The Homunculi gathered around the survivors and began counting their numbers.
“How many of the trash survived? At a quick glance…Keke! Around 1500?”
Among the Homunculi, there was one that was abnormally large. It wore a white hat and, as the leader of the Homunculi, it called itself the Drill Sergeant. All of the Homunculi gathered around it.
“There are exactly 1534 heads!”
“Oh, my! Not even reduced by half? Such a disappointment. However, I am a benevolent Homunculus.”
The Drill Sergeant’s tone was not only shrill and cracked, but also loud, so it had no problem reaching its audience. The voice sounded unpleasant, but it still bored through into their ears. Sungchul also had to listen to its voice.
‘Is it the same one from 25 years ago? It’s still alive.’
The Homunculi usually lived short lives. Not only were they treated harshly by their masters, but they were also often cannibalized by their fellows. It seems that this Homunculus managed to survive so long by increasing its size to gain power, and by taking in followers after helping them grow stronger.
“Now! Now! Trashy humans! This gracious Drill Sergeant shall show mercy upon you all. I declare a week of rest! Please use this week well to adjust to this new world!”
The Homunculi followed the Drill Sergeant out.
This announcement snapped the people into conversation.
“W-where is this? Just where is this?”
“My phone…There is no signal, not even wifi.”
“This is a dream…it has to be a dream…”
Most of the Summoned were unable to accept the reality they were facing and were still in denial. But being in denial was counterproductive. The smart thing to do was to accept their circumstance and act quickly to tackle the problems they were facing one at a time.
‘This week isn’t a gift, but a death sentence.’
There were no rations or water in this place. Only people. Other than the wall protecting them from the demonic creatures, there were no merits to staying in this place. People would have to venture beyond the walls to survive. Or they would have to eat other people.
Sungchul stayed with the crowd and observed the situation. A short while later, a few people started to move. They walked in a way that could be considered erratic in the eyes of a normal person. Some circled the plaza, and others pretended to swing a sword in the air. Normally, people would assume that they had lost it, but Sungchul saw things differently. There was an Observer’s Eye on top of each one of these ‘lunatics’ without exception. They were getting their instructions through a Summoner who was teaching them how to survive in this place. Completing small quests while others remained idle out of indecision and ignorance would quickly add up and make a critical difference in the end.
Among the ‘normal people’, some were showing a bit of initiative.
“Excuse me. Are you by yourself?”
A middle-aged man in a ragged suit made his way through the crowd to form a group. Although some ignored him, insulted him, or outright refused to join him, he still managed to form a small group of ten people. As he watched that man, Sungchul began recalling an old memory.
‘Thinking back, there are those kinds too. Spouting annoying nonsense like, ‘a bundle of sticks is harder to break’ to gather people.’
He was then reminded of someone, a memory which darkened his expression rapidly. But there was no more time for him to soak in the past. Sungchul quickly tailed a group of twenty people exiting the plaza. However, someone in the background thoughtlessly called out to him.
Sungchul turned his cold, emotionless gaze over to the speaker.
“Got any cigs?”
Sungchul didn’t even bother acknowledging him any further.
Past the walls, a forest overflowing with demonic energy awaited them. It was home to demonic creatures. Those marked by the Observer’s Eye were the first who dared to cross the barrier and step into the forest.
Sungchul noticed that even among the ‘Preselected’, their large number indicated that these people were not ordinary.
‘They must have the backing of a big organization.’
The Summoning Palace was a neutral zone under the protection of the God of Order.
No powers were allowed to freely abuse their authority here. It required great sums of money to bribe enough people to influence things in the Summoning Palace; only major factions had enough wealth to bring several dozen officials under their sway. This meant that these people were most likely the ones who Sungchul had been searching for. He nonchalantly slipped into their group. The younger men and women gave him a glance before turning their attention away.
In this awkward silence, two more joined the group.
“Twenty-five people…I think that’s everyone.”
A stylish man in a suit was the first to speak out; everyone focused their attention on him. It must have been nerve-wracking, but he still continued calmly.
“I apologize if I seem forward, but that’s just how it is. My name is Yuhoon Lee.”
He received a reasonable response from the group. Everyone other than a squinty-eyed man with bleached hair seemed to welcome his attempt at breaking the ice. Yuhoon continued to address the crowd after gaining their approval.
“Can everyone hear their Guide’s voice?”
Everyone’s head nodded in response.
Sungchul also calmly nodded his head and turned his attention to their Observer’s Eyes. There were slight differences in their shapes; each was summoned by a different Summoner. At this moment, Sungchul noticed something.
