The middle-aged office worker was called Kim Hakchul. In the real world, he had been the division leader of a mid-sized company. He had neither great physical strength nor superior intellect, but he was determined to preserve goodness and righteousness. He wished to gather people in order to end chaos and violence which ruled the place and restore public order.
The group which had started out with only a few people who shared his ideals grew to the current size of 500 after the first Rank Match. This was indisputably the largest faction within the Blanche Plaza.
However, this faction had a critical weakness. Due to their open-door policy, they were mostly composed of people who were weak in body and spirit. Hakchul also enforced an equal distribution policy emphasizing that all rewards had to be split evenly among all of their members. This resulted in too many leeches infesting his organization despite his ideals. The problem was exacerbated during the last Rank Match, as those who were starving because they hadn’t been able to kill a single zombie all flocked to this group to get a free handout. This allowed the group to explode in membership, but the internal stability and happiness were at the brink of collapse.
It was an organization on its last legs, but Sungchul decided to approach this group first simply because of their numbers. Their large membership meant that even the smallest increase in overall combat strength would show a greater effect than any other faction. Raising the Strength of 500 people by 1 was easier than raising a single person’s Strength to 500. Although, the increase of stats by 500 distributed across many individuals was less dramatic than a similar increase in an individual. However, it was important for them to get as close to it as possible.
“I have something to say.”
Sungchul waited for an opportunity to approach Hakchul. Hakchul was surprised by Sungchul’s sudden appearance but welcomed him amiably.
“You’re one of the people hanging out at the training center. Okay, what did you want to talk about?”
Looking up close, Hakchul seemed weaker and more pitiful than Sungchul had expected. His eyes were still resolute thanks to his ideals, but his wrinkled face showed his doubt and his anxiety. He looked as though the uncertainties of his future were starting to affect him.
‘This man…He’s bearing a burden beyond his capacity.’
Sungchul had seen many different types of people in this world. Too many times he had seen pure ideals get corrupted or ruin lives. Lofty goals, hanging high in the sky, seem so clearly defined. But every path leading up to it is shrouded in fogs of doubt and uncertainty. Hakchul was just one of many that were lost in this fog.
“Look at this.”
Sungchul showed the same list of common quests to Hakchul as he had shown the Preselected.
“There will be a Rank Match soon. This one will be incomparably more terrifying than the previous one. Please warn your companions and advise them to raise their Strength.”
“Thank you. All this is…”
Hakchul appeared to be very grateful at first, but as soon as he looked over the contents himself, he suddenly drew back. Sungchul’s observant gaze didn’t miss the other’s hesitation. Hakchul grew more and more hesitant the further he read.
“I have read it over, and I am grateful for your help.”
“It’s not enough to be grateful. You need to at least tell your people about the Strength-enhancing Quests, right now.”
“For the Strength-enhancing Quest…That was ten thousand sword swings…but ten thousand…”
“Is there a problem?”
“I mean, it’s one thing to say the number ten thousand. But, who would actually swing that many times? One might say that it would be crazy of them. I’ll let the people know, but I doubt that anyone will follow through with it.”
He spoke amiably but in a skeptical tone. Some of his subordinates who were next to him simply laughed.
“Exactly. Who would do that kind of exercise?”
“Can’t do it. We’re running low on food now, and you want us to move around?”
“It’s impossible. Not even worth trying.”
They were the expected responses. Hakchul’s faction had the largest number, but its large size didn’t allow for effective control. Hakchul could give advice to his subordinates, but he lacked the authority to force them into action. This was the limitation of Hakchul’s faction.
‘This will be difficult. These people…’
Sungchul pointed off to the Observation Tower on the other end of the Plaza and spoke coldly.
“You think your objections mean anything to people in that tower?”
“At least try to force your most-trusted men. If you can’t, you should get ready to go through hell.”
He had said everything there was to be said. Their reaction was still lukewarm. There was nothing more to expect from Hakchul’s faction. The result was completely below his expectations, but Sungchul moved on to the next location unfazed.
He arrived at the western end of the Plaza where the food cart that the Homunculi used was stationed.
“Now now, humans! We’ll give out some food! Don’t spill it, make sure to eat everything!”
The Homunculi tossed around rotten bread in their usual mocking manner. However, a group of muscular men stood in everyone’s way.
“Shove off! You wanna try me?”
“Anyone who comes near is dead! Hey! Red hood over there! You wanna die? Ey!”
They had surrounded the cart and monopolized the food by force. They swung their blades and shouted at the other starving people that were approaching the cart. There were just about a hundred or so of these men, but the others could only bitterly swallow their spit as they looked on from a distance. This was the second faction Sungchul had decided to approach.
Unlike Hakchul and his faction, this group had gathered only for profit, and they only had one rule: strength.
‘Is he the leader?’
