As darkness fell, Yeon-woo’s party made preparations to camp outside. While he was in the Inner Area, Yeon-woo only took short naps from time to time due because he couldn’t distinguish night from day. But now, he didn't have to do it any longer. Also, Kahn had suggested the idea so that they would be in top condition. "The monsters we’ll be dealing with are pretty tough. We have to be fully prepared."
Yeon-woo nodded in agreement. Although Yeon-woo feigned ignorance, he knew who Kahn and Doyle were looking for: Hargan, the Lizardman King. As one of the boss monsters in Section E, Hargan was powerful enough to easily crush normal players, and even high rankers like Kahn and Doyle couldn’t guarantee they would win against him. There was an even bigger problem: ‘He is not the only one.’
There were two Lizardman leaders, one male and one female. Hargan's Lair was named after the male one, but its real owner was the female one who resided deep inside the lair. If you let down your guard after killing the male Lizardman King, you would find yourself in big trouble. ‘It’s the Lizardman Queen who has Hargan’s Crown. These two must have already figured it out.'
If they were going to take the crown, at least one player had to handle each Lizardman leader. Even if Kahn risked his life, he could only handle one, and he needed someone to take on the other one. Doyle’s physical strength was relatively weak, and the only thing he could do was seize the crown while the monsters were distracted by other players. That's why all three of them had to be at their peak before setting foot into Hargan’s Lair.
Perhaps because they had a lot of experience sleeping outdoors, Kahn and Doyle set up camp quickly. Yeon-woo was fascinated at the method Doyle used to light the campfire. He summoned a certain species of bugs and made them line up on top of the firewood. The bugs suddenly burst into flames, creating a display of sparks.
Doyle smiled coyly in response to Yeon-woo’s exclamation. "They are called flamebugs. When in danger, they’ll self-combust and burn their enemies. The Tower is full of wonderful insects like these."
Yeon-woo nodded and looked at the corpses of the flamebugs slowly disintegrating in the flames. “There are so many things in the Tower that even Jeong-woo didn't uncover.” Since the diary wasn’t a full record of the things in the Tower, Yeon-woo knew that he would need to figure them out on his own.
As the fire burned brightly, they made themselves comfortable in their sleeping bags. After agreeing to take turns keeping watch during the night, they fell asleep one by one.
* * *
Yeon-woo was the first one to keep watch after winning a round of rock, paper, and scissors. Crackle. He calmly stared at the burning firewood and opened one of his hands. Five blue beads rolled around his palm. 'Together with the one I already swallowed, I have six Tokens.'
During the journey to Hargan’s Lair, Yeon-woo had kept a lookout for hidden Tokens in different places, from a rock crevice by a brook to a bird nest on top of a tree. They weren’t too hard to find. ‘I never imagined that my strengthened senses could even sniff out Tokens.’
The Tokens seemed to contain some sort of special power, and the feeling he got when sensing them was different from that of other objects. 'I need to collect as many Tokens as possible. The more Tokens I find, the more karma points I’ll get. There’s an especially drastic increase from the 100th Token onwards. I have to stay focused.’
He had been searching for Tokens discreetly, deciding that he didn’t have to let Kahn and Doyle know. The two were showing signs of remorse, lamenting that Yeon-woo couldn’t find any Tokens because he was helping them with their raid. Doyle went further and even offered him Tokens in compensation. Whether they were sincere or not, Yeon-woo thought they must be pretty good guys, considering the fact that they were in a place where selfishness was common. ‘Anyway…’
Yeon-woo tossed the Tokens into his mouth and raised his head to look at the sky. Unlike Earth, this place had two moons, one large and one small. 'Have I already made it all the way here? Time does pass quickly.’
He was feeling a bit awkward at enjoying the night breeze. Yeon-woo wondered if it was because he had been passing through the sections without a break. Having a peaceful moment like this was like finding a needle in a haystack. He had barely gotten any decent rest in the Tutorial; he’d spent most of his time rolling on the ground stabbing monsters or running. He’d only taken quick naps to recover from fatigue.
But when he sat back and considered what he’d gone through, he realized how intensely he had kept to his plans. It felt as if he had entered the Tutorial only yesterday, and now that he was relaxing, he was beginning to feel tired. His mental fatigue had been piling up for a while. However, he tried to keep his guard up, using his senses to meticulously scan the area in great detail. He dismissed all the distracting thoughts from his head as he looked at the serene night sky and enjoyed the breeze. His mental fatigue began to lift, along with the pressure that had been building up inside him.
‘This reminds me of the sky in Africa.’ Yeon-woo recalled his comrades and the commander who would be working hard in his place by now. He felt a little sorry when he thought about the commander who had cared for him like a father. ‘Jeong-woo would have loved this quiet atmosphere.’
Yeon-woo shifted his gaze to Kahn and Doyle. They were so tired that they had fallen asleep as soon as they laid their heads down. ‘What an interesting pair.’ Kahn and Doyle were very different from ordinary players to him. They were always beaming and full of joy, and they had a confident manner and bearing that other players lacked. They dealt with all kinds of situations as if they were already accustomed to them. ‘Where on earth did you guys spring out from?’
