The next day.
The Homunculi met within Blanche Plaza at early morning and gathered in a circle as they began chanting an ominous curse.
One by one, the Summoned were aroused from their sleep to the strange behavior of the Homunculi. The onlookers soon realized that the surface of the Plaza below the hovering Homunculi was rising. A circular arena about the size of a basketball court took shape.
“Now now, humans! It is time to pay attention! This is the debut of the new Drill Sergeant!”
As the ritual of the Homunculi continued, the new Drill Sergeant appeared before the humans. Its size didn’t quite match the uniquely large stature of its predecessor, but it was still larger than the average Homunculus, and further stood out by wearing a black hat.
The new Drill Sergeant stepped onto a platform and let out a fake cough before he began his unoriginal speech.
“The Drill Sergeant before you is a Homunculus of ten years that has overseen and led the humans with his bountiful experience, discipline, interest, and curiosity; I have given the lazy humans necessary guidance to adjust to this world…”
It was a Drill Sergeant’s acceptance speech.
“It is too cool!”
“I really want to be a Drill Sergeant like that one day!”
Only the Homunculi had looks of envy, while not a single human paid any attention at all.
Once the arena was fully constructed, the Drill Sergeant quickly changed the subject and explained the day’s events.
“Now, humans! It’s time to perk up your ears and listen! We will be holding the qualification rounds to choose the thirty individuals who will be representing Blanche Plaza in the Representative Matches!”
The Summoned who had been ignoring the acceptance speech quickly changed their attitudes and concentrated on listening to the explanation about the Selection Match. After the explanation ended, they showed a variety of reactions.
“Anyone who didn’t qualify to be one of the thirty Representatives will be relegated to a penalty gambling game with their lives on the line…what is this?”
“A Selection Match means we have to fight among ourselves, right? I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I didn’t fight so hard to make it this far only to bid my life in a gamble and die. I’m going to fight to make it in the top thirty no matter what.”
The whole Plaza was teeming with whispers.
The new Drill Sergeant watched over the Summoned with a mysterious smile before looking back and waving his hand.
A sound which shook the eardrums began ringing from within the arena. A single Homunculus with ear plugs calmly held a drumstick beside a gong several times larger than himself. The massive tremors calmed the chaos within the Plaza. The Drill Sergeant once again had everyone’s attention.
“…Now now, the explanation is over! We will now start the Selection Match! As we have explained, the victor will be decided by Duels with Last-Man-Standing rules! Those that want to participate in the competition should now step into the arena!”
People remained hesitant and looked at each other. They weren’t familiar with the Last-Man-Standing rules. Like a duel, it was carried out with a series of one on one fights, similar to modern martial arts competition. However, unlike modern matches, the winner would have to face off against new challengers until nobody else stepped forward. It would quickly end if an overwhelmingly powerful challenger stepped forward, but it could also endlessly drag on with mediocre challengers. Many of the Summoned were mediocre and thought it wouldn’t benefit them if they hurried into the arena.
After enough time had passed to drink a whole cup of tea, the Drill Sergeant stepped out once again.
“Now, humans! You will regret it if you don’t step up for the Selection Match! Come up quickly!”
After hearing those words, one man mustered up his courage and stepped into the circular arena. He was an average man with no distinguishing features. He also wore some tattered casual clothing.
“Now, the first Representative candidate has appeared! Are there no challengers? I’ll give you thirty seconds! You must challenge the Representative candidate by that time!”
The gong rang out indicating the time, and after a while, the indicated time ended. Surprisingly, no one had stepped up. Everyone was too busy eyeing one another.
‘I think that even I can win at that level…’
‘Should I just wait to see how things work out for now?’
‘They said that thirty people would be selected. I’m sure it’ll be fine if I miss out on the first slot.’
Thirty seconds had passed by quickly as various calculations were fiercely being made. The sound of the gong indicating the closing time rang out and the first Representative had been chosen.
“Now now, humans! The first candidate has been chosen! There are twenty-nine slots left! It’s time to stop looking around and step up with courage!”
It was such an absurd conclusion. No one had expected the Representative selection method to be this simple. The man who had been the first to muster that small amount of courage simply scratched his head with a disbelieving expression on his face. The faces of those who had hesitated flashed with disappointment. Various thoughts were seeping into their minds.
‘Ah…should I have stepped out?’
‘I could have won at that level…’
‘Ah, it’s just the first slot. There will be other chances!’
However, human beings were creatures who tended to think and act the same. A rare scene occurred where dozens of people stepped up at once as the second Representative candidate was being chosen. Several people began crying out in distress; chaos ensued as the arena filled up to the brim with challengers for the second slot.
“One at a time! You will enter one at a time! Trash humans! You will follow order!”
The Drill Sergeant tried to shout, but no one was listening. They were too busy trying to defend their position while shoving and shouting profanities at each other. At that moment, one man stepped up.
