The Hero Returns - Chapter 303
Chapter 303: Chapter 303
The lurker did not immediately respond to Su-hyeun. Meanwhile, Su-hyeun waited for it to come close. He was calm, but vigilant.
About 10 seconds later, a well-groomed man appeared from the corner of a street and spoke, “Well, now. Just as I have been told, your senses are remarkably well attuned. I am impressed.”
His previously invincible body slowly showed its form and color. This skill resembled a chameleon’s ability to camouflage itself.
Su-hyeun examined the man from head to foot. Then he asked, “Are you the administrator?”
“Yes. I am the administrator of the 101st floor.”
As expected, the only living being remaining on the 101st floor’s world was the administrator. This didn’t surprise Su-hyeun.
“What were you trying to do by concealing yourself?” Su-hyeun continued to question him.
“I was just trying to gauge your skill level. That’s all. I’ve heard a lot about you. But, to be honest, I never really believed you would get this far.”
What was this guy even saying? Sure, the 101st floor was not a low floor, but it was also not that high either.
In the case of the awakeners choosing the first level of difficulty, six out of 10 challengers would successfully clear the 100th floor and enter this floor.
Of course, it was not as if Su-hyeun was completely clueless. This place was simply far too different from the 101st floor’s world he remembered.
He asked again, “What’s going on here? Why is this place deserted? I haven’t seen a single soul since I arrived.”
“This is normal.”
“What do you mean ‘normal’? I know several people who have entered the 101st floor’s world a long time ago. The 101st floor that I know of isn’t—”
“What’s not normal,” the administrator began, “is the ‘other’ world you know about.”
The other world Su-hyeun knew about?
He considered the possibility after hearing the administrator’s explanation. As they had been talking about the 101st floor, the ‘other’ world the administrator referred to could be…
“That place is a sham, and this is the real one. Is it clear now?” the administrator clarified.
Su-hyeun took another look at the surroundings. Although not a perfect replica, this place certainly resembled the 101st floor’s world he remembered.
The difference was obvious: the original had living creatures on it, while the replica was abandoned.
“What’s wrong? Can’t accept it?”
“No, not really.”
It was not because Su-hyeun couldn’t accept it or didn’t understand what the administrator had just told him. He felt that something was off, and he had sensed it since he arrived.
“Was the 100th floor’s trial a sort of doorway…a hurdle?”
“More accurately, it’s the 10th level of difficulty of the trial.”
Now that was one absurd requirement—the 100th floor and its trial set at the 10th level of difficulty.
For someone who had experienced and pa.s.sed that trial, Su-hyeun found the level of difficulty absurd. If an aspirant was able to climb all the way to the 100th floor, then it would be that person’s prerogative on how to manage the trial. However, a sane individual would find it impossible to clear that level nonetheless.
The only one who stood a chance of successfully clearing this trial had to choose and clear the 10th level of difficulty and reach the 100th floor.
Not only that, even Su-hyeun wouldn’t have pa.s.sed it if it weren’t for his fortuitous encounters on the 60th floor that included acquiring both the Palm Leaf Fan and the Somersault cloud, as well as learning about the Sage Arts.
“This is the real world, while the other one is a replica…” Su-hyeun let those words sink in before asking another question. “In that case, the people…they are…”
“Stuck,” the administrator finished the sentence for Su-hyeun and went on, “They are unable to climb any higher.”
That answer puzzled Su-hyeun.
The condition to climb to the 101st floor was to pa.s.s the trial set at the 10th level of difficulty on the 100th floor’s world.
Those countless awakeners who failed to meet this requirement but still pa.s.sed the 100th floor were now stuck in a fake world. They thought they were diligently ascending the floors, but they were all mistaken.
This was no isolated incident. Even the awakeners in Su-hyeun’s previous life, as Kim-Sung-in, also faced this unfortunate event.
“If that’s the case, then what’s the point of dividing the difficulty levels for each trial, especially when you can’t even go any higher?” Su-hyeun asked.
“No, it’s not like you can’t go higher,” the administrator refuted. “It will just take a longer time.”
