must use any means necessary to survive until you are the last survivor.”
“Live, live so that you may train and train. Grind the blade of your swords and raise your strength. And until the day an opportunity comes, you must wait and wait.”
Grow stronger and bide one's time.
"Then one day, a miracle might happen. I guarantee it. Those who work hard will find a way to leave the Illusion Tree. Therefore, train harder. For the sake of taking revenge on those that killed you. Grow stronger so that you can rip them apart, step on them, and surpass them. That's all I can tell you.”
The naked deceased listened to the man with vacant eyes.
Maybe their emotions were riled up, but some of them began to shake.
The man ended his speech. The surrounding soldiers listlessly clapped their hands. The guards on the left and right of the deceased led the waiting people towards the checkpoint.
"Men on this side, women on the other. Follow directions.”
The guards approached the bearded man who had stepped down from his podium.
"Wonderful speech sir."
"As expected of Assistant Head-nim!"
The bearded man that had been called Assistant Head was drinking the water he had received from a guard before he muttered something under his breath.
"……what great speech."
The bearded man had a tired expression on his face.
It was a speech he had repeated more than a hundred times since he had been appointed to the northern checkpoint here.
To survive no matter what.
That their effort and their drive were lacking.
To grow stronger and take revenge.
They were definitely wise and guiding words. They were good words.
But the bearded man knew.
Those good words were a lie.
None of those gathered here will ever leave the《Illusion Tree》.
Most of them would die during their 'first hunt', similar to how they died in the《Great Lands》 and the lucky survivors would spend the rest of their lives as a resident here.
They would become like him.
At that time, someone spoke up.
"James, who knew you could flap your lips so well? It was like you were trying to pick up a girl or something.”
The bearded man, James, squinted his eyes. A man and a woman appeared at the checkpoint. The woman in particular was remarkable. She was a woman donning a black robe and a head full of scarlet hair. One would never be able to forget a beauty of her level…….
"Did you already forget about me? 'Bromidic' James."
Something flashed through James' mind. The woman's appearance momentarily changed.
Her eyes shined like stars amidst her black hair. Her white cheeks looked like they had stolen the light from the break of dawn.
Joy spread across James' face.
"……look at who it is. Isn't this the「Black Forest Sect's」Mino?"
Hearing that, Mino changed her appearance again.
"Don't speak too loud. Dying?"
Jae Hwan alternated looks between Mino and the guard called James.
It seemed like the two were acquaintances.
"I heard that you've been promoted to Assistant Head?"
"So that's why you gave such a speech.”
James' broke his long time streak of having a solemn expression and had a playful look in his eyes.
His eyes swept across Mino's body.
They had arrived at the start of the checkpoint.
Mino's expression hardened.
“Hmph. It was a good speech. I had wanted to enter as soon as possible, but I had to wait through the entirety of your 'noble speech' in order to enter the fort.”
James laughed while replying back.
“Somehow you've arrived back at the Northern Checkpoint. Don't you usually go to a different side?”
"No matter how you look at it, the road I took led me here."
Mino's reply was short, as though she weren't willing to speak for too long.
“There's no need to prove my identity, right It's not like you don't know my face.”
Proof. Hearing that word, Jae Hwan looked at the side of Mino's face. Sensing his gaze, Mino sighed and laughed.
Tsk. There was a patient with amnesia here.
[Perhaps, do you not know what 'Proof' is?]
Jae Hwan nodded his head.
Jae Hwan heard Mino's Whisper again.
[All personnel entering and leaving the fort must be verified. Most people just open up their status info through the 《Interface System》…… you should know how to do at least that much, right?]
He definitely did not know. He had never done so before.
Actually, there was a much bigger problem than that.
To begin with, Jae Hwan could not even use the《Interface System》.
Jae Hwan had reached the state of 「Selflessness」by escaping the《Nightmare Tower》, but ever since then, he had become unable to utilize any of the functions of the 《Interface System》, including things like the Inventory and Status windows. It was then that Assistant Head James opened his mouth.
“I'm sorry, but the circumstances have changed.”
“……Circumstances? What kind of nonsense is that?”
“Some of the rules have changed since a little while ago, those entering the fortress must have a 'certificate'.”
A certificate? Mino gazed into the air.
“Do you mean that antiquated certificate that was used many years ago? The ones that「Big Brother」made and distributed?”
