The message ended. Speechless, Yeon-woo quickly examined the pocket watch again, just in case he could find another trace of his brother or another message hidden inside. However, he couldn’t find anything.
Plop. Yeon-woo sat down heavily on the sofa, continuing to hold the pocket watch without saying a word. It was scratched in several places and missing its minute hand. He felt like the experiences that his brother had gone through on the other side were appearing right in front of his eyes.
Yeon-woo slowly wound the knob once more. Click.
To my older brother, who will listen to this sometime in the future. By the time you hear this…
The recording of his brother’s voice started again from the beginning. After that, Yeon-woo rewound the knob.
By the time you hear this…
Yeon-woo rewound the watch over and over to that phrase. Each time, he could hear his brother’s voice inside his head. The same voice, the same tone, the same diary.
[Starting the succession process.]
At that moment, a small screen popped up behind his retina. It was an interface system—he had managed to connect to the Tower. His body began to change.
Swoosh! Something was wriggling inside his lower abdomen. He felt as though a snake had curled up in his stomach and was raising its head. It was a refreshing feeling, but at the same time, it felt as if a weird seed were sprouting inside him. It was mana, the basic element that made up the foundation of the world. It was also the power that people from other worlds and the Tower dealt with.
Bang! A cluster of mana exploded inside him. It spread unpredictably in all directions inside his body. He felt something changing inside, and then—crackle, crunch. His body started to twist and convulse, followed by a fierce pain that made him feel like he was being torn apart and pierced by millions of needles.
He had trained to withstand torture in military school, but this was completely different. Even so, Yeon-woo held tightly onto his sanity. Not a single groan slipped out of his mouth. He sat in the same place, rewinding the pocket watch and listening to his brother’s voice again and again.
By the time you…
His skeleton was changing, the joints in his body readjusting, and his muscles softening and firming up. A putrid black substance oozed from his torn skin. All the impurities in his body had been eliminated, and his muscles and skeleton had been refined.
Krak! Krak! He was in terrible pain, but it was nothing compared to what his brother had gone through. After what seemed like an infinity, the process finally came to an end.
[Your awakening process is incomplete. Current progress: 5%.]
[Your current body is inadequate to complete the succession process. Refine your body to complete the succession process. As your body improves, the succession progress will also advance.]
[Your current status is ‘Incomplete Dragon Body’.]
[Your physical abilities have partially improved.]
[Your traits have been confirmed.]
[Your skills have been registered.]
[You have acquired the qualifications of a player. You can only register once inside Obelisk.]
Yeon-woo was in no condition to concentrate on what the strange voice was saying. Strong feelings were still lingering in his mind after the intense pain, but Yeon-woo still couldn’t take his eyes off the pocket watch.
To my older brother, who will listen to this sometime in the future…
As Yeon-woo rewound the watch, he assimilated the five years’ worth of memories his brother had left inside the diary. The memories of first meeting his teammates and founding Arthia. The memories of their happiness after successfully clearing one of the hardest floors. The memories of them standing back to back, fighting their war. The memories of being drenched in blood and feeling worn out. The memories of kissing his love for the first time, and the memories of his tears because of her betrayal. The memories of walking alone to meet his enemies. They flooded in his mind like water, and as they integrated into him, Yeon-woo could feel the happiness, sadness, and all the other emotions his brother had felt.
Inside, Yeon-woo had become his brother. When everything was complete, the strange voice spoke once more.
[Player: Yeon-woo Cha]
[Magic Power: 21]
[Skills: Draconic Eyes, Sense Strengthening, Precognition]
Yeon-woo woke from the overflowing thoughts. As he opened his eyes, a transparent panel popped up in front of his eyes. “It was true. All of it.” He had been hoping it was a lie. He would have preferred if it had only been a dream or hallucination, but it wasn’t. It was true.
Yeon-woo’s expression grew grim. He finally knew everything his brother had gone through, even the identity of his brother’s killer, the reason why his brother had returned the way he had after five years. The Tower was a place that could turn someone into a god. But to Yeon-woo, it was nothing more than a lawless area where people bit at each other’s throats. And his brother had been bitten by the starving demons there. ‘If that’s the case…’
He spoke out loud, “I will return the favor.” He would follow their rules. “I will give it back equally to you all.”
Yeon-woo had gained his brother’s abilities, and he was now a player who had the minimum requirements to climb the Tower. It was his time to come forward, and grief disappeared from his eyes, leaving only cold fury behind.
* * *
Yeon-woo silently stared at the transparent panel in front of his eyes. “So, this is the status window.” The status window had three tabs labeled “Traits”, “Attributes”, and “Skills”.
Traits showed the player’s personality or talents. The first trait his brother had obtained was “Perfect Adaptability”—the ability to communicate with his surroundings. His brother had managed to overcome many dangers by using Perfect Adaptability to communicate with objects or skills.
The Attributes tab showed an assessment of a player’s capabilities, and Skills showed the standardized skills that players could use inside the Tower. ‘It’s just like a game.’
When talking about Obelisk, his brother had said that it might look like a game but it was real. Now, he understood why. ‘Currently, I have “Cold-blooded” as my trait.’
[An ability to maintain rational thought in any situation. Shows great immunity to mind control and brainwash-class curses.]
