The next morning
Sungchul returned to the Tower of Recluse once more.
The small village of Toporo that had been located near the gates of the tower was now reduced to an unsightly collection of ruins. Sungchul walked past the survivors of the village who sat around with hopeless, vacant stares. He soon crossed the bridge that led to the tower.
“I mean, they totally had this coming to them. But I still feel bad for them.”
Bertelgia who was mounted on Baron alongside Marakia commented without enthusiasm.
The vicinity around the tower was likewise utterly wrecked. The barns and warehouses, even the wooden building where Sungchul had cheated on an exam was all destroyed without a trace by the whirlwind the Lesser God had conjured. The land was thoroughly devastated, with piles of debris and unidentifiable corpses of animals scattered all over.
The hermits were working with their slaves since early in the morning to clear the area around the tower. Sungchul couldn’t help but notice that even they wore expressions of shock and profound despair.
Just overnight, the Tower of Recluse was abandoned by the allied nations, lost their neighbors, and witnessed the tower, which was the most sacred of all holy sites, be defiled by evil forces.
The Tower of Recluse was no longer a sanctuary.
Sungchul could hear the hermits speak among themselves about the plan to relocate the Scroll of Calamity.
“I don’t want to go in.”
Bertelgia suddenly said once they were before the tower. It was very atypical for her to want to separate from Sungchul.
“That tower is giving off some really unpleasant energy. So I don’t want to go in there.”
Sungchul had no desire dragging people somewhere they did not wish to go. Sungchul left Bertelgia and other companions at the gates of the tower and walked in alone.
“So, what brought you back here again?”
The master of the tower, Porpyrius stood in Sungchul’s way once he was inside the tower. Sungchul gave a short reply.
“I wish to see the Scroll of Calamity.”
“The Scroll of Calamity you say? Haven’t you already seen it once? I have checked the contents just this morning and there were no changes to speak of.”
Unlike before, it seemed as though Porpyrius was being wary of Sungchul.
It wasn’t difficult to understand why. The tower that should have been unbreakable had been damaged. This meant that it was possible for divine artifacts like the Scroll of Calamity to likewise be harmed.
It was profoundly unwise to try and deceive a man like Porpyrius, as it was far more likely to bring trouble than to open up a possibility. Sungchul recognized the fear that took hold of Porpyrius’s gaze, so he took out the mysterious seal he had separated from the divine tome.
“The reason why I came was because of this.”
Sungchul handed the seal over to Porpyrius. Sungchul explained how he came to obtain the seal as Porpyrius examined it.
Porpyrius seemed to have never heard of it before, and handed the seal back to Sungchul.
“Letter of God. I have heard of those things before, but I have never seen it with my own eyes thus far. But it’s certain that the seal you brought is no ordinary object. I can sense some sort of power within it. Something incomprehensible… a power that is forbidden for us to know.”
Porpyrius did not wish for Sungchul to get near the Scroll of Calamity, but he had no real reason to put forth as to why. Especially because everyone had witnessed Sungchul put his life on the line to defend the hermits.
And the Scroll of Calamity was not going to helplessly allow harm to come to it.
The mysterious book that had appeared out of nowhere, the memory of how it used inexplicable powers to dispatch the assassins remained strongly imprinted in Porpyrius’s mind.
‘Though the tower was cracked, the Scroll of Calamity’s power remains strong.’
He made up his mind and moved aside to allow Sungchul to pass. Sungchul was able to reach the central area where the Scroll of Calamity was kept with Porpyrius’s consent.
A slave was busy wiping the floor with a wet mop in the archive where the Scroll was located.
Sungchul passed the slave and reached the center. There, the Scroll of Calamity was floating motionlessly in its usual place.
Sungchul took out the seal and placed it on top of his palms.
The seal was giving an indistinct and abstract suggestion for Sungchul to bring it to the Scroll. But nothing happened when it was before the Scroll of Calamity.
The Scroll and the seal both remained the same.
Sungchul felt a curious sensation and turned around. At that moment, Sungchul’s gaze changed.
‘Wait a minute.’
At first glance, it was as if nothing had changed. With the exception of the slave being perfectly still that is.
The slave that had been reluctantly mopping the floor was as motionless as a statue.
Sungchul initially entertained the possibility that an ice magic or instant death was involved, but that became impossible once he saw that the slave was actually moving at a barely detectable pace with miniscule motion. This completely eliminated his initial thoughts and forced him to consider a very difficult possibility.
‘Did the flow of time change?’
This was not a power that was permitted for a human to have.
At best, humans were able to peek slightly into the future. But manipulation of time was a feat no one had ever accomplished.
But at the central room of the Tower of Recluse where the Scroll of Calamity was kept, the time was flowing at an unmistakably different rate from normal.
After his initial surprise, Sungchul discovered that a book had appeared before him. A book that looked identical to Bertelgia.
Another imitation had appeared.
Sungchul locked his eyes on the book and asked,
“What is it?”
The book moved aside once Sungchul asked. In the space behind where the book had been was a door. It was a door made not of gold or metal, but Light. He had never seen a door like this before.
Its appearance was as if the door was casually drawn like a picture on empty space.
The book led Sungchul to the door, with a voice indistinguishable from Bertelgia.
The door opened.
Beyond the door was pitch black, complete darkness where nothing was visible.
Being confronted with such unfathomable abyss elicited a primal fear in Sungchul, but he did not back away.
If it was before he had saved Craiya, then he would have never chosen to walk through the doorway. It was because the weight of life that rested on his shoulders was too heavy to risk his life to satisfy a mere curiosity.
But things were different now that he was free of such burden. He was free and did not wish to be restrained.
‘The worst thing that can happen is that I die.’
But it would not be easy to end Sungchul’s life. Sungchul understood his strength and deeply trusted it. He had only hid it out of necessity.
Sungchul stepped into the lightless abyss without hesitation.
The moment he passed through the door, a soundless lightless void completely enveloped him.
It didn’t take long for the seal resting on top of his hand to begin illuminating.
The light grew until the lumination surrounded him entirely, then expanded suddenly to seemingly eliminate the previously impenetrable darkness.
Once the illumination began to expand like an explosion, the light was too blindingly strong for Sungchul to keep his eyes open.
Once the light that passed through his eyelids weakened in intensity, Sungchul opened his eyes once more.
And once he did, his eyes were filled with surprise.
He was in a completely different world.
There was no land or sun, an infinite world without sky or ocean.
A strange palace painted in primary colors floated at the center of this limitless world.
Soon, there was a foreboding tremendous voice strong enough to ring in his head yet somehow not loud at the same time.
[A mortal? Has a mortal come?]
Sungchul doubted his eyes.
From the distance that could rightfully be described as a horizon was a snake flying in his direction.
The snake was giant to behold. Massive enough to swallow the world whole.
This gargantuan snake wrapped around the floating Palace upon which Sungchul stood, and pressed its face close to Sungchul.
Finally, the snake asked a question.
[Why have you come to the world of the immortals?]
This utterance carried with it powerful will.
A will that indicated that his fate now depended on how he answered it.
The book and audiobook-