The Hero Returns

Chapter 158



Chapter 158: Chapter 158


A month flew by.


The winter ripened, the season passed and the ground began to thaw.


Su-hyeun paid a visit to the Awakener Authority. Thanks to his alerting them beforehand, Bak Yun-gyu was already there, waiting.


“It’s been a while, Mister Su-hyeun.”


“Indeed, it’s been a while since I came here.”


It had been a long time since he had come to the authority’s HQ. It was usually the other way around, with the Authority’s people coming to visit Su-hyeun, instead.


“Are you going to speak to the director?”


Su-hyeun smirked at the token question and made his reply. “No need to even ask.”


“I take it you’re not interested. Please, this way.”


For an inflexible man, Bak Yun-gyu could be rather quick-witted. Su-hyeun followed him and headed to the large reception room within the Authority HQ.


“I heard that you passed the 39th floor,” said Bak Yun-gyu.


“That news already reached here?”


“We’re constantly monitoring the Abyss Online, you see. Posts related to you show up several hundreds of times a day.”


“….I don’t do much, to begin with, so I’m kinda shocked that there are so many things to write about me.”


“A majority of them are just guesswork related to your overall wealth, your combat prowess, as well as the difficulty of the tenth level trials. Almost none of them contain verified facts, actually.”


The speed of information circulating was rather fast.


Since Su-hyeun was busy rewriting the records of each and every floor he’d been on, the news of which floor he was currently staying on was known widely even to those completely unrelated to the tower itself. That’s how famous the topic had become.


“Soon, you’ll be on the 40th floor.”


“Yes, I must challenge it soon.”


“You really don’t take many breaks, do you? With the exception of helping out on the dungeon raids every now and then.”


Knock, knock…


As they conversed about this and that, someone knocked on the door and entered the room.


“Here it is,” said Kang Seung-cheol as he handed over a thin stack of documents to both Bak Yun-gyu and Su-hyeun. While receiving it, the latter expressed his gratitude.


“This is the requested data. Please, have a look.”


Flip-


The prompt was unnecessary as Su-hyeun was already doing exactly that. There was no need to take a close look, though. Forget about the small, tightly-packed letters, it was enough to check out the graphs visible on the pages here and there.


[Quarterly breakdown on the increase of the dungeon generation rate.]


[Quarterly breakdown on the increase of the awakener appearance rate.]


Two matters of importance.


The breakdown of the dungeon generation showed the number and the distribution of dungeons in different colored lines.


<< Without a doubt, it’s gotten quicker. >>


Su-hyeun flipped through the data. He felt relieved by the fact that the rate of new awakeners discovering their powers was accelerating, as well.


<< Both the numbers of dungeons and awakeners are increasing faster than before. >>


Up until today, it remained nothing more than a hunch, a rough guess. He saw how the blue-colored dungeons showed up sooner than expected and began thinking that the dungeon generation rate must’ve accelerated.


But now that he had accurate data in hand, some aspects actually exceeded his estimation.


“What do you think?”


“The problem is bigger than I thought,” said Su-hyeun, being honest with his impression. He tensely massaged his forehead, before opening his mouth again while putting the documents down on the coffee table. “It’s fine if we’re talking about red, orange, and even yellow-colored dungeons. Because the number of awakeners ranked B or lower are increasing at the same time.”


“You’re saying the issue is with the higher-leveled dungeons?”


“We need more time to increase the number of awakeners above A-Rank, no, more than that, above S-Rank. More importantly, however, it looks to me that the number of awakeners won’t be able to match up to the number of dungeons being generated in the future.”


Bak Yun-gyu looking at the same data realized the severity of the situation. His complexion darkened as he replied. “I’ll send this data to the media and the Awakener Authorities in other countries. Being aware of the impending threat to some level is better than not, after all.”


“Please. I’ll leave it to you.”


“Will you head straight to the tower?”


Su-hyeun was getting up from his seat when he heard Bak Yun-gyu’s question, so he nodded his head. “It’s getting harder to take a longer break with the current state of affairs.”


“Even still, resting is important.”


“Don’t worry, I’ll return every now and then.”


“For the sake of that, I can only pray that there are save zones in the 40th floor’s trial.”


Su-hyeun’s existence was a necessity from the perspective of not just South Korea but even the whole world. He was a powerful figure who could solo a blue-colored dungeon. At least in this point in time, it’d be quite difficult to find someone with Su-hyeun’s level of combat prowess.