‘Quality of the assigned Mages is low. Their vision and telepathy must be spotty at best.’
The Mages that Sungchul usually dealt with were of ‘High Rank’. Even the Necromancers that Sungchul had frequently and casually beaten to death were capable of raising an army of undead numbering in the thousands. Compared to Mages of the caliber Sungchul was used to, these Summoners were apprentices at best.
‘Not bad. I should stick with this group.’
By Sungchul’s expectation, there would be Hidden Quests attached to the training course prepared for these twenty-four people.
“First off, my Guide has notified me that time is very precious. There is no time for us to dawdle. After a brief introduction, I believe we should quickly move on with whatever our Guides have directed us to do.”
Yuhoon approached the people around him first, casually introduced himself, and enticed a friendly atmosphere. No one approached Sungchul, and that was because of his messy appearance. It was extremely difficult to obtain decent clothes in Other World, much less stylish ones. Sungchul did make some effort to try and look presentable, but he could only manage to get his hands on some worn-out military fatigues; he looked like some sort of homeless veteran. He also hadn’t had any hygiene products with which to wash for a while now so he didn’t smell too great, either.
Next to Sungchul there was a teenager in hip-hop clothing and a woman in her twenties wearing only branded products, but they spoke with each other with their backs towards him. It was a clear sign of rejection.
Sungchul didn’t particularly mind. There were no benefits in him caring what they thought of him; all he wanted were the Hidden Quests. However, someone noticed him from afar and approached him.
“Hey, mister, why are you standing here alone?”
Sungchul looked up, wondering who it might have been. It was Yuhoon Lee. The man spoke with a wide smile maintaining eye contact, and a hand outreached for a shake.
‘What a well-trained etiquette.’
Sungchul had dealt with a lot of people before. His instinct told him that Yuhoon might not be as friendly as he appeared, but he accepted the handshake anyways.
“Just Kim. Please call me Kim.”
“Then, we’ll have to compromise with calling you Mister Kim.”
About the time when introductions finished, an eerie glow emitted from deep within the forest. The group slowly gathered together and turned towards the light.
It was a familiar laugh. As expected, a Homunculus revealed itself from the darkness. The glow was coming from the lantern it held in its hand.
“You have already gathered here, humans!”
Sungchul recognized this Homunculus by its voice.
The Drill Sergeant was significantly larger than the average Homunculus, and also revealed a significantly more sinister set of razor-like teeth as it greeted the group. It stood at the height of everyone’s stomachs, but they all understood just how savage and powerful these midget creatures were; how could they dare look down on the much larger Drill Sergeant?
The Drill Sergeant reveled in the humans’ fears and smiled gleefully as it looked over them.
“Please do not fear, humans! This Drill Sergeant is but a smart Homunculus! I senselessly kill trashy humans, but to the selected few, I provide assistance.”
The Drill Sergeant tottered back through the forest with a lantern in hand.
“Follow closely! Preselected humans! You might just die to some monsters if you fall behind! Kekeke!”
Everyone became flabbergasted at this situation.
“I think we can follow him. That’s what the voice is telling me.”
Yuhoon led the way in, following after the Homunculus. The others also followed after their impromptu leader helplessly. Only two people stayed in their place.
“Ah, shit. I really don’t like that bitch.”
A man resembling a catfish spat out a quick bit of profanity before following. Sungchul quietly moved after him.
The Homunculus led the group to an abandoned Cathedral. On top of the Cathedral’s steeple there stood a rectangular ornament; this was the symbol for the God of Order. The God of Order was one of the five gods that ruled over the pantheon.
“You are to go in! Humans!”
The Drill Sergeant stepped in first. The rectangular ornament filled with a strange light as it stepped into the Cathedral.
“Woah…What? This…” disparate words of admiration spilled out from the group.
There were sarcophagi with open lids within the Cathedral. There were twenty-five in total.
“Now now, humans! Don’t dawdle, step into whichever one suits your fancy!” the Homunculus spoke with a smirk.
One by one, everyone eventually began lying within the sarcophagi. Sungchul Kim also found one somewhere in the middle and laid down. The sarcophagi began levitating with power, and the lids closed shut on their own. Bright letters began to appear within the suffocating darkness that surrounded them.
[You have found the martyr’s sarcophagi and laid down with resolute hearts.]
[Determination of the martyr uplifts your body.]
Effect: +10 Strength, Dexterity, Vitality (Region Restriction: Summoning Palace)