「No matter how hard you work, there are some things in this world that cannot be overcome.」
一〈Twilight's Shadow〉 Vice Head Meikal Garnard's message to his workers.
Episode 4. The World's 1%
The Adapters who came to《Chaos》created major strongholds that allowed them moments of relaxation. Among them, the leader was the third of the four cities.
In particular, there were four cities located in relatively accessible areas and freely allowed Adapters to settle, so the flow of Adapters in and out of those cities was rather active.
Gorgon Fortress was one of the four palaces.
‘I should have hit him at least once.’
Jae Hwan recalled Carlton whose silver aura exuded from his shoulders. A man with the face of a swindler who blabbered on and on about some laws.
Jae Hwan dared not believe those who spoke of the law.
To be frank, there were many lawyers who made up the walkers who were in the same Nightmare Tower that he was in. It was because there were hundreds of thousands of people living in the Nightmare Tower.
—All humans are equal within the tower.
At first, lawyers created laws to help the weak. A world completely cut off from the outside. As such, it seemed like a good place to enact laws for humans. They ended up creating many laws, with some laws seemingly protecting the weak.
But it was a mistake.
By the time that everyone had come to, they had realized that all of the laws were such that 'only they knew'. People stumbled and were caught by the law whose names they did not even know. When people came back from hunting, they were forced to pay excessively high taxes and were only allowed to hunt in specific areas in the name of protection. Those with low growth potential could only ever come into possession of weak skills and low level equipment.
The principle where 'all humans in the Tower are equal' was based on a human's skill and status. But that principle of equality was destroyed by items and levels.
The law catered to the strong, suppressed the weak, and was impossible to fix. By the time the tower's atmosphere had degenerated by the system that the lawmakers had created, the lawmakers themselves disappeared into the past, leaving the law alone. With nobody there to uphold the law, the law broke down.
Above the 85th floor, Jae Hwan only had one rule.
All humans 'live' for today.
It was the only law that Jae Hwan followed and kept until now.
'The roads here are complicated'
Jae Hwan frowned at the crowded streets.
In addition, he was holding onto luggage.
Mino's eyes were still dim and drooping.
It was good that she was able to follow along, although she was wobbling side to side as she walked.
His mood wasn't too great.
It had somehow turned into a bother to bring her along considering the trouble he had to deal with ever since he met her, but she was still the first 'human' he had met since he came here, and he felt guilty about leaving her behind. Jae Hwan decided to wander on the streets until Mino returned to normal. She had accompanied him this far, it was only right to stay with her.
The streets were filled with vendors selling a wide variety of medicinal herbs, equipment boasting, remarkable craftsmanship, and a large selection of food.
Jae Hwan walked along the streets with the teetering Mino.
"It's become really difficult to see the castellan's face nowadays."
"From what I've heard, he's lying sick in bed……"
The sound of merchants talking and laughing drifted over…… workers from an inn nearby advertised for their establishment from the moment the sun had come up.
How much longer did he have to wander around?
After some time, Jae Hwan realized that he had gotten completely lost. When he started paying attention again, he had realized that he had ended up in some back alley of the market street where he had been wandering about. In the back alley was a group of troublemakers sitting on the floor together, using their noses to snort what looked like the 'medicine' that Mino had consumed awhile back.
‘Ah damn it, where the heck am I?’
With no clue as to what to do, Jae Hwan eventually decided to use「Doubt」and「Comprehension」. The overlapping voices in his surroundings turned into streams of information that entered Jae Hwan's mind.
But then a problem occurred.
Jae Hwan ignored the fact that this was the first time he had ever arrived at such a congested and untidy area. In the meantime, Jae Hwan started to suffer from a serious headache as a result of his mind being overloaded with too much information.
Suddenly, Jae Hwan's senses caught onto an important bit of information.
"Hey, can you recover already?"
Hearing that, Mino's eyes slowly started to turn back to normal.
“……I, what? Why am I here?”
“There's no time for that, you have to lead me out of here first. My head is absolutely excruciating."
Mino took a quick look around and led Jae Hwan to the main road after recognizing where she was.
“Just leave through here for now."
After leaving the back alleys, Jae Hwan ended up on a relatively quiet, but large road. The flow of information slowed down and Jae Hwan's headache began to disappear.
"That's good, alright you can go now.”
"……don't you think you're overstepping some boundaries? Just throwing me out like that.”
Her memories slowly started to come back. She began to recall what had happened. Then she realized why she was here. Mino's face took on a slight shade of red. Jae Hwan spoke in a flat voice.
"You'll just get in the way".
Hearing that, Mino flew into a rage.
"Just because of a little prank, are you serious?”
Noticing that Jae Hwan didn’t consider it to be a simple prank, Mino bit on her fingernail before apologizing.
The scale was too big to be considered just a little prank. Because of her, the person who had saved her life ended up becoming the target of the guards' violence. Regardless, despite who did what and who said what, the entire situation would have been avoided if Mino had not tried making things difficult for Jae Hwan in the first place. If you looked at it from another perspective, it was like Mino was throwing away her opportunity to repay Jae Hwan's favor.