“Hey! Hey! Shove off! This fuck…”
A scrawny stature, sparkling eyes, and a distinct, eye-catching tattoo covering his entire body. It was Jungshik Chun. Everything turned upside down as soon as he stepped onto the platform. The humans that didn’t budge from the Drill Sergeant’s words were frozen like mice staring at a cat when they saw Jungshik.
Jungshik pulled out his Dagger of Swiftness and peered over towards the Drill Sergeant.
“Can I kill them?”
The Drill Sergeant opened his mouth and revealed his saw-like teeth.
“Humans that are quick to understand are always a welcome sight!”
As soon as the permission was given, Jungshik rushed towards the crowd without a second’s hesitation. One man pulled out his sword, pitifully trying to defend himself, but he only fell over in a fountain of blood as he lost his head in a single slice.
The people on the platform began to jump off as soon as the first person was killed. All the dogs were chased away by the forceful entry of a lion. Jungshik looked down at the people and licked his lips with a disappointed expression. He was chosen for the second Representative slot when the gong sounded the round’s end.
The next few selections followed a similar rhythm. Jungshik’s subordinates, with their aggression and combat strength, followed him into the proceeding Representative slots. Eight slots were consecutively filled by Jungshik’s faction. It looked as though Jungshik’s members would take all of the fighter slots.
At the tenth Representative’s selection, Sungchul, who had been in a corner, quietly stepped onto the platform. Jungshik’s subordinates tried to threaten him with murderous eyes and taunts, but Sungchul seemed totally unconcerned.
The Bracelet of Alias which was strapped onto his left arm began to respond quietly. The bracelet itself only had the ability to bestow him with an alias, but what effect this would have on the situation was yet to be seen.
“I will step up.”
Soon, one man climbed to the platform. It was one of Jungshik’s men who had a healthy body and a knife scar across his eye. He was carrying a hefty axe that suited his size.
“A challenger has appeared! Now the Selection Match will begin!”
Sungchul pulled out his beginner sword and prepared to go up. But before he could, someone had already stepped up into the arena. It was a poorly-dressed man wearing a deep fisherman’s hat. He was dressed in a red shirt that was closer to a rag and worn jeans which were similarly tattered like Sungchul’s. The bright graphic ‘2002 Be the Red!’* was written on the red shirt. A mysterious light flashed across Sungchul’s eyes.
The new intruder walked past Sungchul and trudged in front of Jungshik’s subordinate.
“What? Who are you?”
Jungshik’s axe-wielding goon glared at the man threateningly, but the only response he got was the flashing blade of a sword.
The sword edge and the axe edge sparked after clashing. The eyes of Jungshik’s goon twitched. The axe was being pushed back without resistance. The axe-wielding man squeezed out every bit of his strength and pushed the man’s sword with all his might while letting out a wild shout.
However, the pushed sword smoothly changed its trajectory and flew into his blind spot.
The head of Jungshik’s goon who had just let out a roar was sliced off clean, flying into the sky drawing a parabola as it went.
The moment his head hit the ground, the headless body shook before it collapsed as well.
A heavy atmosphere once again enveloped the Plaza. Hosung Ro, another goon from Jungshik’s gang, finally broke the silence as he became enraged.
“You dare kill Jong Gilly? I’m going to fucking kill you today!”
Jungshik’s gang exploded like wildfire. About a dozen men walked into the arena at the same time with their weapons in hand. It looked as though the man in the fisherman’s hat was in danger.
Sungchul had been quietly observing the situation. He discovered that the state of the man in the fisherman’s hat was quite strange. He wasn’t under the effect of some spell or illusion. It felt strange at a more fundamental level. Sungchul finally arrived at the answer.
Two more people stepped up to the Plaza. They all wore some hiking hat or fisherman’s hat to cover their face and wore clothes tattered enough to be rags. Their breathing was synchronized like a machine, and they did not share a single word of communication.
Two more swords were drawn. The men in rags slowly walked up towards Jungshik’s men.
“Wanna go at it? Huh?”
“Where did these fucks roll up from?”
Scared dogs bark. The goons continued to dig their graves as they relentlessly shouted profanities. About a dozen more men stepped onto the arena. It was now 25 vs. 3. No matter who saw it, Jungshik’s men should have the victory. His faction consisted of a group of elites that preferred to operate in smaller groups, and now they also had the upper hand in numbers. However, what unfolded next was completely unexpected.
The swordsmanship of the ragged men was God-like. Their swords parried and blocked the swords of their enemies before plunging the blade’s edge or tip into their enemy’s vitals.
It didn’t take long for many heads to roll across the ground and cover the floor in blood. In just one minute after losing more than two-thirds of their forces, Jungshik’s men ran off in a blind panic.
