Yeon-woo stared at the young man, his expression clearly wondering what he’d done wrong. The young man seemed to have a lot to say, but he kept his mouth shut. He was thinking that he’d finally found a chance to get out of this awful place. His eyes filled with determination. "OK. I'll help you. What do you want me to do?"
* * *
The young man introduced himself as Yul.
"Yes, Yul. Everyone calls me by that name."
Yeon-woo knew that it was an alias, but he didn't bother asking about it. After all, they would part ways after getting what they needed from each other. "All right, Yul. I'll open up a path, so follow close behind me. If you can’t keep up, I’m just gonna leave you there."
"And one more thing."
“Use honorifics when talking to me. I’m not gonna let you off just because you’re a child.”
At first, Yul didn’t know what to say. However, he decided that it wasn’t necessary to act tough since Yeon-woo already knew his real age, so he only answered with, “OK.” Still, as if his stubbornness was too deeply ingrained, he didn't want to appear weak.
With his Draconic Eyes active, Yeon-woo took the lead as they walked along the passage. Every time they advanced a certain distance, a copper scarecrow would appear to block their way. They imitated Yeon-woo’s movements and tried to attack but Yeon-woo pushed them aside and stabbed the dagger into their imperfections each time. Clang! A limb or two would pop into the air, and sometimes, broken fragments of their heads fell onto the floor.
If Yeon-woo had been focusing on speed before, his focus now changed to clashing head-on with the copper scarecrows and knocking them down. As he moved forward, he realized that this was a better method since he could also figure out new ways to use his senses to complement his stronger muscles.
As he followed Yeon-woo, Yul couldn't stop gaping. The monstrous copper scarecrows exploded into pieces whenever Yeon-woo swung an ordinary-looking dagger, and now Yul was beginning to wonder whether these were the same scarecrows he had fought before.
Then, Yeon-woo looked at him, clearly wondering why he hadn’t started explaining yet. Yul snapped out of his surprise and began to speak. “I don't know about you, but I can see mana innately.”
"Innately?" For a moment, Yeon-woo stopped walking and narrowed his eyes. "Is this something related to your bloodline?"
"It is similar."
"Hmm." This kind of talent was rare on Earth but was more frequently found in other worlds, where there were more individuals who possessed a unique talent or supernatural power that was encoded in their genes. They usually had an outstanding ancestor who passed down these abilities generation after generation. The descendants would awaken their latent abilities, rise to prominence, and continue passing the innate talent or power to their offspring. This was Yul’s situation.
"The ability I inherited is something along the lines of affinity towards mana, which allows me to see, feel, and taste mana. That's how I realized that the copper scarecrows had sensors.”
Yeon-woo contemplated this for a while. “Isn’t this similar to Jeong-woo?” His brother had the trait of Perfect Adaptability. He could communicate with everything, which meant that he could also communicate with mana. His brother didn’t have any problems sensing mana, unlike other people from Earth who usually struggled with it. Jeong-woo could even control mana smoothly, as if he’d recovered something he had once lost. His teammates had been shocked by that ability, and it was also the reason the ancient dragon Kalatus had chosen him to inherit the abilities of the dragon race—something ordinary humans couldn’t grasp. This was why the descriptions of mana in his brother’s diary weren’t helpful at all, it was like grasping at a castle in the sky.
The bloodline inheritance and the awakening of abilities through traits both sounded the same to Yeon-woo. 'Technically, Yul and Jeong-woo can be considered geniuses, which I am not.' Yeon-woo was starting to think that the deal he had made with Yul would end up being of little help to him.
However, the next comment Yul made caught Yeon-woo's attention. "You can consider mana as a kind of river. Magic is the water that flows from the river to a reservoir."
Yeon-woo repeated to himself in a soft voice. "A reservoir?” Something lingered in his head and jumbled his thoughts as he defeated the last copper scarecrow. They were now approaching the iron gate to Section B.
* * *
[You have successfully cleared Section A as a solo player.]
[You have made an achievement that is not easily accomplished. Additional karma will be provided.]
[You have acquired 500 karma.]
[You have acquired 300 additional karma.]
[Your health and mana will be restored.]
[All statuses will be removed.]
'Fortunately, we weren’t recognized as a team.' Yeon-woo cracked a slight smile as he read the messages. The interface system marked everything as Yeon-woo's achievements, presumably because he had taken care of the copper scarecrows without any help from Yul. 'I got 800 points from that.'
In the Tower, the concept of karma was very important. It was a scoring system based on a player's achievements. The Tower and the Guardians provided rewards based on karma, and it was also used as a currency among players and could be traded for other items. Every player did their best to gather as much karma as possible throughout the Tower.
