The first Rank Match drew to a close. There were countless zombies and human corpses strewn about on the floor. This had been relatively easy compared to some other trials, but there were still more than a few casualties. Their numbers had been cut down to below a thousand. Most of the injuries had come from the latter half of the fight when the zombies had managed to push past the forward group with their sheer numbers and laid waste to those hiding in the rear.
However, the overall strength of the Summoned had also grown. Those that had contributed in killing the zombies were granted bonus stats and rewards.
[The first Rank Match has ended.]
[Blanche Plaza has slaughtered 852 creatures.]
[4th Place of the 4 Colored Plazas.]
[Overall rewards will be based on Plaza ranking.]
[The Administration of the Summoning Palace will judge the rewards.]
An unexpected turn of events had occurred. No, it would be more accurate to say that he had a brief lapse of memory. Even twenty-five years ago, the rewards had been handed out based on a Plaza’s overall merit. He reflected on the reason he could have forgotten such a crucial detail and came up with an answer.
‘Blanche Plaza was always number one. We didn’t let go of that position even once. It was unimaginable to think that the other Plazas could beat ours. That must be why I had chosen this Plaza without a second thought.’
Twenty-five years ago, many famous figures appeared from the Blanche Plaza: the ones with great charisma who had held the people together, the smart ones who had cleverly formulated how to overcome each trial, and then the silent ones who resolutely held the front; Sungchul was of the third category.
He had always stood at the frontlines to protect the others and grew stronger unintentionally. Faded faces flashed through his mind. Some were still alive, while the others were dead. The survivors had become major players; each of whom by now had a great deal of influence in their own area.
His reverie was interrupted by a new message.
[The division of Rewards for each Plaza is complete.]
[Congratulations! You have completed the first Rank Match!]
[You have qualified for grade A reward.]
2x Palace Token
1x Fresh Meat
1x Week Supply of Rations
- Divine Elixir of Escape
- Explosion Scroll
- Wind Master’s Blade
The basic rewards were as bare as he’d expected. However, the selection rewards drew Sungchul’s attention. They were quite balanced in value: Divine Elixirs of Escape and Explosion Scrolls were consumed upon use, but in turn were very powerful. The Elixir guaranteed someone’s survival during Pac-Man rules, and Explosion Scrolls were powerful during Alamo rules or Death Match rules. The blade was also useful for people who had confidence in their own abilities. It raised their dexterity and added a critical strike effect. It would be a relevant weapon for a beginner until they graduated the Palace.
Twenty-five years ago, Sungchul had chosen the Windmaster’s Blade. However, this time, Sungchul decided on the Explosion Scroll. The sword was useless to Sungchul, and the Explosion Scroll had more utility to it than the Divine Elixir of Escape. The Elixir was only effective against demonic creatures, but the Explosion Scroll could also be used on humans. It would be difficult, but the Explosion Scroll could be used to seriously wound the predators during Pac-Man rules.
Sungchul looked through the small package of rewards. Palace Tokens, food, and Explosion Scroll. He packed up his rewards and returned to the training center. As expected, the Preselected were fine, and some had even managed to get into the rankings.
“Taeksoo, that’s awesome! You’re third place. You got the highest score among us!”
The ranking results could be seen from numerous Stone of Records scattered around the palace. Sungchul looked at the record out of curiosity.
[1. Ahmuge – 142]
[2. Jungshik Chun – 100]
[3. Taeksoo Kim – 85]
[6. Yuhoon Lee – 64]
[21. Yungjong Ha – 44]
[22. Sungchul Kim – 35]
[23. Ahram Park – 29]
Sungchul allowed himself a grin. ‘Ahmuge and Jungshik Chun. I’ve never heard of them.’
Sungchul recalled the face of the woman he had seen during the battle. They had competed over the bonus monster, and she had been quite skilled. It might be that her name was amongst the two listed there.
Sungchul continued down the list until another name caught his eyes.
‘Ahram Park. Only 29.’
The zombie he had thrown during combat had hit Ahram on the head, and although it was unintentional, Ahram had fallen unconscious and had his Spirit Wolf summoning staff stolen.
Sungchul could see Ahram’s despondent face in the corner of the training center. He continued to skillfully operate the record stone.
[Would you like to see previous records?]
Sungchul visualized ‘Yes’ in his mind, and the messages in front of him changed.
[1. William Quinton Marlboro – 301]
[2. Shamal Rajput – 275]
[3. Sungchul Kim – 256]
Looking at the records, he couldn’t help but scratch his head.
‘William…Shamal…Such nostalgic names. Even my name is in the records. I wonder what happened? Isn’t it much easier now to set higher records than before?’
There weren’t any privileged people in the past; everybody had to face the oncoming demonic creatures. He had expected much better scores to arise compared to the past, but reality didn’t reflect his expectations. Either the Preselected had little motivation to try very hard when they were this spoiled by their backers, or perhaps the current generations of Summoned might just have fallen in quality.
Sungchul felt satisfied with what he saw as he returned to the training center. Several Preselected were admiring their rewards. However, there were dark faces among them. The Preselected who received no reward, despite having been given privileges and advantages, could do nothing but hang their head as their comrades celebrated.
“Kim Hyung! Come here!”
Yungjong shouted tactlessly from across the group and walked up to Sungchul. He held a transparent glass bottle containing a liquid in his right hand. It was the Divine Elixir of Escape.
“Kim Hyung has one too, right?”
Sungchul shook his head.