The ragged men silently observed below before leaving Sungchul and stepping down themselves. Finally, the Drill Sergeant’s joyful voice rang out.
“Remaining time is thirty seconds!”
Sungchul was watching the back of the ragged men as the gong rang out to indicate the end.
‘As I thought…They were Swordslaves.’
Not all slaves captured within the Summoning Plaza were sold off. Depending on the whim of the buyers, some of the slaves were returned before being claimed. However, the Summoned, from the moment they fell into the hands of the Slave Hunters, were left in an awkward position of being neither a Summoned nor a resident of this world. In other words, they were stuck in limbo.
These homeless existences would more than likely be eliminated, but a portion of those that were determined to be talented were utilized for various purposes. There were slaves trained in the way of the sword called ’Swordslaves.’ Their stats weren’t outstanding, but they had a high mastery of the sword after being forced to hone their swordsmanship and were even able to cut down enemies stronger than them due to their lack of fear or emotions. Now not only one, but three of these Swordslaves had made their appearance.
‘They used their heads. Swordslaves are existences akin to tools, so it is easier for the Summoning Palace to overlook them. They can also conveniently be thrown away after.’
Under the protection of the Swordslaves, Sungchul gained a Representative match participation slot. Jungshik brought along a small number of his men to approach Sungchul as though he had been waiting for Sungchul to step down.
“Hey, what kind of a fuck are you?”
He looked expressionless, but an inexplicable sense of wrath leaked out of his body. He was glaring at him with a murderous aura that would normally be difficult to even keep eye contact with, yet Sungchul didn’t fidget. Instead, he pointed over his shoulder and quietly said,
“Don’t bark at me. Directly go talk to the people involved.”
Sungchul’s finger pointed at the Swordslaves that were standing conspicuously under the arena.
Jungshik peered over towards the Swordslaves, then backed away from Sungchul with his men. The Selection Match continued onwards.
Jungshik’s faction’s vigor was surely shriveled. The Summoned who were affiliated with Hakchul’s faction fought their way onto the arena, and the other Preselected that were observing the situation also began to step into the Selection Matches. An exciting competition unfolded, but the winners were the better-trained Preselected.
Jungshik Park, Woojung, Sunghae, and others that followed Sungchul were able to be selected without problems, as well as two other Preselected who had barely survived the Werewolf attack. Twenty of the thirty slots were filled within just a moment. Only ten slots remained.
Ahmuge had not appeared yet, but there was a weird atmosphere circling the Plaza. Jungshik had been gathering his men and preparing to strike against the Swordslaves.
The Homunculi were spread throughout the Plaza, but nothing else mattered to Jungshik. His dignity couldn’t bear to let these Swordslaves go. As the leader of a group, his faction might end up disbanding if he was branded as a leader that couldn’t repay the deaths of his men.
Jungshik pulled out his Dagger of Swiftness and challenged a Swordslave to a fight. It was the man wearing a red devil t-shirt and a fisherman’s hat.
“Let’s have a go.”
Looking at Jungshik who was pulling out his blade, the Swordslave wordlessly unsheathed his sword in response. Jungshik let out a shout before charging towards the Swordslave.
The swords met in the air and sparks flew. When their swords met, Jungshik felt that his opponent’s strength was no greater than his own. He might even be stronger. Jungshik felt encouraged and unleashed a torrent of continuous blows. The Dagger of Swiftness moved blindingly as it targeted several of the Swordslave’s vital points. However, he hit a limit as his attacks were pitifully simple and were also completely blocked by the Swordslave’s defenses.
Jungshik had been on the offensive until now, but the roles were suddenly reversed. It was at this moment when he realized that there was a difference in skill between them which couldn’t be overcome by merely relying on strength. Rusted and gouged in many places, the bloody sword of the Swordslave came stabbing towards his chest. Jungshik had no way of blocking it.
At that moment, a miracle occurred. The blade that looked to pierce his ribs at any time was blocked by another sword.
It was Ahmuge.
She didn’t bother looking back as she coldly spoke.
“Look carefully at their eyes. They aren’t human.”
It was then that Jungshik finally saw the Swordslave’s eyes under the Fishermen’s hat. It was like a ghost’s eyes; white with no iris.
‘W-what the…this bastard…isn’t human?!’
Jungshik felt a chill, and his body tensed up; the Swordslave left and returned to its original place.
It was almost obvious that Ahmuge would be the next candidate. The other Summoned had clearly seen her skills and didn’t even dare to challenge her.
“Are there no challengers? I’ll count to thirty, then!”
The new Drill Sergeant’s countdown started. Ahmuge looked around expressionlessly. When she found Sungchul looking at her from below, she gave a little wave. Ten seconds before the countdown ended, three men in rags climbed onto the arena; they were the Swordslaves.
*The shirt slogan “2002 Be the Red!” refers to the 2002 Olympics when Koreans called themselves the Red Devils.