Su-hyeun bade goodbye to Bak Yun-gyu and returned home. His movements as he changed clothes seemed urgent.


<< I need to pass the 40th floor as soon as possible. >>


Blue-colored dungeons were appearing sooner than he had bargained for. He couldn’t tell when the navy-colored ones would pop up, and he couldn’t be sure when Fafnir would make its appearance next. He might have some knowledge of future incidents, but that wasn’t the same as him being able to tell when those things would happen.


As such, he needed to get real busy from now on. He couldn’t solely focus his attention to the outside world. Climbing the tower and getting stronger wasn’t something he could take lightly.


<< Let’s go. >>


He calmed his breathing down for a moment or two, opened his eyes, and extended his hand out in front of him.


Split-


<hr />


Step, step-


The world on the 40th floor.


Beautiful architecture reminiscent of medieval Europe and the clear blue sky above made one feel like they were tourists visiting a faraway land just by walking through the streets.


The 40th floor’s world was so pretty that many awakeners rated it easily one of the very best out there. Sure, it couldn’t be labeled ‘THE’ best, but it always came in the top five when discussions regarding great places to live popped up.


Because of that, many awakeners who reached this floor would choose to stay here for a minimum of ten days, and even several months sometimes.


But Su-hyeun had no reason to do so. He headed directly to the plaza, the location of the floor’s trial.


“Welcome, welcome. Okay, so. Which level will it be? three? Let’s see, the price of information on the third level trial is….”


A clearly-excited voice could be heard coming from the corner of the plaza. Quite a crowd had formed over there, as if to spectate on something. The racket they made even reached where Su-hyeun was standing. He headed over there.


“Excuse me, passing through.”


He dug through the wall of people surrounding the location. Several frowned deeply and turned their heads to him.


“Come on, man! If you want to take a look, just stay at the back. Why are you shoving people arou….. Heok?!”


That particular man raised his voice in irritation only to recognize Su-hyeun’s face and shut his mouth. Soon enough, others also discovered his presence and began muttering without even realizing it.


“K-Kim Su-hyeun?”


“I heard he had arrived on the 40th floor, but he’s already here in the plaza?”


“Is he here to speak to the gatekeeper?”


Those who recognized Su-hyeun all made way for him. They had no reason to pick fights with him, and, undoubtedly, he had the most pressing matter to attend to among everyone present, anyway.


Once he made his way past the crowd, he observed a middle-aged tramp sitting in a chair placed in the middle of the plaza.


The gatekeeper.


After the information had become more widespread, those found on every tenth floor were celebrities now.


“A really big customer has shown up, I see.” The gatekeeper revealed his yellowing teeth and beckoned with his finger. “Okay, so. What are you curious about? How much did you find out before coming here?”


Su-hyeun strode towards the gatekeeper and asked. “First of all, tell me about the trial’s difficulty.”


The gatekeeper pondered this for a bit, before reaching out. “One hundred thousand.”


“Here.”


Using his finger, Su-hyeun lightly tapped on the gatekeeper’s palm.


[You have spent 100,000 achievement points.]


An incredible amount of points was spent in an instant. Awakeners watching the scene all cried out in sheer shock.


“H-hundred thousand?!”


“Just to learn more about the difficulty??”


“What bullsh*t pricing is this?! Is he a swindler or something?”


It had been a while since people learned that you could get hints of the upcoming trials from the gatekeepers. On top of that, online communities throughout the world, including the ones found on Abyss Online, had publicly revealed the achievement points required to learn more about the various level of trials on each floor.


On average, they ranged between ten thousand to twenty. At the high end, around fifty thousand. But the gatekeeper demanded one hundred thousand points just for information on the difficulty, and Su-hyeun paid it as if such an amount was nothing to him.


“This ain’t going to be difficult for your current level. If you were to challenge the 50th floor, sure, but something like the 40th is….”


The trial’s difficulty shot up exponentially every ten floors. Because of that, the world found on every tenth floor was seen as a type of a big hurdle. And people were fully aware of this, so it was common to see those who nearly lost their lives on the ninth floors give up on the challenge.


That’s why the reply from the gatekeeper was especially shocking to the crowd.


Not difficult.


That implied that there was no such thing as a hurdle for Su-hyeun.


“Does that mean I don’t need any hints?”


“If you only want to safely negotiate the trial, that is.”


“If not, what then?” Su-hyeun continued to ask.


“If you seek something far more than that… Fine. Why don’t I give you a discount? Five hundred thousand.”


“F-five hundred thousand?!”