A man was sitting arrogantly in the middle of the group; he was holding the food and had a beauty at his side. He looked to be in his early-thirties. His stamina was average, and he didn’t appear particularly strong, but his eyes had a peculiar luster. His lean muscles were covered in yakuza-like tattoos, putting his former life on full display. Sungchul headed towards this man.
There was a rough-looking subordinate blocking his way.
“I have something I want to say to your boss.”
“Who gave you the right?”
Sungchul effortlessly threw the thug to the ground and continued forward. The arrogant man gestured to the girl beside him to leave before staring back at Sungchul coldly.
“You, who are you?”
Sungchul knew the man’s name: Jungshik Chun. With his grit, even though he had no particular ‘abilities,’ he had still taken care of 100 zombies at the first Rank Match. He was someone who had a higher score than any of the specially privileged Preselected. He truly had the natural talent to be a warrior. Jungshik probably didn’t know about the Observer’s Eye that had been placed on top of his head. Someone had already called dibs on him. It was rare for someone to receive this level of attention after only the first Rank Match.
“I’ve got something to say.”
Sungchul said the same thing he’d told Hakchul. Jungshik, however, listened to him with great interest. The list of common quests was written below Jungshik’s feet.
“So, you’re saying that if I do this list of things you told me, my stats will increase?”
“That’s right. However, the highest you can train up to with daily Quests is 25.”
“25, eh? My boys are around 10 to 12, so they’ll get twice as strong if I get them to grind this out, right?”
It was an entirely different reaction from Hakchul. His reply revealed an underlying assumption that he had complete control over his gang.
‘This is a dangerous man.’
This wasn’t some simple talent, but a man who had a natural tendency for violence. Looking at Jungshik’s eager eyes, he recalled a companion that had become his enemy over time.
“Good. I’m correct, right? How about we give it a try?”
Jungshik stood and shouted towards a subordinate.
“Hey, bring me my dagger.”
Jungshik’s subordinate respectfully brought the blade, offering it over with both hands.
It was the Dagger of Swiftness. Jungshik gripped the blade in his left hand and glared at Sungchul with feral eyes before warning him.
“Stay right there. If you’re lying, I’m going to skin you.”
Sungchul replied with a bright smile on his face.
“Don’t forget what I said. The Quests won’t raise your strength past 25.”
“Yeah? That’s convenient. My strength just hit 24.”
One of Sungchul’s brow shot up. If he wasn’t lying, then it was an amazing growth.
‘This guy…he’s quite impressive.’
As soon as Jungshik finished speaking, he began to swing his Dagger of Swiftness at a fearsome speed, and his goons surrounded Sungchul, all with a threatening expression on their faces.
Before long, ten thousand swings were finished. Jungshik wiped off his brow with a towel that was presented by one of his subordinates and checked over his stats.
Jungshik smiled with great satisfaction. He immediately gathered his gang and shouted.
“Gather around. From now on, it’s time for hellish training.”
Sungchul was no longer on his mind. He was so soaked in excitement at the prospect of strengthening his faction that he had already forgotten about Sungchul’s existence. Sungchul left the group of men who were swinging blades with fervor and began thinking to himself.
‘We need those kinds of people at times too.’
Jungshik’s faction would probably grow at a scary pace under Jungshik’s authority as long as he obtained a way of raising their strength. However, Hakchul had been given the same cards, yet his group didn’t show any particular attempt to follow through with it. They just stared blankly from a distance like cattle, while Jungshik’s group trained diligently. Hakchul’s group might be five times larger than Jungshik’s, but at this rate, comparing the two factions would be like comparing heaven and earth.
“Hey! Don’t screw around! Hurry! Hurry up and do this so we can sweep up those annoying bastards.”
Jungshik’s sharp commands drew a clear vision of the future for Sungchul.
‘Hakchul’s faction is soon going to get eaten up by Jungshik’s faction.’
If Jungshik hadn’t gotten his hands on the common quest list, his faction would never have had enough strength to overcome such large difference in numbers. There might be a bloodbath before the actual Rank Match between the factions. This was one of the basic natures of humans. However, this was well aligned with Sungchul’s objectives.
‘I have to use everything available to me in order to kill the Tam Tam and secure Blanche Plaza to number one during the Rank Match. This is the most surefire way to getting all the Palace Tokens I need into my grasp.’
He made his way out of the Plaza as the sound of Jungshik group’s martial cries faded away.
The date of the Rank Match drew closer, and the rigorous training continued. The Preselected were physically exhausted, but the danger of death looming over them and Sungchul’s guidance helped turn each of them into warriors in five days. They were now fighters that had an average Strength, Dexterity, and Vitality of 25. This was the greatest force that Sungchul had for the upcoming Rank Match.
He let out a contented smile and brought out a gift he had prepared for the Preselected for growing stronger. It was a slab of meat wrapped in leaves; this was the reward he had received six days ago. Other Summoned had greedily eaten their shares on the day they received it, but Sungchul was different. He had flavored the meat with salt and pepper, then fermented the meat in a dry location after wrapping it in leaves.
