[Will it really be all right?]
[Don’t worry too much. Do you have any idea how long I thought about the 17th Floor? The preparation is perfect.]
[Check the usage instructions for the equipment I sent you once again. If you are still anxious about this, hold out at the bonfire room for another round and practice before going. You can challenge the floor during the next round.]
[I think that would be better.]
[I’ve been repeating this, but do not let your guard down. Once you start fighting it, you will see it is not as hard as you thought. Still, if you let your guard down, you will die immediately. Stay focused. Don’t panic if it curses at you or tries to talk to you. Don’t get played by its mental game either. Don’t show any gaps in your defense. No matter what, don’t let it dictate how the battle goes. Also, it will be most dangerous when you are about to finish it off. Do not forget this. Fortunately, I was still clumsy about using the Transmutable Thousand Arms, so you won’t have to be so mindful of the weapons. It’s flashy only in appearance. Don’t worry too much about summons spirits in middle of the battle either. If it gets a wind of you worrying, it might try to exploit that, so… Also…]
[Yes. Mister, do not worry too much. I’ll definitely clear it.]
[Okay… Don’t die.]
* * *
“Can you explain it first?”
Kiri Kiri looked gloomy. She kept silent for a moment.
This is odd.
The 17th Floor was cleared at a nonsensical speed. I am speechless; I don’t quite understand the situation.
However, besides that, I’m even more anxious about the fact that Kiri Kiri seemed so affected by this matter.
This is the first time seeing Kiri Kiri looking so gloomy.
No, this is not the first time.
She was like this once before.
It was for a brief moment that passed by in the blink of an eye, but there was a time when she looked like this. She looked sorry during that time.
When I cleared the First Floor and met Kiri Kiri for the first time, I asked her a question.
She said she could not answer that question. However, I asked and insisted on it anyways.
I asked… what happen to the people who die in the Tutorial.
I’m getting more and more anxious.
“Please wait, Kiri Kiri.”
“Um. I’ll wait.”
Before Kiri Kiri gave me her answer, I wanted to reach my answer first.
The answer would have been the same anyway, but I feared that my mental strength would crumble out of my anxiety and her possible confirmation.
However, no matter how hard I thought about this, I could not figure out why Kiri Kiri was sad. I could not figure out what happened at the 17th Floor either.
I thought about asking for advice from others through the Community. However, I realized that it would be pointless.
Finding the answer on my own so I won’t have to hear it from Kiri Kiri…
On top of this, asking another for advice to find the answer…
That was inefficient and illogical.
Still, I’m so concerned. What can I do?
Kiri Kiri had always been bright and energetic. Seeing her in this gloom-and-doom mood is completely inconsistent with her character. It is shocking to watch.
Even today, right after I cleared the 16th Floor, Kiri Kiri was as energetic and excited as ever.
She became gloomy like this after I started worry about the 17th Floor.
I kicked the dirt on the ground and turned over the poor grass that did nothing to deserve being pulled out that way. Kiri Kiri said,
“I’ll tell you now. You will hear it eventually anyway, right?”
“The 17th Floor stage’s theme was a duel.”
“Yes. One on one duel. Although the opponent is a little unique…”
Ah ha… That’s what it is…
Because she said the opponent is a little unique, I could understand the theme of the 17th Floor.
It was a duel between challengers, like the tournament.
“That’s right, it is like that.”
However, I was the only 17th Floor challenger in the Hell Difficulty. So, the stage could not proceed normally.
Therefore, it was immediately cleared and I was sent back here.
“Yes…. But not exactly.”
“That’s right… By design, the very first challenger to ever reach the 17th Floor will clear the stage without any trial. It is not a flaw in the design. If there was a flaw, then you would have achieved the conquest clear.”
“The first challenger gets to pass the stage safely no matter what? Then what about the next challenger?”
“The mirage of the first challenger… remains and the next challenger will be fighting a duel against it.”
A mirage? The first challenger’s mirage?
“I’m sorry, Kiri Kiri. Can you please explain it in detail? I’m so confused; can you explain it to me again?”
“Other than the very first challenger who reaches the 17th Floor, all other challengers after that must fight a duel against the mirage of the challenger who cleared the floor before them. That’s the 17th Floor’s trial.”
My head is not working.
It was as if a nail was pierced a corner of my brain. My thoughts were not being able to process. They were stuck somewhere.
“In that case… What about that mirage? Tell me about the mirage.”