“That’s crazy! What kind of horsesh*t pricing is that?!”


Loud complaints exploded out from the peanut gallery at the gatekeeper sounding as if he was making a generous offer. All of them thought that this was a daylight robbery. And they all believed that Su-hyeun would outright refuse to pay the gatekeeper.


<< I mean, it’s not supposed to be difficult for him, so why would he?? >>


Too bad…


“Thank you.”


Su-hyeun lightly tapped the gatekeeper’s palm again and paid the price.


[You have spent 500,000 achievement points.]


The gatekeeper smiled at the prompt decision, and opened his mouth soon afterward. “The real problem is with the difficulty.”


“The real problem?”


“From the 40th floor onwards, you can re-select the difficulty again. Even if you choose the tenth level… You can still choose to make it easy, tough, or hellish for yourself.”


“And which one should I choose?”


“Asking me that when you already have made up your mind. Aren’t you going to choose the most difficult path, anyway?”


Su-hyeun could only smile a little in embarrassment at the gatekeeper’s retort. When he thought about it, that was indeed true. He asked reflexively, but even if the gatekeeper told him to choose the easier path, he’d still have chosen the hardest.


“Although the intent behind the question was a bit upsetting, you’ve made the correct call. This is about perfect for your current level. Plenty of things to earn for yourself, too.”


“If that’s everything, I’m feeling a bit short-changed here,” said Su-hyeun.


Just like what the gatekeeper said, even without the hint, he’d still have chosen the hardest path there was. Considering that, this whole thing felt like a waste of five hundred thousand points. He hadn’t gotten anything worthwhile from the gatekeeper.


“Find the Cintamani.”


“…?”


“That’s all I can tell you. It is now up to you to make whatever choice you want with this clue.”


What a vague clue that was.


It was a completely different reaction on the 30th floor, when he learned the methods to kill the Ouroboros. It could be down to the gatekeeper’s different personalities, or maybe that the difficulty this time was far lower than before.


<< Cintamani, is it? >>


Even then, what the gatekeeper had told him was more than enough to pique Su-hyeun’s curiosity.


The Cintamani.


Although he wasn’t sure what kind of an item it was, he at least did know who might be holding it—a dragon. According to Su-hyeun’s knowledge, the creature occupying the highest tier of the divine beast hierarchy.


Not only that, Miru’s own species was a dragon, too.


<< Does that mean this trial is related to the dragons? >>


He had discovered some leads on dragons through Malcolm during the 30th floor’s trial. Ever since then, he had tried pretty hard to get his hands on more information during subsequent trials but had nothing to show for his efforts.


After hearing the gatekeeper’s hints, though, he thought that he could learn more during this trial as long as he played his cards smartly.


“Ah, by the way, this is a bonus just for you.”


Just as Su-hyeun bade goodbye and turned around to head towards the trial’s entrance….


“You need to think carefully about why such a trial was given to you. And don’t forget that many are expecting great things from you, too.”


“…..Okay. Thank you.”


Su-hyeun bowed to the gatekeeper one more time.


<< A bonus, is it? >>


Gatekeepers had all recognized him since he didn’t know when. Was it because they were connected to each other in some way?


Su-hyeun pondered this for a bit, but soon afterward shook his head.


<< No, that’s not important right now. >>


He knew from personal experience that every suggestion and hint the gatekeepers gave was important. Although the last tidbit was labeled as a ‘bonus’, it was undoubtedly yet another crucial clue in passing the trial.


<< I must think about why this trial was given to me? >>


While thinking about it deeply, Su-hyeun’s feet soon climbed up on the platform that would lead him to the trial.


[Will you start the 40th floor’s trial?]


[Please select your level.]


Su-hyeun spoke his prepared answer. “Tenth level.”


[You have selected ‘tenth level.’]


[Please select the detailed difficulty.]


[Very Hard / Hard / Normal / Easy]


It was as the gatekeeper said.


The tenth level trial.


Every tenth floor, referred to as one’s big hurdle.


And finally….


“The ‘very hard’ difficulty.”


The highest difficulty currently available.


[You have selected ‘Very Hard’.]


[The trial will now commence.]


That was the message he had been waiting for.


Su-hyeun nodded his head and replied, “Let’s go.”


Soon, the vista before his eyes began to change. The surrounding medieval buildings disappeared and were replaced by the blue skies and clouds completely filling his vision.


In other words, he had arrived on the stage for the 40th-floor trial.


Grrrrr…


The next second, Su-hyeun heard a familiar growl.



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