As they journeyed to the swamp, Yeon-woo finally had a chance to witness their skills. Kahn occasionally revealed a glimpse of his excellent swordsmanship, which was powerful and fierce, striking a balance between majesty and practicality. It was impossible to attain that level of swordsmanship in just a few days, and Yeon-woo was sure he must have had a lot of experiences and training. Although he was talkative and seemed foolish on the outside, he clearly didn’t have an ordinary childhood.
It was the same with Doyle. His eyes were often dull and sleepy, but sharp looks sometimes slipped out, and when they did, he showed keen judgement and acumen. If Kahn was a doer that mostly engaged in close combat, Doyle was more of a thinker that hung back and made the decisions.
Doyle’s entomopathic ability appeared weak whenever he used it for practical matters, but its true power shone brightly against monsters. The bugs he controlled were very small. They could creep into orifices like nostrils, ears, and mouth, or they could dig into skin and flesh, nibbling at blood vessels and devouring muscles. Because of this, monsters instinctively avoided Doyle and rushed towards Kahn instead. Whenever that happened, Kahn would get upset at the swarming monsters, and they still ended up being swept away.
The duo were like two cogwheels that fit and moved perfectly together. They were nothing short of impressive. It didn’t look like they had only learned or practiced this together recently. They had developed a connection that helped them get a sense of what the other was planning to do, and it had to be the result of at least five years of working together. Even real siblings weren’t always in perfect sync like them. 'What is your relationship? I'm sure you’re not brothers.’
He didn't know how experts who came from privileged backgrounds like them could be so close or even why they chose to make things harder for themselves. He only knew one thing for sure: 'They sure look good together.'
The two of them trusted each other with their lives. This relationship was impossible without mutual faith. Yeon-woo was a little jealous of the relationship. It wasn’t like he wanted to get to know them better or join their circle but looking at them made him think of someone he had known.
Yeon-woo tried to get rid of the random thoughts crowding in his head. He was becoming needlessly sentimental as the night wore on and couldn’t believe what he was thinking. Suddenly, he realized his mind was clearer than ever, like the sky after a heavy rain. 'Is this because of the rest I’ve taken?’ When he opened his eyes again, they were filled with wholehearted determination.
Then suddenly, Kahn shifted and woke up, his eyes still sleepy through his wild hair. He yawned widely.
"Why are you up? You still have some time before your shift."
"How can I sleep when it’s so noisy around here?"
A chuckle slipped out of Yeon-woo. As a matter of fact, it was too calm, as if all sound had been muted. There wasn’t even the sound of wind blowing or bugs chirping. Kahn rubbed his sleepy eyes and put his hand on the scabbard he had placed near his head.
Everything was still quiet, but Doyle also woke up with a yawn. There was a slight frown upon his fine-featured face, and he looked annoyed that his sleep had been disturbed. "Ah, how long are you going to let them stay like that?"
"I was going to get rid of them when they came closer. I’m sorry they woke you up," Yeon-woo answered with a smile.
"It's OK. I was getting stiff since I haven’t been moving my body much lately. Might as well do some proper exercise." Doyle turned to look at Kahn. "Hyung, I was wondering."
“Do you think they knew you’re here?”
“Does it matter?” Kahn slowly drew his sword out of the scabbard as his eyes glowed with a cold light. “The only thing that matters is that they are enemies who are pointing their swords at us.” As soon as Kahn finished speaking, his shadow disappeared.
“Aack!” They heard the sound of blood spattering and a desperate scream from within the bushes.
“Dammit! How did they notice we’re here?”
“Fan out! It’s more dangerous if we stay together!”
The bushes stirred, and several players burst out in different directions. They had been planning to approach the camp and jump at their targets as soon as they were close enough. Now that they’d been caught, there was no point in hiding, and it was too dangerous to stick close to each other. They were facing Blood Sword and Foxy Tail, and there was no chance of winning if they fought directly.
Kahn bolted and brandished his sword. He didn’t have the slightest intention of letting them slip away. With each slash, blood sprayed over the grass and a body fell to the ground. Doyle also made a big gesture in the air.
Buzz! The forest was home to many bugs and flies, and they began to swarm together and rush towards the nearest players.
"Damn it! Fucking insects!"
"Get it off! Get it off!"
As thousands of bugs clung to their skin, they swung their swords trying to shake them off. But the bugs only dug deeper and began to feast on their flesh. Screams of pain echoed through the whole forest. However, even though Kahn and Doyle were slaughtering enemies at an inhuman pace, many players were still hiding in the bushes.
Doyle heard muffled footsteps behind him, and it seemed like they were planning to attack from a blind spot. With a slightly irritated expression, Doyle was about to send bugs to them when he realized where they were going. "Hmm?" He was so taken aback that a small laugh escaped him.
They were moving towards Yeon-woo, perhaps because he wasn’t as well-known as him and Kahn. Maybe they even thought Yeon-woo was just a porter. ‘Those idiots. Of all the choices they had, they picked the worst one.’
Whatever the reason, whatever their expectations, they were heading to nothing less than the jaws of death.