"……I mean it."
Mino said while looking at Jae Hwan.
There was still no reply from Jae Hwan.
She waited for an answer.
Yet, there was still no answer.
Considering what had happened, it wasn't strange.
Thinking about it, Jae Hwan rarely had an answer.
No matter what questions were asked of him, he did not answer.
Even still, she did not know what his identity was.
Well, there was one thing that she knew about him.
He was human.
Instead of answering questions, Jae Hwan was a human who liked being the one to ask questions. He had asked her if she would go to the past if she had the chance, and he had asked her about the certificates that were needed to prove one's identity. He was someone who concerned himself with questions that she had never even thought of.
A person who questioned the world.
That was the Jae Hwan that Mino knew.
Mino carefully put forth a question.
"Where do you plan to go now?"
“It does not matter to you."
“……still, please tell me."
Mino spoke up again, but this time the hurt in her voice was palpable.
"There is something I must find.”
“What is it? I might be of help to you."
Jae Hwan sat still for a moment before opening his mouth to reply back.
Nightmare. Hearing a name that she hadn't heard in a long time, Mino momentarily paused. A name that every「Product」would remember. Nightmares. They were beings called「Producers」in the Great Lands. The starting point for all 'Nightmares'.
“What do you plan to do by seeking out the Nightmares?"
Jae Hwan did not answer.
"Perhaps, are you seeking revenge?”
Mino couldn't help but think that if it was Jae Hwan, then it could be possible. Jae Hwan replied back.
"Even if I told you, you wouldn't understand.”
Hearing that she wouldn't understand, Mino momentarily opened her mouth before just closing it again. The first reason why she continued to ask was because Jae Hwan seemed to have a bad impression of Mino, and the second reason was because she just couldn't understand what Jae Hwan intended to do. Mino eventually changed what she was saying.
“...The Nightmare is a very rare species throughout all of the Great lands. In addition, they don't stay in one place either”
"Then are they not present here?”
"Well if you were to search through all of Chaos then you'd probably find one. The Nightmares are one of the few peoples that can enter the 《Illusion Tree》 without having to experience 'death’."
It was an unexpected information.
Well, it was something that he considered before.
The Nightmare Towers themselves were a part of the Illusion Tree. And on the 100th floor of the tower he was in was a demon. As such, it would make sense for Cultivators or Producers to know of a way to enter the Illusion Tree through a soul passage or some other method.
"I... can't be completely certain."
After worrying about something for some time, Mino opened her mouth to say something.
“I think I know where you can find a Nightmare."
"Where would that be?"
"There's a smithy, a smithy created by a Nightmare."
A smithy. Jae Hwan looked at the Frost Dragon Sword hanging off his waist while listening to her speak. Thinking about it, he did need to go visit a blacksmith.
Mino nodded her head in understanding.
Such a sword without a sheath blatantly hanging off his waist would draw a lot of unneeded attention. In fact, the eyes directed towards Jae Hwan from awhile back was uncomfortable.
"Do you want me to show you the way there?"
Jae Hwan took hold of the hilt of his sword as he nodded.
"After the pests who've been following us since a while ago are taken care of."
Jae Hwan turned around and laid eyes on the good-for-nothings that he had first seen snorting 'medicine' in the back alleys. It was a narrow path where nobody from the surroundings could come to help. The man at the head of the group who seemed to be the boss stepped forward to say something.
"It's them, boss!”
"Hahat, found them! You, that sword......!"
The thugs pulled out their swords, prompting Jae Hwan to draw his sword as well.
The boss' head suddenly burst into white particles.
After a little bit of time, the dozen or so people turned into white particles and disappeared into the Illusion Tree.
‘There was someone else who wasn't one of these thugs.’
There was someone hiding atop a roof observing him. Jae Hwan was only able to detect him with「Doubt」because he had activated it at a good time. He was trying really hard to hide, but because he was hiding so 'diligently' Jae Hwan couldn't help but notice him.
When Jae Hwan pulled out his sword, the mystery man was also taken by surprise. The reason why Jae Hwan didn't go after him was because he simply was not a threat.
Mino spoke in an admiring voice.
"Every time I see you in action, I can't help but think you're amazing. How are you able to end everything with just a thrust?"
"I know nothing but the thrust.”
"……are you joking?”
"But, surely you would have variations and different derivative techniques, right?”
"Well I guess there are Light thrust, Plain thrust, Strong thrust, it's like that."
"……then what did you use just now?”
Those thugs were fairly strong for thugs. Most of them were non-adapters, but their was a good number of 1st Order Adapters involved as well. But despite that, he used a 'light' thrust to take care of them?
Mino was reminded of the time when Jae Hwan wiped out the Red Fox clan. The incredibly powerful 'thrust' that obliterated an entire forest. Mino put forward a question.
"Is it that you've only been using 'light thrust' up until now?”
“No. I've used a 'plain thrust' once.”
Mino thought that the 'plain thrust' that Jae Hwan used was probably the finale attack he used against the Red Fox clan.
Of course, the truth was slightly different.