“Ten requirements exist to reach this ‘next world’. Tenth level of difficulty on the 100th floor, ninth level on the 200th, eighth level on the 300th, and, eventually, first level on the 1,000th. Difficulties are composed of different sections, and all you have to do is to pa.s.s those trials,” the administrator explained in detail. Su-hyeun seemed to be absorbing this information and remained silent, so the administrator continued, “Your abilities will invariably improve faster if you choose an advanced difficulty setting on higher floors. Meaning, only the awakeners who have acquired a suitable level of strength to clear the 100th floor or 10th level of difficulty are qualified to step into the ‘real’ next world.
In Su-hyeun’s previous life as Kim Sung-in, he cleared trials set at the eighth level of difficulty and eventually reached the 294th floor. However, he failed to see the real next world; he was six floors short.
“And you are the very first person to pa.s.s all the tests we have prepared and set foot in this world.”
“I hope that answers all your questions. I’m sure you have more, but I’m afraid I can’t divulge too much information. Besides all that, I recommend that you hurry back home first.” The administrator stretched his limbs, then turned around to leave. “I’m sure ‘that’ side is in utter chaos as we speak.”
Su-hyeun then realized that he had not been to the outside world for quite a while now.
He originally planned to return immediately once the trial was over, but the 101st floor turned out to be too different from his memories, and that ended up delaying his plans.
‘When he said it was in ‘utter chaos’ over there, could it be…,’ Su-hyeun pondered.
Su-hyeun urgently went back to the outside world.
It had been 20 days since he went away.
On a small rice field located near Yangpyeong of Gyeonggi Province and Chuncheon…
It was autumn. The wind blew ruthlessly, and the leaves changed colors. No one was around. If the rice field owner was here, he would be heartbroken by the sight.
A group of monsters stomped past the field. They got a whiff of the surroundings and howled.
They seemed to be starving. They began chewing on the appetizing aroma of rice stalks. However, they eventually spat all the grains out. Perhaps the taste was not to their liking.
The monsters, large gray wolves, howled. They were craving for fresh meat and blood. Something caught their attention. They turned their heads in a particular direction.
They saw pitch-black fog gradually rising.
The fog rushed in and suffocated dozens of gray wolves. The pressure exerted by the fog effortlessly crushed the monsters’ bodies.
The pack of monster wolves were killed and exploded in an instant.
Thomas, who was controlling this darkness, turned around and shouted, “I’m finished!”
“Nice work. Well done.”
Hak-joon praised Thomas and then s.h.i.+fted his attention back to the remains of the wolves.
These two came here just in case, and, sure enough, the monsters had already got this far.
‘Monsters have begun crossing over from Gangwon Province now.’
Yangpyeong was located right next to Chuncheon, so it basically served as the entry to Gyeonggi from the neighboring Gangwon Province.
Of course, there were other roads besides this one, but the majority had been blocked by now.
On top of this, the a.s.sociation had set up a barrier to make sure that no monster would emerge from Gangwon Province. If some tried to break in, the a.s.sociation would quickly form a team of high-ranking awakeners and drive the monsters out.
That was why they had been doing their best to keep the monsters from leaving Gangwon Province. Unfortunately, they reached their limit.
Hak-joon immediately called Lee Ju-ho after confirming that Thomas had taken care of one horde. Lee Ju-ho answered after one ring.
“h.e.l.lo? Yes. We have confirmed it. They are all headed this way.”
—That place was right all along?
Lee Ju-ho sounded rather grave just then.
That made sense under the current situation. After all, the number of monsters heading towards Yangpyeong was quite significant.
“Yeah. And more of them should show up here after picking up the scent of blood just now.”
—I heard that there are quite a few of them. You two have to be careful. I’m really sorry that we could not join the two of you.
“Don’t worry about it. Can’t be helped since we lack manpower anyway.”
At present, the awakeners were suffering from an unprecedented case of shortage in manpower. The C-Rank awakeners were as common as gra.s.s in the past, but even they were in short supply. That’s how many dungeons had appeared recently.
Awakeners were occupied trying to raid all dungeons that showed up not only in and near Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, but throughout the countryside as well.
To make matters worse, the a.s.sociation had to stay mum about the monsters that emerged within Gangwon Province. Thus, it was not surprising that they had only dispatched Hak-joon and Thomas in this particular location.