“Why? Didn't the usage of the certificate became obsolete ever since the Interface System was made available in the 《Illusion Tree》?”
"Some sort of strange interference is happening that the Interface System isn't operating properly.”
Mino recalled the moment when her Skill 'Precise Appraisal' failed. She had thought that it was a simple skill failure, but it might just end up being related.
“Anyways, there have been many reports of people not being able to properly bring up the Info page using the Interface System.
So, at least for the time being, everyone going in and out of《Chaos》must prove their identity using a 'certificate'.”
“Now of all times……"
Things had become unnecessarily complicated. Mino sighed inwards and looked over at Jae Hwan.
[So do you have a Certificate?]
Jae Hwan had no answer.
[……you don't have one?]
Mino suddenly thought up a plan.
She had noticed that there were a lot of things wrong with this man. To make someone recall painful memories then not reciprocate……
Mino had a playful expression on her face.
“Sorry, but I've left my certificate at home. Wouldn't this work in its place? It's not like we've only known each other for a day or two, don't you think a certificate is too much?”
Mino laughed while handing James some money. It was an envelope containing white powder. James turned his eyes to carefully inspect the packet.
“This is some good medicine. How many horns did the beast have”
“It looks like your earnings have been pretty great these days Mino."
James slipped the packet into his pockets while laughing with a satisfied expression on his face.
He turned towards Jae Hwan and asked a question.
"Is he a part of your party?"
Mino laughingly spoke up again as she step foot on the drawbridge.
"Hmm, you better say something. Didn't you say you had amnesia?”
Jae Hwan looked at James with no apparent changes to his expression while James looked at Jae Hwan with a firm expression on his face.
"Now then, shouldn't you ought to present a certificate?”
"Apologies, but I don't have such a thing.”
"Huh, then you can't enter. You can't enter no matter what if you don't have a certificate!”
"It's no good if I don't have one?”
The other guards had an expectant expression on their faces.
"Is it because you won't be able to confirm my identity?”
"If I'm able to prove myself, what else would I need?"
"Huhut, what's with this guy?”
It had been awhile since he had bothered to put a bit of a threat behind his words, and hearing his tone, the other guards began to loosen their shoulders like they were getting ready for a fight. Already having reached the other side of the drawbridge, Mino had a strange smile on her face.
[It's still not too late, why don't you ask me for help? A single 'help me', and one word from me will resolve this situation.]
No matter how strong he was, he was only one person who had to keep to the rules of《Chaos》.
There was a taboo in this world that could not be broken.
While looking at Jae Hwan with an expressionless face, she thought to herself.
‘I think I frightened him too much, should I go save him?’
Even if she didn't have a certificate or anything of the sort, she still would've been able to make it in by coaxing one or two guards.
But then something unexpected happened.
Jae Hwan's poise took a strange turn as he calmly watched the guards. His left foot stepped back ever so slightly, and the height of his shoulder changed. It was a change that only someone like Mino whose nerves were high strung could notice. If he were to lay hands on the hilt of his sword…….
Mino quickly used Whisper.
[Wait, stop! Wouldn't it be better not to resort to such actions?]
Her voice was urgent.
[I know that you're very strong, but if you end up killing the guards, 'Bromidic James' included, then you'll become a wanted man.]
His expression clearly showed that he did not care. Mino bit down on her lips.
[No matter how strong you are, it's impossible to fight against the whole fortress! Do you know what that means?]
Jae Hwan's stance remained unchanged. The ignorant guards hadn't realized anything yet, but the intensity of Jae Hwan's subtle movements did not escape Mino's eyes. All of a sudden, Mino recalled the demonic scene where Jae Hwan slew the Red Fox clan without batting an eye and then walked away as though nothing had happened.
She recalled the thrust that had wantonly set alight an entire forest and reducing it to nothing but burnt embers.
Mino had realized that she had made a huge mistake.
Not only was this man incredibly strong, but he was also unfettered by the laws of the world. Nobody had told her anything, but Mino could feel it with her entire body.
The fact that there was no need for him to even pull out the sword.
If necessary, he was willing to cut down not only just the guards here, but the entirety of the fort as well. The question of whether or not he could do it wasn't very important to him.
He had always lived his life like this and he would continue to live this way until the day he died.
Mino's complexion paled.