‘Back then when I fought against the five-horned wolf I had to use 'plain thrust'.’
He recalled the horns of the wolf that were sitting in his bag.
The Five-horned Wolf was the strongest enemy that Jae Hwan had faced since he had arrived in《Chaos》. It had withstood multiple 'light thrusts' but still didn't die. Even though after it was hit with a 'plain thrust' it died right away.
Even though Mino looked at Jae Hwan with a look of disbelief for some time, her countenance swiftly turned to one of understanding.
"……well it's not like it's impossible, I know another Adapter who only knows how to use just one skill like you."
"Yes. Except instead of thrust, he uses 'slash'.”
An Adapter who only uses Slash?
The topic caught Jae Hwan's interest, but when he was about to ask more about it, he began to hear a daeng—daeng— from somewhere in the distance.
It was a nostalgic sound.
It had been a long time since he had heard that sound, and it struck some chords in his memory, making him recalling his friend Jay who had stayed with him until the end.
Jay's〈Jay's Workshop〉 .
Upon returning from another harrowing battle at the frontlines of the Nightmare Tower, Jae Hwan would always listen to the rhythmic pounding of Jay's hammer coming from〈Jay's Workshop〉while soaking his body in the holy water within the temple. The sound was harsh and rustic, but it resonated with Jae Hwan.
It wasn't nice like music, but it was a comforting sound, something that Jae Hwan could just silently listen to while relaxing. He had weathered through many rainy seasons, but every time he came back with a broken sword and a shattered armor, the sound of the hammer was always there, waiting for him.
Even after Jay disappeared, the sound did not disappear with him. Instead, it continued to live on inside Jae Hwan's eardrums and at his fingertips.
Maybe it was the sound that Jay had passed onto Jae Hwan that drove him to break through the 100th floor. In the end, the sound of the hammer pounding away accompanied him to the end. Arriving at the place where the sound was resonating from, Mino opened her mouth to talk.
"This is Gorgon Fortress's largest smithy."
It was the name of the smithy.
Many busybodies in the《Great Lands》have discussed something similar to the following.
“Who is the greatest craftsman in all of the Great Lands?”
To answer that question, those busybodies first had to realize that the term 'craftsman' was not correct. That was because the greatest 'craftsmen' in all of the Great Lands were not humans.
If the strongest in the Great Lands were the sovereigns, then the best craftsmen, no craftsdemons, were the Nightmares.
Of the five hundred「Famous Artisans」Nightmares and the thirteen「Master Artisans」Nightmares, those who could be called the greatest 「Producers」in the《Great Lands》could be counted on one's fingers.
Located in Gorgon Fortress,〈Twilight's Shadow〉was one of the best weapons workshops in all of 《Chaos》and was established by one of the greatest of the「Famous Artisans」, 'Twilight's Deep Ignell'.
Jae Hwan looked around and nodded his head in satisfaction. This workshop was far better than even the best workshop in Atopos.
The interior was spacious and the tools were of a high quality. There were tens of blacksmiths taking requests or working on other commissions amidst the burning heat of the furnace at the middle that threatened to melt the whole workshop down to the ground.
Jae Hwan opened his mouth.
“A Nightmare established this place?”
“Then there could be a Nightmare here.”
At that time, a worker who had taken it upon himself to guide others appeared from somewhere and greeted them. He was a robust and healthy looking young man who appeared to be an apprentice craftsman.
“Are you a Nightmare?"
Looking at Jae Hwan who asked such a question the moment he walked in, the apprentice's countenance wrinkled. That was because anyone who asked to see a 'nightmare' was looking for only one thing. Mino hastily stepped forward and spoke up.
"I'm sorry. The person next to me isn't the brightest when it comes to the affairs of the world, please understand a little."
"Ah, is that so?”
Looking at Mino's sincere smile, the apprentice's expression relaxed.
[……no matter how you look at him, he's also a person.]
Jae Hwan didn't say a word.
"So what are you looking for?"
"I came to meet a Nightmare.”
"……you must mean the boss.”
The apprentice had a difficult expression on his face.
“The boss isn't in right now, so it would be a little tough."
“Where did he go?”
“That, the boss has a severe case of wanderlust so... do you have a commission you would like to give directly to the boss?"
Jae Hwan fell into thought for a moment.
“That would be pretty good as well.”
"What is it you want commissioned……"
"A sword sheathe.”
"A sword sheathe……"
The apprentice took a cursory glance at the naked sword before shaking his head from side to side.
"A request like that, even if the boss was in, he wouldn't accept such a commission."
"Why is that?"
The apprentice clicked his tongue on the inside.
‘It's like he was born yesterday, he has absolutely no common sense.’
The apprentice spoke.
“Well first of all, the boss' specialty isn't weapons. I'll explain since you look like you're randomly wandering about while blindfolded. Nightmares usually don't make weapons.”
About to ask what he meant, Jae Hwan stopped himself as he realized that he already knew the answer. Jae Hwan had spent the last thirty years of his life living a life of torture, loneliness, and cruelty within the 'specialty' of the Nightmares— the Nightmare Tower.