Yeon-woo had just passed Section A of the Tutorial, and he had already gained this much karma. Others would be shocked if they learned about it. “It's still not enough. I need to accumulate more, I need as much as possible.” Yeon-woo closed the karma window and stepped into the waiting room of Section B. A refreshing air entered his lungs.
"Wh-who’s that guy? What's up with his mask?"
"He just passed Section A, right?"
"What? At a time like this?"
"Hold on, where are the other guys? Is he alone?”
Beyond the iron gate, a dozen people looked at him in amazement, surprised that there were participants still attempting to complete the Tutorial even though two weeks had already passed since the Tutorial’s start. It was common knowledge that people usually waited for the next round instead of starting in the middle. But what was more surprising to them was that only one person walked through the iron gate and entered Section B. They wondered if he had broken through the vicious Section A on his own.
"What are you doing? Aren’t you coming in?" Yeon-woo said as he looked back.
Yul crossed the iron gate in disbelief. His trembling lips parted and he muttered, “Finally, I'm out.” His voice was full of several emotions.
[You have entered Section B.]
The waiting room in Section B was shaped like a dome and large enough to accommodate thousands of people. The people waiting inside were all busy: some sharpened their swords with whetstones, some were doing warm-up exercises, some slept, and others were lying down, nursing their serious injuries. Some of the injured had even lost limbs. Aside from Yul, they were the first people Yeon-woo had met since arriving at the Tower, but he ignored all their stares. “They're all dropouts.”
They had no plans to move forward after barely passing through the grisly Section A. They had all given up and were waiting for the end of the Tutorial in two weeks.
Unlike other trial periods, the Tutorial is a dangerous place where players can actually die if they don’t pull themselves together.These people have overcome the dangers of Section A, but they’ve lost the courage to continue. Some have seen companions and loved ones die in front of their eyes and succumbed to the fear of death. Even I would be tired, too.
The Tutorial grew more difficult as players progressed through the sections, and it was inevitable that some would drop out. But if he paid too much attention to them, it would only distract him. Yeon-woo moved to an empty spot, where he found a bench. He called out to Yul, who seemed nailed to one spot. "Yul."
"Huh? Yes!" Yul had been glaring at one area with blazing eyes, but Yeon-woo startled him and he turned to look.
"Let's finish our talk first."
"Ah, yes!" Yul gave one more angry glance and quickly approached Yeon-woo. He sat across from him.
Yeon-woo glanced in the direction where Yul had been sending angry looks. Four players were gathered there with stern looks on their faces. "Are they your teammates?"
"They were. But not anymore.” Yul's expression was cold. They had left him in the jaws of death. It was natural to be angry, but Yul didn't want to tangle with them either. ‘Trash is trash, and it won't do any good to mix with trash.’
Yeon-woo liked that kind of attitude. There was a fine line between revenge and foolhardiness. Being able to differentiate between the two meant that Yul had a lot of room for growth.
"Where was I?”
"Mana stream, or something like that."
To his surprise, Yul knew a lot about mana, or rather, he knew a lot about the theories behind mana. Most of the time, those who had innate magical abilities didn’t know much about theory, but Yul said he had been forced to study from an early age because of his family’s rules. Thanks to him, Yeon-woo was able to get a rough idea of magic and mana. It was hard to understand most of the theory, but things were beginning to take shape in his mind. It made it possible for him to take in some of what Jeong-woo had written in his diary.
“I have a rough idea of what mana is, but if I can't use it, it's useless to me. What’s an easy way to control or use mana?"
"Um, well..." Yul scratched the back of the head. "I don't really know. When it starts to feel refreshing, I guess? I’ve been able to use it from the start, so it’s hard to explain how."
"Is that so? Well, it is what it is." Yeon-woo nodded as if he had been expecting this answer. He’d figured that Yul would only be able to explain as much as his brother could, but that didn’t mean that there was no progress at all. At least, he could ease the vague feeling he had. That alone was a great harvest. He hadn’t lost anything from the deal by taking Yul along with him to Section B, since he was headed there anyway. "Then I’ll take my leave here. You're going to wait for the Tutorial to end and go back, right?"
"Yes? Ah, yes." Yul looked like he had more say as Yeon-woo rose from his seat, but he just silently nodded. Even if he wanted to get to the Tower, only those who attained the highest scores during the Tutorial were eligible to enter. That immediately excluded him. Still, Yul had a slightly regretful expression on his face.
Yeon-woo said a short goodbye first before getting ready to go. He had only passed Section A. There were still four sections remaining until Section F, so it was necessary to narrow the gap between him and the frontrunners as fast as possible. Yeon-woo was about to walk off when he suddenly saw four players headed towards him. They were the team that had abandoned Yul.