“As for the mirage… It has the exact same powers as the challenger from the moment the challenger cleared the 17th Floor. Tendencies, strategic thinking, habits, and even items… Everything is identical from that moment.”
My thoughts were in chaos. I used the battle focus in a futile attempt to get a hold of myself.
My head was extremely disarrayed, lost in the confusion.
This is an important matter.
Let’s summarize what Kiri Kiri said.
She was saying that the challenger who reaches the 17th Floor after me will fight a copy of me that was made when I cleared the 17th Floor.
She was talking about a battle between the version of me from the 17th Floor and some other Hell difficulty challenger who reaches the 17th Floor.
… There is no way that challenger was going to beat me.
“What about the mirage… How is the mirage comprehending the situation?”
This was the most important part.
If the mirage could be convinced about the situation, the stage could be cleared without a battle.
“The mirage thinks that it must defeat the enemy it is facing at the 17th Floor so it can advance past the trial. It is not aware that it is just a mirage.”
“No matter who the opponent is?”
Perhaps because of the complicated thoughts in my mind, my urge to vomit surged.
I suppressed the urge and continued my questions.
“Tell me about what it is thinking in terms of defeating the enemy. How exactly?”
I felt my legs faltering.
A mirage who thinks like me and has the same powers like me from the time I was at the 17th Floor is going to fight with intent to kill?
I know I had been trying to avoid taking lives needlessly; actually, I had been avoiding killing anyone even when there were benefits to be had and killed only when it was absolutely necessary, but…
This time, it was convinced that killing was necessary.
Therefore, my mirage will try to kill its opponent, and it will try without hesitation.
“Are you all right…?”
I was sitting on the ground and had my head lowered. Kiri Kiri came next to me and asked.
However, I didn’t have any mind left to spare to respond to her question.
My mind was already focused on someone else.
I feel dizzy.
I’m at a peaceful green field with nothing but the sound of gentle breeze, yet I feel like I’m hearing a violent sound of hurricane.
I still felt like I was going to throw up. Holding it in, I opened the message window.
[Lee Ho-jae, 18th Floor: Hyung-jin.]
[Lee Hyung-jin, 4th Floor: Yes, Big Bro. Oh, you are already at the 18th Floor. It looks like you cleared the 17th Floor with ease. You told me the 16th Floor was giving you a headache.]
[Lee Hyung-jin, 4th Floor: Big Bro, what is it?]
[Lee Hyung-jin, 4th Floor: Did something happen?]
[Lee Hyung-jin, 4th Floor: Big Bro, if you are busy, then please contact me later. I’ll wait for message.]
* * *
[Round 17, Day 25, 06:10]
In the end, I was not able to say anything to Lee Hyung-jin. I spent 24 days without saying a word to him.
At Kiri Kiri’s green field, which comforted my heart, I spent the time and agonized about the problem. Over time, I started to see the answer.
My heart, which felt heavy as if it was filled with lead all of the sudden, became lighter to some extent.
I was certain that Lee Hyung-jin was going to be the next challenger to reach the 17th Floor.
Besides him, no other challengers in the Hell difficulty had cleared the First Floor yet.
Compared to these other people, who I was not even sure about when they were going to clear the First Floor, Lee Hyung-jin’s speed of progression is overwhelming.
He is already at the Fourth Floor.
He will face a big obstacle at the Sixth Floor, but once he gets past that, he will be able to reach the 17th Floor safely.
The problem was when he gets to the 17th Floor.
Perhaps there won’t be much difference between Lee Hyung-jin and myself in terms of stats.
He probably would have obtained a few power skills by the time he gets to the 17th Floor.
However, if we were about equal in skills and stats, does Lee Hyung-jin stand a good chance of winning?
I don’t think he has much chance of winning.
What sets me apart from others the most is the fact that I obtained the Blink and the Talaria's Wings.
However, what if I didn’t get them in the beginning?
Also, what if there was a challenger on higher floors who continued to advance to the next floors and gave me information about the ones he passed?
In that case, I would have taken about four to five rounds to clear up to the Fourth Floor.
Even if it took long, it would have taken six rounds.
I am certain I would not have died either.
After confirming that the power skills were world-defying cheats, I intentionally did not use the power skills through the Third, Fourth and Fifth floors.
The lack of power skills definitely makes a huge difference in combat potential.
However, the information is far more valuable than the power skills.
When I was in and out of the River Styx a few times because of traps, such instances were mostly when I didn’t have information about the traps.
I obtained information about the traps by putting my body in harm’s way.
