As soon as their eyes met Yeon-woo's fierce gaze, Kaen's teammates froze in place. Just looking at his emotionless eyes made their legs tremble involuntarily. "Wh-why are you doing this? You have n-nothing to do with this guy! Wh-why are you interrupting us?” One of them gathered up his courage and shouted at Yeon-woo.
It was an unwritten rule in the Tutorial that players should not interfere in each other’s business. They all had different standings and different circumstances, and it was common to see players disliking meddlers. Technically, Yeon-woo had no reason to intervene, but he said bluntly, “I don’t like it.”
“I said I don’t like it. Do you have any problem with that?"
The two couldn’t respond, and Yeon-woo sneered at them. "You guys are doing whatever you please, so why can’t I?"
They wanted to scream against such nonsense, but the menacing eyes behind the mask made it difficult to speak. They had a hunch that they would get into a huge mess if they continued.
Yeon-woo said, "Put your weapons down." The other teammates didn’t say a word.
"Put them down."
"Do it! Throw them away! Please!" Kaen couldn't hold it in any longer and started to scream.
The three began to drop their weapons one by one while looking at each other. Clang! Clang!
"O-OK now, let Kaen go," one of them said in a trembling voice, still on high alert.
At that moment, Yeon-woo sneered. "Idiots." He pressed his foot down, breaking Kaen’s spine. Krak!Kaen's eyes rolled back as he dropped to the floor. He was still breathing, but it was clear he couldn't move his limbs anymore.
"Y-you, that’s not what you promised! Ack!” One of the teammates turned pale and gasped in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed that Yeon-woo had already thrown a dagger at him, and he barely managed to knock it aside. While he was distracted, Yeon-woo darted to him and hit his throat with a knifehand strike. Then Yeon-woo moved in closer and smashed his chest with an elbow, struck his sternum with his knee, and punched his stomach. Crunch!
The teammate’s muscles ruptured, his bones disintegrating with a bursting sound. His jaw was crushed, and a few teeth were broken. Thud! He collapsed, covered in blood, barely able to gasp for air. He looked like he could stop breathing any time.
"I’m gonna kill you!"
"Just die already!"
The remaining teammates ran from behind Yeon-woo and swung their swords towards his neck and waist in a last-ditch effort to attack. They had seen their other teammates collapse without even getting a chance to injure Yeon-woo, and since they couldn’t run away, they had to try to fight back. Yeon-woo ducked to avoid the attacks and simultaneously drew his dagger from his waist, slashing in front of him. Swish! Swish!
"Aargh! My foot!”
The two dropped onto the floor as their Achilles tendons and arteries were severed. Klunk! Klunk! A fist flew towards their faces, and their heads snapped back, their mouth filling with a bloody foam.
Yul’s jaw dropped as he watched the situation unfold. Everything happened so fast. Although they were despicable people, the players had managed to pass Section A on their own. But Yeon-woo crushed not just two but four of them at once. He knew Yeon-woo was strong, but he didn't think he would be so powerful.
It was unlikely that the team would be able to make a comeback unless someone took them to a high priest or brought them a superior healing potion. Otherwise, they would die or be crippled for the rest of their lives, which was more likely. Yul felt a great deal of relief at the thought that they would live out their remaining days that way, and he wanted to express his gratitude.
Yeon-woo was calm and composed as if he had just gone for a stroll. He shook off some of the blood from his dagger, sheathed it casually at his waist, and looked at Yul. "You’re drooling."
Yul hastily wiped his mouth with his sleeve. There was a chuckle, and Yul raised his head, his eyes wide. Yeon-woo was wearing a mask, and his eyes had been impassive ever since they’d met, so Yul had believed that he didn’t have any emotions. He had heard a few sneers, but he had never heard Yeon-woo’s real laugh.
However, Yeon-woo turned around as if nothing happened. "Take care of yourself. Be careful around other people from now on."
"Uh…uh…wait!" Without thinking, Yul called out, but Yeon-woo continued walking without looking back. Yul urgently shouted, “Th-thank you! Hyung! Someday I’m gonna be like you!" Yul thought to himself that he had to overcome his weakness and become strong like this person.
Suddenly, Yeon-woo stopped and turned his head. Yul flinched for a moment, wondering if he had made a mistake. "Try going to the Freesia Garden."
"It'll be quite helpful to you." Yeon-woo waved goodbye without saying anything else.
Yul stood for a moment with a blank expression but soon grasped Yeon-woo’s meaning and clenched his fists. ‘Freesia Garden, is it?’ As if he had made a pledge to himself, he turned his gaze to another side of the room.
* * *
"Oh! Would you look at that?" In a place with a lot of dropouts, a man who had been crouching in one corner and yawning from time to time, exclaimed with admiration. He had disheveled hair, rough clothing, and a suspicious appearance—definitely not a person who left a positive impression on others. But his expression changed as he stared at something near the gate, as though he were a kid who’d found a fun toy. "Hey, hey. Stop sleeping and get up."