Hak-joon slightly hesitated before continuing, “Bro, if this is how it is, why don’t I just—”
—I told you, you can’t.
Lee Ju-ho decisively cut Hak-joon off.
—Do I have to remind you about the current state of Gangwon right now? A full-on outbreak instigated by the indigo dungeon is supposed to happen either today or tomorrow. Tell me, what can you achieve by going there alone?
Hak-joon had been suggesting to be a.s.signed at Gangwon Province for the past 10 days.
All because he was frustrated waiting.
Since Seoul and Gyeonggi Province could not be overrun no matter what, Hak-joon had to remain as the final line of defense.
If monsters marched straight towards Seoul right now while Hak-joon was in Gangwon Province, then no one would be able to stop them.
—Way too many dungeons showed up in the countryside as well. It’s not as bad as here, but still, it’s urgent over there, too. The raid of Gangwon will only happen after everything else. And that’s why the whole province has been evacuated in the first place, you know.
“Argh… Still, it’s so frustrating.”
—I understand. But remember that without Su-hyeun around, you and Thomas are our remaining defenders. If something bad happens to any of you, then it will really be over for us.”
Hak-joon heard Lee Ju-ho through the phone’s receiver and slightly nodded his head. He couldn’t argue with Lee Ju-ho. In his frustration, he kicked the ground.
“I think the monsters are about to show up anyway, so I’m going to hang up now.”
From the get-go, the reason why Hak-joon and Thomas came to Yangpyeong was to prevent the monsters from coming here.
After receiving the news of a fairly large group of monsters rus.h.i.+ng over, they decided that rather than dispatching an equally large manpower to the location, it would be better to simply send two highly skilled individuals instead.
—What about their numbers? How many?
Hak-joon’s last word came out as a mere whisper. He was staring at the horde of monsters that was rus.h.i.+ng towards his direction after sniffing the scent of blood.
There seemed to be several thousands of monsters at a glance. But there could be even more behind them.
Hak-joon looked closely and spoke in an unimpressed tone of voice, “It’s not a lot, actually.”
—Oh, is that so?
“Yeah. So we’ll wrap everything up quickly and head back home. And since we had to go so far and back, you have to buy us good food when we get there. We have been eating cheap stuff lately. They are far from delicious, but enough to keep us full.”
—Okay, got it. Do come back safe, okay?
Hak-joon hurriedly ended the call. He figured that the commotion would get transmitted through the line if the call lasted any longer.
“Wow! So many of them!” Thomas exclaimed. He could not keep himself calm.
Hak-joon chuckled at Thomas’s reaction. He wondered why Thomas always react this way while looking at so many monsters.
‘I mean, they are so disgusting to look at,’ Hak-joon thought.
All sorts of bizarre screeches and howls resonated. Even their outer appearances colorfully varied. Hak-joon had never seen a number of them before.
Some of the monsters were at a superior level as well. A superior creature from the blue dungeon was not something Hak-joon and Thomas could take lightly.
‘Can we really handle this?’ Hak-joon wondered. For a moment, he was uncertain.
He also regretted not calling for support. On the other hand, he could not help but think that even if support did come, not much would change in this situation.
Besides, even if he called for help, Seoul had no reserve S-Rank awakener manpower left anyway.
‘If it was bro…’
Hak-joon continued to mull over the situation while watching the horde of countless monsters steadily getting closer.
‘Would he have been able to kill them alone?’
Surely, it wasn’t an outlandish thought. Nothing seemed impossible for the ‘Su-hyeun’ that Hak-joon knew, after all.
“Why don’t we make a bet on who kills more today?” Hak-joon suggested with a smirk.
“A bet! Cool!” Thomas replied enthusiastically.
“Alright. The loser gets 500 Dutch rubs.”
“F-five hundred? Uweck.”
“We can forget about it if you’re not up for it. I will just hunt all of them down on my own.”
“No! Wait! Let’s do it!”
They had been hanging out for so long that Hak-joon had already learned how to handle Thomas.
For sure, Thomas was much better suited to deal with this many enemies with his magic-based skill rather than Hak-joon and his sword strikes.
“Oh, is that so? Well, in that case, let’s get cracking then.”
Hak-joon unsheathed his sword and moved forward. Thomas was right behind him.