This was a talent Yeon-woo already possessed because of his training as a professional soldier, which meant he could make cool-headed decisions in chaotic situations and command his army on the frontlines. ‘Not bad.’
Actually, it wasn’t just “not bad”, it was perfect. It was important to have an ace in his hand that would help protect him in a world full of bizarre magic and skills. ‘It’s just that my attributes are too weak.’ Even though he had gone through an awakening as a player and his body had also improved, he was still just a normal human.
On average, his attributes were all below twenty, and he was too weak to climb the Tower, where all sorts of monsters lurked. However, it was no surprise. He had no idea how to handle mana, and he wasn’t particularly skilled at anything. His knowledge of skills was also insufficient. The only thing he could rely on was his instincts that had been honed by war.
Under the Skills tab, he saw a list.
[Eyes of a dragon. Sees the truth. Can partially peek into an object’s or person’s abilities.]
[The 5 senses are greatly improved.]
[Sees into the near future.]
The Draconic Eyes were the only skills his brother had left behind for him through the succession process in the pocket watch. ‘Jeong-woo managed to make contact with an ancient dragon on the eleventh floor by chance. I wonder if this is a souvenir from that encounter.’
Draconic species were arrogant and ferocious by nature, yet they were also creatures that sought the truth. It seemed that his brother’s partial exposure to their nature had given him eyes that could see the truth. He would have to see how helpful this skill would be in the future.
‘It seems that Sense Strengthening was generated according to my trait.’ It was a skill that allowed him increased control over his five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Yeon-woo liked this skill the most. Battlefields were unpredictable. He might have to locate enemies that were out of sight or track down the faint smell of oil. He might have to listen for an enemy’s footsteps in the distance. Having the ability to control his senses would be helpful once he began climbing the Tower.
‘This is the one that bothers me the most.’ Yeon-woo focused on the final skill, Precognition. He looked at the pocket watch in his hand. ‘Is it because of this?’
Skills were assigned according to players’ traits, but sometimes the player’s environment or their most precious possession had an influence, especially if the skill was marked “special”. It was safe to say that this was a skill unique to him.
‘OK. Now, let’s just do it.’ Yeon-woo took a deep breath. It was clear to him that, compared to other players, he was starting off with an advantage thanks to his brother’s help. Even so, there was a long road ahead of him. The ones who pushed his brother to his death were the strongest among all the people with high ranks. They had grown stronger throughout the years, some had even been around for hundreds of years. He had a long way to go if he wanted to catch up with those people. The image of his brother in the photograph surfaced in his mind. ‘You only wanted me to find the elixir and then live the rest of my life peacefully, but…’ He clenched his fist, his veins bulging. ‘I don’t think I can just let things go.’
* * *
Yeon-woo proceeded to sort out his personal affairs.
“Sergeant Cha! What are you talking about? You’re leaving the army so suddenly!” His commander sounded furious over the phone, which he’d expected. His commander had only allowed him to return to Korea after hearing about his brother’s death. He’d expected Yeon-woo to only take time to sort himself out, but instead, Yeon-woo was applying for a discharge without any warning. If Yeon-woo were the commander, he would be mad, too.
However, Yeon-woo did not specify a reason for his application.
“Did something happen? Or do you have complaints? If you do, just tell me. If Cain leaves, what am I supposed to—”
“I’m sorry.” Yeon-woo hung up right after apologizing. His phone rang again, but he turned it off and threw it into a garbage can on the street. The commander treated him like his own son, so Yeon-woo had to cut off the connection even more firmly. The only thing left was his house, and he put it on the real estate market. It had been empty since he left, and there was no excuse to keep it around. He didn’t want to have a place to come back to.
He bought several items, filling a new backpack with simple clothing and as many combat rations as he could. He also equipped himself with dozens of knives that he’d used in the army, and some survival gear like first-aid kits. He thought about buying firearms and bombs from the black market but dismissed the idea. ‘The Tower was built to test a player’s skills. It’s better to avoid those things. Besides, if I can’t find a regular supply of the ammunition, those items will become a burden.’
As soon as everything was ready, Yeon-woo went to a lonely park early in the morning, wearing jeans and a black hoodie with his hood pulled over his eyes. He slung his backpack full of supplies on his right shoulder. He had already burned his uniform and the bag he’d owned. ‘Considering the time difference between Obelisk and the real world, it must be about a week since the last round began.’
To enter the Tower, he had to go through a place called the Tutorial first. It was designed to test players who wanted to enter the Tower. Entering it a week late would be a disadvantage, but Yeon-woo still decided to enter. ‘Players who start late also have advantages. If I manage to catch up with the front runners, I’ll get more points. There’s also a secret location that is given only to latecomers. Besides…’ A grim light appeared in Yeon-woo’s eyes. ‘I’m sure that this is around the time that that guy will show up.’
As Yeon-woo organized his plans step by step in his head, he wound the knob of his brother’s pocket watch backwards. Click. A cluster of lights appeared in the middle of the park, and a shadow suddenly sprang out, swirling around to form a door.
It was the gateway to the world of the Tower. Yeon-woo stepped through the door without any hesitation. His eyes were colder than ever. From now on, I will make sure that all the people beyond this gate know who they messed up with. I am Cha Jeong-woo.’
The gate closed behind him.