"Ugh! You won’t even let me sleep. What is it?"
The young man with disheveled hair kicked a baby-faced boy who was tossing and turning. The boy got up and frowned slightly as he rubbed his eyes. Despite his bedhead and drowsy eyes, his face was pretty enough to awe anyone. If it weren't for his Adam’s apple, people would think he was a girl.
"Did you see that?"
"Those guys who were boasting about their admission to Arangdan—they just got beaten up."
The boy yawned. "What's wrong with that?" He was about to say that it wasn’t unexpected since the four had been walking around acting haughty. He’d expected someone to beat them up for their attitude, and besides, they weren’t even that great. However, as the disheveled young man added another sentence, the boy only stared at him with wide eyes: “They all got beaten up by one guy.”
"Huh?" His sleepy eyes suddenly flashed. "One guy?"
"Yup. I think he passed Section A all by himself, too."
The boy exclaimed, “Oh!” A soft smile so cute that even men’s hearts would flutter appeared on his face as he looked at the gate leading to Section A. "Really? At a time like this? That's great! I thought there wouldn’t be anyone left. You know, that Kaen or whoever was pretty good.” The boy tilted his head in an adorable manner. "Still, you said the guy just screwed with Arangdan, so Cheonghwa is gonna go nuts, right?"
The young man laughed wickedly. "No, they were just potential candidates. Hehe. Still, I came here not expecting much, but I've already seen something fun so quickly. So, what do you think?"
"About making him our teammate. Don't you think he is OK? Since he’s on his own, it means he doesn't belong to a team, yet. I don't think there will be anyone else like him."
"Well, I’m not convinced. It’s too bothersome to clash with Cheonghwa."
“Ha! Since when did you care about that?"
"Heehee. That’s true."
"In any case, just to check him out again, should we go after him?"
"Hyung, that's a bad habit."
"So? You're not coming?"
The boy puffed out his cheeks in response to the young man’s question. "I didn’t say no." Then, he smiled softly again. "Don't you know I like this kind of stuff a lot more than you do? Hehe."
* * *
'He said thank you.' Yeon-woo chuckled as he recalled Yul's words. He had a long way to go, so he didn’t mind this kind of minor connection. Moreover, he had peeked into Yul’s bloodline ability with his Draconic Eyes. He was an Enchanter. ‘It’s an ability that lets him imbue a person or object with mana. I didn't think I would see this kind of thing here.’ He felt drawn to this unique ability that was rare even in the Tower. ‘If I could keep him close to me, it would be a big help in the future. Of course, that’s only if he can get through this place safely.’
Yeon-woo couldn’t erase the smile from his face when he recalled Yul's earnest expression. ‘Which reminds me…’ Yeon-woo stopped and looked around. ‘Where is the passage that leads to Section B?’
He didn’t know if it was because of the fight with the Kaen’s group, but he could feel the other players looking at him. He ignored them and passed through the center of the waiting room. Four doors stood in a row at the end of the wall on his right. As he walked past a yellow line that indicated the starting point of Section B, a message automatically popped up on his retina.
[The challenge of Section B is now beginning.]
[Section B has 4 passages. Select 1 door and clear the passage.]
The doors were exactly the same except for their colors: white, blue, red, and black. ‘I'm going to choose…black.’ Yeon-woo scanned each door and headed towards the one at the far right without any hesitation.
The waiting room in Section B was a place full of dropouts. But I can’t give up like them. I already promised my friends to get out of here safely. I’m not the only one who’s having a hard time here, so I can’t back out. I was instructed to choose one of the four doors, so I did. But later, I regretted my choice.
‘Jeong-woo had chosen blue.’ Each door led to a different room with a preset difficulty level. The further to the right a door was, the higher the difficulty level would be.
His brother had chosen the second easiest door. Section A had been too hard, and so he and his teammates decided to choose a relatively easier door in order to take a breather. But later, after Jeong-woo was already somewhat accustomed to the Tower and learned about the secrets of the Tutorial, he had regretted choosing the blue door. The rewards varied according to the challenge’s difficulty.
The path behind the black door is called the Black Route, and white moss and cannibals are waiting inside.
Section A only tested the players’ physical abilities, but Section B tested other factors: decision-making, cognition, attention, concentration, determination, and so on. Players would be assessed according to the choices they made and even their awareness of a situation. The potential to find the hidden pieces that the Guardians had left behind as though they’d set up a treasure hunt depended on those qualities. ‘I must get my hands on Bathory's Vampiric Sword here.’ As Yeon-woo thought of the location of the hidden piece in Section B, he slowly placed his hand on the black door.