“Wasn’t this from a week ago? It must be rotten by now…”
Sunghae dried off her sweat and looked over the meat. Sungchul silently unwrapped the leaves.
It looked completely dry at first glance, and parts of it had turned black, but for those that knew their meat, it told a different story.
One of Sunghae’s brows shot up. He nodded and wrapped the meat up again.
“I don’t mean to boast, but I am confident in my cooking.”
In reality, Sungchul was a master chef who had the High-Class Chef as a subclass; his skills would’ve embarrassed even the chefs of the royalty.
He placed the wrapped meat on top of a wide, flat stone then grilled it patiently at a slow rate. The Cathedral was soon filled with a delicious aroma.
“Wow. That smells awesome.”
Yungjong wiped off some drool with his sleeves and begged to have a piece. The two bodyguards and even the wealthy princess, Sunghae, were not an exception. They all waited for it to be cooked, their eyes glued to the meat.
It had been two weeks since the mass summoning which had brought them here, and all this time, they had only managed to eat hard bread and apples. No one had eaten proper food in a long while. Now that the greatest chef had prepared a meal for them, how could they not start losing their composure?
Sungchul finally cut open the leaves wrapped around the meat with his beginner blade and revealed the meat within.
The meat juices and the aroma stuffed within the leaves exploded out and melted the last few bits of awkwardness between them. Sungchul expressionlessly stared at the meat before nodding his head.
“It’s good to eat now.”
With a cheer, they began their feast. Delicious food always improved the mood; the four Preselected gathered here forgot their differences and fully soaked in Sungchul’s world of delicious flavors. Conversation flowed freely, and the participants stopped judging one another.
“I’m really grateful, Mr. Yungjong. Thank you for saving me.”
“No! It was nothing! Haha…I just did what I had to.”
The two had gotten close before Sungchul knew it. He noticed the vial of Divine Elixir of Escape that Yungjong had been discreetly fidgeting in his grasp. Sungchul smiled, amused, before taking another bite out of the meat.
‘It is said that a man is helpless before a woman.’
In that regard, Sungchul was superior, not that it was anything to boast about. He couldn’t help but grin.
However, Sungchul suddenly noticed someone’s gaze from behind him. It was Ahram. He had avoided everyone after being punched by Yungjong, but he suddenly appeared on the final day before the Rank Match. He stared at the happily feasting Yungjong and Sunghae before disappearing into the darkness again.
“Kim Hyung! Is something wrong?”
The excited Yungjong called out to Sungchul. Sungchul calmly memorized the direction in which Ahram had disappeared as Yungjong called him again.
“What’s wrong? Kim Hyung.”
“Ahram came by and looked over you and Sunghae before leaving.”
“That bitch? Me? Why?”
“I don’t know why, but you better be careful.”
“Pfft. What can that kid do to me? Even Sunghae is strong enough to step all over him.”
Yungjong felt Sunghae’s gaze and exaggerated a bit. She laughed a bit and motioned for him to rejoin the feast.
He definitely wasn’t wrong. Over the last five days, Yungjong had become much stronger, while Ahram had simply stared blankly from the corner of the training center doing nothing. However, there was something that bothered Sungchul. He recalled the red-headed female Mage with a freckled face in charge of Ahram. She had been rather skilled.
‘That woman couldn’t possibly be called out by Ahram to take revenge? No…that can’t…”
That kind of event was unthinkable. The Summoning Palace explicitly forbade anyone from interfering with the Summoned directly without proper permission from the Palace. Strictly speaking, the existence of the Preselected was also illegal, but that was easier to justify because no Mage directly used their strength on any of the Summoned. To harm the Summoned meant to challenge the authority of the Summoning Palace. They say there is a fine line between bending the rules and breaking them, but the consequences of the two offenses were vastly different.
There was no way that a mid-rank Mage would give up their life for someone else, but there were always exceptions…Or so Sungchul thought as he cautioned Yungjong.
“There is no reason not to be careful.”
“Pssh. You should also be careful, Hyung. That brat doesn’t like either of us.”
Yungjong smirked before returning to the feast. The joyous sounds of laughter rang out from the Forsaken Cathedral.
The iron gates of the Plaza opened with a suffocating dread. Hundreds of Summoned watched quietly with hushed breaths as the monster slowly revealed its form through the gigantic gates.
“W…what is that?”
It was a massive primate covered in crimson fur. The humans trembled at the sight of the overwhelmingly large monster before running away without a second thought. The grotesque creature’s tire-sized eyes gazed down at the humans on the ground. Their terrified faces filled its blue eyes.
The monster revealed its teeth with a wide smile and started to laugh.
The worst monster of Pac-Man rules had arrived at the Blanche Plaza.
Note: This is referring to the Korean mythology of the Nine-tailed Fox. It is an ancient fox that was given the chance to become human if it eats X amount of human liver/gallbladder. It took on the ‘illusion’ of a beautiful woman in order to tempt men into giving up those organs.
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