“What do you mean why?”
“I saw that Kim Hyung also killed over 30 of ‘em. What did you pick? Did you ignore your Guide and pick something else?”
Sungchul simply nodded, and Yungjong jumped up in shock.
“Dang…you’ve got guts. Mine said you could die on the next Rank Match without one. That Pac-Man or something game.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
After listening to Yungjong, Sungchul glanced at the others in the group and saw that they were likely told the same thing. Their Guides had probably urged them to get the item that guarantees their survival in the Pac-Man round. This must be why those without the rewards looked so grim.
Even Ahram, who was usually full of energy, also sat in a corner and picked at his nails. He had even lost his staff which was his fail-safe.
There were others who were also marked for death among his group. Sungchul recognized one of them; it was the girl wearing all brand-name clothes who had been friendly with the man who was executed by the Homonculi on the first day.
She didn’t manage to kill a single zombie. It wasn’t because her strength was lacking; her weapon was better than the average Preselected. Her score was 0 because she couldn’t muster the courage to strike down her foes. It could have been out of disgust, or might have been out of fear. No matter the reason, the result was that she now had to worry about her immediate future.
Sungchul had felt her gaze on him for a while now. She kept peeking over at him every now and then. She couldn’t approach him because Yungjong was making such a large ruckus next to him.
Previously, she had looked down on both of them. The reason was that ugly, unsociable, shy men were the perfect target for mockery. Things were different now; although her glamorous persona and her status as the daughter of a wealthy family in the Old World had given her a golden ticket, none of it held any value due to the failing score she had earned in this match. Even the ‘friends’ that had socialized with her during meals now completely ostracized her.
Shortly after, Sunghae finally approached Sungchul.
“Now now, humans! You might catch some nasty disease from the zombies and corpses lying around! Let’s work to move them quick-quick!”
The Homunculi brought over a goat-driven cart in order to load the corpses. Sungchul joined in the clean-up and began tossing the bodies into the cart one at a time.
He could hear a hesitant, yet familiar voice from behind him. Sungchul turned around and faced Sunghae. He wasn’t confrontational, but neither did he show any warmth. Sunghae felt tense receiving this sort of indifference.
‘I…why do I have to…beg to him…’
However, this was a matter of life and death. Sunghae channeled all of her strength into forming something similar to a smile on her face as she said,
“What do you want?”
There wasn’t even a second to waste on such a woman. Sungchul replied very curtly.
Sunghae already felt quite frustrated, and now she could only crawl even lower. She avoided Sungchul’s chilling stare and spat out her rehearsed speech.
“Um…I am really sorry for the first day. It was all because I was so shocked and scared…I must not have been myself.”
“And you are here because?”
Sungchul quickly cut her off. Sunghae had always felt that, in all her years of popularity, she knew better than most how animals called ‘males’ worked. That is why she understood that this man did not care to entertain her for even one bit; this conversation had been impossible from the start. Sunghae could feel a cold sweat trickling down her back.
“If that’s all, then.”
Sungchul turned around and began walking towards another pile of corpses. She quickly blocked his path and spoke in a mocking tone.
“You’re also a man, right? A young one at that. How about having someone like me?”
She had abandoned her pride and thrown herself at his feet. Sungchul continued looking at her with cold eyes and spoke plainly.
“What about you?”
“Stop pretending. I’ll just say it straight, then; help me.”
“What do you want?”
Sunghae looked over at the staff tied down to Sungchul’s back. The energy-bolt-firing Magical staff, Moonlight. With this, she might be able to overcome her weak resolve and raise her score. This was why she had approached Sungchul.
“That staff. Let me use it, and I’ll do anything you ask.”
As she finished, she unbuttoned the top of her shirt. Her cleavage peeked out tantalizingly from beneath her black brassiere.
“You must be pent up after so long, right? I can do it right now if you want.”
The people passing by looked at her with shock and disgust, but she had nowhere else to turn.
‘If I can just take his staff…It doesn’t matter what anyone says.’
However, Sungchul didn’t show any response. He looked at Sunghae’s cleavage with the same indifference as Warren Buffet would look at gold. Sunghae suddenly started feeling nervous.
‘This bastard…did he hang around that catfish guy because he’s actually…?!’
Sungchul finally spoke, and Sunghae buttoned her top back up.
He spoke indifferently while pointing at his lower half.
“I commend your courage, but mine doesn’t stand anymore.”
He quickly turned and left. Sunghae’s mind was spinning in chaos.
‘Rejected by a bastard like that…that smelly country hick bastard!’
She was unaware that she hadn’t washed in a while either and now smelled just as bad, if not worse. However, Sunghae was a resilient woman. She caught up to him again and blocked his path once more.
Sungchul didn’t have any compassion this time. Sunghae’s confidence couldn’t help but collapse under his cold eyes, coupled with their murderous intent that made her break out in goosebumps. Tears started pouring out of her eyes, and her voice tumbled out pitifully.
“Please…please, that staff…let me use it…please…”
Sunghae clung to him desperately.
“What are you going to give me?”
Sungchul turned around. It wasn’t out of some half-baked sympathy, but to check if there was anything worthwhile he could get out of this woman.
“W-what do you want?”
When she asked, he spoke in a different tone pointing above his own head.
“Ask him. Ask what he can offer me.”
Mages didn’t want their Charges to die. It could be said that her guiding Mage might be just as desperate as Sunghae. Sungchul recalled Krill’s desperate face and laughed to himself.
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