I got to where I was by observing unpredictable attacks coming from unexpected places and responding and dodging them instinctively.
There is that difference between me and Lee Hyung-jin.
There is a difference in fundamental skills.
A mirage of myself from the 17th Floor that knows nothing about the situation will be fighting Lee Hyung-jin who does.
No matter how I think about it, I’m leaning toward the mirage of myself as the victor.
On top of that…
I am currently unaware of the limit of my own power.
If I let it go and use my full strength to fight to the death, what kind of foe would I be able to stand up against?
I don’t know.
I don’t even remember when was the last time I was pushed to the brink of death.
It’s been a long time since the early days at the Sixth Floor, towards the end of the Seventh Floor, once at the 13th Floor.
There has not been another incidence so threatening since then.
There was a time when my life was in danger because I let my guard down. However, I had never been cornered out of an opponent’s overwhelming power.
So, naturally, I had never been pushed to the limit.
At the 13th Floor, at the Master Monk’s room, the theme was strongly focused on reaching and challenging the limits of the senses and mental focus.
My attitude during the battle against the Master Monk was not all that desperate.
My body’s condition was extremely poor when the battle started, so I was almost at the brink of death, but…
No, more importantly, the Master Monk’s room itself is beyond the 13th Floor’s difficulty.
The clear condition for the 13th Floor was getting past 15 rooms. The Master Monk’s room was at 33rd room.
My head is whirling around again.
“Your assumptions could be wrong.”
Kiri Kiri had been watching me quietly from the side. She said,
“The possibilities in the future are limitless. Instead of being despaired about what could happen, it would be better to make preparations.”
Is that so?
I had not considered a single iota of chance that Lee Hyung-jin would be able to beat the mirage version of me at the 17th Floor when he gets there.
I was so stuck with the idea that he was going to lose. It is no wonder why all possibilities I thought of for Lee Hyung-jin were so pessimistic.
Instead, I should assist his growth until he gets to the 17th Floor so he could defeat my mirage.
The important things are the method and process for doing that.
I should evaluate my current powers and have Lee Hyung-jin grow in the direction that would enable him to win.
Also, the information that my mirage has about Lee Hyung-jin is going to be what Lee Hyung-jin was at the Fourth Floor.
The information would be very outdated. Lee Hyung-jin could exploit this.
There are plenty of ways, and there is plenty of time.
Also, Lee Hyung-jin is only at the Fourth Floor.
I don’t know how long it would take him to get to the 17th Floor. Also, who knows how strong he would be by then?
My thoughts were all tangled up for hours, but strangely, they were organized in a single breath.
I looked at Kiri Kiri.
She turned around and crunched down. She was making scribbles on the ground.
They were strange-looking letters. I could not comprehend them.
I don’t think I should mind what she is doing.
I cannot tell Lee Hyung-jin to give up challenging the 17th Floor and stay at the waiting room and stages before the floor for the rest of his life.
From now on, I should care more about his growth and help him clear the 17th Floor safely. That will do.
It will be difficult, but it was not like anything was easy in Hell Difficulty.
“Kiri Kiri, if the next challenger defeats my mirage, then what about the challenger that reaches the floor afterwards?”
… If it progresses like that, then the mission will get increasingly difficult as more challengers pass. After a few iterations, the 17th Floor will end up being far more difficult than other floors above it.
Isn’t this a design flaw?
“No, it is not a design flaw… It was also intended to be so by the Architect.”
My head was just about to calm down, but hearing Kiri Kiri’s explanation enraged me again.
What kind of insane idea is this? Why did the Architect design the stage in a crappy way like this?
Lately, things were going well, so I had not been cursing at the Tutorial’s design. I even regretted not cursing at it for so long.
I don’t care what the Architect was thinking or what the intent was. The Architect is a piece of shit.
[The God of Adventure is agreeing with you.]
[The God of Slowness is watching you.]
See, even the God of Adventure is agreeing with me.
It’s been some time since God of Adventure and I agreed on something.
Wait, is this the first time.
My thoughts are organized now, but I don’t feel all that refreshed.
Frustrated, I messed up my hair.
Ah, it’s bleeding.
Damn it. I put too much strength into my hand.
I sighed heavily for a while. In the end, I opened the messenger.
[Lee Ho-jae, 18th Floor: Hyung-jin, let’s talk for a bit.]
* * *
[The second Tournament will be held.]
[Time left until the mandatory summoning: 14 minutes 59 seconds]